Inside Out by Ben Earl
Updated: Aug 22
This may have been one of the most anticipated book releases of 2021 thus far. Ben Earl and his team over at Studio52 have been churning out quality content from day one. His Deep Magic Seminars are hours upon hours of incredible magic tricks, technique, and theory. If you don’t already have them, I highly encourage you to invest in them, as I guarantee you will learn something valuable in each session.
Ben’s thinking has been transformative over the years. If you only know of his work from the Past Midnight DVD set, I would highly encourage you to explore some of his new material as you’ll find he typically no longer performs difficult sleight of hand with amazing dexterity. Instead, he has become focused on one thing— the spectator’s experience. Inside Out is an exploration of this.
Inside Out opens with a chapter simply titled “Inside.” It begins with a paragraph which immediately intrigued me and opened up my metaphorical ears to hear the message Ben was aiming to get across throughout the entire book. The essence of this paragraph is that most magic completely lacks intellectual or emotional richness and rarely contains a depth of engagement that takes a routine from a quick trick to a magic moment. This book aims to provide a solution.
All of the routines in this book are highly interactive, and that doesn’t just mean having the spectator hold a box for you. These tricks are so interactive that in many cases, if the spectator weren’t there, the trick couldn’t even happen. This is the new approach Ben is taking to his magic, and it is an exciting and very philosophical approach which all happens without promoting pseudoscience or claiming to have skills you don’t. If anything, the material in this book is brutally honest; it treats the audience with respect and intelligence. I have already read this book cover-to-cover twice, and I am still reeling over the profound and subtle changes which elevate each of these routines from a quick trick to the closest thing possible to real magic.
Let’s Play Triumph – A completely re-branded and re-imagined handling of Triumph. This is not a trick, it’s a game.
I will start by saying this will be my new preferred handling of triumph. I have performed triumph as my opener/ go-to in casual situations for years (funny enough, the version I had been performing up to this point was Ben Earl’s version from the Past Midnight DVDs.) Even though I have been performing triumph for years, I have never found a presentation that I’ve loved. I’ve presented it as the magician in trouble, as “the drunk guy at the bar screwed me up,” as an attempt to “make it more difficult to find your card,” and many other variations. To be honest… none of them ever hit how I wanted them to. Despite this, I kept it as my opener because that particular triumph included an unforeseen kicker change of a card, and that kicker ending always blew them away. I put up with mild reactions to the triumph portion in order to maximize impact on the kicker. Then came Let’s Play Triumph. It is the best presentation I’ve ever seen for the triumph—bar none. The audience isn’t even aware they are seeing a trick until after the trick has happened; in a way, the triumph itself is now the “kicker.” From a methodological stand point, the trick is no different than you know and expect, but the presentation changes the framing of the trick entirely, and this new framing forces the audience to believe in the mixed condition of the cards. This makes the revelation feel truly impossible.
Probably Impossible – A Sandwich effect which introduces genuine randomness and clever misdirection to create a perfect ‘in the hands’ miracle.
This is the weirdest sandwich trick you’ll do. It is a two-phase sandwich routine about the difference between improbable and impossible. Phase one is so believable that it is hardly magical at all. However, this is a good thing as it beautifully sets the stage for the second phase which is not only impressive, it is impossible. This is a great example of a routine with such a simple method that packs a punch far greater than the work you put into it. All of the magic happens in the spectator’s hands, and the build of the routine is expertly created to take a left turn when they least expect it. This unexpected venture increases the impossibility significantly and leaves them with no possible explanation of what just happened.
Lucky Deal – An impossible demonstration of skill and control which is done entirely by the spectator!
