Scripting Magic for Zoom
By Pete McCabe - Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Will Houstoun and Steve Thompson founded Video Chat Magic, a charitable venture aimed at magicians. Subscribers to VCM get exclusive tricks, tools, essays, and technology, all focused on doing magic and mentalism in what they call, with classic British style, online video-chat environments. Since I’m the one who has to type it every time, I just say Zoom. The money goes to provide relief to disadvantaged groups around the world affected by the coronavirus.
My contribution to this fine and necessary cause was to write a chapter about scripting for Zoom. It’s in two parts. The first half is a series of questions about Zoom as a venue; basically it’s all the questions I would want to ask myself before I started scripting. The second half is an interview with Paul Draper, magician and mentalist who has performed more Zoom magic shows than anyone. I ask Paul all the same questions from part 1, and he gives the benefit of his unmatched real-world experience.
If you’re interested in Scripting Magic, or in performing magic over Zoom, or in helping save lives around the world, Will and I would appreciate if you would consider going to videochatmagic.com and have a look.
To thank you for sitting through this blatant plug (but for a good cause), the rest of this post is an idea for performing the trick “Persistimis Possessiamo” from Scripting Magic 2. And I’ll convince Andi and Josh to include the trick, so this blog post is also a plug for my book. It’s like the old saying: No good deed goes unexploited.
PP is already a good Zoom trick, since the spectator does everything. Basically: They shuffle the cards, pick a card, and cut it back into the deck. Then they deal the deck into two piles, take their half, and repeat, until there is only one card left. It’s their card.
We’ve included the write up of this trick at the end of this post, so if you aren’t familiar with it, scroll down.
The biggest trend I’ve noticed in my own magic over the years has been getting the spectator to do more and more of each trick. And so, when I came up with "Persistimis Possessiamo", I was very pleased with myself. The spectator does literally everything—what could be better than that? This had been a priority of mine for so long that it took me a while to realize that there could, in fact, be something better.
Now, I do the trick this way. After the spectator has shuffled the deck, selected a card, and cut it back in the deck, they hand the deck to a second person. This person does the repeated dealing process that produces the final card.
There are a number of ways to play this, all of which have some strong points. First of all, you’ve automatically doubled the number of people involved in the trick. More importantly, it seems to eliminate the notion of a self-working trick as an all-purpose solution, replacing it with all sorts of more-interesting explanations the spectators might come up with, but which ultimately lead nowhere.
For example, you can tell the second spectator that you are going to coach them through their part of the trick. You take them aside to “whisper them the secret,” but all you whisper is that they have to follow every instruction carefully. After the trick, people are going to want to know what ”secret” you told the second spectator. It’s hard to think of better misdirection than this.
In my opinion, the most important benefit, you are probably not surprised to hear, is that it allows you to create more interesting, more character-driven, funnier, more magical presentations. You can pit the two spectators against each other, or put them as teammates. You can team up with either one or both. You can treat them the same, or you can treat them differently. You can say the same thing to each of them in the same exact way, which can mean something, or you can say the same thing in vastly different ways, which can mean something different, or you can say it in very slightly different ways, which can mean a third thing. If they know each other, you can take advantage of that. If they don’t know each other, you can take advantage of that.
This is how I do this trick now, over Zoom or in person. And I adapt everything I say based on the relationship between the two people.
Thanks for reading. If you find this useful, I hope you’ll consider donating to Video Chat Magic. It’s a good cause.
Persistimis Possessiamo by Pete McCabe
*Int—Living Room—Evening *
I don’t believe in this. Oh, I believe it works—I’ve done it about thirty times, and it worked all but maybe two. I just don’t believe you’re actually casting a spell. I don’t know what’s really happening, but...
Pete hands Alex a deck of cards.
...anyway, mix these. Thanks.
Alex shuffles the cards.
