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rebbel's avatar

What is the reason that magic tricks don't get revealed/their workings are not wide-spread known to the public?

Asked by rebbel (23521 points ) November 1st, 2011

There have been television programs on the revelation of magic tricks although I have never seen them myself and I don’t know if spectacular tricks were being revealed in those shows, but still, I have the idea that the public has no knowledge on how tricks work.
Compare that to most other things that need to be kept secret; political decisions (before they are published), policies, celeb rumour/gossip, etc.
Maybe Freemasonry (the rituals) is one other that is kept secret through the centuries.
Can anyone shed some light on why it still is well kept secret, the magic trickery?
And while we’re at it, does anyone know how a certain trick works?

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26 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

Magic isn’t real, it’s just entertainment. If the mystery is taken out of the performance (which is the only reason it survives) then it’s not profitable or an art anymore. This is why the shows revealing the secrets to magic tricks were so controversial.

Rarebear's avatar

If you know how it’s done, it’s not as fun.

gasman's avatar

For the same reason the formula for Coca-Cola is a trade secret.
A magician’s tricks are intellectual property by which they earn their livelihood as entertainers.

Rarebear's avatar

By the way, if you want to see the greatest card trick ever:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqI-dBQRa0Q

rebbel's avatar

I understand what you all are saying, and it makes sense too, but knowing that people are curious animals, knowing that almost nothing these days is kept secret, knowing that some people don’t give shit about other people’s intellectual properties, then it amazes me that ‘we’ still don’t know more about it.
Edit: By the way, for what it is worth, I am not pro revealing.
I like the magic tricks and enjoy to be ‘fooled’.

Jeruba's avatar

I know an accomplished stage magician who answered this for me when I wanted desperately to know how he had done just this one trick. The secrets are their stock-in-trade. Anyone can actually learn them the same way they did, but they don’t go around exposing their secrets any more than restaurants give out their secret recipes or manufacturers give away their competitive edge.

You can go to a magic shop and buy special equipment. You can get books. You can join a magic club and learn from others. And if you do, you’ll probably absorb the tradition of secrecy too because that is what it’s all about. If someone said “Watch me pull this bunch of folded paper flowers out of my sleeve with a thread so that they expand while I pretend that I made them appear in my hand by magic,” what fun would that be?

I finally wore my friend down and he explained that one trick to me, after extracting a promise from me that I would never reveal it. First he insisted that most people really don’t want to know the explanation because they prefer the illusion, but I insisted that I truly did. I promised, and he explained, and it was so simple…yet effective. I was satisfied, and I never told.

gasman's avatar

@Rarebear I think I spotted the trick. The magician is holding the deck while the host names his card. Immediately after, around 3:30 in the video, he selects & palms the card, which later is made to appear from an actually empty box. Cute.

@rebbel I enjoy watching those “how they do it” magic shows & like many people I dabbled a little in magic tricks when I was a little kid (invisible black thread was big). You appreciate how some tricks are astonishingly simple and others devilishly complex. Either way the crowd loves it.

The best magicians do the close-up stuff like cards & coins or spoon-bending. You know it’s a trick but still you’re fooled every time!. David Copperfield, who uses giant mirrors or rotating platforms—I’m not as impressed.

@Jeruba I remember a TV show called “You Asked For It,” sponsored by Skippy peanut butter in the 1950s, where one of the requests was for slow-motion film of sleight-of-hand. They had a guy with the popping-out flowers gag, and even in slo-mo it happened very quickly.

Jeruba's avatar

I also read a book that explained tricks such as the disappearing tiger, the sawed woman, etc., with diagrams that showed the steps. Very interesting. Even if you know the devices and methods, it still takes practice to pull off a good illusion. You can’t just go buy a special deck of cards or a pair of metal rings in the afternoon and be ready to astonish people that evening.

gasman's avatar

@Jeruba Was it Hiding the Elephant? That was an interesting book.

rebbel's avatar

What elephant? ~
Yeah, @Jeruba, I am curious as to which book you talk about…, I would love to read it!

lillycoyote's avatar

Because then they wouldn’t be magic. Plus, some of them, the tricks, are “proprietary”, in a way. Magicians, at least the “stars” develop their own tricks and if they reveal how they are done then every other minor magician would do them and they wouldn’t be able to make a living.

