And fails miserably.
To give context, Andy’s been putting some effort at trying to figure out how the unwashed masses feel about magic, and this includes running some things by them and asking them questions, to see if their observations happen to match up with magicians’ expectations. An honourable endeavour, to be sure!
Shame about the execution, though.
Here he takes on the subject of forcing. The stated goal was to rate a bunch of different forces against each other to see which ones were the most fair. The ones tested were: The Cross-Cut Force, the Dribble Force, the Riffle Force, the Classic Force, the Hofzinser Spread Force, and the Second Deal Force. Let’s get the final order out of the way. On the metric of fairness, from winner to loser, we have the Cross-Cut, the Second Deal, the Hofzinser Spread, the Dribble, the Riffle, and the Classic. The Cross-Cut scored about twice as much as the Classic, with the others spread out in an approximately equal distribution (close enough for our purposes, anyway, check out the link if you need the actual numbers).
Let’s break down everything wrong with the experiment.
First, aside from the Cross-Cut Force, he didn’t do any actual forces. Rather, he mimicked the selection procedure, and let them take the card they arrived at. This is fine except for those instances when aspects of the Internal Reality leak into the External Reality. You need a pretty sublime second deal in order to get away with using it repeatedly for a force — of course you can make it look super-fair if you’re not actually second dealing. Now, if the point is to show that the Cross-Cut is awesome, then fine, but we’re still tasked with trying to see how the other forces compare to each other when the techniques are actually being used. We’ve all had troublesome spectators who don’t do exactly what they’re told. How do these placebo selections in ideal conditions compare for when you have to adjust to the scenario where you need the force to work, but they’re saying “stop” at a less-than-ideal place? This might seem like nitpicking, but during the analysis of his research he tries to come up with an explanation for why the Riffle Force does better than the Classic Force. Well, presumably the Dribble Force has the same virtue of being dissimilar enough from what they expect a “forced selection” to look like, and yet a savvy magician is in a better position to get the timing right on a Classic Force, where you see the touch coming, as compared to the Dribble Force, where the moment they stop is much less predictable.
Second, the nature of the experiment immediately turns the nature of the selection into an event that exists for its own sake. One of the major reasons why you’d want to Classic Force is to get the selection out of the way and have it be entirely forgotten. The nature of this experiment basically asks them to remember something we’d prefer they not even think about after the fact. Think of it this way: you’re doing Ashes on the Arm. You can have them remember the card’s identity showing up on the arm, or you could have them remember the card’s identity showing up on the arm and a weird dealing procedure that came before it. As a person who’s in the business of trying to shape memories, which is a magician going to choose? We know from experience that spectators will fill in blanks all the time in order to make the effect better for themselves. Why forsake that when we don’t need to?
Third, we have no context for the selection aside from whether or not it “felt fair”. We have no idea if the effect that the card selection would be used for puts heat on the suspicion of a forced card. We also have no idea if the cards were selected in a manner that mirrors the scenario they’re well-suited for. In other words, if they’re close enough to pick a card, of course a Riffle Force or a Dribble Force is going to look weird. It’s going to look substantially less weird if you’re at a cocktail party and people aren’t able to physically select a card. (To be fair, this might have been taken into account during the experiment, but I have my doubts.) Again, this is why one can’t look at the final results in a vacuum — any awesomeness that exists in the Cross-Cut force is going to be lessened immediately if people have to start setting down their drinks or whatnot just to get on with what should be a cursory procedure. This all points towards how we need to operate as architects of our magic tricks. All other things being equal, do we decide upon a house based on the bricks we’ve got? Or do we decide upon the bricks based on the house we want? Methods are chosen to serve the situation and the effect.
Fourth, he’s mistaking “speed” for sells of fairness. For instance, it’s possible to do a Dribble Force that has the same fairness of the Hofzinser Spread Force (including allowing them to change their mind), you just have to make a minor adjustment. Meanwhile, it’s incongruent to think that the Cross-Cut Force’s lack of speed is a virtue. The Cross-Cut Force has a lack of speed because we need to insert time misdirection in there or the thing fails. Are other forces going to gain strength by that approach to counteracting speed?
Fifth, we’ve got no guarantee that the Classic Force was done well. Now, if you’re faking a Classic Force anyway, isn’t just having a card expediently selected from a spread enough to be doing it ‘well’? There are touches on the Classic Force that exist specifically to give the spectator the impression that they bypassed an obvious card for a less-obvious one. Do we know that the research included that particular gambit? It’s possible, but given all the other shortcuts this guy takes in his pontificating, I have my doubts.
Finally, we’ve got the shocking conclusion that a force from every beginner’s book would score highly compared to a move that’s considered difficult. Uh… you’ve got random people who know they’re dealing with magicians in a magic-related research context where the entire focus is on a card selection, and the procedure that scores highest is the one where the magician never touches the cards. Yeah, nobody could see that one coming. I’d hate to have to watch this guy negotiate long division.
Ah well. Maybe some of his other research projects fared better…