The Insider | Steve Thompson

By Damian Jennings - Monday, October 8, 2018

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Welcome to the first episode of our new magic podcast, The Insider. This is a short, 20-minute chat with Steve Thompson, creator of Glance. Listen to insights about Steve’s favourite use for it, how it came to exist and how, apparently, it put someone’s kids through college. As this is the first episode, we’d love to get your feedback on it.

Transcript of the podcast

The Insider: On the line today I'm lucky enough to have the delicious Steve Thomson, who created something called Glance. Steve, good morning. Can you tell me what Glance is?

Steve Thomson: Glance is ... for me I suppose it's a tool. It's a tool for having somebody think of a word and you just know what it is. The real carrot for me when I was working with it and coming up with this was that the selection process would just seem really fair, really open. They'd open to any page, anywhere in the magazine, go to any lump of text and just think of any significant word in the text. All you do is you just steer them away from words like 'and' and 'the' or 'but.' As long as they think of a big, long interesting word, you're gonna know what it is.

The Insider: How did you come up with the idea? What was your starting point? What problem was existing? What tasks were you trying to solve?

Steve Thomson: I don't think it was so much of ... kind of a negative process of trying to solve a problem. It was more I saw an opportunity. Sounds a bit trite, but I think what's happened anyway. It was a long time ago now. Basically, when you flick through a book it's hard to impress upon people that all the pages are really different from a distance, whereas if you flick through a magazine, and from a distance a magazine, it's very evident that every page is entirely different and unique, and I think this gives us the subconscious message that every bit of text is unique and different as well. There's something quite natural about magazines, that you might just have them in your case, or you might just pick one up off a table somewhere or whatever, more so than a book. The natural is dependent on context, but in the context that I would've been thinking, I thought the magazine was really nice. It's obviously lighter and all of those kind of benefits as well.

Steve Thomson: There's something about the way text is laid out in the magazine in these very narrow columns. If you think of Time magazine or Newsweek or any of these, the way text is always laid out, it's always in three or four narrower columns. This gives us a huge advantage over a book in the way in which you can hide or display words. Not to give too much away here, but if you imagine the tossed-out only has five cards in it, if you only put three cards in that tossed-out deck it's very easy to see the repetition. If you put 23 cards in it, well, it's not very useful to you. It's about finding a nice balance between those two things. With a magazine, I reckoned I could achieve a much better balance between the number of words and the, should we say, the likelihood of somebody spotting repetition.

The Insider: Sure. Sure. Also, you've got the advantage with the layout of having photographs in there, advert pages, and all of that stuff as well, which helps break it up and hide the methodology, I guess.

Steve Thomson: Yeah. It means that the magazine can be quite long. There's a lot of pages in it, but even in a real normal magazine, as it were, nearly 50% of the pages are adverts. You've got twice as many pages in a magazine that you could otherwise have without having to repeat too much text. The other thing as well is that I realize that when ... depending on the imagery on a page, you would ideally have the text match the imagery. If, for example, on the page there's lots of images of things to do with the environment and being eco-friendly and all that kind of thing, then the content of the paragraphs could be about that topic and seem very, very natural then. On another page you could have topics about money or whatever might be in a business magazine. Again, the paragraphs that are on those pages would match that imagery, and yet we can still have our, shall we say, clever devices about what words we're using, and map through the various pages.

Steve Thomson: Even though you're getting all this variety in, shall we say, the framing of the paragraphs, you're still getting the same repetition basically, but it's much, much harder to spot.

The Insider: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of book tests on the market are, for some magicians, prohibitively expensive. Why have you made Glance so cheap compared to other book tests?

