An Unsatisfactory Resolution

This is a response to my “Skeptical Interpretation” article, which can be found HERE.

One of the standard pieces of accepted wisdom is that magic tricks need to have a proper structure- something generally understood to mean a beginning, a middle and an end. Of these the one we seem to focus most heavily on is the climax (something that I think is often a mistake, and I’ll talk about it in another post).

But I question this conception, that one needs a climax, on the following three grounds.

First, if we are trying to establish a relationship with our audiences wouldn’t it be pragmatic to have this relationship remain open-ended? Instead of finality we have possibility?

Second, I wonder if we need a climax in order to achieve a satisfactory resolution.

Finally, I wonder if its even DESIRABLE to have such a resolution!

But talk without action is sometimes viewed as worthless, so allow me to illustrate with a practical application. I say practical because this is a trick I actually perform.

The average audience after I finish the trick.  That’s right; multicultural amazement.

You hand a spectator a sealed envelope, and after asking them to put it in their pocket you promise you’ll never touch it again.

“Do you know what I think it the best part of a magic trick? It’s not the funny jokes. It’s not fooling people. It’s not even that it makes me look so cool. No, the best part of a trick is the moment before the trick ends, the moment before people start trying to figure it out, the moment where time seems to stand still and everyone waits, including me, to see what’s going to happen. Unfortunately like most good things the experience seems to pass all too quickly. But one day it occurred to me- if I was a real magician, like I claimed to be, then I could capture that moment and give it to you to keep forever. And, guys, I think I have. Let’s try something.”

You hand a deck to someone and ask them to shuffle. Then you ask them to deal down and stop wherever they want. They stop on one card- the nine of hearts.

“John, are you happy with that card? You are? Perfect. John, you shuffled the deck. You dealt the cards and stopped on one. If you had dealt fewer cards you would have ended up with one of these. If you had dealt more cards you would have ended up with one of those. But you stopped on the nine of hearts.”


“John, before the trick began I handed you an envelope. Inside of the envelope, which I haven’t touched, is a single playing card.”


“At this point you have two options. The first is that you take out the envelope, open it up and show everyone that inside is one card- a nine of hearts. The other option is that you do NOTHING. That you take the envelope home and never open it. That you look at it every so often and wonder- does it really have a nine of hearts inside? You take it home, you never open it, and you let the mystery remain alive. John, the choice is yours. Ladies and gentlemen- enjoy the rest of your evening.”

And then you walk away.

Both John Allen and I came up with similar ideas, both inspired by J. J. Abrams’ wonderful TED talk on “The Mystery Box”. I was also inspired by Max Maven’s wonderful ‘coin piece’, which is too beautiful to expose here- I would hate to be responsible for robbing you of the experience of seeing it for yourself.  I hope you enjoy the trick.

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