This is a thing of beauty. It’s stupid easy; in fact, it’s self working. It happens entirely in the spectator’s hands, and the magician never needs to intervene, but man is it strong. This is window dressing for an old trick, but the subtleties Ben has added bring this to new heights; and let me just say, Ben is a master of subtlety. Ben’s biggest strength in many of the routines in this book is that he gets the spectator to psychologically convince themselves of the situation rather than having the perform tell the the spectator the situation. This may sound like a small change, but the implications are huge. Rather than spitting lies at your spectator who may or may not believe you, your spectator tells themself a lie that they inherently believe because they are the ones who came up with the rational for the lie. There is a great example of that in this routine with one quick moment that leaves the spectator convinced that the cards have truly been shuffled and cut right before being dealt. The final thing I’ll say on this is that Ben has taken what is usually a one moment trick and turned it into 3 strong moments of magic.
The Vanishing – Possibly the most amazing coin vanish you will ever perform. This is not a move, but a profound, interactive effect designed not to be forgotten.
I love this. I have already had a chance to perform this for a layman, and it felt different than any other coin vanish I’ve ever done. The vanish itself isn’t anything special, but the presentation is a philosophical approach to a coin vanish which guarantees they will remember the experience, and the day they don’t remember the experience is the day the magic has truly been completed. It’s wonderful. The material in this book is magic for adults. This is magic you WANT to show to your lawyer friend, the business owner you bump into, the professor of psychology, and so on. Often we hear that magic appeals to the child-like sense of wonder. The material in this book appeals to the adult’s sense of wonder. An adult experiences wonder in a very different way than a child. Adults experience wonder in the unknown, the universe, the “bigger picture” and this simple vanish of a coin appeals to an adult’s wonder beautifully.
The Unreal Transposition – An amazing transposition that is entirely psychological and literally takes place in the mind of a spectator.
This is an odd effect. It’s a demonstration of mind reading like you’ve never seen. This really has the potential to mess with your spectator. It’s a strange piece because the magic really only happens in one person’s head, so this isn’t the type of routine I would perform for a crowd. Sure, there’s still a magic effect for everyone watching, but this isn’t about the magic effect; it’s about what goes on in the spectator’s head, and that is something that can only be experienced one-on-one. The presentation is totally unique and totally original, and again, it is a routine that will fly over a child’s head, but will linger in adult’s head for ages.
Hidden Ambition – This might be one of the most subtle and beautiful handlings of the Ambitious Card. It is so simple and clean, that it appears to be something else entirely.
Take a moment to imagine a magician performing an ambitious card routine for you. Really. You can see it now. Eight phases in and he’s still going strong. Cards are being bent, signed, vanished, and produced all in the name of an “ambitious card.” Twenty minutes later, the charade has ended. The deck is in shambles. The Kennedy box is empty. The signed card is folded in quarters, and it is covered in the magician’s saliva. The magician feels they have given it their all… and the spectators are left feeling like they’ve just had a boxing match with a kangaroo and lost. If you asked them to describe what just happened, they wouldn’t be able to tell you a single moment from the routine. Now throw all of that out the window and picture a two phase ambitious card routine. The magician does makes the card come to the top the first time, and the spectator makes the card come to the top the second while the deck is in their hands. Which experience do you think the spectator will relay to their friends more? Let me clarify, which experience do you think the spectator will relay to their friends more in a POSITIVE manner? This is the simplest, most direct ambitious card routine in existence, and it has a fascinating presentation regarding fake super natural powers. The strength is in its simplicity. It may not be as “fun” for the performer, but your spectators will thank you for sacrificing the “fun” to leave them with a magic moment they will remember.
Portal – A transformation which takes place in a different realm.
This combines hypnosis, suggestion, and imagination to give a spectator a moment they can feel as impossible before they actually confirm the impossible has happened. The takeaway from this routine is the physiological moment the spectator experiences. The final moment is a great kicker, but in my opinion, it only serves to create a framework for the experience the spectator has as they feel the effects of the suggestions you give them. I will have to try this out before I can really give an opinion on it. I don’t immediately love it, but I’m not sure what I feel is missing from it. I think the problem I have with it is that you give them this real experience of feeling a card vanish, and then you equate it with a portal to another dimension. Something about the comparison just feels a bit artificial when compared to the rest of the philosophical material in the book.
