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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Paramedics

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Paramedics, who are among the most highly-skilled of Emergency Medical Services (or EMS) professionals, are in many ways like real-life superheroes, tending to people in their time of greatest need. While most of us hope to never see a paramedic on our doorstep, their appearance in times of distress can be critical to patient survival and recovery. Mental_floss spoke with several of these professionals about what it's like to be a medical first responder.

1. THEY ARE NOT JUST “AMBULANCE DRIVERS.”

Paramedics are skilled medical professionals who have undergone many hours of rigorous training—far more than your average emergency medical technician (EMT). “A lot of people call us ambulance drivers,” says Nick, a critical care paramedic in New York. “It aggravates us because driving is such a small part of the job. Emergency medicine is what we’re doing.” Medical tasks paramedics regularly carry out include administering medication, starting IVs, intubating unconscious patients to help them breathe, intraosseous (bone) injections, reading electrocardiograms (EKGs), needle chest decompression (sticking a needle into the ribs to fix a collapsed lung), and differentiating between different types of heart attacks.

2. THEIR JOB IS NOT ALL BLOOD, BRUISES, AND BROKEN BONES.

Contrary to the popular image of emergency medical workers, some paramedics handle a relatively small number of traumatic injury calls. In New York and other big cities, the emergency medical system can be large enough to be split into specific specialties. Consequently, explains Thomas Rivalis, a New York paramedic who runs emergency management consulting firm Sagex LLC, city EMTs are often sent to scenes of trauma, while paramedics respond to medical calls (think heart attacks, strokes, and seizures). “If you are in a car accident, the person pulling you out of the car is most likely an EMT,” he says. “If you see someone clutch their chest and fall over, and you call 9-1-1, that is most likely going to be a paramedic.”

But in smaller suburban and rural systems, where resources are scarcer, it is more common for duties to overlap and paramedics to handle all types of calls.

3. THEY MIGHT ALSO HAVE TO PUT OUT FIRES—LITERALLY.

Emergency medical systems vary greatly by location, resulting in significant differences in the work paramedics carry out. Bruce Goldthwaite, a shift captain and paramedic in Franklin, New Hampshire, works in a dual role system where paramedics not only respond to all types of calls, but where all emergency medical workers work as firefighters as well. Bruce explains that on a typical day, he “could go on an ambulance call, to a building fire, on a technical rescue ... On an odd day you could be on all of those trucks in a single shift.”

There are other common differences. Rural and suburban EMTs, unlike their urban counterparts, are frequently volunteers, drawing a paycheck if they choose to move on and become paramedics. And it’s typical for small-town EMS workers to wait for calls in a station house outfitted with beds and a lounge, unlike New York medics, who spend their time between calls waiting on an assigned corner in an ambulance.

4. THEY FIND WAYS TO FILL THEIR DOWN TIME.

While the job of an EMS worker is all about action, it also involves a fair amount of time sitting in an ambulance (or a station, depending on where you work) waiting for disaster to strike. Every paramedic has their preferred way of filling the time. “HBO Go is a thing,” Thomas says. “You’ve got guys who will binge-watch a whole series of Game of Thrones. Some people read. Then you’ve got the super tech who wants to bring in cardiac textbooks.” Since paramedics are subject to regular recertification, they sometimes use their downtime for studying. Thomas adds, however, that “bringing any type of napping accoutrement (read: pillows, blankets) is frowned upon.”

5. TRAFFIC IS THEIR BIGGEST HAZARD.

While driving may not constitute the most significant part of a paramedic’s job, it is one of the most dangerous. Nick has been in over 10 collisions in the course of his EMS career. “Far and away the driving is the most dangerous aspect,” he says. “When you’re driving with sirens and going through red lights and trying to move aggressively through traffic, it’s inherently dangerous.”

Compounding the issue is the fact that the patient compartment of most ambulances, unlike the cab, is essentially an aluminum box that doesn’t offer a lot of protection. Medics take care to secure their patient in the stretcher but frequently remain untethered themselves while working, putting them at risk of being flung around in the event of a wreck. The American ambulance manufacturing industry is taking steps to adopt safer crew restraint systems similar to those in Europe and Australia, but change is slow in coming.

