Ideas From The Impossibility Scale


Last week, I wrote about a fascinating psychology study that found that people have an intuitive scale for how hard different feats of magic are. 

If you missed it, check out the post (especially the diagram) as today’s post will be cover some ideas that it sparked for me when thinking about how to apply it to magic tricks.

7 Things To (Re)Consider

  1. Cups & Balls beginning:
    Many classic routines start by producing the balls. But if appearances are seen to be the hardest thing you can do, maybe we should save them until later in the routine (unless we’re aiming for a U-shaped start-strong-end-strong routine).
  2. Cups & Balls ending:
    The scale potentially suggests one reason why the classic ending of appearing fruit is so strong. In a way, compared to the small balls used in the rest of the routine, it’s a blend of Appearance (‘Conjure’), Growing (‘Big’) and Change (‘Transform’), all of which are high on the scale.
  3. Multi-ball finales: If we think of these as falling under the ‘Split’ feat, then we could use splitting in more tricks. Certainly, it should stop us dismissing Tenyo’s Dice Explosion as a beginner’s trick.
  4. Colour-changing deck routines: Looking at the scale, when ending routines, rather than the backs changing colour, maybe we’d be better off them turning blank or clear.
  5. Vanishing dove cage: While many dove routines end with a vanish, an appearance may be more satisfying (as my friend Oliver Tabor does in his Musician/Magician routine).
  6. Three-coin routines: Since teleportation doesn’t score that highly, maybe we should swap Coins Across for a routine where they appear and disappear instead (like Triad Coins). And, like the previous point, rather than having 3 coins appear then vanish, according to the scale, we should structure our routines the opposite way – disappearing then reappearing.
  7. Degrees of effort: While you could write a whole post about how much effort our magic seems to take (and Nikola Arkane has done, here), the scale made me think about how often in magic it’s pretty binary. We can either do anything, with just a click of the fingers, or everything’s a lengthy challenge (as seen in some interminable mind-reading routines). Now we can match how hard we try in our presentations with how hard the audience perceive the feat to be. Improved presentations with no sweat! (Or rather, just-the-right-amount-of-sweat!)

Can you tell I’m excited by the possibilities?! As ever, let me know your thoughts and epiphanies.

Caveat Corner

Naturally, as with any study, there are limitations and considerations. This study was about magic in fiction rather than magic tricks per se, and some of the findings are counter-intuitive (e.g. levitation seems surprisingly ‘easy’).

But that’s the beauty of scientific studies. They stimulate discussion, move the conversation on, and allow us to make new hypotheses to try out. If these new tricks are as amazing as the scale suggests, that’s great. And if they’re not, well, hopefully someone will do a version of the study for magic tricks.