Every Trick Not In The Book

For my recent lecture at the Sid Lorraine Hat & Rabbit Club, I put together a small set of notes called Every Trick Not In the Book. The reason for the title is the contents is largely essays, although a careful reading will reveal the explanation of a couple of tricks inside. The cover image actually comes from the Hubble Space Telescope.

I have a small number of copies left over. If anyone would like one, I broken down and set up a miniature store at www.jamesalan.ca/shop. It’s a secret unlisted page that can’t be reached through the site’s normal navigation bar.

Every Trick Not In The Book


So Anyway… (The Book)

I’ve just finished reading the new memoir from the great John Cleese, So Anyway…

I have long had a special place in my heart for British comedy. When I’m setting up for my shows and need to do a sound check, rather than blandly recite “testing one two three”, I’m usually reciting passages from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

When I was much younger, my employer at the time asked me what I thought of “Monty Python” and I told him I didn’t really know what that was. It was autumn at the time and some time later I was handed a package for Christmas (I was too young to put two and two together at that point and they were exceptionally generous to me at that point and it could have been anything.) But Christmas morning I opened it to discover the complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus (in VHS – which does give you some sense of my age). I promptly watched the lot and fell in love.

John Cleese was a particular favourite from the troupe. His material was physically distinctive – you could spot Cleese from across the room, whereas if you were to put them in drag (which for those unfamiliar with Python, happens frequently) I couldn’t tell Terry Jones from Michael Palin. The Ministry of Silly Walks and the Self Defence Against an Attacker Armed With Fresh Fruit were particular favourites and I also enjoyed the iconic Parrot Sketch.

This clearly played a role in the decision to have Magic Tonight at The Bear in Pickering:

Silly Walking at The Bear

Silly Walking at The Bear

What I also discovered some many years later was that Cleese was fascinated by creativity and actually gives talks on the subject. (One such talk available here with lovely subtitles). It simultaneously strikes me as odd and makes complete sense how extremely funny people take the process of being funny so seriously. When they’re on stage (or camera or wherever) you are watching them be funny and you don’t get a sense of the thought process behind it. There really is an art and a science behind comedy, which you seldom realize because expert comic performers so rarely give the impression of being artful or scientific. Like magic, it’s one of those areas where the purpose of the skill is to disguise the fact that you have the skill in the first place.

The book is also a really valuable source of advice for performers – especially new performers. Every few pages, he offers up one of those “If only I had known that back when…” tidbits. Tips on writing, performing, rehearsing, getting over nerves, timing the delivery of a joke. While the memoir portion the memoir is interesting, it’s second to me as its usefulness a stage manual for life.

Most importantly the book is most definitely funny. If you want people to look at you funny (funnily?) put it on your iPad and read it on the treadmill at the gym and see what happens as you burst out laughing periodically.

Not Quite Ironic

When I returned home from performing last night (at a wedding… with two brides… isn’t the twentieth century awesome?) to find the latest issue of Genii Magazine in my mailbox.  This issue contains a trick I submitted to them for publication several months ago and it has appeared. No one told me exactly when it was going to appear, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to see it. Genii has been around for over seventy-five years and I’m surrounded by some rather illustrious company. It feels a bit like a high school student sneaking into a really cool college party.

Genii – November 2014

The trick is called “Card Under Irony” which is a strange variation of the modern classic trick, “Card Under the Drink”. Before it was published, there was spirited debate here in Toronto as to whether the trick should have been called “Card Under Irony” or “Card Under Foreshadowing”. Eventually it was decided both were equally appropriate and equally confusing so we flipped a coin.

It shows up on p44 in the Magicana column, edited by Andi Gladwin.

One small correction: somehow Photo 5 got inverted. So when you get to that part of the description, it’s best to do a head stand to view the photo. Otherwise when you try to learn the trick you’ll be confused when you’re required to magically teleport a card from the left to the right side of the table.

One large correction: those hands aren’t mine! Really the wedding ring should give that away. I’m still quite single and will happily accept suitors who enjoy card tricks.