Steve Thomson: Short answer to this is you're gonna have to ask Andi because it's something that we still argue about. I absolutely 100%, I never, everybody knows this, I never wanted to make it nearly as cheap as it's been, but it is, and it's great. I mean, I think it was the right decision, for sure. My ego would love it to be way more expensive, I'll be honest. The truth is that so many people ... it's been really remarkable. I mean, I never ... I guess a lot of people say this about their products and stuff, and I suppose ... I just never expected to get the response that I've gotten. I mean, I've got some really lovely emails. People have approached me and thanked for far more than just a trick.

Steve Thomson: I mean, I remember one guy come up to me and said that basically I helped him put his kids through college. That's how he really felt about Glance. I was like, "Really?" He goes, "Yeah. I close every single show with it. It's got me more repeat bookings than anything else that I do. Honestly, it's changed our family's financial position." I was like, "Ah, come on. That's a bit of a big claim." He was like, "Well, look. That's how I feel about it." I was like, "Okay."

The Insider: Wow.

Steve Thomson: Pretty cool. Yeah. I'm guessing that when you put out, I don't know if that happens with other tricks, but that was a very ... it was a huge surprise to me. It's been really lovely, the response I've gotten. Yeah, it's been great.

The Insider: Well, I don't think that's a common response for one trick to have funded somebody's children's education. That's amazing.

Steve Thomson: I'm pretty confident he's exaggerating by a long shot, but it was still really nice. It was really nice that he [crosstalk 00:06:05].

The Insider: Of course it is. Of course it is. Can you tell me what's new in the updated edition of Glance?

Steve Thomson: Sure. We've got new covers. The guys have worked up some really nice designs to modernize the cover design. Now to be fair, a lot of users would replace the covers anyway, but I think it's a really good idea just to keep them looking natural and real. That way when you get it straight out of the box you can use it. That's one thing we've changed. The other thing that I suppose is important that's changed is, there were one or two words in the ads in the original print run that were ... they weren't long, long words, but they were long enough that people might select them. It was always intended that the script or the instructions would be along the lines of find a body of text, find a page with loads of text on it, and then find a word within that text. We had feedback from very few people, but still it was significant enough to say, "Well, why don't we fix this," just to make it really 100%. The odd time a spectator being nervous or whatever, we just go to a large word in an ad.

Steve Thomson: There was one or two words that we've fixed, as it were. There are the main changes. I mean, it really is more of reprint rather than a new release of a different product.

The Insider: Sure, but it's great to get it into the hands of new people. I think I bought it from you when you released it at the session. Nowadays there's gonna be a whole bunch of new magicians that haven't even ... are unaware of it.

Steve Thomson: Yeah.

The Insider: To be able to give them the opportunity to perform such a strong book test for such a low price is a great thing. Who should by Glance? What kind of person is it aimed at?

Steve Thomson: Definitely in my head when I come up with it, the person that was front of mind was somebody who would already be doing a platform or a stage show and they're using book tests, or they're using the book test. It would be a natural either edition or a alternative to the book test. It's a professional performer, first and foremost. I think that's the key thought process that I had. That's not to say that there isn't loads of other ways that people have used it and get a lot of value out of it. There is a good chunk of people have come to me and said that they keep it on their coffee table, or they have it in their bag and whenever they see the opportunity they drop it onto somebody else's coffee table, because nobody really tracks what's on their own coffee table in a business or whatever.

The Insider: Sure.

Steve Thomson: They drop it in, shall we say, and then seemingly do it in an impromptu way. On the radio, if you're doing a radio gig or something like that, it could be really powerful to pretend that this ... you just picked this up at reception on the way in, or indeed planted in reception and ask somebody to run out and get one. That can be really powerful. To performers, either it's ... it's the two ends of the spectrum. Either the very informal way or the more theatrical, legitimate platform performance. I think they're the two ends of the spectrum.

The Insider: It could be almost the sort of thing that the jerks would talk about, about planting something in somebody's house and just doing it one on one for somebody and creating that moment of astonishment. How difficult is it? If you came up with it as a thought initially for professionals that are working on platforms or doing radio gigs, whatever, some mind-reading stuff, a huge amount of memory work or different techniques that are complicated and hard to learn, how easy or difficult would you say Glance is?

