Equivocation (magic)

Equivocation (magic)

Equivocation is a technique by which a magician appears to have intended a particular outcome, when in actuality the outcome is one of several alternative outcomes.


Card force

A card force is one of any number of methods used in close-up magic to apparently offer a subject a free or random choice of card, when in fact the magician knows in advance exactly which card will be chosen. This can then be revealed later in the trick.

A large variety of card forces exist. Most are based on sleight of hand.

Many tricks using card forces are amongst the simplest tricks to perform, and the classic card trick of the magician divining which card a participant has selected is approaching hackneyed status. It is perhaps for this reason that card forces are among the tricks most frequently exposed by professional magicians. For example Penn and Teller have exposed several on television, and Paul Daniels included explanations of a large range of forces - including ones that he continued to use in TV and stage performances - in a children's card magic set published in the 1980s.

Magician's Choice

In a typical example of the Magician's Choice, the magician will ask a spectator to make an apparently free choice among several items. No matter what choices the spectator makes, the magician ends up with the item which he wanted the spectator to choose.

In a simple example, the performer may deal two cards face down onto the table, requiring for the purposes of his trick that the card on the right be selected. He will ask the spectator to choose one of the cards. If the spectator chooses the card on the left, the performer will say something like "you keep this card, I'll take the remaining card." If the spectator chooses the card on the right, the performer might say "okay, let's use the card you chose." Thus, the choice of which card to use is really made by the magician, hence the term "Magician's Choice."

Suppose, for example, the performer requires that a spectator select a particular one of three objects (say, the middle card in a row of three). To ensure this result, while giving the appearance of choice, the performer first asks the spectator to select two cards. If the spectator selects the left and the right card, the magician may continue by saying "Okay, we'll remove your selections, leaving us with the middle card." If the spectator selects the middle card and another indifferent card, the magician may continue by saying "... and now give me one of the cards...." If the spectator hands over the middle card, the magician may conclude, "... which we'll use," and if the spectator hands over the indifferent card, the magician may conclude "... which we'll get rid of." In each case, the middle card is apparently selected. By keeping his instructions ambiguous until after a choice is made, the magician retains full control over the apparently free selection.

These basic techniques can be expanded to include practically any number of items, such as an entire deck of cards. For larger sets, items may first be grouped, then split up. The magician must quickly and carefully craft his patter to convey the impression that the actions he takes with the items truly reflect the intent of the spectator.


In another use, a magician may perform an apparent act of mind reading as follows. The magician prepares an envelope by writing "A" on one side, "B" inside the flap, and including a card inside the envelope bearing the letter "C." When engaging a spectator, the magician may begin by saying something to the effect of, "I am about to give you a free choice, but I have prepared a prediction as to what your choice will be." The magician then produces the envelope, concealing the letter "A" from the spectator, and places it in view—for example, on a table. The magician continues, "Please select a letter: A, B, or C." If the spectator selects "A," the magician turns over the envelope. If the spectator selects "B," the magician opens the flap, revealing the prediction. If the spectator selects "C," the magician removes the card from the envelope (taking care not to reveal either the "A" or the "B" on the envelope).


In each of these examples, the effectiveness of the equivocation involves the "information gap" between what the spectator actually knows and what the spectator thinks he knows. In the magician's force the spectator does not know anything about what will happen to the two cards he initially selects. However, the spectator thinks that he is merely making a free choice in an otherwise scripted sequence of moves. In the effect of the pre-prepared envelope, the spectator thinks he knows that the envelope involves a prediction, but he does not actually know that the envelope in fact involves three predictions.

Equivocation tends to lose its effectiveness if repeated in the same context, since the spectator gains more information from one performance to the next, thereby shrinking this information gap. For example, a spectator may wonder why the prediction was on the face of the envelope in one performance, but the prediction was on a card inside the envelope on a second performance.

Equivocation can be employed more generally. For example, if the magician intends to perform a trick requiring a spectator to select a forced card, but for one reason or another the spectator does not pick the card that the magician attempted to force, the magician may simply perform another trick that does not require the selection of the forced card.


  • Hay, Henry. Cyclopedia of Magic. 1949. ISBN 0-486-21808-2
  • Wilson, Mark. Complete Course in Magic. 1975. ISBN 0-7624-1455-3
  • Theodore Annemann. 202 Methods of Forcing. 1933. ASIN B00086ITAO

External links

  • YouTube Video An example of a type of card force called the Slip Cut.

See also

  • List of conjuring terms

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