6. ABOUT THAT LOVELY SOUND ...

Few people would describe the sound of an ambulance siren as “nice.” Urban dwellers, in particular, loathe the shriek that seems to form a constant backdrop to city life. But how do paramedics, who hear sirens far more than anyone else, feel about this tool of their trade?

“People give you nasty looks when you turn on a siren. Like ‘oh, my eardrum,’” Thomas says. “It’s not that much quieter inside the cab.” Particularly pernicious is the rumbling siren known as the Howler, which is a feature on some police cars and ambulances. “The button actually says ‘wear hearing protection when you use this,’” Thomas says. “You think any of us even have hearing protection?” Nick, however, insists that he has gotten so used to sirens that he can sleep through them.

7. STAIRS ARE THEIR NEMESIS.

Paramedics dread calls that involve stairs. Throw in a heavy patient unable to get up and down steps by themselves, and you have a recipe for paramedic back strain. These jobs can be particularly brutal in New York, where buildings are tall and pre-war structures often lack an elevator. Thomas describes arriving at a building to tend to a patient on the 15th floor, only to find that the elevator was out of service. “Just as we were getting ready to carry her down,” he says, “the repair guys finished fixing the elevator. I’ve never been so happy.”

8. THE TRAINING IS VERY TOUGH.

Becoming an entry-level EMT (or EMT-B, for Basic) requires between 120 and 150 hours of schooling, but acquiring the skills to become a paramedic requires many more—typically around 1200 to 1800 additional hours. Like a lot of medical training, it is rigorous and the hours long. Nick refers to his own training as “just grueling ... It’s basically a straight year where you’re not going to see your friends, you’re not going to see your family.” Not everyone makes it through on their first try. And, unfortunately, if you drop out, you have to start all over again.

9. THE PAY IS NOT NECESSARILY GREAT.

For people who spend their time saving lives, EMS workers are not always well-compensated. The median annual wage for paramedics and EMTs in 2015 was $31,980. Within that, there is a broad pay range, with EMTs (volunteer units aside) often making considerably less (around $10 an hour in some places), and the best-paid paramedics making over $60,000.

10. DARK HUMOR IS PRETTY COMMON.

Sometimes a few jokes are necessary to get through a day filled with illness and injury. Paramedics are known to rely on this strategy, and their wisecracks frequently take trip to the dark side. “It’s just terrible, terrible dark humor all the time,” Nick says. “Sometimes people who are not in medicine are aghast. When you face mortality all the time, you have a different perception of death.”

11. THEY CAN BE SUPERSTITIOUS.

Actors avoid speaking the name of Macbeth, instead referring to the famous Shakespeare work as “the Scottish play.” And they would rather have someone tell them to “break a leg” than to wish them good luck. Paramedics, it turns out, have their superstitions too. Thomas says that he avoids uttering the words “slow” or “quiet” (he uses the “S-word” and the “Q-word”) on the job, lest they invoke the wrath of the “EMS gods” and bring about a tough shift. In addition, some paramedics earn a reputation as “black clouds.” “You work with that one person,” he says, “and you know that there’s going to be a cardiac arrest or a five car pileup.”

12. THEY’RE HERE TO HELP.

Paramedics earn their superhero reputation for a reason: Most are drawn to the job out of an earnest desire to help people. Bruce says that he has always enjoyed helping others, but that he was set on his particular path after watching a paramedic attend to his father when he was having a cardiac arrest. “It was pretty impressive,” he says, “and I thought if you can help people in that way, I like it. Sign me up.” For Thomas, one of the biggest rewards is the opportunity to bring “dignity to people who don’t often get to experience it—people who have dependence issues, people who are homeless. You’re interacting with these people in a position of authority, and you can use this to make their day worse than it is, or you can bring a little dignity to their lives.”

13. THEY LIKE IT IF YOU’RE NICE.

Because they deal with people in distress, a paramedic’s job is often thankless. It helps if you’re nice. “We’re human. We make mistakes,” Thomas says. “We have bad days, we have good days. We all come to work to help people and we try our best. But it’s up to the person that we’re helping to meet us half way. We know we’re coming in on the worst day of your life—but the best thing that you can do is just give us your cooperation. You want to get to the hospital. We want to take you to the hospital. But we have to assess you first.”

14. THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW WHETHER YOU’RE A PARAMEDIC IS TO GO ON A FIRST CALL.

Bruce emphasizes that much of what a paramedic sees on a daily basis the general public will never have to encounter in their lives. “It’s a very gratifying job,” he says, “but it’s a tough job. You see a lot of things that you can’t get rid of.” Despite the many hours of training and simulations that go into certification, it’s not possible for an EMS worker to know how they will react in a real situation until they are actually in one. “You can do all the classroom work and all the preparatory imagining of what it’s going to be like when you’re standing in front of a person who’s dying,” Nick says. “Sometimes people just can’t handle it, and you can’t really guess who it’s going to be.” He adds, however, that he took to the job pretty quickly. Fortunately for the public, people who have what it takes to be a paramedic are out there.

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14 Secrets of Costco Employees
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Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
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While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
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At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
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Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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17 Secrets of Magicians
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Whether they're performing a big illusion that makes a tiger disappear or showing off card tricks on a table, magicians spend years perfecting their performances. We spoke to several from across the country (and beyond) to find out how they learn their trade, the type of resource they spend thousands of dollars on, what they hate most at shows, and the one question they really wish you'd stop asking.

1. THEY DON'T GO TO MAGIC SCHOOL.

Surprise: There’s no Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry out there. "There's no real training," says Dave Taylor (a.k.a. Magic Dave) from Southend-on-Sea in England. "It's all personal experience, lecture notes, DVDs, books, etc. You can go to workshops, but for most things you have to be self-taught." One big asset, he notes, is a local magic club, which can provide feedback on shows.

Randy Follis, a magician from southwest Missouri, agrees: "The training is mostly independent. Researching books, DVDs, and—if you're fortunate enough to find them—fellow magicians." After that, all that's left is a lot of hard work and practice, practice, practice.

2. THEY SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON BOOKS.

“Most magicians are serious scholars," says Las Vegas magician Xavier Mortimer. "I don't know any professional magicians who don't have their own extensive libraries about our craft." (One notable example, Harry Houdini, assembled close to 4000 books on magic and spiritualism, now held at the Library of Congress.)

The costs of those books can add up, though: "Most books are small print runs, for a small audience, which can lead to high prices," Mortimor says. As an example, Denny Haney, who owns the Denny and Lee Magic Shop in Baltimore, Maryland, says that one book he sells—Soirees Fantastique by the French illusionist Christian Fechner—goes for $3000.

3. THEY MIGHT SPEND A YEAR PERFECTING ONE TRICK.

Magicians are nothing if not obsessive. Danny Whitson, a comedian and magician from Knoxville, Tennessee, says he spent a year in front of the mirror mastering one particular move. "It sounds insane," he says, "but a great magician is always learning."

All that rehearsing can take a toll on loved ones. "You spend most of your time rehearsing a trick over and over again, to the point where it annoys everyone else around you," Taylor says. "My wife threatened (jokingly) to leave me if I kept playing with a Rubik's Cube after I spent a solid two weeks learning the ins and outs of a trick."

4. THEY CAN EARN THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS PER GIG.

Magicians can earn more than you might think, but it depends on the type of gig. "Corporate gigs pay the most at $800 to $2500, then your bars, clubs, festivals $300 to $1000, and a birthday party $200 to $500," Whitson says.

While that might seem substantial, as Taylor notes, "you are self-employed, so you could work lots in a week and then the next two weeks have nothing. Then, there's the task of advertising yourself, administration, rehearsals, prop maintenance, etc., which take up your time. You might only have two shows in a week for two hours and get paid £500 [about $675], but you still work a full week doing everything else.”

5. THEY AREN'T ALLOWED TO HAVE BAD DAYS.

A happy magician showing a trick with playing cards
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"Being a pro magician basically means you are selling a product—yourself," Taylor says. "You have to convince your audience you are the best even when you don't feel like it." That means pulling through a bad show, or a bad day, with a smile: "If you're in an office you can be in a bad mood. If you are in front of hundreds of people performing that's another matter."

