How To Overtime Proof Your Show

The Power of Flex Routines

Last post we talked about the importance of not going over time. In this post we’ll talk about a way to structure a show that can adapt to bringing it in at the appropriate length.

This post is autobiographical, which is an odd way to say, “This is what I do. It works for me. I’m pretty sure it will work for you …or better yet, an adapted version that suits you will work for you. No guarantees though, other than it usually works for me.”

Additionally, I realize that the problem solved by this solution isn’t a problem all acts have. As far as I can tell, this is only a problem for acts that do a lot of interactive crowd work and ad libbing. That’s me.

Qualifying statements being stated, let’s jump in.

Here’s the scenario. You’re performing your show and four minutes in you realize this crowd is hot. Ad lib possibilities start popping up left and right and they are scoring well. Yes. Gotta love being in the zone.

But the catch is laughter takes time. So what do you do?

Option A: Stopping getting those sweet laughs from the ad libs.

Option B: Get those laughs, go overtime and face the justified wrath of the booker.

Option C: Get those laughs, do the appropriate amount of time, and leave out a shorter routine (or bits) that is scheduled before your closer.

I choose C. I call it the Flex routine (or routines)1

Here’s how it looks in practice:
I perform my opener. This sets up some gag threads that go through the show.
Three routines, the last of which can easily go up to fifteen minutes.
At this point I know where I am time-wise in the show.
If needed, I leave out a Flex routine, and go directly to the closer.

That Flex routine (It varies, but it’s typically four to five minutes long) allows me to adjust. I choose a routine with only one music cue so I have to advance my Audio Ape for a single track and I’m back in where I need to be musically.

Another version: two or more even shorter Flex routines. Same reasoning and placement.

Simple stuff? Yes. And I like simple. Simple works. I dig simple.

A Word From Our Sponsor:
Great Stand-Up Routines That Can Be The Flex Spot In Your Show


I’ve used a few different show timers, but never felt 100% comfortable with one. So lately I’ve been using my watch, but with one little tweak. One, I don’t use a digital watch, because I don’t like the aesthetic of digital watches. Yeah, I know — get off my lawn!

I use my analog watch, but I set it right before I go up to the hour, meaning if the show starts at 8:10 pm, my watch will read 8pm when I start. That way I don’t have to do any math to figure out how long I’ve been up there.

My watch reads “8:30,” I’ve been up there 30 minutes. 8:37? I’ve been up there 37 minutes. Is this an odd over simplification? Probably, but I don’t really care because it works for me.

I hope “I don’t really care because it works for me” doesn’t sound cocky. It’s not. It’s more pragmatic than anything else, as the key word in that phrase isn’t me. The key word is works. And I hope it works for you, too.

Until next time,

Doc Dixon

1Name suggested by Michael Misko

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Don’t Go Overtime

You have to do your time …and most of the time not too much more.
For the sake of discussion, let’s assume you have a show slot where you are to do 45-50 minutes. I’ll save going under for another day, but what about going over time?

The crowd is super hot. You’re a comedy magic act and the crowd gave you an opener for ad libs that would just not quit. Laugh after laugh. You’re thinking, “This is GREAT!! The client is going to LOVE this.” You go 55+ minutes, and leave the stage to a huge ovation.

After the show the event planner (or cruise director, party planner, etc.) does not look pleased. You’re puzzled.

He says, “You went nearly an hour. You made me late for the XYZ event I have to attend in Taurus Lounge,” or “I told Mr. Big Wig you’d be off at 9:05 at the latest. I look like a putz now,” or “The Oompa Loompa ice cream parfaits I had ready are MELTING!”

Ugh. You leave the stage expecting a hug and get what feels like a kick in the butt.
And the truth? For the most part, you might deserve it.

The Great (or not so great) Reasons An Act Can Take More Time.

● You get an opening for an ad lib (or several openings) that score really well and laughter takes time.
● Borrowing a bill for the bill to lemon takes more time than usual.
● You have to deal with an unexpected audience assist (That’s a euphemism I just came up with for “heckler.”)
● You get an audience helper that becomes the star of the show and you let him shine to great audience reaction, which means additional time.
● All of the above.

Those reasons are understandable to you and me, but the event planner/cruise director/party host just …doesn’t …care …if they need you to end by a specific time.