Steve Thomson: I think that's the greatest trick that pros ever played was convincing the non-pros that they're doing all of those kinds of things. The pros make it really easy for themselves. That's the whole point. You know? No, it's super easy. There's virtually nothing to remember. There's a memory cue thing on the back on the magazine, which is a great idea. I think it was Andi's or Josh's. I can't remember.

The Insider: If during performance you get into trouble you can ... there's something that's gonna help you out?

Steve Thomson: Yeah. Yeah. But, I mean, there's so little to it anyway that ... and it's very organic. You would remember even if you had kind of temporarily forgotten. It's hard to explain without giving it away, but it's certainly not ... there's no major amount of memory, and there's a little crib and a ... what do you call those things where they've made it into a word?

The Insider: Synonym?

The Insider: Acronym.

Steve Thomson: Yeah.

Steve Thomson: There's on those. It is very, very easy. It's always the same. There's always the same few words that they could be thinking of, or same bank of words, I shouldn't say few words, that they could be thinking of. You're gonna have ... you can have them written somewhere if you want for yourself, or they are, like I said, they're on the back of the magazine. In terms of audience management, I think that if you sit down, you write your little script about how to do the audience management, something along the lines of open the magazine, flick through it. Okay, find a page with loads and loads of text on it, great. Put your finger on the page somewhere, have a look around your finger for an interesting word, a word with a few syllables on it. Have you got one? Great. Okay. Close the magazine. That's that.

The Insider: And you're done?

Steve Thomson: You're done. You pretty much know with one or two other little moves. You know exactly what word they're thinking of. If you write that script, if you sit down and you just work that script out in your own head, from an audience management point of view I think you're gonna be solid. From a presentational point of view it's very straightforward, and it makes perfect sense. I would say that it's particularly easy to perform, actually, in that respect.

The Insider: No, I'd agree.

Steve Thomson: What I think is probably more challenging, and I think this is something that's just more general, it's nothing to do with Glance in particular, but if you think about the size of the claim you're making, which is that you're reaching into somebody's mind and plucking out a thought, to become the kind of performer that is credible and that people buy into, that's the challenging work. It's to become the ... to impress upon people and to have them feel like this is something that you're capable of. I think that's the larger piece of work, but that has nothing to do with Glance. That goes for all of our performances and all of our character decisions.

The Insider: No, of course. Of course. Particularly with, as you say, the claim you're making when you're doing mentalism. Without giving too much away, how can I say this without ... can I say that it was influenced by The Mother of all Book Tests?

Steve Thomson: You can. Interestingly, originally, if we go right back, I didn't even ... it sounds really silly in hindsight to say this, but I didn't even realize that Ted's mother was originally baked into the method of Glance, because Glance doesn't necessarily rely on Ted's method. It happens to overlap with it, because you can't do, shall we say, my method without having Ted's built into. I just didn't think along those lines at the very, very start. Obviously, it became apparent very quickly. If you imagine that what you're trying to do with a book test is you're trying to figure out which of the bank of words the spectator is thinking of, well, to ask them about their word is a bit of a ... the more information they give you about their word, the weaker your method, right?

The Insider: Sure.

Steve Thomson: If you can ask ... if you have to get any information from them, it would be better if it has nothing to do with the word that they're thinking of, but somehow it triggers you to know which word they're thinking of. What I did was I built in a ... very hard to talk about this without giving away the method, but I built in another word that's very close to their word. If I can figure out what that word is, then I know what the thought-of word is. There's this kind of slightly ancillary thing, but what it allows you to do is get a whole bunch of yeses. One question, as it were, or one bit of fishing, and then you know their thought-of word. It sounds messier than it is in performance, but if you look at the video where Andi performs it, you'll see it. It's very straightforward.