Mr Invisible — An invisible deck routine with ordinary cards.
Okay, this is something special. When I first read it, the method was so simple, I brushed it aside and didn’t think much about it. It’s taking a well known presentation (the invisible deck) and combining it with a method I’ve often used as an “out” when things don’t quite go as planned. On the second read through, I started to see the potential in it, but I still wasn’t sure about it. I decided to give it the wife test. I performed it for my very knowledgeable wife, and it fooled her badly. I was just showing it to her to get her opinion on the presentation, I wasn’t expecting it to fool her. That’s when I realized the power of the routine IS the presentation. The presentation and the subtleties in the handling allow it to fool even the most knowledgable. My wife was floored and immediately told me to add it to my set and that this needed to be something I “do all the time.” That’s very high praise from my wife. She’s typically the type to roll her eyes at every double lift or top change so to see this much enthusiasm out of such a simple routine really speaks volumes. Following my wife’s advice, this will now be part of my set.
Why Me? – A baffling prediction of any freely named card.
This uses the same method from Mr Invisible but builds it into a performance piece for a bigger group. Where Mr Invisible can be used one-on-one, Why Me? can only be used in a group. It is a totally impromptu take on Ted Karmilovich’s Target Number with a deck of cards. The presentation adds a wonderful framework. The nature of the routine takes all of the heat off of the deck and places it in the one place that is truly clean: the prediction.
Restoring The Past – A Torn & Restored card effect which also restores time.
What an interesting take on a torn and restored card effect. I would bet this isn’t what you’re expecting. A card is signed and torn to pieces, then time is restored and the past is corrected. By now you shouldn’t be surprised to hear this is a great framework for a very simple method and effect. This has a lot going for it, but it takes very clean sleight of hand for you to be able to pull this off. Don’t get me wrong, the sleight of hand is dead easier and one of the first sleight you learn as a magician, but it must be so clean that the spectator is 100% convinced of the situation otherwise the effect will quickly fall apart. The good news is, this is a move which is easy to practice and easy to get down, and Ben actually has some great work on it in one of his Deep Magic Seminars which can help you make this routine as successful as it deserves to be.
A Universal Presentation – A devious piece of presentational psychology specifically designed to add conceptual depth and nuance to any effect.
This is a simple two-sentence presentation you can add to any routine to make it more intriguing and invoke more conversation. I love things like this. If you’re working on a new routine and don’t quite have a presentation for it yet, you can say these two sentences, perform your trick, and you will leave the spectators with a strong and deep connection to it. It is again more philosophical in nature, but that’s the beauty of it. There is so much power in words. Two sentences, and your spectator will deeply appreciate the trick more than they would have before.
The Gift – An effect designed to be performed for one person on a special occasion. But to make it more special, they decide what effect is created… and if it ever finishes.
Another stunner. Peter Turner published an effect with a similar ending to this many years ago, but Ben has made it into a piece you can truly use consistently. The gift that you give to the spectator is very intriguing, and the presentation has a beautifully philosophical approach which presents the spectator with a real choice. A hard choice. The method used here is amazing and feels impossible, but it is very practical, and you can use this method for various other routines. This is the perfect routine for a special occasion, and it is the perfect routine to use if you want your magic performance to extend beyond your visit. Great stuff.
The Secret – After seeing an amazing piece of magic, the spectator has the chance to find out how it is done… but their decision will radically alter their experience and their understanding of ‘secrets’.
This is another example of a gift that is given to the spectator and a choice they get to make. A difficult choice. This is similar to The Gift in many ways, but it is one step further. It is a truly unique and magical object, and it truly challenges your spectator. This object is something that can live on long beyond your performance, and your spectator is the one that ultimately decides to keep the magic or create a new magic. You can use this to heighten any magic trick you want. That’s the beauty of this presentational touch. If you have a strong routine, but you feel it needs an extra something to make it last for years and years to come, this could be just what you’re looking for.
Conjuring With Wonder – An effect designed to take place once the performance is over; one which cannot be known by the performer!