First Step: Know When They Want You Outta There!

Simple. Ask. Politely pin them down to numbers. Explain a range of, say, five minutes, works best. Tell them in layman terms what your last routine looks like, as this frequently helps them with their part of the event.

NEXT POST: How To Overtime Proof Your Show

PS: The current Dixon Magic newsletter is talking about the Iceland Sale!

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Let’s Shake A Few Barnacles Off Our Cold Crusty Hearts

At a recent gig I was very glad I Pack for Teddy Bear. Pack for Teddy Bear is the phrase I use to describe being ready with props for a routine or two that could feature a kid from the audience, even in shows that are expected to be for adults.

In this show, there was such a kid. Six years old. His name is Quentin. We did a Miser’s dream routine together. He was great. At the end of the routine, Quentin gave me a surprise big hug. A real rib breaker of a hug.

And that moment was easily the audience’s favorite part of the show. Mine, too.

And I’m not guessing that. As I was walking out the door, the client thanked me, for the show, shared a nice compliment or two, and then spoke for several minutes about the interaction with Quentin. Yay, Quentin!!

If I wasn’t ready with a pack small, play big, kid-friendly routine, there would not have been a “Yay, Quentin” moment in the show.

Better Than A Snowless Childhood

The desire to include a schmaltzy, sentimental moment in a show has scripted a ton of Snowstorm In China routines. And many come off as less than sincere.

Why not be ready to have a moment of REAL sentiment in your show? When you Pack for Teddy Bear in your adult shows, you are always ready for the opportunity.

Want to be prepared?

My book, The Kids Know Best, will not only help you pack small and play big for kid & family audiences, it even outlines a 30 Minute Magic Show That Fits In A Shaving Kit Bag!!

If you regularly perform for family and kid audiences, you’ll be able to pack lighter and deliver more impact.

If you only perform for kid & family audiences semi-frequently, you’ll now be ready to deliver great kid-friendly routines while taking up minimal real estate space in your prop case.

And for a limited time it’s on sale. The summer season typically marks in increase in the number of family centric gigs, so be prepared. Get The Kids Know Best and SAVE TWENTY SMACKERS!

US orders The Kids Know Best $50 $30 plus $10 s&h.  

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Sometimes You Wear The %^&* Magic Necktie

You know the ones I mean. They are greeted with a very dismissive tone every time they are brought up in an online magic forum. 

And I’d agree. 

95% of the time. 

Not every gig is the same. 

Or related to what Eugene Burger opined, “The house of magic has many rooms.” 

I more than agree those ties are out of place and a bad choice for most shows in the corporate and private party markets. Not so much clownish as they are just plain old ugly. 

But for a funky Mardi Gras themed event? Or any number of family-oriented strolling gigs? Or a county fair? Or the summer fun outdoor gigs?

Do I wear them? No. But I’m six feet four inches tall with a handlebar mustache so, as Hulk Hogan once described himself, “I’m a bit of a visual.” But for those events where the audience is  dressed a little funky, or the general event vibe is a little over the top, then go for it without guilt. 

All gigs are not the same. To bring the toolkit of one venue to a vastly different venue is limiting.


Doc Dixon

PS: Tonight June 17, 2024, two sales are ending soon, so jump on board now.

Father’s Day Sale $100+ saving

2xImpossible PreSale! Save $35

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Cups, Balls, and Rants

I performed the cups and balls regularly in my festival outdoor shows for about a 10 year stretch, from 2000 to 2010. I loved performing the routine and it was appreciated by my audiences. A favorite part were the jokes I wrote for it, as they were edgy, pointed, but not so much that they’d get me fired. Ha!

With the cups mind, here are a few rant-centric mini essays I wrote about year ago based on the ten years of performing the routine. Keep in mind, these thoughts are intended for the outdoor festival stage performer, not a close-up presentation.

RANT: It’s not about the cups

This is an observation that only became obvious to me after I made it. I guess that’s a nice way to say I had a “Well, duh” moment. Thankfully, I had it over twenty years ago, so I’ve been able to benefit from it for two decades. Despite the timing of the realization, it’s perennially useful. 

On stage, the loads are less important than the routine before. 

On stage, it’s about comedically holding court with the cups and balls. 

