Darwin's Rules


Recently, on the Genii forum, there was a discussion of what I have referred to as Darwin Ortiz’s Rules (Cardshark, page 11). Darwin wrote: “To justify its existence, I feel a new trick should be different from what has come before. And, to the extent that it resembles any previous tricks, it should be superior to them either in plot, method, or presentation (or in more than one of those categories).”

What then followed (on the forum) were posts from people agreeing or disagreeing with Darwin’s suggestion. Although one post referred to Darwin’s Rules as “nonsense,” I have been a proponent of it for many years. I’d like to explain why I think it is a useful guideline, particularly now, when the magic marketplace is flooded with products.

With the advancement of technology, anyone can self-produce any book, ebook, video, or prop. This, of course, was not always the case. In the 1960s, if you wanted a book of your magic routines to be published, you went to someone who had the funds and the resources to do that: a Louis Tannen, a Jay Marshall, or a Lloyd Jones. In making the decision whether to publish or not, those men were basically following Darwin’s Rules; they decided if the material was original enough to warrant publication. Was their decision subjective? Of course it was. But it was a decision based on years of experience bringing magic to the marketplace.

Today, that editorial board can be bypassed. With desktop publishing and video-editing software, products can flow directly from the creators to the purchasers. This allows a staggering amount of mediocre products to vie for your attention.

Darwin’s Rules are simply an attempt to stem the tide of mediocre products by suggesting that the creators explicitly explain why their tricks are worth the attention of magic buyers. In other words, if you’re publishing a variation of an existing plot or effect, what have you improved, what have you strengthened?

Is this a subjective assessment? Yes, it is. Let’s look at an example. One of the great effects in magic is Charlie Miller’s Dunbury Delusion (Expert Card Technique, page 319). It is completely impromptu, and can be performed with a shuffled deck in use at any time, without any preparation. It also corresponds one-to-one with the magic ideal. (If you had the power of a real magician, Charlie’s method is exactly how the trick would look.) However, it is not easy; the method relies on perfect second deals. If you can’t second deal, this effect is of no use to you.

Since the publication of the Dunbury Delusion, magicians have offered variations that eliminate the second deal. (One example is Dave’s Delight by Dave Lederman in Frank Garcia’s Super Subtle Card Miracles, page 31.) Are these improvements? This is where the “subjective” aspect comes in. Whether you think Dave’s Delight is an improvement depends completely on your definition of magic. (For more on my definition of magic, see The Paradigm Shift Volumes One and Two.) Dave’s Delight eliminates the second deal and adds a kicker of the production of four Aces. To accomplish this, you need a five-card setup, and the trick is no longer impromptu. You also lose the convincing nature of Charlie’s procedure; in the Dunbury Delusion, you need only control one card – in Dave’s Delight, you must keep track of the selection and the setup. By my definition of magic, Dave’s Delight is not an improvement and I would never perform it. But if you can’t do a second deal (and you don’t want to invest the time to learn to do one), Dave’s Delight may be exactly what you’re looking for. But in my opinion (and based on my criteria), it is inferior to Charlie’s trick.

Here is the challenge to would-be magic producers: First, as a consumer, I need to know what your definition of magic is. I need to know how stringent your criteria are. Second, I then need to know exactly what flaws you believe exist in the original effect (or plot or routine). Third, I need to know why you believe your variation improves the effect, the method, or the presentation. If I am presented with that information, I can make an informed purchasing decision.

If you are wondering if anyone actually goes to all that trouble, yes there are many magic creators who do. If you examine the effects in The Paradigm Shift Volumes One and Two, you will see how I apply Darwin’s Rules. You’ll find out what I wanted to fix, why I wanted to fix it, and how I went about doing it. Whether or not it is in an improvement will still be your subjective conclusion, but you will understand my motivation for publishing it.

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