The 80/20 Concept

The Eighty-Twenty Rule — known as “Pareto’s Principle” — is an interesting thought. The rule says that eighty percent of the outcome is accomplished by twenty percent effort. At least, more or less.

For magicians, it could be a useful train of thought and guideline to rethink our repertoires and adapt our approach to magic. Recently, I did a lecture on this topic, and the positive reaction it got surprised me. There is a need in the magic community for practical solutions concerning the issue.

I will explain a few of my thoughts and give you some suggestions on how to implement this line of thought into real life. You will have an act that fits into a small box and delivers thirty to forty minutes of entertainment in the parlour or drawing room environment. You can either just use the tricks suggested, or — that would help in developing your own, individual act — find your own tricks that fit the requirements of this system. I really hope this will help you find your way through the jungle that the information overload presented us.

As magicians, we often use eighty percent of our time, energy, and money to produce stuff that only brings in twenty percent in effectiveness. Sad, but true. It would be better the other way round. As a part-time performer, you probably don’t have time enough to spend time on magic twenty-four hours a day. Family, job, friends (a social life!) are all things to be considered and cut down the time available for magic.

Therefore, a good and careful selection of the material to be tackled is necessary. You don’t want to spent useless hours on stuff you will never perform, except your are a collector or lover of sundry sleights and gimmicks. But if you want to perform with success, you will have to narrow your selections.

Efficient and Effective

An effective solution solves the problem. It might be complicated or tied with some effort, but that doesn’t matter. the most important thing is that is solves the problem. We have a lot of these in magic. Sometimes, these solutions are out of proportion to the problem presented. Too complicated, too expensive, too difficult. They solve the problem, sure, but the time/energy needed is out of proportion. Magicians love to think in complicated ways.

An efficient solution solves the problem as well, but in the most elegant and efficient manner. It is usually the shortest distance between two points, and most of the time is a simple solution. We want to go for the efficient solutions in our quest.

A good example is the old tree in the garden that has to be felled. If you take a hand saw for the task, then you will be occupied for days. The solution is effective, for it solves the problem to fell the tree. Taking a motor saw, instead, solves the problem in a few minutes. That is the efficient way. Effective means it not only solves the problem, but in the most direct and economical (not always elegant) way.

If we apply that thinking to our magic, it becomes easy to select the right tricks and techniques. Always go for the efficient solution, even if that means a no-frill method. Sure there are tons of sophisticated techniques, but then — is it really worth your time and energy? You have to decide for yourself, of course.

80/20 Tricks

What are the ideal tricks? Easy — all tricks that pack small, play big, and are relatively easy to perform. I want to point out many of the classics of magic for you. They usually fit our criteria: simple props, a clear effect, reasonably easy to do, and practical. So they are efficient tricks. They have stood the test of time and are (most of the time) better than the ‘new’ stuff. At least, they are definitively worth your attention.

Here is my list of criteria:

• Easy to perform and set-up.
• Simple props.
• Whenever possible, no intricate gimmicks.
• Clear effect for the audience.
• Direct routine without clutter and complications.
• Performable in close-up, stand-up or the stage.
• Pack small and play big.
• Tricks should have been performed and proven their worth, impact and practicability.

If you like, you can make a checklist from these points and use it for your selection process.

Where is the Good Material?

The question of where to get the appropriate material arises. Where to look, what to read, what to obtain, and where to start? This is easier than you think if you keep a few things in mind.

The first thing of importance is where to look. Certainly, the dealer’s newest ‘hits’ are not the place to look. It is the books and magazines where you will find tons of gold nuggets. But which books?

Experience taught me a few performers/authors to look out for. They all qualify for bringing out stuff that has the 80/20 quality. Each of the following authors has published a lot of material that would fit into our criteria. I have used a lot of their material in the past years, and it has helped me tremendously. So, get their publications and dig into the material:

• Patrick Page
• Billy McComb
• Karrell Fox
• Bob Cassidy
• Larry Becker
• Theo Annemann
• Slydini
• Dai Vernon
• Fred Kaps
• Ken Brooke
• Emil Jarrow
• Max Maven
• Jim Steinmeyer
• U. F. Grant
• Sam Berland
• Harlan Tarbell
• Roy Johnson
• Alan Shaxon
• Al Koran
• Al Baker
• Gaetan Bloom
• Ken de Courcy

This is a lot of material, and the list could be enlarged, but for a start this is perfect. The time spent will be time well spent on the long run. If you take the Tarbell Course, for example, you will be very happy with the dozens of tricks you will find and can use. Each author has its own merits, and each has a different style, but they all have in common that they created professional, usable material. Usually, the methods are easy, simple and direct. Okay — some routines might seem a bit outdated, but then it is no problem to dress them up with a nice, modernised presentation. Some authors are purists (you couldn’t reduce the magic of Slydini any more concerning props), others are more demanding. But you will make rich pickings studying their books.