Holding court means the audience realizes that you and them are the focus, not the props. 

Part of the reason for this is the diminished view of the final load from the stage. Up close, the spectators can count the stitches on the baseball. On stage, not so much. Back in the eighties a regular part of my restaurant magic sets was a chop cup routine with an eight ball as a final load. I heard spectators refer to it as the “trick with the eight ball.” This made me focus on that aspect of the trick when doing it close up. 

Fast forward over a decade and I’m performing the cups and balls on stage. While the loads are still impressive, the entertainment value came from the jokes and interactions before the loads were revealed. 

To make a metaphorical stretch, everything that happened before the loads were the words of a one liner joke. The final loads were the applause cue and exclamation point of the sentence. 

Example: Paul Daniels’ legendary chop cup routine. It’s all the fun before the loads that make it so good. 

Watch Bob Sheets doing the cup and balls with young helpers from the audience. Genius! It’s the interaction with the kids that make it so good. The final loads, wonderful as they are, are a bonus, the final punctuation to a great routine. 

So what’s the takeaway from this rant? Or, in my case, my overdue epiphany? Spend more time writing jokes and creating interactions to hold court before the final loads.

RANT: STOP Load Juggling

Stop juggling the final loads of the cups and balls. 

Stop it. 

I cringe 99% of the time when I see final loads “appearing from nowhere,” only to juggled for no good reason.

You’ve just done a miracle and you’re capping it off with your mediocre juggling? So bad. This is the quintessential example of just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should


Unless you’re Charlie Frye. 
For two reasons. One, the juggling will be spectacular. Two, he’s Charlie Frye, pal. 

RANT: Final loads for the cups need to be recognizable things

Fruits, vegetables, and baseballs are all recognizable from the stage.   

Those large crochet-covered extra large final load cork balls? Not so much. They are the worst. 

Final loads for the cups should be a different color from the small balls. Using small yellow balls then producing a lemon diminishes the appearance of the lemon. The final loads should contrast in both size AND color. 

Rant: Don’t Genuflect For The Cups

I am six feet four inches tall. Is it any surprise that my table height for doing the cups and balls should be a different height than a performer show is five feet six inches tall? And yet … 

As Flosso would say, “Stand up straight, boy!” 

Leaning over a table looks and feels uncomfortable. It’s a small thing to reach down and under the InStand table and adjust it to the right height. 

The table is not adjustable? Then stand up straight for as much as you can and work on minimizing bending over. Remember, the cups on stage are about holding court. It’s tough to hold court bent over. Stand up straight, boy!


Doc Dixon

PS: Tonight June 17, 2024, two sales are ending soon, so jump on board now.

Father’s Day Sale $100+ saving

2xImpossible PreSale! Save $35

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The Vanishing Inc Fire

Brutal. Like you probably did, I saw the news of the Vanishing Inc warehouse fire. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but that’s obviously a big hit to the business to recover from.

Within 24 hours talk of helping VI through this by purchasing a VI downloads was appearing on magic Facebook pages. Gotta love that spirit.

So in that spirit, here are a four of my favorite Vanishing Inc downloads.

Learn Bar Magic with Bibik
Bibik, a friend of several decades, is very Old School. If you have read more than a few posts on this blog, you know that’s a big compliment coming from me. Great stuff.

Peter Pelikaan
I love Pelikaan’s packet tricks. I don’t care if I ever do any of this material, it is so fun to watch. These aren’t your father’s packet tricks.

Jamy Ian Swiss Cups & Balls Masterclass
There is always something to learn from listening to a performer discuss a routine he’s lived with for years. Always. This session is no exception.

Troy Hooser’s Coin Melody
How smooth is Troy’s coin work? Like buttah.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Josh, Andi, and the Vanishing Inc. team.


Doc Dixon

PS#1: Only AFTER you have visited Vanishing Inc, be sure to check out our store.
PS#2: And be sure to check out two of our recent releases, 2xImpossible and the Diary of Decision.

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How Do You Connect With An Audience?

One of the best Facebook pages for magicians to chat is Luke Dancy’s All Things Magic. Great chatter, respectful tone, with very little (if any) snark. Nice place. If you’re not a member, consider joining.

This question recently came up on the page:

What are your favorite ways to connect with an audience during your performances?

