Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a TV talent show that is filmed in front of a live audience (or, virtual audience during the pandemic). Oh, and we can't forget to mention that Penn and Teller are there too -- they're the judges!
During each episode, four magicians perform a magic act for Penn & Teller which, at the end of each act the magician-comedian duo try to deduce how the trick was done. In very articulate speech, Penn -- as Teller remains characteristically silent -- commends the magician on a job well done. If the magic act fooled Penn & Teller, they win a sweet Fool Us trophy and a trip to Vegas to be the opening act for Penn & Teller's show!
The episode Penn-Tagram first aired on January 14, 2022 as Season 8's episode 10 (episode #115 overall!). The show received it's title from the act of Paige Thompson who wore a pentagram on a necklace, the back of which had a photo of Penn. Get it, Penn-tagram? =P
I want my opinions below to reflect those of a spectator who just saw a performance live. To achieve this, I've only watched this episode once. In real time - no pausing. No slow motion. Once through, with commercials and with my kids enjoying it with me too. Did I remember everything I saw? Did I see everything that happened? Do I remember the exact words that were said? Maybe, but likely not -- which means if I over-portray an effect below then it was just that great of a trick. If I under-portray it, well, yeah. So let's see what this episode's got in store for us!
Here are the four amazing performances from this episode. Each presented a different type of magic and each had a very different personality. What a great group overall!
Mellow, known as @mellow.magic on Instagram, is a magician from Germany who performed a quite-literal Camera Trick. His performance was remote, but honestly in my opinion that fit with the theme even better. I'd love to see this one in person though.
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, see Mellow's Camera Trick here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mD1K8HgF6V4
His act was really three separate pieces. First, he starts by showing off a polaroid camera -- you know, those cameras we used to use back in the day where, after snapping a pic it would spit out the undeveloped picture. Then, you'd shake it because you thought it was the right thing to do but Polaroid later said "no no, don't shake the photo!". Yeah, that one!
But anyways, Mellow and a camera! He has a basket of older polaroid photos and performs some neat effects with them. I have done very similar effects using playing cards so I have to give him credit for the creativity here. I have always been very impressed by folks' abilities to take magic with one object and repurpose it for another.
And then comes the second piece. Mellow brings out an assistant (or spectator? ... I can never really tell when they're recorded like this). The assistant mixes up the basket of photos and then selects one of the face-down photos per instruction. She looks at it but never reveals it. Mellow then uses his magical camera to "snap a picture" of her thoughts and the polaroid that develops sure enough matches the photo she selected!
When I saw this I was actually quite stumped, and then Penn & Teller's commentary at the end didn't help me much either. I thought about the routine a little more later and my first solution to it is sadly a very easy and cheap way to do it, but it's definitely possible that it's the exact method that was taken. I also thought of a skeptical, more tech-savvy approach too. Having participated in virtual magic shows with coworkers and hearing their "ooh, it could have been done by CGI" (or many other very tech approaches, even though I know for a fact it's not), makes me often humorously think of such an approach. Perhaps I'll never know for certain, but if you're interested in my ideas reach out and we can chat!
The third piece of the routine was actually quite quick -- Mellow, who has been holding on to the Polaroid camera throughout the entire routine, just crumbles the device up into a ball like it's a piece of scrap paper! And to think, I used to buy refills for the things...
I really don't know how he accomplished his final piece, and the second one I only have a guess that, in fairness, I came to much later on. While he definitely fooled me, unfortunately Penn & Teller were privy to his techniques and he was sent on his way. I really enjoyed this act though, I hope to see more from Mellow in the future.
Paige Thompson, on Instagram at @paigesmagic, is a resident house magician of the Chicago Magic Lounge. For her Fool Us act, she performed a round of ... ugh ... danger magic.