The whole idea of spells, and casting a magic spell—this part is true, anyway—is that you are spelling the magic word. You’ve seen people in movies, and it sounds like they are say- ing words in some ancient language, but they’re really saying letters. That’s what runes are, actually. When you’re done, hold the deck like you’re going to deal.
Alex stops shuffling and holds the deck.
This is a persistimis spell, which is the weakest, so you have to be kind of careful to follow the instructions. It’s also the eas- iest, because all you do is take something that’s already there, like luck, or love, and make it last longer than it would. We’ll combine it with possessiamo, so we’ll try to keep something in your possession as long as possible.
Pete points to a spot on the table.
I want you to deal cards onto the table, and with each card you’ll spell out persistimis possessiamo. I’ll do it with you. P-e-r...
Alex deals three cards onto the table, spelling out the spell.
Good. Now: P-o-s-s...
Good. Now put down the deck and pick up these cards.
Alex puts down the deck and picks up the dealt cards.
These cards are yours. They belong to you. Let’s pick just one. Cut off some cards and look at the bottom one. Let’s all see it.
Alex cuts off a group and shows the card at its face—the Three of Clubs.
Pete points at the cards in Alex’s hand.
Put those on the deck...
Alex puts the cut-off cards onto the undealt cards on the table.
...and bury them under however many cards you have left.
Alex puts the rest of the dealt cards onto the deck.
Okay, I want you to very carefully pick up the deck. This spell is very fragile.
Alex picks up the deck.
I want you to deal like you and I are playing cards, one card at a time, a pile for me, and a pile for you. You’re going to deal through the entire deck.
Alex begins dealing the deck into two piles, one for Pete, one for Alex.
Without magic it’s a 50-50 chance who would get the Three of Clubs—you or me. But somehow the spell, or whatever it is, changes those odds. Not forever, just long enough.
Alex finishes dealing.
Excellent. Now if that spell is working...
Pete picks up the cards Alex dealt to him.
...I should not have the Three of Clubs.
Pete spreads his cards across the table and looks through the cards.
It looks like I don’t. (Looks up at Alex) Good job. Okay, pick up your cards and try again! But this time, deal my cards face up. Yours still face down, but deal mine face up.
Alex picks up the half deck and begins dealing it into two piles. Pete puts his half of the deck aside.
It should work two times. It usually works two times.
Alex finishes the second deal. The Three of Clubs has not appeared in the face-up pile.
Alex resumes dealing face-up and face-down piles.
The most I’ve ever seen is four times.
Alex finishes the third deal. Still the Three of Clubs has not appeared.
Amazing! Go for four!
Alex deals the final six cards into two piles. Still no face-up Three of Clubs.
This is great!
The final deal is two face-up cards for Pete, one face down for Alex.
That is just fantastic. Wait! Wouldn’t it suck if that...
Pete points to the one face down card in front of Alex.
...was some other card? That would go so horrible. (pause) But let’s not think that way. Let’s think how great it would be if that was the card you’re thinking of. How great it will be, when that is the card you’re thinking of. Show me that Three of Clubs!
Alex reveals the last card—it’s the Three of Clubs!
Notes on Persistimis Possessiamo
I really think the introductory bit about spells, and spelling the magic word, is interesting, and engaging, and it plays very well. Just for the record, I have no idea if it’s the true derivation of the phrase “casting a spell,” but it sounds great.
Last Chance to Get this Credit Right
This is based on a trick called "Last Chance," by L. Vosburgh Lyons, which appeared in Jinx #54 in 1939. The same trick was included in The Royal Road to Card Magic (1951), but it was called “Tantalizer”and Lyons was not credited, It was revived recently by a number of extremely well-posted magicians, who all credited Royal Road. But until somebody finds something earlier, it looks like Lyons deserves the credit.
"Last Chance" was a good idea with a lousy presentation. You had a card selected while holding a break under 21 cards. Separate at the break and have the card re- placed. False shuffle/cut, then you the magician deal cards into two piles, one for the spectator and one for you. The point of the trick is that your magical control over the cards allows you to make the card fall in your half each time.