That’s a great question and it was greeted with many thought provoking answers. I didn’t want to spill a ton of bloviation on Luke’s page, so I didn’t respond there. Couple that with I’m always looking for great topics to talk about here. Throw in I have no bloviation limits here.
So here we go.

What does connect with an audience mean anyway?

I think there is more than one workable definition, but I think there is an advantage with going with a specific definition, even if it’s somewhat arbitrary. The specificity gives us something to act on. Here we go:

You’re connecting as a magician when the audience wants to hang out with you and have a drink after the show.*

*And I should make clear, this definition is for adult shows, not kid shows. I’m not picturing little Billy saying, “Mom, get out an extra juice box for my new magic buddy.”

With this definition, it’s more than just liking your act. It’s liking you.

Stephen Wright is an all time comedy great. When I see Wright be himself in interviews he seems like a likable, down to earth guy. Seems like it would be great to hang out with him for a few minutes.

But his stand up act? That deadpan delivery of one hilarious non sequitur after another? Is it hilarious? Definitely. His success is enormous and he’s a legend. But I don’t think he connects with the audience in the way I am defining it here.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s simply the choice made by this iconic standup comic. And it’s obviously been very successful for him.

So how can a magician create the kind of connection we’re talking about here?

Fans are not only for the famous
Returning to a repeat client?
Performing at a festival for the fifth year in a row?
The audience has seen a ton of your work on social media?
There’s a good chance you’re connected with them before you even walk on stage. Embrace the conviviality of meeting with old friends.

“One of us! One of us!”
Decades ago I worked with a standup comic that was a retired police officer. He occasionally performs at banquets for law enforcement groups. Do you think he is greeted like the returning hero as he walks to the mic? Yep. He kills. And, yes, he’s very funny, but the affinity he has with law enforcement audiences is a huge plus.

Shows where there’s a natural affinity going in are some of the most enjoyable. In other words, let your freak fly a little in finding your audiences.

Be funny
Funny breaks down barriers of resistance. I shared a story back in August 2023 about a woman I met a few days after a show. She said:

“But before the show, so many of us were like (accompanied by a brutal eye roll) — Ugh. What? A magician?!? But you were great!” And I promise you, while I do solid magic, 99% of her “you were great” came from the laughs.

Go back here and read the post, as there is a ton of overlap with what we’re talking about here.

Talk about yourself in entertaining ways that relate to the audience.
I open my show talking about my family, and how I’m a “husband of one, father of seven.” I have jokes about being a dad and husband.

Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno talk about tidbits of life that irritate him. They are, of course, hilarious. We can identify with their irritation. Now imagine if they talked about the aggravations of finding the right person to manage their multi-million dollar car collections. Nowhere near the relatability on that topic.

Be playful
You don’t have to be overly formal and stiff onstage. Play with people. Want a fine example of a routine that accomplishes the kind of fun loving playful interaction I’m talking about? Of course you do. Here you go:

Be kind
Say thank you. Get names right. Don’t punch down. Be grateful. Actually like people.

After the show
Don’t be in such a rush to leave. Oy! Why the hurry? You can pack your props when they’re all gone. Shake hands. Get to know folks. Thank them for helping. Be the welcoming host of your own post-show.

And, yes, I’m sure there are exceptions to every point on this page. I can think of several as I type this. That’s not the point. The point it to think about our acts and the results we produce.

Hope these thoughts help you better connect with your audiences.


Doc Dixon

PS#1: As always, be sure to check out the store before you go.
PS#2: And be sure to check out my new release, 2xImpossible.

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Tap Into The Power Of WHY?

WHY is such a great question, even when it’s only implied.

And sometimes, it’s a not-so-great question when it’s asked.

Let’s look at a not-so-great example first.

Magic Boy: “Cards come in two colors, red or black. Pick one.”

Audience Member: “Red.”

Magic Boy: “Interesting. Why did you choose red?”

Audience Member: “Uh, because you just asked to me to choose a red or black, chuckle nuts.”

Why do some magicians ask these kind of questions? I think it comes from a good motivation. They want more interaction and more meaning (?) in their shows. I get it. But red or black in 99% of the situations, doesn’t offer much to work with.

Now let’s look at a great example.