The Insider: It feels natural. You're right that the second you have to ask for what the first letter of their word starts with, you've ... almost you're giving the spectator a solution.

Steve Thomson: Yeah. Whether you are or you aren't, it's certainly not for me copacetic with reading their mind. If there was one part of the word that you could see in their mind, it's probably going to be the first letter because that would be the biggest letter or the most prominent letter. That's just in my imagination. That being said, I'm not thinking for a moment that that's a ... I don't think spectators would consciously think along those lines. I mean, Ted's method is clearly genius. It's not along those lines. I think there is something quite interesting about using one thing to trigger the knowledge of the other thing, which makes it slightly more obfuscated from a methodological point of view.

The Insider: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. There's another presentation or aspect of this with a Tossed Out Magazine. Can you tell us about that?

Steve Thomson: This is by far my favorite aspect of Glance. I absolutely love this. If you imagine there's a limited set of words that the spectators can choose from, and you have two magazines, if you buy the two-magazine set, and no, this is not a pitch to get people to buy more than two. They're under-priced no matter what you do, but you can decide that yourself. If you get a bunch of people around the audience, let's say six people thinking of a word from the magazines, which is very efficient. You hand out two magazines. You have a couple of people stand up, open the magazine, go to any page, any block of text, think of any word, and then pass the magazine on to somebody they don't know, and then do that again. Very quickly you've got six people, for example, thinking of a word from a magazine.

Steve Thomson: This is theatrically, I think, very, very elegant, very powerful if you've got six people spread around the audience, all separated, all don't know each other. The magazines are passed back up to the front and then you just look at them. You stare at them like your tossed-out deck. You do your whole, "I'm a demi God. I'm concentrating now." You look at them and you name six words. You say, "If I got your word, please sit down." It's just a very powerful punch, you know? You've had a lot randomness, a lot of fairness, and then you look them square in the eye and you name the words that they're thinking of, and they sit down. It's just a very powerful method and version of that effect. If you tie it in with doing a tossed-out deck, I think that can be quite powerful too.

Steve Thomson: There's a lovely aspect of it, which is from time to time you're gonna get only five people sitting down. There'll be one person remain standing. What's lovely about that is you can fully give the impression, say, "Oh, I got it wrong," and then you concentrate on that one person, then you name it. You get that kind of ... the equivalent of a tightrope walker having a little bit of a wobble and then having an even greater success.

The Insider: Yeah, yeah, yeah, or the way that jugglers always pretend that they can't do the hard trick at the end and then pull it off.

Steve Thomson: Yeah. Whereas in our case we actually can't do it perfectly, but they don't need to know that.

The Insider: Absolutely, they don't. Absolutely, they don't. You come up with the idea of doing it as a magazine. How did it come to fruition? You were working with Andi, obviously. What happened?

Steve Thomson: Yeah. As I was talking earlier about the design of the layout of the pages with the imagery of the text and linking the two, I think this is where Glance really surpassed my expectations. I kind of thought that we would end up with a magazine that would look pretty good, but Andi just took it to a completely different level, where the imagery, there isn't a single picture that's repeated anywhere in the magazine, so they can really flick through it a lot. Just the layout and the quality of the design really, to me at least, smacks of something that's totally legit. Huge, huge thanks to Andi, because really if you look at the product and what makes it work, it's 20% my method and 80% Andi's hard work. I think it's worth just saying and appreciating how much time and effort and care. I mean, that wasn't a labor of ... it was nothing but a labor of love. The amount of work that he put into it was extraordinary.

The Insider: Cool. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with us, Steve. I really appreciate it. I hope that a whole new load of people will get as much fun out of Glance and possibly put their children through college.

Steve Thomson: Me too. Me too. Hopefully, those children grow up to be nice people.

The Insider: Absolutely.

Steve Thomson: As a result.

The Insider: Thank you so much for your time, Steve. I really appreciate it. I'll speak to you soon.

Steve Thomson: You're very welcome.

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