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, check out Paige Thompson's danger magic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnXfOienazU
Now, before I get into this, I just want to say that I am not a fan of danger magic. Anything trick or routine that's premise is "if I don't use magic, I'm going to hurt myself or others" is just ridiculous. If you need an adrenaline kick that much, I dunno, go ride a bike or something. What's ironic is that Penn & Teller hate having dangerous routines on Fool Us too -- but they perform a few dangerous tricks themselves (like a nail-gun based one).
Anywho, Thompson's route was setup where she slaps on some safety gloves an goggles and then brings out a very official looking bottle of Nitric Acid:
Filling a shot-glass with the dangerous liquid, she then fills three other glasses with plain and ordinary water.
Through three free-choice selections, she one-by-one drinks three of the glasses proving that the audience can accurately predict which glasses are water and not acid. Honestly, I didn't really feel like this had much of a magic-premise to it while watching it and typing out the description it's even less so now. But yeah, she downed three glasses and survived!
But wait, there's more! To help prove that the final glass was in fact dangerous she pulled out a metal spoon and stuck it in the glass. It almost instantly began fizzing and changing color and, believe it or not, the spoon melted in half!
Look, as an adult who's had my fair share of chemistry classes -- and knowing that they would never allow something real like this to be done on their show -- it's pretty clear how this one was done (and Penn wasted no time letting her know too). I did have to explain to my kids watching that it wasn't real, but I did try hard not to spoil the spoon melting effect for them. Let's just say for them, Paige Thompson's real magic ability is melting spoons =P.
One suggestion I have for making this look more realistic is to do a convincer before pouring the "acid" into the first glass. There are a number of routines where we can pour water into something and it magically turns into something else -- utilizing an effect like that before hand to help drum up the danger would build the suspense more. The spoon thing's neat too, but wouldn't it be cooler to once you're finished drinking the other three to be so relieved that you're alive that you accidentally knock over the other glass and it fizzes/melts something that's laying nearby instead? Or, maybe that's just the "clumsy act" routine ideas that I like poking out!
Stanley Zhou, a 16 year old magician who started practicing the craft only three years ago holds the stage with Penn & Teller at his side for his card magic, err physics routine.
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, check out Stanley Zhou's physics-based magic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF7nb8oLq1c
Zhou performed a multi-phase card routine to the theme of a physics lesson about how the black cards weigh more than the red and will sink to the bottom if a packet is dropped. By mixing a few red cards with black cards, one red then one black, then red then black, etc -- and then dropping the packet down to the table he shows how the heavier black cards did in fact sink to the bottom of the packet. All of the reds were at the top and all blacks were at the bottom. He repeated the effect by allowing Teller to interlace the cards first, but even still they all separated once dropped.
And then he brought out the big gun. Or rather, the regular sized hole punch. He interlaced the cards, punched a hole and fasted the packet together. Though there should not have been a way for the cards to change positions, they yet again did once dropped to the table!
Oh, but where was the rest of the deck during this routine? Well, before any packet-work was done he showed a ribbon spread of the deck to be thoroughly mixed. It was then squared and set to the side. After playing with the packet for a while, he picked up and dropped the deck and then spread it on the table showing all of the cards to have separated where all of the black cards were at the bottom and reds at the top!
The overall routine theme is Oil and Water. Most card magicians are familiar with the theme, and most of those also know at least one way to perform it. There are a lot of ways to perform it. I, personally, used to dislike the routine because I didn't really like packet work -- and then I pulled my head out of the sand and learned quite a few of them. Given there are so many different ways to do it I don't know if I can really pinpoint the exact one that Zhou performed, if I know it at all. I do know that I can perform the first and second ones in the exact way he did.
The hole-punch packet though, wowza! So listen, Penn actually spoke up and said that he screwed up by asking for the packet to inspect it before the trick itself was even finished. Zhou let him of course because if he had said no, well, we would've known it was a gimmicked packet. However, though I would have expected Penn & Teller to have seen this given that they were right there, I could have sworn I saw two separate sleights performed before this last packet was dropped. One of the sleights would have accomplished the effect itself, the other would have been necessary to get it setup. If I was wrong, of course, then he 100% fooled me on this one.