6. CONNECTING WITH THE AUDIENCE CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE TRICKS.

Doc Eason, a legendary magician who performs at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, and at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass, Colorado, is known for his incredible memory; he does one trick where he memorizes the names of 20 people in the audience as well as a card held by each person. Despite the impressive feat, Eason says, “The trick is not the thing ... what is the thing is connecting with the audience. Without connection, you just become a clever person who learned to do a few cool things." Establishing that connection is a matter of eye contact and remembering the names of the people in the audience, Eason says—which requires plenty of practice in front of friends, family, and then strangers before taking to the stage.

7. THEY HATE CELL PHONES MORE THAN HECKLERS.

A person in a suit working magic on a cell phone
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Magicians have probably dealt with hecklers (“I know how you did that!”) since they first stood on a stage. But today’s electronics are considerably more annoying, performers say, what with people constantly recording the show, checking messages, or texting during performances. “Holding audience attention is increasingly difficult," Eason says. However, he doesn't ban cell phones, since that can "start a show on a hostile note."

Randy Forster, a magician from Delaware, handles the annoyances of technology by turning them into an opportunity for humor. He'll open a show with a comment like, “If you have any devices with you with an on-off button, such as a snow-blower or generator, please turn them off now.” Should someone’s phone ring, he’ll say, “We’ll just hold the show until you get that,” or “Put the phone on speaker so we can all hear.”

8. THEY'RE NOT ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL.

Haney says there are several types of magicians: those who specialize in close-up magic (like card tricks on a table), illusionists (think Siegfried and Roy or David Copperfield), mentalists (those who pretend to perform mind-reading), the "bizarre" (think sword swallowers), and children’s entertainers (balloon animals), among others. While some may do one or more types of magic, they generally stick to one category, and develop routines that play to their own strengths.

That's worth keeping in mind when you're hiring a magician. Although many magicians are happy to accommodate special requests, keep their specialty in mind—"someone who does close-up [magic] might hate animal tricks and wouldn’t do them within the scope of a close-up act. Each has its place," Haney says.

9. THEY'RE TIRED OF THE DORKY STEREOTYPES.

"The media gives magicians a bad name sometimes," Taylor says. "Think Howard Wolowitz on Big Bang Theory with his cheesy, annoying manner and performing at inappropriate times." Then there's the memorable Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, whose ineptitude as a magician is matched only by the obnoxiousness of his personality. Magicians like Taylor aim to change those unpleasant associations: "Many magicians, like myself, try to make the magic cool. Not over-the-top cool, but entertaining enough that you’ll talk about it in the pub that night and be impressed and not use 'geeky' to describe it."

10. THEY'VE HEARD ALL YOUR JOKES BEFORE.

Rich Bloch, a magician, inventor of magic effects, and owner of Dickens Parlour Theater in Millville, Delaware, says that when you think you’re being clever by asking the magician, “Can you make my husband disappear?” or “Can you saw my wife in half?” or “Can you change this dollar into a $1000?”—you aren’t. Also, the magician has probably heard the joke “How’s tricks?” before, even if they laugh with wide-eyed amazement like you’re the first person to ever crack it.

11. DON'T ASK THEM TO WORK FOR FREE …

Two magicians playing a trick with a bag of money
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Taylor’s pet peeve is someone asking, "Can you work for free?" or saying "I don't have much of a budget, but it will be great exposure for you."

"Unfortunately, exposure won't feed my family or pay my phone bill," he explains. "And I hate to say it, but 99.99 percent of these ‘exposure’ gigs don't lead to anything else. You wouldn't ask your electrician to work for free so why ask entertainers to?”

12. … OR TO EXPLAIN THE TRICKS.

As tempted as you may be to learn how a trick is done, don’t ask unless you’re paying for a private lesson. Once you learn, you’ll probably be disappointed, our sources say. “It’s usually something very simple,” Haney says. “It’s always more fun to be amazed.”

