Ten Twists: The Baby Gag


I have a secret life (sort of). For 15 years, I’ve juggled two careers. When not being a magician, I’m a ‘Conceptual Copywriter’, an un-enlightening term that basically means I create ideas and write words.

And in this other career, I often brainstorm – producing shed-loads of ideas, which are then whittled down to the best few.

the benefits of Brainstorming

Brainstorming isn’t something that’s talked about much in magic. Maybe it’s because we get caught up in methods, which kills the momentum, or maybe it’s because when we hit on a good idea, we stop brainstorming and progress it.

Whatever the reason, having more ideas is a pretty reliable path to having more good ideas – as noted by, well, practically every creative person.

So I thought I’d brainstorm some classic bits of magic, to see how many ways we can twist them.

Honey I Blew Up The Baby

Let’s start with the classic baby prediction gag. We’ve all seen it (name any celebrity, and here’s a picture of them…as a baby). And that’s the point – we’ve all seen it.

But we can avoid repeating it without throwing the baby out with the bath water (sorry, not sorry). As Morgan & West mentioned in their talk at The Session, we can pull out aspects of a trick we like (or extract a principle, as Edward De Bono puts it in Lateral Thinking). That way, we can take inspiration from a trick yet still end up with something original.

The heart of the baby

In essence, the baby gag has the same structure as the ‘Your Card’ and barcode gag predictions. You set up the expectation of a correct prediction, then reveal a ‘generic universal’ gag prediction. And sometimes, finish with a real prediction.

So let’s brainstorm some ‘generic’ prediction alternatives for Hollywood stars:

1. A Sperm and An egg

Rewind 9 months from the baby photo, and you have a sperm reaching an egg.

2. A Heart organ

Inspired by the classic (and controversial) United Colors of Benetton poster campaign, since we’re all the same on the inside, show a picture of their heart.

3. DNA

There are two way to do this. The first way: show a DNA spiral, which you claim to be theirs. If you draw it with a mix of standard pens and Frixion ones, you can then wave a lighter over it and have bits vanish, just leaving their chosen name.

The second way: use the DNA results ‘bars’. A trick came out a while back which had a bunch of these bars on clear plastic sheets which, when combined, spelled out a card (if you know the name, please let me know). You could adapt it by making your own version that spells out the celebrity. Or, even cooler, make up 26 different sets to put in some kind of index, so you can reveal a freely chosen set of initials.

4. Finger prints

Yes, they’re all unique in real life, but in practice, it’ll still work as a gag prediction. And again, via Frixion pens, you could have sections of the swirls disappear, with the remains parts spelling out their name.


Now let’s change tack – instead of going off the person aspect, let’s go off the Hollywood star aspect. This gives us another avenue (or palm-fringed boulevard) to explore, which leads to…

5. A star on the walk of fame

Which you then unfold to reveal their name beneath.

6. hand prints

Again with their name beneath. Or perhaps the hands move or change to reflect one of their classic roles (e.g. Spock’s Vulcan hand gesture for Leonard Nimoy).

7. A 5-star review

Either just the star icons, with the star’s iconic film written beneath. Or a longer, deliberately generic review that could apply to any film, which becomes specific at the end.

8. An Oscar statuette

With their name engraved at the bottom (either for real, if forced, or via the Koran Medallion ruse)

9. An on-set trailer

You claim they are inside…but refusing to come out. Then you ‘open’ the door to prove it.

10. A limousine

Again, you say they’re inside. Then they emerge from the sunroof holding a bottle of champagne (via Cardiographic).

So there you go – spending half an hour brainstorming produced ten ways to twist the baby gag into something new.

If you try any, let me know. And have a go at brainstorming it yourself. I’m sure there are more twists to be discovered.

In fact, I came up with a bunch of others myself. I’ll probably share them another time.

The Tumble Shuffle

Playing cards being tumbled

How can you hand out cards for shuffling without handing them out?

Jay Sankey shared his solution to this Zoom-show conundrum on a recent YouTube video (up for a limited time and since taken down, I believe).

It’s good, but I wanted something that felt even more chaotic.

