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Teller Reveals His Secrets
February 25, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe


 
Beware the guy who's telling you what he's doing while he's doing it.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:03 PM on February 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.
posted by jonmc at 1:05 PM on February 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Previously, Teller speaks at a Magic of Consciousness Symposium.
posted by thecjm at 1:05 PM on February 25, 2012


Neat.
posted by Uncle at 1:06 PM on February 25, 2012


The funny thing, it seems to me, is that he's so proficient that even after telling you all of these fundamental principles he's going to fool you anyways. Letting you peek behind the curtain and then blowing your mind anyways is part of the schtick.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:10 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The big reveal: You think you’ve made a choice, just as when you choose between two candidates preselected by entrenched political parties.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:10 PM on February 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


I wish we heard from Teller more often than we hear from Penn.
posted by Legomancer at 1:17 PM on February 25, 2012 [65 favorites]


Magic is an art, as capable of beauty as music, painting or poetry.

(No. 6 — The lie you tell yourself)
posted by euphorb at 1:18 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


David Roth, a sleight-of-hand artist, is the brother of a good friend. He has, on various visits, very kindly done coin and card tricks for us. I've seen him do stuff two feet in front of me, and he explains what he's doing while he does it and it's *still* fucking magic. I love that.
posted by rtha at 1:22 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

I'm even more disappointed. I thought we were going to learn about atom bombs.
posted by scalefree at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think it's a little bit like Algebra to someone who doesn't comprehend Algebra. At first, it looks like magic. Then someone tries to explain it to you, and you don't get it, and it still looks like this complex magic you cannot grasp. Then, finally, something 'clicks', you get it, you can do it yourself, and all the magic is gone from the equation.
posted by Malice at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2012


Penn and Teller, have always been about free-speech.
posted by timsteil at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

My sister is a teller, and most of her tales of the biz involve a) crazy people and/or b) how literally dirty money is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:45 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

I thought this was going to be about libertarians.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:52 PM on February 25, 2012


He's going to hear from the Magician's Alliance over this.
posted by ConstantineXVI at 1:55 PM on February 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


I like his #2, "Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth." It reminded me of something I've quoted here on MetaFilter before... Magician Paul Harris was good friends with Harry Eng, and in one of Harris' books, he describes Eng's method of getting a boxed deck of cards into a Jack Daniel's bottle. (Previously.) After the breathless description of the ridiculously hardcore feat -- never mind the much more impossible things that Eng has squeezed into bottles -- Harris adds the following quote:

"Sometimes to do astonishing things you actually have to be able to do things that most people can't do."
posted by sappidus at 1:59 PM on February 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


Beware the guy who's telling you what he's doing while he's doing it.

Even in his explanation of the one trick, he left something out... how he manipulated the 'mark' to ALWAYS pick one of the three cards he had pre-hidden. Yes, I'm sure they're the three most common cards to be picked, but I doubt that they represent more than 50% of the population's first choice. And since no magician wants to be amazing only 50% of the time, he's still hiding something from us, and THAT'S where the 'Magic' is.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:59 PM on February 25, 2012


That's nothing -- I thought rtha's comment was going to be about David Lee Roth.
posted by theredpen at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

I thought this was going to be about libertarians.


I thought it was going to be about hydrogen bombs.
posted by jet_silver at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wish we heard from Teller more often than we hear from Penn.

And again, that's why we listen when Teller says, well, anything.


I couldn't really imagine being this person's Significant Other. Or maybe I could... playful deception may be the glue that ties a good relationship together. And I wouldn't worry about anyone being trapped in a closet. Or hacked into pieces. Someone like Teller would find a way out of that situation. And also catch a bullet in his mouth.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:03 PM on February 25, 2012


Oneswellfoop, he doesn't have to manipulate the mark to make them choose one of those cards: they're the only three cards (picked blind) from the prepared deck.
posted by maudlin at 2:06 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even in his explanation of the one trick, he left something out... how he manipulated the 'mark' to ALWAYS pick one of the three cards he had pre-hidden.