The Gimmicks

Rather than endlessly buying the newest stuff, I would recommend making a list of criteria for the gimmicks you have (or want to buy). They should be:

• Not too bulky.
• Easy to replace.
• Easy to handle.
• Effective for more than one trick.
• Inconspicuous.
• As simple as possible.

Here a few of the ‘gimmicks’ I consider being of great worth for the 80/20 magician. Remember, these are only starting points and suggestions, and can be altered or augmented as you wish:

The Thumb Tip — there are books on the thumb tip, and you can do dozens of effects (that all look different) with that gimmick alone. It can be used all the time and under all circumstances. A must have. Our literature is full of good stuff with the thumb tip. Dig it out.

Fred Kaps Wallet — if it suits you carrying a wallet, get it. Still one of the best and most practical wallet systems around. A few of the effects you can carry in this wallet, which make it worth the expense: Card To Wallet, Confabulation, $11 Bill Trick (Kaps), Thumb Tie (Jasper’s Thumb Tie with the pipe cleaners), T&R Paper Ribbon, Paper to Money, a few packet tricks, billets for mental feats, business card tricks. Think about what you can carry in the wallet, the possibilities are enormous.

The Memorised Deck — get Tamariz’s and Aronson’s great books on the memorised deck, learn a stack and practise the routines. There are dozens of devastating tricks possible with this principle. One deck, one stack, a sure-fire method, and hundreds of great tricks. What more do you want?

The Force — search and learn forces. One of the big things in magic, and a principle that pays back a thousand times. A good force puts you into a supreme position, even when getting caught and having to perform something impromptu. A good force is a powerful tool to have, and you can do miracles with it. So, go and check out the good forces.

Sleight-of-Hand — it seems obvious, but it is not. I don’t mean the fancy sleights and one-trick-ponies. I am talking about the ‘utility’ sleights we have at our disposal: switches, shuttle passes, vanishes, production technique, palming, sleeving, lapping.

Again, the basics of magic and legerdemain. If you can master these basic things, you will be well equipped (and better prepared than most magicians). The mastery of these things will free you up. You are free like a bird, and can go wherever you want. With whatever you have at hand.

Learn Impromptu Magic — one of the best things you can do. It makes you independent of props, it makes you an ever-ready performer, and you will enjoy the freedom. Some ‘impromptu’ tricks (think of John Carney’s rendition of the table knife and pieces of tissue paper) are so much stronger, and magical sound, than a lot of the ‘modern’ stuff. Some stuff is semi-impromptu, like John Ramsay’s routine with the tissue paper and the two glasses, or Bob Read’s ‘Thanks to Pepys’ act. For these, you just need the barebones of props, but end up with full blown-up routines.

The First-Aid Box System

A few magicians told me that this idea (or procedure) alone has been worth for them many times the time, the entrance fee, and the trouble to visit my lecture on the topic. They have told me of ‘life-changing experiences’ (which I think is overstated, but nice to hear). But judge for yourself. I am sure this will be fun, and maybe it will even change something in your magic life. The steps are so simple and easy, and the expenses are almost zero because most of what you need prop wise will be in your drawers, anyway. You could be up and running in no time!

Get a small tin box. It could be anything, but should not be much larger than a jumbo card (the reason for this I will explain). Mine is a cheap tin box with a hinged lid, which is decorated as a first-aid box, and measures about twenty by thirteen by seven centimetres. I prefer the first-aid design for psychological reasons. You could use a real first-aid box, of course, for authenticity.

The idea behind: to force yourself into searching for tricks that utilise props that fit into the box. The secret is that the dimension of the box limits your selection of tricks. You will want only props that fit into the small box. It’s that simple. This will limit the possible choices from a few hundred to a few dozen.

Here are the tricks that I suggested in my lecture that fit into the box and comprise a full forty-minute-act for stand-up and parlour conditions:

Thumb Tie (Jaspernese Thumb Tie with pipe cleaners)
$11 Bill Trick (Kaps version)
Sidewalk Shuffle (or Joe Riding’s jumbo card trick)
Color Changing Silk
A Rope Routine
Al Koran Newspaper Prediction
Egg Bag
JORO’s Ring Change
Comedy Card Prediction
Vanishing Flute (Fantasio)

Not too bad for a varied program, and not too bad for such a small box.The tricks fulfil the criteria for 80/20: they pack small, play big, are easy and commercial. And another advantage is that if you filled your box, practised the routines, and have everything together, then you just have to place this little box into your car. because it is a first-aid box, you will be prepared for that ‘emergency’, and the excuse of not having something with you to perform, has vanished like ‘a mirage in the desert’s sands’.

Me after a loooong, totally exhausting lecture in Hamburg, displaying the contents of my first-aid box.

A nice bit of business to introduce the box is this: at a party, mention that you ‘feel the atmosphere is somehow spoiled’. But luckily, you have a first-aid box for that (the little act in the box has often been a rescue for a boring party I have been to), and can fix it. Go and get the box and start to perform your act.

You will always be prepared to give a proper show, any time, anywhere.