If you don’t already subscribe to Genii, you can do so here.

The Improbability Principle

Much to my surprise, it was quite a busy summer with a lot of time spent travelling between events. Everyone settling into the back-to-school routine has afforded me a little break and I’ve been catching up on my non-magical reading and there has been some really interesting stuff which I wanted to share.


That title probably seems wildly contradictory. How can improbable things happen every day?

One of the most important lessons you can learn is that when it comes to estimating probability, the human brain sucks. It sucks really bad. Of course it’s not the brain’s fault, it was designed that way. But it’s a handicap we all have to get over so we can function in the world. Ever since Math for Data Management in Grade 12, I’ve known that the results that come out of probability calculations are deeply counterintuitive. It’s not just that if you try to guess the answer you might get the wrong answer. It’s worse: If you try to guess the right answer, cognitive biases will kick in and you’ll be almost guaranteed to get the wrong answer. This book is, broadly speaking, the explanation why.

So books like this are an incredible resource. The content runs parallel to the themes in The Uncertainty Project (sadly the book contains no drag queen) and is extremely straightforward and easy to follow. If you want to know one of the most important ways the universe doesn’t work the way you think it does, this is for you.

Waking Up

Much to my surprise, it was quite a busy summer with a lot of time spent travelling between events. Everyone settling into the back-to-school routine has afforded me a little break and I’ve been catching up on my non-magical reading and there has been some really interesting stuff which I wanted to share.

Sam Harris Waking Up

The release of Sam Harris’ new book, Waking Up, comes almost exactly ten years after the release of his first book, the game-chaning, The End of Faith, which was the catalyst which ignited the so called “New Atheist” publishing revolution. That revolution yielded bestsellers like The God Delusion, God is Not Great and Breaking The Spell and did, to a large extent, change the way religion was discussed in public.

This book is in some sense his least controversial. It’s slightly more difficult to argue with the results of scientific research than it is to abstract claims about faith, morality and free will. It may also be the most useful since it’s directed at the individual instead of society at large.

Sam explains how to explore notions of spirituality and transcendence while keeping your efforts separate from all of the religious and new age mysticism and woo that often clutters things up. Spirituality is a loaded term. Christopher Hitchens used to try and discuss it calling it the “numinous” which was wonderful, except it was a word that no one understood so that conversation couldn’t really go anywhere. It’s a tremendously important conversation that the secular community has been dodging for a long time.

Rather than just dismiss the experiences of millions of people we need to figure out how to embrace those experiences, carefully picking out the nonsense while retaining the genuinely useful benefits we can get from them.

A better Lie Detector

For those using the Lie Detector app which is part of Denis Behr‘s trick in Seventeen Secrets Volume 2he made a small update which improves the working. You should go to his site and redownload the app to get the slightly better version.

The method behind the trick remains exactly the same, but the output of the app has been made slightly clearer, which makes the effect clearer in the eyes of the audience. The change came about because of suggestions from Dani DaOrtiz while he was in Toronto recently.

For those of you that bought the book but haven’t tried the trick because of the [secret stuff] involved, you should. It’s one of the most ingenious combination of diverse principles that I have ever come across and the result is an iPhone that appears as though it can read minds.

Denis Behr - Photo by Johan Duker

Denis Behr – Photo by Johan Duker

Seventeen Secrets eBooks

The two booklets I edited for the Sid Lorraine Hat & Rabbit Club are now available as eBooks. So if you prefer a lighter digital version, or just don’t want to pay for shipping, both titles are now available for $15 each at Lybrary.com.

Lybrary is the world’s largest site for eBooks about magic and its related arts with hundreds of titles including reproductions of rare and out of print books.

Volume 1 includes contributions from me, James Biss, Matt DiSero, Richard Forget, Murray Hatfield, Will Houstoun, Joshua Jay, Michael Weber and Tyler Wilson. Read the full table of contents.