Jeruba's avatar

It was at least 15 years ago. I don’t remember the title. @gasman, that might have been it, but the cover was completely different from the one in your link. The one I read had chapters for each of several broad types of illusion and included step-by-step drawings for things like the disappearing tiger, with overhead views of mirror placement and so on. It wasn’t a how-to handbook for practitioners but a thorough exposition for an audience that really, really wanted to know.

gasman's avatar

Skeptics of paranormal phenomena have long complained that both stage magicians and self-professed “psychics” are often doing the same tricks, but with one crucial difference: While the magician concedes that trickery is involved (all in good fun but no details revealed), the psychic disavows trickery entirely & claims to invoke unseen powers. </skeptical rant>

I saw Penn & Teller’s magic show in Vegas about 10 years ago. Fantastic stuff.

YARNLADY's avatar

Anyone who wants to can find out how tricks work by easy research. Most people don’t really care. My Dad was a stage magician and I was his assistant during my teens.

zensky's avatar

@Rarebear ‘s rhyme said it best and is worth repeating:

If you know how it’s done – it’s not as fun.

Jeruba's avatar

@gasman, so far as I know no one has ever succeeded in claiming the Bay Area Skeptics’ standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who can demonstrate a psychic feat under test conditions that they can’t duplicate by normal means.

anartist's avatar

Magic is a business, like any other, preserving its trade secrets. But if you really want to find out, go to a magic shop and standf alongside someone who is purchasing a trick. The sideways view can be a tell-all.
calling @poisonedantidote

blueiiznh's avatar

They take an oath to not tell. It’s all part of the mystique.
It’s like getting a Freemason to tell you anything if you are not part of it.

gasman's avatar

@Jeruba Nor James Randi’s $1M prize.

Sunny2's avatar

@blueiiznh is right. It’s part of the magician/illusionist code NOT to reveal secrets. I have gone to magic shows with a friend who is a magician. He’ll chuckle and say, “He did that very well.” but would never tell me. He just keeps saying, “Think outside of the box.” Once I figured out a “magic” card trick that some one sent by e-mail and he told me I was correct, but that’s as close as I got to any ‘secret.’

Rarebear's avatar

@zensky You know what’ funny? It wasn’t an intentional rhyme!

Jeruba's avatar

@gasman, that’s the one. It’s obviously gone up. It started out at $10,000 in 1982. Plenty of time for a real psychic to hear about it and claim it, you’d think.

ucme's avatar

Penn & Teller always revealed their “tricks” & were loads of fun, actually added to the entertainment factor.
For the record I think old magic is dead & buried, thank goodness. Nothing more pathetic than watching an old guy pull a rabbit out of a hat, or an egg behind someone’s ear.
He was funny as fuck though.

poisonedantidote's avatar

My father is a professional stage magician, and I have been known to put on shows too. Obviously there is the fact that magicians very rarely reveal their tricks, but there is more to it than just that.

You may remember how “the masked magician” revealed the trick to cutting a woman in half, however, he only showed one way. There must be at least 20 different version and variations of cutting people in hlaf, from the original sawing a woman in half, to the zigzag, all the way to David Coppoerfien’d buzzsaw trick.

When magic tricks are revealed on such tv shows, they only really reveal the trick they are doing on the show.

Furthermore, there is the problem of skill. I can make a card vanish and change color, and I can show you how to do it, but if you don’t put in 4 or 5 hours practice a day for a few weeks, you wont be able to learn it and pass it on to others.

Additionally, the secret to magic tricks is usually far more simple than people realize. This makes them have a kind of “oh/dismissive” attitude, and just as the audience leaves the comedy show without remembering most of the jokes, so do you leave without remembering the revealed trick.

Finally, you have new inventions. Reveal today how magicians put coins in bottles or make people vanish, and tomorrow they will have a new way of doing it.

anartist's avatar

@poisonedantidote I knew you couldn’t resist this one! LOL

rebbel's avatar

Thanks, all!
I really enjoyed this thread!

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