Review of Fool Us Episode "Magic Socks Big Time"

Spoiler Alert
I reveal who fooled Penn & Teller below. If you don't want to know, don't scroll down!

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!

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!

Episode Recap

Until this episode, I thought I saw just about everything there could be on the show... but boy was I wrong. A straightjacket escape, a beautiful card routine that left me jaw-dropped, coins and a fake hand, and dirty socks everywhere. Just, wow!

The fooler of the night's episode was Horret Wu. His card routine was just really, really well done. While you can read more about his performance below, I do want to just call out that he took things to another level by not just changing one card into another, he changed the full deck into another. And then, did it again. If the show's editing caused us, the viewers at home, to miss crucial handling requirements for this routine, I would be extremely disappointed. If, however, the only editing that took place was non-impacting to being able to understand how the routine was done then just wow!

Gabriella Lester

She said it right from the beginning, she's both a magician and an adrenaline junky. Doing escapes and other routines that break away from the typical "pick a card" type of magic trick, she's setting the stage for an exciting life in the world of magic. Check out her Instagram feed, @thegabriellalester, to see some of the awesome things Gabriella's into.

Gabriella came out on stage and just owned it! She pulled Penn and Teller up, and eventually Alyson, to help with the routine. To start with, she had Penn pick a flash card that had a math problem on it. That was his selection that, once things started, he had to find in the deck of flash cards. Sounds interesting, right?

Gabriella Lester, testing Penn's math skills.
Talk about pressure, having to do math on national TV at speed!

The fun part is that to find the card, Penn had to solve each equation on all of the other flash cards first -- until he came to his selection. The even more fun part was that he was actually racing Gabriella. Racing her? Yeah! Her task was to escape from a straight jacket while hanging upside down from a rope!

Teller was her safety and if anything was going wrong he was to shout out "Stop!". Oh, the irony =P

Gabriella didn't end up fooling Penn & Teller, but it was a really fun act. She had amazing stage control and the performance itself was really good. If she keeps up with magic, I expect we'll see a lot more from her in the future!

Howard Blackwell

Howard's introduction and performance on Fool Us portrayed him as a really fun individual that has a unique style of magic. Checking his website here and his Facebook page, he definitely is a fun guy. If I'm ever in Tennessee, I might have to check out a show of his one day. So, what about his performance on Fool Us though?

Socks, socks, and more socks. Two baskets full of dirty socks. He said they were dirty, I didn't think they were. Alyson, on the other hand, made several comments about how dirty they were, so the only thing I can say is "ewwwww".

Howard Blackwell and his hundreds of dirty socks!
Honestly, that's just a ton of socks!

The premise of this routine was that Alyson -- the spectator -- and Howard would each shake a basket until only a few socks were left. Then, Alyson would pick and choose between groups of socks until only one was left. That remaining sock would match the one that Howard was wearing, but taking it a step further it matched his underwear too!

While a fun trick, I don't think many magicians would be fooled by this one. Given the choice of words and things used like when Alyson said "I like the odd ones" and he said "ok, we'll get rid of the odd ones" was a little off-putting. If he could make the equivoque more subtle, or make it even more of a free choice (or feel like an actual free choice), I think this one could be a lot better. Penn's coded messaging was pretty decently subtle too, but they weren't fooled (as expected).

Horret Wu

I'll be the first to admit that I had never heard of Horret Wu before this episode. While looking up small bio info about him, it turns out he's had quite the adventure a few years back. He won at FISM in 2015 for card magic, he's published a couple of tricks (available at Vanishing Inc.), and even a deck of cards! As far as I can tell, he's been back underground since then and this is his big splash back. I'll keep an eye out, and try to see if I just happened to miss this guy for the last few years.