SSV1 Cover

Seventeen Secrets Vol 1

Volume 2 contains contributions from me, Bill Abbott, Denis Behr, Eugene Burger, Alain Choquette, Matt DiSero, Tina Lenert, Chris Mayhew, Ricky Smith, Rob Testa and Chris Westfall. Read the full table of contents.

SSV2 Cover

Seventeen Secrets Vol 2

The print and electronic versions have identical content with a few formatting changes. The photos in the eBooks are larger and in colour. Otherwise they’re the same books. They cover a range of material including cards, close-up, stage and mentalism with varying levels of difficulty.

For those interested in purchasing the original print versions, which are limited numbered editions, they are available from the Hat & Rabbit Club’s web store for $20 each plus postage.

Chris Westfall on the cover of MUM

An article I wrote about a fellow Toronto magician, Chris Westfall, wound up as the cover story for the November issue of MUM, the journal of the Society of American Magicians.

The article is titled “Magic Saved My Life” and is not an especially happy story – although it does have a happy ending as Chris is now an important part of the magic community in Toronto; one of the busiest performers in the city. There’s an expert which has been published on the SAM site here.

Also in the works; the project that led to the article being written in the first place is still in its super secret phase, so hopefully someone will tell me I’m allowed to write about that soon.

Chris Westfall

For those that receive MUM, the issues have been printed and are currently in the mail. Back issues are available from the MUM site.

Magic that Sucks

Earlier this year, I contributed a trick to a special project organized by David Peck and the Mosquitoes Suck Tour. His plan was to create an instructional resource for magicians – magicians teaching magicians – and to take all the proceeds (actually all the revenue!) and put them towards the purchase of malaria preventing mosquito nets.

It took a number of months to gather all the contributions and edit them together and the final product is now available. The Mosquitoes Suck Project can be downloaded for just $10. It includes contributions from Bobby Motta, Joshua Jay, Anthony Lindan, David Peck, Brian Roberts and Canadian Magician of the Year Winners Bill Abbott and Jay Sankey. All of the performers donated their time for the project and SoChange provided the filming and editing so 100% of the revenue goes towards bednets.

On "set" with Anthony Lindan, David Peck & Brian Roberts

On “set” with Anthony Lindan, David Peck & Brian Roberts

The download comes as an mp4, 106 minutes long, 2.97 GB. It’s an enormous amount of content at an incredible value. The reason for the $10 price tag: $10 buys one insecticide treated mosquito net which protects a family for up to five years. So please consider buying a copy now.

Mosquitoes Suck Project

If you’re not interested in magic but still want to help, MST also has a bunch of cool stuff like T-shirts, and an assortment of private label fair trade coffee available at their shop.


I’m staring at a little present from Bobby Motta. To go along with his lecture at the Browser’s Den of Magic last weekend, he produced a set of notes which was available for sale.


The good news is they’re gorgeous. They come in an envelope with a wax seal.


The bad news is, they come in an envelope with a wax seal, and I can’t bring myself to open them. So I have absolutely no idea what they look like.

Full disclosure: I wrote them, so I know what they say. But I still have no idea what they look like.  They contain five tricks, all of the mental variety. (Actually it could be considered eight tricks; four of them are variations on a theme.) One of them offers an in-depth section on a creation of his, Blackmail, which you would have to own for it to be of use to you. And it also includes the piece which he uses to close his show at Dave & Busters. I’m not allowed to say which one of the five that is; you’ll have to go see the show for yourself to figure that out.

The booklets were produced in a very limited number for the lecture (The Browser’s Den only fits about 40-50 people before you have to start standing on people’s shoulders) so if you’re interested in obtaining a copy, you’d probably have to track Bobby down directly fairly soon. They may be reprinted, but if it’s done in larger quantities, he might get lazy and the new edition might not look nearly as pretty.*

It’s also possible that Bobby won’t be around long enough to reprint them after I thank him for his… ahem… generous acknowledgement at the end of the notes. I’m not saying any more here. You’ll have to go read it for yourself.

Bobby Motta Lecture

Photo by Ben Train

*If you ask me, his wive probably gets most of the credit for how pretty they look. But that’s just a hunch.