No, he explains it:

"First, the preparation: I slip a queen of hearts in my right shoe, an ace of spades in my left and a three of clubs in my wallet. Then I manufacture an entire deck out of duplicates of those three cards. That takes 18 decks, which is costly and tedious (No. 2—More trouble than it’s worth)."
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:07 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


He's going to hear from the Magician's Alliance over this.

Nah, we were all granted magic sanctuary.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, so where can I get card decks in bulk? I need about 18
posted by holdkris99 at 2:11 PM on February 25, 2012


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

I thought it was going to be about Homer.
posted by holdkris99 at 2:12 PM on February 25, 2012


OK, so where can I get card decks in bulk? I need about 18

You, me, and 16 other mefites need to get together for this trick.
posted by jeather at 2:12 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


You, me, and 16 other mefites need to get together for this trick.

Awesome, we could then all have our own trick deck to go our separate ways with. Note to self: bring deck of cards to next Mefi Dallas meetup, encourage others to do the same.
posted by holdkris99 at 2:14 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a serious answer to the where do you get 18 decks of cards question, Dollar Stores often have very low quality decks for sale (mine even has them in two-packs).
posted by codacorolla at 2:37 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find "Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth" to be an especially interesting rule. Instead of misdirecting attention or providing deceptive sensory input, it breaks one's cognitive abilities by virtue of conflicting with Bayesian logic, which (more or less) seems to underlie a lot of how things with brains, including us, work. So is, I suppose, the bit about the lie told to one's self. Both alter the prior distribution, albeit in quite different ways.
posted by Schismatic at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


The funny thing, it seems to me, is that he's so proficient that even after telling you all of these fundamental principles he's going to fool you anyways.

I recall reading somewhere -- probably linked from here, as a matter of fact -- that Teller spent months to years utterly mastering the Red Ball Trick.

He finally showed it to Penn, and Penn was blown away. He then said there's no way that trick is going into the show.

Magicians, who know how the trick is done, and just how hard it is to do, would be blown away by Teller's utter mastery of the trick. Regular audience members would see a red ball do a few tricks, which really isn't *that* impressive.

That sums up Teller. The people who know how he does what he does are still amazed when he does it, because he's that good.
posted by eriko at 2:51 PM on February 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


I felt smarter for reading this. Then I realized that was probably the intended effect. Then that made me feel like a rube.
posted by sourwookie at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2012 [23 favorites]


Some blog recently linked to a video of Teller taking about an Indian (?) street magician who did the cup and balls trick, and did every sleight of hand you would normally do to mislead someone... And then the balls ended up exactly where a layman would think they would be. Now that's a trick just for magicians.
posted by smackfu at 3:13 PM on February 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


I became interested in science and magic at around the same time: about age six. They always seemed to be related in a subtle but (to me) obvious way. And I found both absolutely fascinating. Still do.

I know a few versions of that "Card in the shoe" trick that can be done with a regular deck, by the way. Teller does, too. He doesn't give the really neat stuff away.
posted by Decani at 3:13 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, so where can I get card decks in bulk? I need about 18

http://wholesale.shop.ebay.co.uk/?

CAVEAT BROWSER: Bulk purchasing can be addictive and space consuming.
posted by titus-g at 3:15 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teller is lovely.

"“Doing beautiful things is its own reward,” he says, when I ask what enjoyment he can still derive from a trick he has pulled off many thousands of times before. “If you do something that you’re proud of, that someone else understands, that is a thing of beauty that wasn’t there before – you can’t beat that.” He gulps suddenly, like a snake trying to swallow an egg, and when he speaks again his voice has a wobble to it.

“There is that great line in Sunday in the Park with George,” he says, referring to Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 musical about Georges Seurat, “ 'Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat’.” He falls silent again and, as unexpectedly as those coins turn to fish, big fat tears start rolling down his cheeks. “I can’t say that line without choking up, because it states, in profoundly poetic terms, what I have always wanted to do with my life. It’s so simple and so funny, but boy it hits me deep.”
posted by Jofus at 3:40 PM on February 25, 2012 [39 favorites]


Letting you peek behind the curtain and then blowing your mind anyways is part of the schtick.

