Alexa’s Aces

In yesterday’s blog post I wrote about using Amazon’s Alexa to reveal a specific card, which is the Ace of Spades. The next step is to figure out the trick that will bring us to the reveal of the Ace of Spades. I wanted all of the action to happen on their side of the screen, so I would just be giving verbal instructions, not manipulating any props.

Here’s what I came up with (with the help of Jonathan Friedman and Chris Beason):

The shuffle their deck of cards and remove the four aces in the order that they shuffled them to. The aces are held in a facedown packet and you spell “amazon alexa” shifting one card from the top to the bottom for each letter. You then ask their Alexa, “Alexa, what’s your favorite playing card?” and it will respond “Ace of Spades”. Have them flip the entire packet over and the Ace of Spades will be showing!

The work is pretty simple, you just need to spot the location of the Ace of Spades in the four card packet. What is spelt will be determined by the position of the Ace of Spades. If it’s:

Top: Spell Alexa
2nd Down: Spell Amazon
3rd Down: Spell Amazon Alexa
Bottom: Spell Amazons Alexa or Amazon Alexa Trick

How I remember is that the words are built like a pyramid. The shortest thing you spell is on top and the longest is on the bottom. If you just remember the two words AMAZON and ALEXA you have pretty much all you need to know, except adding the S or word TRICK to the bottom phrase.

Go out and have fun with this trick…or do whatever with this knowledge

Alexa’s Card Trick…

Recently I started doing a trick over Zoom where I trigger the Amazon Echo / Alexa at the spectator’s house. It’s got a fun feel, because the trick happens at everyone’s house how has an Alexa that can hear it respond.

It started out with me figuring out you could get Alexa to reveal a specific playing card by asking, “Alexa, what’s your favorite playing card?” and it will say “Ace of Spades“. Most magicians know you can get a random playing card by asking it to “pick a card“, but being able to get a consistent card is helpful for a reveal.

That going me thinking about what else might be Alexa’s favorites. I started asking all sorts of questions starting with “Alexa, what’s your favorite…” and have a little bit of a list going. There’s a list on Reddit from about 3 years ago, and some of the answers have changed since then, but it will give you an idea of some of the things to ask. Something to remember it to test your results on other people’s Alexa’s before you roll out the trick. There are somethings that have variables, like when I ask, “Alexa, what’s your favorite season?” I get one answer and other people get a different answer.

OK, now that I had the reveal for the trick, I needed to come up with the trick. I’ll write about that tomorrow…

Virtual Show Pricing…

Ugh, so my laptop has been working less and less well with virtual shows. It’s doing a strange things where my screen freezes, then speeds up to get caught up to real time. Luckily it’s not as bad on the audience’s screen as it is on mine, but it’s still there. It’s doable, but not a great experience for the audience.

If this was happening six months or a year ago, it wouldn’t have been a big deal as we were in the middle of the COVID pandemic and there was a long tunnel of virtual shows ahead. Right now I’ve got about 10 virtual shows on the books, but most places are booking me for in person shows. That makes it a hard decision to go out and buy a new computer. Do I just struggle through the last of the shows?

I decided to get a new computer to run my virtual shows on. This got me thinking about why virtual shows should cost at least as much as your in person magic shows cost. The main reason is that I am providing the venue, before the booker did that. Because of that I have “venue costs” associated with the show. That’s things like keeping my tech up to date and in working order, in addition to the maintenance of the performing space (backdrop etc).

At this point in the evolution of virtual magic shows, if you are charging less than you were 18 months ago, in my opinion you are charging too less. Keep in mind I don’t count other people’s money, you charge what you need to charge to survive and I won’t judge you on why you are charging what you are.

On The Big Screen…

For a long time I didn’t really use any video projection in my show. Mostly because I didn’t understand how it worked and how to work it. In late January of 2020 I decided I was going to start to figure out how to use it in my live, in person stage shows. Shortly after I started working on using projection, the COVID pandemic hit and any work on in person shows went onto the back burner as I had to figure out virtual shows. Luckily those virtual shows have translated into me starting to understand how to incorporate video elements into my in person show.

Recently I did a theater show and got to start to use video projection. One thing I didn’t like about video was that I didn’t want the audience essentially watching TV. The ideal trick for this is the Three Shell Game. It’s interactive, and fills the screen nicely, but plus it still have whole audience interaction. I chose to use my Russian Shell Game as it has a payoff with the production of a dozen shells.

Here’s my first show using video projection:

It played well, and one of the silver linings to come out of the COVID pandemic is me not being afraid of using video projection/production in my show!

Three Inches Too Long…

Yesterday I was back home briefly before flying to Los Angeles to record a few routines for a TV show. While I was packing up to fly, I learned that the speaker stand that I’ve been using in my virtual shows as my table base didn’t fit into my case, it was about 3 inches too long! I switched to using a speaker stand early into doing virtual shows because I was able to raise it higher than a traditional magician’s table. That made it easier to frame my face and table in the same camera shot. You can read more about that here:

http://www.magicshow.tips/magic-show-tips/a-sturdy-base/

The solution was pretty simple, I unscrewed the attachment at the top, then cut off a few inches with my Dremel. Also if you don’t have a Dremel or similar tool, you should get one, they are super handy!