Entertainer: “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Regardless of the initial answer, the follow up WHY interaction has a solid chance of being interesting. And yes, even if the answer is, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts.”

What makes the difference?

The red/black example is obviously a “crowbar” attempt to make a perfunctory choice into an interesting moment …but it ain’t.

The ghost example has some meat to it. It has some fun. And it extends beyond the individual you’re asking, as in, “OK, Louise, you believe in ghosts.” Looking at the rest of the audience, “How many of you believe there might be ghosts, too, Raise your hands.”

Oh yes. Now we got somethin’

I like these kind of open-ended, why-friendly questions in a magic routine. They are another way to turn possible dry puzzles into interactive entertainment.

These type of questions don’t usually come up spontaneously.
They are PLANNED for. The why-friendly questions are BUILT into the routine from the ground up.

A few classic Why-Friendly question effects:
Confabulation, Add-A-Number, Pseudo-Psychometry, and …

Tap into The Power of Why.

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The POWER of Pace & Space

Can I tell you how I have lied to hundreds of magicians?

I told them my book, The Show Is The Mother of Invention: Advice on Packing Small, Playing Big & Living Large is about …get this …packing small and playing big.


Yes, it is about that. But here’s the 100% truth: the book is not ALL & EXCLUSIVELY about packing small and playing big. The topics covered in the book, like ….
Your Biggest Prop
Avoiding Visual Confusion
Comedy Crutches
The Big Free Props Available At Every Venue
Fire Replacement

…all these tools help a show no matter how big or small it packs.

Could they be more even more important to the performer whose props fit in a carryon bag? Probably, but they are very important to every performer.

Which leads to the topic of this post …


Miracles. Are. Not. Rushed.

A deliberate, unrushed pace can visually and mentally focus an audience on a small handheld prop, like a playing card.
The right pace, slowed down and sped up at the right times, can give something as potentially uninteresting — like the identity of a playing card — HUGE importance. The wrong pacing can bring little more than, “Oh, the four of diamonds. That’s cute.”

“But the magician wasn’t anywhere NEAR me or the cards!!”

When I perform the classic cards across with envelopes with two spectators, I have them at least eight feet from each other.
When I performed bill in lemon, the lemon was sitting up to 20 feet from me for most of the show.
When any number of magic greats perform a prediction (like Copperfield’s classic Graffiti Wall Prediction or Penn & Teller’s great Bottle Prediction) the prediction is very high in the air, sometimes up to the edge of the proscenium arch.

Would the method of these routines change if the volunteers, lemon, envelope, or bottle were closer?


Would they be less impressive to a lay audience if things were closer?


Before we move on, ask yourself,
“Where in the magic I already do can I better use pace & space?”

Pace & Space are among the tools that elevate tricks into miracles.

And that brings me to Dixon Magic’s newest release.

Card at Any Number
For Close-Up
For Stage
Born in the work of an early 20th century master magician
Routined for maximum impact

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Magic EDC Thoughts

I recently released Trip To The Clip 2.0, a natural routine for EDC (Every Day Carry).

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking more about magic EDC. Here are a few of those semi-rambling (but hopefully useful) thoughts. Some of these are explored in the Trip To the Clip video.


The purpose (or at least my purpose) for magic EDC isn’t to shoehorn magic into less than ideal scenarios. It’s not even to always be ready to perform, although some of these suggestions in this post, like be able to magish with quarters, will do that.

To me, magic EDC is being ready to perform in situations where it’s beneficial to you and the possible audience. So if I know I’m going to in a situation with that possibility, I bring those few things necessary.

They’re pockets, not saddlebags.

I look at some of the pics people post of their EDC and think, “Whoa. That’s a TON of props.” As in a dozen props. Listen, if that’s you, well …you be you. That’s not me. And I say that not to pay polite lip service when I really think something much more negative. Nope. I sincerely mean, “if you want to carry that much, good for you. I prefer not to carry that much stuff.”

They’re pockets, not magic shops

Sponge bunnies are a working staple of thousand of pros, yet for EDC I can’t get past the oddness of people thinking, “That’s a “grown a** man who carries around tiny bunnies.” Listen, if you DO carry around sponge bunnies on a daily basis, I’m sure you bring some joy to folks, but I’ll still pass.

To be clear, I am not talking about a strolling or close-up gig. I’m talking about EDC.