The solution came to me while moving a box in the loft. In fact, the box was the solution.

Let’s get ready to tumble

You’ll need a large clear plastic storage box with a secure lid. Mine’s 80 litres, from Wilko in the UK. Dump an old pack of cards inside and put the plastic lid back on (so you won’t be pelted with pasteboards in a moment). Now shake, shimmy, tip and tumble the cards to your heart’s content.

From having a play with it, I’ve found a sort of up, around, then down tumbling motion seems to give the best mix (see the video below).

It looks chaotic and messy, and it is. When you stop and remove the lid, you should find a haphazard mix of face up and face down cards.

Face up and face down cards tumbled together in a box.

Tumbling in performance

When doing it in a Zoom show, you can up the interactivity (always a good thing in my book) by having your audience shout instructions for how you shake the crate, namely:

  • Side to side
  • Up and down
  • Tumble clockwise
  • Tumble anticlockwise

When you’re done, remove the lid and cleanly remove the cards at your finger tips. They can now be used for any trick that requires a genuinely shuffled deck. What kind of tricks? Well, here are two ideas to get you started…


Since the cards end up face up and face down, it feels like a natural fit for a version of Simon Aronson’s classic, Shuffle-Bored.

In this case, the general plot and revelation stay the same, but you’ll need to change the method as follows:

Make up a batch of double-faced cards that have the same card on each side (via splitting and sticking). Since they’ll only be seen via webcam, they needn’t be perfectly made, as long as they don’t look too chunky, and can stand up to being tumbled. These are the cards that will match your prediction. For the remaining cards in the deck, use double-backers.

While you could start the trick with a standard deck, then switch this deck in, my favourite way is to stick with the sloppy vibe, and just dump them out of the case, straight into the tub. This will normally cause some cards to fall face down and some face up anyway.

Tumble them up, following your audience’s directions, until they tell you to stop. Then remove them and go into the multiple reveals as usual, starting by predicting the number of face up cards.

Invisible tumble

The second trick is super simple. Show two decks – one standard and one Invisible Deck. Mix the standard deck using the Tumble Shuffle, then have the audience choose any of the face up cards and show that it’s the only face down card in the second deck.

Take It For A Spin

If you try it, or come up with other tricks it would be well suited for, then do let me know. One of the reasons I started this blog was to connect with more magicians, so I’m always happy to hear from people.

Coming next Friday: 10 ways to twist a classic reveal.

Hop Swap

Small frog on finger by Sergiu Nista

Online shows can present problems. But, as Jonah Babins has noted, they can also create opportunities.

So, as an example, here’s a nice organic switch that they allow.

There are a few tricks that use a hopping origami frog made from a playing card. Michael Close has one in Workers 2 (The Frog Prince), as does Scotty York in For Your Eyes Only (Froggy Goes A’Courtin).

If you do any of them, and need to switch one frog card for another, here’s a really simple way.

Set Up

Fold one card into a frog, then unfold it again. We’ll call this the first frog.

Stash the other frog card (the second frog) on one side of your desk, just out of camera shot.


Show the first frog in its unfolded (but creased) state, then refold it into a frog.

Next, demonstrate how it hops. Point it diagonally towards the camera – also towards the second frog – and then make it ‘accidentally’ hop out of view.

Grab it back (actually grabbing the second frog), and you’re done.


As a switch, it’s quick, motivated, and – since it’s based on a ‘mistake’ – pretty psychologically invisible.

I’ve tried it and it works a treat. So go on, hop to it!

PS For more benefits of online shows, check out the ‘Magician Appetizer #11: Virtual Magic’ episode of Jonah Babins’ fascinating Discourse In Magic podcast. In fact, you may as well check out every episode, as they’re consistently crammed with creative-process goodness.

PPS Next Friday: A lesson from a sitcom you can use to improve many tricks in minutes.

Flying Without Wings

Plane in a forest by David Kovalenko

Everyone could do with a holiday right now. So why not give your audience a virtual vacation, with an interactive trick you can perform over Zoom (or Skype, or Teams, or fax (ok, maybe not fax)).