Ah but we can't forget the entire deck itself. I definitely expected the deck to get the same Oil and Water treatment as the packet, otherwise he wouldn't have pointed it out at the beginning of the routine. I have a guess about the deck itself that is either exactly how it is done, or I have zero idea how it is done. Either way, I would love to be able to perform this one. Even if it's the way I think it is I would really like doing it because that would allow me more reason to practice a certain sleight. If you're interested in hearing my thoughts about this routine, or info about "a certain sleight" that I want to practice more then reach out and let's chat (^_^)
Oh yeah, did I mention that Zhou fooled Penn & Teller! He came out confident and after only practicing magic for 3 years was able to pull this one off?! I really hope he keeps it up because he'll have a great future ahead of him in this field if he does!
I found an Instagram account @stanleyzhoumagic that appears to be Zhou's, but there isn't really any content at the time of this writing so dunno - maybe he'll become more active in the future.
Jonathon LaChance is a magician-comedian that can be found on Instagram at @lachancemagic. He's worked on this specific breakfast-themed routine for years and finally performed it for Penn & Teller -- and us -- on Fool Us.
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, check out Jonathan JaChance's breakfast magic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_k-mZQ3f_Q
What an interesting collection of magical pieces in LaChance's routine. First, let's just say, I love me some breakfast. Cereal's not really on my top-item list, but hey, it sells the theme pretty well.
To start things off, Penn & Teller have a sheet of paper with them in their "judges seats" that has a list of sweet, sweet prizes you could find at the bottom of a breakfast cereal box. They are offered the chance to select any one prize and they go with the 3D Specs!
Then, LaChance busts out a few mini-boxes of pretty magical breakfast cereals (I love the names of them, honestly killed it with them!). Alyson gets a free-choice of which cereal she wants and picks one. And now, the magic begins.
A cardboard box that was set out on the table earlier in the routine is unfolded to show the inside of it matching the cereal that Alyson selected! But wait, there's more. Then, that cereal is poured from the box into a bowl -- and a prize falls out with it. Would you believe, 3D Specs were found right there in the bowl of cereal. If you're thinking what I'm thinking, LaChance beat us to it too because from the box he then pours milk into the cereal and whips out a spoon from thin air. Hot damn, we have breakfast served!
Okay, so, I mostly do card magic -- we know this. However, I have also seen a fair share of magic performances in my day and let's be real, I have a few books in my library. Pouring cereal and milk from the box, fairly straightforward. Pouring a selected cereal, of five... okay, that's a little harder. And having a selected prize from 20 possible? Getting even harder!
Hard or not though, I have solutions to those that I'm pretty sure fit "the secret is in the box" clue pretty well. The one part that really fooled me though is, how did the inside of the cardboard box match the selected cereal?!
I really enjoyed the routine. I didn't think, while watching it, that it would fool Penn & Teller (and it didn't) but parts of it fooled me for sure. I could see this fitting into a much larger stage show too, I just hope I have tickets to go!
Penn & Teller's Routine
Oh Penn & Teller, oh Penn & Teller.
On this episode, they perform a card magic routine where Alyson is actually the magician. She directs Teller to select a card from the shuffled face-up spread and then through a series of shenanigans is able to find his selection. It's a pretty quick and fun routine.
The trick itself is actually very easy, but only Penn & Teller would come up with a duo-themed trick to do it. You literally need three people to pull off their version too (you could do it with two, but it's not going to have the same effect). It's really clever, I have to given them credit for coming up with the presentation.
This is another case of being able to take existing sleights, methods, or full tricks and repurposing them to fit your style or to have an altered effect. I really love seeing things like these even if they don't fool me because they inspire me to create more things myself and get the thoughts stirring!
I can't wait to see the next episode!