Don’t just think EDC. Think EDA.

There are things that are magic friendly that exist in the world around us every day. These things are Every Day Available. Meaning, if you’ve never performed Three Fly with three Ritz crackers, forget me asking if you’re a magician. Instead, ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE???!! HA!

One of my favorite memories of this sort of thing is from thirty years ago when I noticed a loose thread hanging from the jacket of a woman I was dating. It took me about 5 seconds to quickly ready a Gypsy Thread. I performed it for her. She wasn’t given to foul language, but as the thread restored she just looked at me and said, “What the %^&*. How? HOW??!!”

I’m certain that 90% of the impact came from the improvised nature of it. And the same impact comes when you perform Chink-A-Chink with sugar packets.

Unlike birds, quarters are real.

Quarters are better than every day carry, as they are every day available. “Excuse me, may I have change for this bill in quarters?” Now you’re good to go.

There’s a ton of ungaffed coin routines that work very well with quarters. You don’t always need half dollars. Get into some of the classic David Roth routines and you’ll find some gems that work well with quarters. Eddie Fechter’s coin work is another great source. Spend a few minutes with half a dozen quarters to get used to the size and you’ll see what I mean.

The jumbo coin that is not a jumbo coin.

I’ve done the Slydini/Roth One Coin Flurry with a jumbo coin finish for decades. For slightly fewer years, I’ve performed it with a surrogate jumbo coin. This originally appeared in my blog back in August, but I’ll save you the trouble of clicking by reposting it here:


In the original routine, a half dollar (or for EDC, a quarter would be fine) vanishes and reappears several times, then transforms into a jumbo coin as it lands on a spectator’s palm.

Here’s the great coin master David Roth performing it. One difference is he does the large coin appearance in his hands, not the spectator’s hand.

My EDC version:

Coins are something I carry every day. A jumbo coin? Not so much. As you might expect from a guy that wrote a book on packing small, playing big, and living large, I’m not a fan of carrying a bunch of extra stuff in my pockets just for the chance of EDC amazement. So if not a jumbo coin, what??

I want the coin to transform into that is:
1) the right size
2) makes theatrical sense
3) is something I usually carry

I use my wallet I currently I use my bill clip from Trip to the Clip

The scripting is simple enough, as this routine is fun, quick eye candy, not Atlas Shrugged. “Fifty cents here. Gone. Fifty cents. Fifty cents. (Wallet) Fifty bucks.”

For deception’s sake, try not to put your wallet in the same pocket you stole it from. And to be clear, this works with a hip pocket wallet, not the larger wallets, like the classic Seabrooke or Kaps wallets.

If you want to learn the Roth routine, track down a copy of David Roth’s Expert Coin Technique by Richard Kaufman. I’m sure there are other sources on video, but my copy of the book was literally 12 inches from me as I typed this post.


Speaking of borrowing a handful of coins …

I won’t tip it here in this public page, but there’s a great routine where you write down a prediction. A dozen or more coins are dumped on a table and the tails up coins are set aside. The remaining heads up coins are gathered up, dumped on the table and the tails up coins are set aside. This leads to one heads up coin left. Say, it’s a 1989 nickel.

Your prediction reads 1989 nickel.

This can play large for a small group. Use a glass to shake the coins to add the element of noise. Have several different participants shake the glass. Each shake adds a little more impossibility and drama.

You know the work on this, so consider this a reminder of a classic you may have forgotten.

The Hoy Book Test

You pick up 3-4 books off the shelf your friend’s house. A little magician’s choice happens. A dash of showmanship. Boom. You’ve read a mind from across the room.

Cards Are Good EDC

A plain, ungaffed deck of cards can obviously do wonders. Hundreds of wonders. Takes up little pocket space and, unlike bunnies, doesn’t look odd. To be blunt, they often look cool.

Someone asks you to “do a little something.”
You demur.
“Well, OK.” You take out a deck of cards. “I carry these with me sometimes.” You remove the cards from the case and absent-mindedly pop a one-handed shuffle.

Yep. Cards are cool.

On that note, here’s a routine that combines cards with another classic, Patrick Page’s Flash Cash (modified for EDC). Have it in your pocket and you’re always ready to blow some minds.

Get details here:

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