The Idea

Use Google Earth to reveal a chosen location, so people can ‘fly’ there.

The Details

In case you haven’t used it recently (or ever), Google Earth isn’t magic, but it feels pretty magical.

Go to and have a quick play. Just type in any location and watch as you zoom out, fly across the globe, then zoom back in again.

Yes, yes, I know it’s been around for a while, but still – how cool is that?! You know, with products like these, I think this Google company could end up being quite successful.

Anyway, ever since Google Earth launched, I’ve wanted to use it to reveal a chosen location, and I finally got the chance to try it in a recent online show.

I’ll share how I did it, then some other directions you could take it in.

Set Up

Before the show, email someone who’ll be watching – friend/colleague/booker/CGHQ – and tell them you’ll be using Google Earth in a trick, and you’d like to show it on their computer. Well call them Amelia (as in Earhart).

To make sure everything goes smoothly during the show, ask them to try a quick trial run. Reassure them that it’ll only take a few minutes.

Now ask them to do the following:

  1. Get Google Earth up on their browser – email them the URL if need be.
  2. Share their screen with you.
  3. Enter a test set of coordinates you email them:
    e.g. 33.8568° S, 151.2153° E (Sydney Opera House)
  4. Make sure the button in the bottom-right corner is set to ‘2D’ view (about 45 degrees up), rather then ‘3D’ (bird’s-eye view), as it makes for a better reveal. Just click to toggle it.
  5. Explain that you’ll send them a prediction but not to open it until you say so. This message should contain the coordinates of the location you’ll be revealing. If you’re worried they’ll be premature, you can send it as a password-protected pdf, then give them the password during the show.

You’ll also need some way to ‘influence’ an audience member to select your chosen location. I just wrote locations on blank-faced cards, but I imagine a list-based magic app could also work well.

Location Location Location

I used the Eiffel Tower as my location, but to add a hint of magician-in-trouble to the reveal, I used the coordinates of the version built in Las Vegas:

36.1125° N, 115.1725° W

That way, we started in the UK (where I’m based), they chose the Eiffel Tower, but when we ‘flew’ off, we headed West towards America rather than East towards France. Oh dear.

But then, as we zoomed in, the Vegas Eiffel Tower came into view, and everything was rosy. This also had the advantage that the Google Earth search results window in the top-right showed ‘Planet Hollywood’ rather than ‘Eiffel Tower’, so it didn’t pre-empt the reveal.

If you pick another location (which I’d encourage, to make the trick more your own) then go for somewhere similarly recognisable-but-not-instantly-labelled-by-Google-Earth.


Say that we all need a holiday, so we’re going to fly somewhere together, virtually. And they can pick the holiday destination. Also mention that you’ve emailed a prediction before the show to whoever it is.

To justify the selection procedure, say that in case people think that you’ve discovered their favourite holiday destination, by hacking their frequent-flier account or something, you’ll pick one at random.

They ‘choose’ a location, then you have Amelia share their screen, cut and paste the prediction coordinates into Google Earth, then press Enter and watch…

Up, up, up you go, then across, then down, down, down, until you ‘land’ at the chosen location. Then Google Earth does it’s version of a goal/touchdown celebration – its nifty circling-around-the-location thing.

That’s it. A mentalism trick that feels light and playful, with a reveal that doesn’t involve writing on a pad.

Considerations AND Variations

Depending on the speed of their internet connection, and/or how many people are on the video call, the ‘flight’ may be a little jerky, but it’s still a fun reveal. And you can try and minimise this by getting people to turn off their cameras.

To use the terminology from my earlier post, don’t treat this trick as an unchangeable Clock, use it as an interesting Block you can add to other routines.

A few starting points for ways to vary it:

  • Reveal an animal with the Nazca Lines
  • Reveal a symbol (triangle) with the Flatiron building in New York (with 3D view)
  • Reveal a shape (heart) with Galešnjak
  • Reveal their house, if you happen to know its location
  • Or go a different way – suggest a target destination, then they create two seemingly random big numbers, which end up being the correct coordinates

Have a think and let me know what you come up with.