I came across the Lyons trick as I was having my head exploded by Bob Farmer’s routine. I immediately saw the opportunity to do what Bob had done, replacing the counting with an expression to be spelled. The rest of the trick came together in about five seconds.
My first change was to have the spectator do the dealing, so they are the one with the power. Then I created a simple script-based process that puts the selected card at the 22nd position without you touching the cards—the spectator literally does every- thing. The script puts a presentational framework over the entire effect.
You also don’t have to remember anything except how to spell the title of the script: Persistimis Possessiamo.
Anyway, the Method
Basically the trick works like this. Alex counts off 22 cards, remembers the bottom card of this group, and puts them back onto the deck. This puts the selection 22nd from the top. The repeated dealing-in-two-piles process will end up producing the card 22nd from top.
Of course, that wouldn't seem magical. So you have Alex spell the magic words, which just happen to have 22 letters total. And instead of having Alex remember the bottom card of the 22, you have them shuffle, then cut off a block of cards and look at the card on the bottom of this block. This block is then put back on the deck, and buried under the rest of the 22 cards. This has the same result, but is much better concealed. It's an application of Gene Finnell’s Free Cut principle.
This presentation of casting a spell will not fit with everyone’s persona, even if done tongue in cheek. But it does make the process more interesting, and motivates Alex to be careful and make it work.
Alex has to deal the cards accurately—the cards in the piles can’t get out of order. This is crucial, but it’s not something you want to stress or draw attention to spe- cifically. My solution is to discuss the spell as something fragile, so you have to deal carefully. You don't have to use that, but you should probably use something.
This trick requires a full deck of 52 cards. But sometimes you have a deck that seems full, and then halfway through the trick, you suddenly realize that it’s actually missing a card. As long as only one card is missing, here’s the fix.
At the end of the first deal, Alex will deal a card to your pile and have no card left for their own. At this point, you say something like, “This deck must be a card short. Here, take the last one—I want you to have every chance for this to work,” and put the last card from your pile on top of Alex’s pile.
That’s it—everything is fixed and the rest will work as normal.
You can replace the words Persistimis Possessiamo with any phrase that has 22 letters. When I first showed this trick around, it was picked up by Chris Philpott, who came up with this variation (in his own words):
CP: I started with the talk of spells and spelling (love that theme) then have them spell out “Let me get my heart’s desire.” When they cut to their card I have them hold it to their heart and imagine it is the thing they want most in the world. After reassembling as you did, I recap: “You created a spell and you visualized what you wanted, but there is one last element to make your dream come true: you need a generous spirit—you have to give away half of what you have. We’re going to do that symbolically now. It has to be exactly half so...”
And then they go into the dealing phase. To help quicken the first deal, I crack a couple jokes about how generous they’re being and there’s so much for me... It did get laughs, but then again, my kids are easy.
If you have a standard Tarot deck with 22 Major Arcana and 16 “face” cards, for a total of 38 cards, the deal-and-discard process will produce the 32nd card from the top. So if you wanted to use this, you’d need the spectator to spell a phrase with 32 words in it. This is a pretty long stretch of spelling, but you could instead have 6 cards spelled to the table, and then do the Free Cut process, putting the glimpsed selection at the bottom of the 32 remaining cards.
I don’t believe in this.
This is an unusual first line for a magic trick. But I present this as: You’re supposed to be casting a spell, which I don’t believe in, but it does work, so I don’t know. This type of presentation stymies a lot of skeptical spectators. If they say they don’t believe in spells and/or magic, I say, “Me, neither. But just watch—I bet it works.”
• L. Vosburgh Lyons’ trick “Last Chance” appeared in Jinx #54 (March 1939).
• Gene Finnell published The Free Cut Principle in 1967.
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