Reminds me of this video of Tony Slydini. The audience can see the entire trick, but it's still amazing. It's one of the best magic tricks you will ever see, even though you see exactly how he does it.

Part 1 - Starts at 4:10 when the young man sits in the chair
Part 2
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:03 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


a video of Teller taking about an Indian (?) street magician who did the cup and balls trick

Here.
posted by stebulus at 4:27 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


The 49-card deck he shows at the end reminds me of this old trick.
posted by kurumi at 4:45 PM on February 25, 2012


Teller seems lovely. I wish he were the one who spoke. Penn is a greasy windbag. I liked when Penn was on Marc Maron: while Penn was off monologuing about how he was able to sleep with anyone's girlfriend, Marc tried to prod him into admitting that he was creepy in high school.
posted by painquale at 5:22 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked when Penn was on Marc Maron: while Penn was off monologuing about how he was able to sleep with anyone's girlfriend, Marc tried to prod him into admitting that he was creepy in high school.

I'd be more impressed if he could sleep with anyone's boyfriend.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:32 PM on February 25, 2012


Teller seems lovely. I wish he were the one who spoke. Penn is a greasy windbag.

Not to say that Penn is an incompetent magician -- he is quite good. But fundamentally, his role in Penn & Teller is to be the distraction, so that the magician can do what he needs to do without you noticing.

Yes, in many ways, Penn is Teller's "lovely" assistant.

Let's just be thankfully he favors three piece suits, rather than the more traditional two piece swimsuit.

His looks, his voice, his size, his presence -- the entire package yells LOOK AT ME. Which, of course, is *exactly* what Penn & Teller want you to do. Pay attention to the loud, unkempt, huge man who won't shut up, and ignore the small, well kept, silent man.
posted by eriko at 6:16 PM on February 25, 2012 [20 favorites]


2. Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth.

I once saw a trick which involved making a coin disappear under the cap of a water bottle (of the sort one buys in a convenience store or from a vending machine). The trick involved allowing the punters to feel the coin rattling under the lid before it was lifted before their eyes, revealing nothing. So presumably, even allowing for the magician having been able to palm the coin earlier, its rattle suggests that that wasn't the case.

The trick turned out to have been done with a fake bottle cap, looking identical to the regular plastic cap one finds on soft drink bottles, but comprised of two sections with a small metal weight between them. Which is how it worked; it wouldn't occur to the average person that someone would go to the trouble of manufacturing trick plastic bottle lids, replicas of something disposably cheap, just for the purpose of simulating the rattling of a coin; that proposition, when stated longhand, sounds insane.
posted by acb at 6:31 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


oneswellfoop: Even in his explanation of the one trick, he left something out... how he manipulated the 'mark' to ALWAYS pick one of the three cards he had pre-hidden.

You're thinking that they pick a card out of their heads, whereas Teller is literally having them pick a card out of the deck with their hands. Though he doesn't have to: people are so extraordinarily suggestible, and, as he explains, if you see just three cards waved in front of you you think, "Hey, I have a choice!" and you pick one of those three -- but you don't really have a choice.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:49 PM on February 25, 2012


Teller revealing his secrets reminded me of the opening scene of a movie they did for Showtime years ago. Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 The kid's reaction is priceless. "That's it? YOU GUYS RIPPED ME OFF!"

Wow, I had completely forgotten that James Randi was in this, or if I even knew who he was when I originally saw it in 1987. Plus another cameo by Andy Warhol and directed by Bob Balaban? They're getting me on a whole other level years after the fact.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:10 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just did a movie shoot about magicians, and there is a magic trick designed specifically for the movie by a bog name professional magician. Because I was in the audience for the trick, and it was designed for the camera, I could see exactly how the trick was done. I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement before doing the film, but even without it, I wouldn't give away the secret.