Now sit back and relax, as we reach our cruising altitude of zero thousand feet.

PS Don’t miss the second new post this week – see below or here for Nikola Arkane’s great version of my Reservoir Jacks idea.

Sub Trunk? Might As Well Jump

Person jumping

How to present the sub trunk illusion in a fresh way? Do it on a trampoline, with a mid-air change.

Picture this…

One person (who we’ll call Hayden) is tied up under a big trampoline – but safely, so they don’t get squished by the jumper above.

A second person (who we’ll call Christensen) is atop the trampoline jumping around, like House of Pain. Two helpers others stand on either side, holding up a wide cloth that partially obscures the jumper.

With each bounce, Hayden rises up above the cloth, then disappears behind it again as they descend.

After a few jumps, and without breaking the bouncing rhythm, Hayden magically transforms into Chistensen, and Hayden is discovered below.

Jump In

With some tight timings, and cunning cropping, I’m sure someone with a trampoline in their garden could make this work. Just be careful. Forget the theatre saying – don’t break a leg.

If you give it a go, or you think of any other fresh approaches to the sub trunk, then let me know at

And now, I can’t resist it any longer. Pack it up, pack it in, let us begin…

Building Castles In The Sky


You don’t have to be Dwayne Johnson to grapple with a skyscraper. Here’s how to use a one to adapt a classic magic prop.

Appearing card castles have never looked very convincing to me – too square and un-triangle-y. They look more like, well, skyscrapers. So let’s lean into that.

The Prep

Redecorate a card castle as a skyscraper, with some grey and black card. You’ll need to experiment a bit to make sure it can still fold. Then collapse it down and cover it with a cloth.

Next, grab a deck of blank-faced cards and write ‘Skyscraper’ on the top one and ‘Pancake’ (or anything flat) on the rest. Now you can do a McCombical Deck-style routine:

The Trick

Mention your prediction under the cloth. Say you’ll have someone choose a card. Show the rest of the audience all the ‘Pancake’ cards, keeping the ‘Skyscraper’ card hidden. Force the ‘Skyscraper’ card on the spectator. Ask what they chose and act surprised. Take a beat to play off the flatness of your prediction – less Skyscraper, more Groundgripper. Then lift and reveal the skyscraper as your surprisingly spot-on prediction.

Video Call Version

This still works online. Just have the spectator close their eyes while you show the ‘Pancake’ cards to the rest. Have the spectator say stop and Riffle Force the ‘Skyscraper’ card. Sure, some of the other spectator’s will also see the card, but you still get to do the (literally) big reveal.

If you give this a go, I’d love to see photos of your ‘skyscraper-castles’ – just email me at

Reservoir Jacks

Blood red swirl

A classic card plot given a Tarantino-esque twist.

One of the first card tricks I ever learnt was the one where the four Jacks attempt to rob a hotel (the deck).

Each Jack goes to a different floor (different part of the deck), then the cops arrive and they all assemble on the roof (the top of the deck) to escape.

It’s a reasonable presentation hook, but to use a phrase from Save The Cat (an influential screenwriting guide), it doesn’t really deliver on ‘the promise of its premise’.

So what if we took that premise and made it more Reservoir Dogs?

it’s gonna get messy

Gore alert: this description involves distinctly un-PG violence, so skip to the next post now if need be.

Still here? Okay, so you start off in the standard way, then have the robbery spiral out of control.

The cops discover the heist early. They send in a swat team (the Kings) and then it all kicks off:

  • The first Jack gets shot – holes appear in the card.
  • The second Jack gets cut to shreds – cuts appear and/or its face becomes splattered with blood (red Sharpie ink).
  • The third Jack gets a body-part cut off (torn corner).
  • The fourth Jack seems to have vanished, then you peel the face off one of the Kings to reveal the Jack is hiding underneath. Extra marks if you can tell me which film this final twist is inspired by.

Method: good question! You’d have to work it out, but most of the phases already exist in other tricks, so it’d just be a matter of joining them together.

This presentation definitely isn’t for all audiences, but for those who are up for it, it’s makes a pleasingly visceral change from ‘mild peril’.