13. THERE ISN'T NECESSARILY A PENALTY FOR REVEALING HOW TRICKS ARE DONE.

While revealing a trick can lead to some ostracism for magicians, doing so won't get them sent to magicians' jail. For one thing, magic tricks aren't copyrightable, so it can be hard to prove ownership, and there's usually plenty of resources out there explaining tricks already. They have occasionally even been revealed in court—as when David Copperfield was forced to reveal the method behind his Lucky #13 trick after a participant claimed he'd dislocated his shoulder during a Las Vegas performance.

But there are certain centerpiece tricks—ones the magician created or purchased for thousands of dollars—that can ruin a magician's act if their mechanics are revealed. For example, Bloch has a trick where he copies someone’s signature while he’s blindfolded; it's a key part of his act, so revealing how it's done could be devastating. If a trick like that is unmasked, a magician might sue, as when Teller of Penn & Teller filed a lawsuit against a Belgian entertainer who posted a YouTube video of an illusion similar to one of Teller's signature tricks, and promised to reveal the secret behind it for $3050. Even though magic tricks aren't specifically copyrightable, Teller won his lawsuit because he'd registered his trick as a "dramatic work," which is protected by copyright.

14. THEY AVOID USING TRICK DECKS.

A white-gloved magician holding playing cards on a red background
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Although there are numerous trick card decks out there, Haney and Bloch both say a good magician needs only a standard Bicycle deck. “If you have a funny back, if people don’t recognize it, they automatically suspect it’s a trick deck,” Haney says.

15. THEIR TRICKS DON'T ALWAYS GO AS PLANNED.

Magicians sometimes perform in unusual environments—outdoors, at birthday parties, etc. Taylor remembers the time he was performing in a church hall for a corporate event and fell victim to its old wooden floor, which was riddled with gaps between the boards. "I was doing an escape from a replica set of Victorian prisoner chains and it's supposed to take 20 seconds in total," he says. But just as he went to flee, he realized he couldn't move his legs. "Turns out the chain had got trapped in the floor, meaning I couldn't get my feet out of the set of chains. I was stuck to the floor and could hear the music ticking away. Panicking, I grabbed hold of the cloth [that was supposed to drop and reveal him] and covered my feet with it as I yanked at the floorboards. I spent about 30 seconds of hell trying to subtly escape from the chains while talking to the audience as cool as I could. With a large yank, I managed to get my feet free, injuring an ankle in the process, and hobbled off stage as soon as I could."

Occasionally, even the little "disasters" turn out OK. Follis says he was once working a restaurant when a couple's dollar bill, which was part of his trick, got "a little too close the flame and burned—only a little, but clearly visible." In a panic, he tried to replace the dollar, but the couple "insisted on keeping it as it was their first date and they thought it would make a great story." The next Halloween, the same couple came to his show, sat in the second row, and told him how much they enjoyed the performance—followed soon after by an invitation to perform for their first family Christmas as a couple.

16. MISDIRECTION IS KEY.

“The essence of a magic performance is misdirection," Bloch says. "Not as in causing someone to look here rather than there, but displacing their expectations." He compares magic to humor, which often seems funny because of the unexpected turns a joke or a skit takes. "The unexpected is what causes the laughter reaction," Bloch explains. "Magic is the same. People expect an assistant to remain stable on the table, yet she floats, so you are changing the direction of their expectations.”

17. MAGIC TRICKS CAN HELP PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN INJURED OR WHO HAVE DISABILITIES.

Over the years, magicians have realized that learning to do tricks can be a valuable form of physical therapy. Haney says a customer bought a trick for his wife who had suffered a stroke; her doctor had said she’d never use her right hand again, but the trick gave her a goal to focus on, and she ended up regaining the use of her hand.

Several magicians have created programs that combine magic with other forms of physical and psychological therapy: David Copperfield founded Project Magic in 1981 to teach people with disabilities how to do sleight of hand work as a means to improve their dexterity, problem-solving skills, and self-confidence. After being in a debilitating car accident in 1988, magician Kevin Spencer created a “Healing of Magic” program that uses simple magic tricks to boost physical skills and motivational levels. According to his website, the concepts of “magic therapy” are now being used in more than 2000 hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation facilities worldwide.

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