It's something I learned a long time ago about stage magic, and I used to work for a professional magician in New Orleans. They always tell you: You don't want to know how the trick is done. It will ruin it. And I always said, sure I do. It never ruins it for me to know how something is done. I always like being on the inside.

And then I started seeing how tricks were actually done. And they were right. It ruins it. Because the solution is usually so stupid. The most delightful prestidigitation becomes a common con. It's almost always just a rigged deck, or a plant in the audience, or a moment of misdirection. And that takes talent and an awful lot of practice. But you want the secret to be a moment of genius, and instead it's often just a simple switch or a thing hidden behind a trap door, and it doesn't feel the same. I think for fellow magicians, there is great beauty to it. But for an audience member, realizing how easily you can be fooled, and how simple the trick is? No fun.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:50 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've had the pleasure of seeing a lot of headline shows in Las Vegas over the past 11 years, and Penn & Teller was unquestionably THE WORST.

They're enjoyable in small doses, and the show itself did have moments of brilliance, but I felt conned spending the money I did to see them.

I really enjoyed this article, though. Small doses, I guess.
posted by EJXD2 at 8:44 PM on February 25, 2012


I quite like Penn and Teller and have personally invited Penn to this site, when I met him in person.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:26 PM on February 25, 2012


Yes, in many ways, Penn is Teller's "lovely" assistant.

HOLY SHIT! It is so obvious now that you say it. I won't hate Penn anymore, you've flipped the switch. It's perfect.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:33 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Sometimes to do astonishing things you actually have to be able to do things that most people can't do."

As someone who occasionally enjoys doing some coin or card magic for friends, but whose sleight-of-hand skills, in a word, SUCK, this is thankfully seldom the case.

Turns out: a whole lot of really impressive tricks rely more on setup, misdirection, and an understanding of the average spectator's limitations/proclivities, etc.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:46 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Roth, a sleight-of-hand artist, is the brother of a good friend.

It kinda makes sense that he'd also have a magic act. Diamond Dave's not a bad stage name for a magician, and you gotta do something to entertain the fans when you're too old to do scissor kicks in spandex. Hey, can you believe Eddie and Dave? Those crazy old fuckin rock stars finally worked things out and got the band back together. Honestly, did not see one that coming.

...

What?
posted by krinklyfig at 2:01 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some blog recently linked to a video of Teller taking about an Indian (?) street magician who did the cup and balls trick, and did every sleight of hand you would normally do to mislead someone... And then the balls ended up exactly where a layman would think they would be. Now that's a trick just for magicians.

In case you're interested, that's a scene from a three-part series produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called "Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour".
posted by kaudio at 3:17 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to be about bank tellers.

I'm even more disappointed. I thought we were going to learn about atom bombs.

I thought it was going to be about hydrogen bombs.


I thought it was going to be about perception.
posted by fairmettle at 4:53 AM on February 26, 2012


Mofo Knows.
posted by oneironaut at 6:54 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really like Teller; I always enjoy reading what he writes, or watching his presentations when I can get 'em. I wish I had been able to go see his macabre production of Macbeth. And I admit, I'm affected in a similar way by that particular Sondheim song.

(...Teller, call me!)
posted by theatro at 8:07 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Roth, a sleight-of-hand artist, is the brother of a good friend. He has, on various visits, very kindly done coin and card tricks for us.

Holy hell that's amazing. David Roth literally wrote the book on advanced coin sleight of hand. There's moves in there that you need six fingers to do correctly. Here's a translation of rtha's comment for non-magicians:

"Dad went to school with Bob Dylan. Sometimes when he comes over for dinner he plays a couple of songs he's working on for us. He's pretty good!"
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:29 AM on February 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


And then I started seeing how tricks were actually done. And they were right. It ruins it. Because the solution is usually so stupid.

"usually" is the key word there. It's usually disappointing to find out how a trick works. But every now and then you come across something that's so ingenious and is also easy to master, that the reveal adds to the pleasure.
posted by storybored at 6:16 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's moves in there that you need six fingers to do correctly.

I'm 4 fingers ahead!
posted by ShutterBun at 1:28 AM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


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