While I was out there I also noticed the smaller bar that moves up and down didn’t need to be as long as it was, so I chopped it in half. That will reduce weight for future trips if I fly with this again. Ideally I’ll just use a speaker stand provided by the venue.

Luckily it was a simple solution to shorten the speaker stand. I’ve always said that being a professional magician is 90% problem solving!

Virtual Road Gig…

A couple days ago I got to do my first virtual gig while performing on the road from a hotel. I was in Lincoln City, OR performing at a festival. Here’s the set up I was using:

There’s not much to it, and I think I could eliminate using the ATEM mini to simplify it. I did over pack, I brought more stands than I needed.

Here’s what I’m using:

White: laptop running OBS

Green: Soft box light: https://amzn.to/2PmDnsM

Yellow: Sony FDR-AX33 (could pretty much be any camera

Orange: Yeti Blue snowball:https://amzn.to/3cZvTnL

Red: ATEM mini:https://amzn.to/2NGmuZK

Blue: Stream Deck:https://amzn.to/3c9TSBt

Purple: Old iphone running camera vision app, attached via HDMI with:https://amzn.to/3vTpzXR

There’s probably a better/more efficient way to set this up. some of my gear and gear choices have been selected due to what I already had on hand a year ago

Figure It Out First…

The other day a magician I know texted me asking me if I could put him into one of my virtual shows so he could do 5 or 10 mins. Here’s a little bit of backstory, the magician is a good in person magician, but hadn’t done any virtual performing. It’s the lack of experience on the virtual stage that made me have to say no.

Unfortunately doing virtual shows isn’t as simple as turning on a camera and performing. There’s a lot of things you need to figure out at it’s most basic level where it’s just your laptop cam and some magic. Having a choppy show that kinda bumbled through the zoom was acceptable in March – June of 2020 when everyone was figuring this out and we were converting in person gigs to virtual gigs. We’re now in a world where we’re selling virtual gigs and you need to have a show that’s barely treading water while learning to navigate the virtual stage.

The silver lining to virtual shows it’s that it’s easer than ever to get your flight time on stage. There are virtual open mics you can do and you aren’t limited to what you can drive to, these happen at different times and time zones around the world. You could probably perform 3-5 times (or more) a day! That’s tons of chances to learn how to perform virtually. That’s in addition to just getting some friend to informally hop on zoom and you do a few tricks for them.

Basically what I’m saying is you haven’t performed virtually, you need to bang out a few free shows to figure out how it all works and how your show fits onto the screen.


Don’t Crowd Source Your Show…

I’m beginning to become an old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, but instead I’m yelling at magicians to stop crowdsourcing content on a Facebook groups. The people who do it are usually pretty lazy, and rarely reveal their work first or at all.

This was recently posted:

First of all, anyone who has a remotely original line isn’t going to give it up. But also the original poster didn’t give any context, he’s just trying to build a Milton Berle joke book in the thread. Unfortunately when you ask a garbage question you get garbage answers:

The person who posted the two jokes (?) isn’t the person who wrote them. That person essentially stole two jokes they’ve heard a magician say, then offered the stolen jokes to other magicians. First of all, neither is very funny and the first thing is kind of an @sshole thing to say to someone. It’s a very late 1980’s to early 1990’s stereotypical type thing a magician would say. It’s not modern, but more so it really doesn’t move most magician’s characters forward and that’s the bigger problem, most magicians don’t know who they are on stage, and how using sh*tty lines lines like this doesn’t move the ball forward for them.

It’s also this thinking that’s the reason why people think all magicians all tell the same jokes and do the same tricks. It’s because soo many do the same regurgitated crap. Go out and actually work on your show. Don’t know how? I wrote a post about it recently and you can read it here

Adding People…

When I do virtual shows the format I’ve been using is fairly similar to the structure of my in person shows. I usually alternate a trick where I’m solo on stage, followed by a trick where I use someone from the audience onstage, then repeat that. It’s a nice break from a constant stream of people coming up from the audience.

Last night at a virtual show I started using more people on screen than I normally would. In the solo tricks, I just talking to the people and joking with them.

It played out really well and it made the show a lot more fun for me. For a virtual show it really helped bring up the energy and forced me to be more present in the show during my solo tricks.

X Ray Coin Vanish

Last night I was walking my dog and was thinking about an amazing idea of my friend Bri Crabtree. She uses a green screen spot, which is a genius idea! My idea was to use it as an xray for a vanish. Here’s a rough idea of what I’m think of:

I’m thinking if I get a ping pong paddle that’s green on one side I can make it work. Show the non-green side that says “x ray” then flip it over, show the skeleton of my hand with the coin and d do the vanish.

It’s not the deepest mystery in the world, but it is fun!