As soon as Horret's act started, my oldest kid said "I don't like the ones where they don't talk." He knew, right away, that this performance would be silent -- I'm teaching him well (^_^)

Horret was at a table with a deck of cards. Lifting the deck, magic ensued. He produced four Kings from the deck, only to have them change to Aces on the table in front of everyone. And then, the strangest of things happened -- the faces of all of the cards began turning green!

He dealt out five green cards that then turned into a royal flush. As he laid the royal flush face down on the table, the deck full of green cards once again magically changed to each have a black keyhole on them. The royal flush, turned back over, were also now green with a black key hole and smoke covered the table in the shape of a key. Purely magical!

Green cards with keyholes and a key made of smoke.
The only part of the routine that didn't click with me, what did the keyholes and key have to do with the rest of the routine?

Penn's analysis of this routine was that he didn't want to give away any details because it would ruin the performance for everyone watching so they "went to the judges", who are always listening in to Penn and Teller when they speak. Fantastically, they were fooled!

Horret received his trophy and, very uncharacteristically, Penn and Teller remained in their seats. They didn't come up to congratulate Horret and as far as I remember, they didn't even shout any congratulations to him either. I thought that this act was so great and deserving of praise just from its performance alone, let alone that it fooled Penn & Teller, and they didn't even give him a proper win. Didn't feel very friendly to me.

Jumping back to the routine though, Penn and Teller did seem pretty confident that they knew how the trick was done. I was watching intently, not only because it was a great magic trick but because there were cards involved and that's my jam. I know how pieces of the trick was done for sure, but some things like being able to change the full deck -- twice -- can really only happen in a very small variety of ways. The most realistic way, based on what we saw as viewers, wouldn't have been possible unless the show was edited and removed crucial handling pieces. They've done that before so I can't say that they wouldn't -- but jeez would I be really disappointed if that were the case. Not in the routine, oh no; I think that the routine would still be great if that was how it was done, but in the show itself.

If you're curious to hear my thoughts about how the routine is performed, reach out here =]

Dr. Michael Rubinstein

Doctor?! That's right, Michael here is a veterinarian and magician, one a profession and one a hobby. Which is which is anyone's guess =P. His mentor, David Roth, was the inspiration for a lot of his magic, most (if not all), coin based. He's been on the scene for quite a while, giving lectures since the 80's and publishing routines since then too.

Dr. Rubinstein's performance was a coin magic routine in tribute to David Roth, his late mentor. A brief summary of this one as it was repetitive and rather verbose, a silver coin would continuously disappear from his hand and reappear under a fake hand on the table. Then, a copper coin would disappear from his hand and appear in a coin purse. The coins would also switch places in his hand (one in left, the other in the right, then they'd switch magically).

Dr. Michael Rubinstein performing his coin routine on Fool Us.
Dr. Rubenstein with his coins and... fake hand!

As a fun ending kicker, the coins would disappear and the coin purse was then full of a lot of coins and under the fake hand on the table was a giant coin!

This act was a really nice tribute and an overall decent coin routine. Even though there were custom innovations by Rubinstein, it wasn't enough to fool Penn & Teller though. They gave him an applause and off he went.

Penn & Teller ended the show with a magic routine that would take place in the viewer's home! It was a card trick that they had anyone watching (who had a deck of cards) pre-setup a packet of cards before the commercial break. When the show came back on, they started.

The packet began in an orientation of alternating red and black cards, a total of eight. Through a series of cuts and deals and chanting nice and loud, the packet separated into all reds and all blacks -- right there in your own hands!

It was a fun little "in the spectator's hands oil & water" routine. It reminded me a bit of some of the things Juan Tamariz did via a radio show, all described in his book Verbal Magic.


I really enjoyed this episode overall. The sock routine, even though I thought it could have been done better, was a pretty original presentation idea and has some real potential. Gabriella also has some great potential as a future rising star in the magic world. I'm excited to see more things from her. I'm still looking forward to the episode that has multiple foolers though. Maybe one day soon!

Either way, I'm excited for the next round of magic!

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