This is a whole performance philosophy and approach which gives the spectator the power and leaves them wondering. This isn’t a trick or a routine or an effect, it is a system to create intrigue and leave the spectators with genuine wonder—not necessarily about what they saw, but more about what they DIDN’T see. This is a great thing to start experimenting with, as it makes any interaction where you perform magic instantly more memorable, and I can virtually guarantee your spectators will leave talking about this, because they have such a big part in it. Ben also provides you with a lovely script to use in case you’re ever in a bind; with that script in mind, there’s no excuse to not go out and try this. I know I will be.
New Theory Cross-Cut Force – Ben’s approach to this wonderful move is explained in detail with many additional ploys, touches and handlings.
Andy over at The Jerx has done focus group testing with laymen on card forces. Do you know what card force scored the lowest in terms of fairness? A classic force. Do you know what card force scored the highest in terms of fairness? The cross-cut force. Ever since Andy shared those findings, I have been using the cross-cut force with laymen to great success. It genuinely does feel so impossible and so counter-intuitive that it seems like it couldn’t get any fairer—after all, it’s done completely hands off. Ben has taken the idea of the cross-cut force and ran with it. His additions allow the spectator to shuffle the cards, allows them to dead cut to their chosen card, as a selection entirely in the hands, and as a hands-off force which even those familiar with the cross-cut force would still be fooled by.
New Theory French Drop – Ben’s approach to this coin classic elevates it to new levels of deceptiveness.
Would you think a magic book clearly aimed at intermediate to advanced magicians coming out in the year 2021 would end with a full chapter devoted to the French drop? I wouldn’t have thought that either, but here we are! What Ben covers here is actually very useful. There are several subtleties added to a French drop to make it completely invisible. The concepts are taught with the French drop, but the concepts can be applied to many other false transfers as well. I showed my wife the “old” way of doing the French drop and then I showed her Ben’s addition of “The Isolated Put.” She exclaimed, “Wow! That looks WAY better. That actually looks like you’re doing what you say you’re doing.” It’s such a small change, but once you watch yourself in the mirror. The small change makes a huge difference in the motivation, and subsequently, the perception of the French drop. I’m also a big fan “A New Motivated Action” in this section, as it makes the transfer completely disappear from the mind of the spectator. And I know this to be the case based on the reception I received when I used “A New Motivated Action” with “The Vanishing” for laymen recently. There’s nothing better than watching the spectator and knowing they truly believe the coin is where you say it is, even when the coin is long gone.
The book ends with a chapter titled “Out.” And it presses the reader to go out, focus on them, and make magic.
And that concludes the review for Inside Out. I was not disappointed with a single routine in the book. Nothing felt like filler, and it is clear all of the material was road tested. I must also say I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations, photography, and writing style of the book. Ben wrote it very narratively. This makes it a breeze to read, and yet, he is still able to clearly communicate not only the actions necessary to perform the trick, but the theories behind what makes them work. I love magic like this, and I will genuinely be using everything in this book. You may have noticed there wasn’t a WTP Award* for this book. That’s because every routine is worth the price, and it’s not a cheap book! Know that you aren’t paying for methods. You’re paying for philosophies—philosophies which could genuinely change the way you think about your magic.
Listen, I’ll be the first to say, the material in this book is not for everyone. If your performing character is Mr. ADHD, then this material will probably have a hard time finding its way into your repertoire. This material demands attention from the spectator. It demands thought from the spectator. It demands respect. If you’re a performer who is constantly tearing your spectator down to get a laugh, your audience probably won’t receive this material well. It takes a certain amount of reverence to pull this material off. If you don’t like the sound of what you hear, don’t buy it. However, if ANY part of you is intrigued by what I’ve written and you want to know more, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Your audiences deserve it.
*The Worth the Price Award, or WTP Award for short, is a new system I will have in place when reviewing books. Look out for the WTP Award(s) to know which routine(s) or principle(s) is my favorite.