Gravity Hill

By Ben Harris - Tuesday, January 19, 2021


The reason that 99% of magic is VISUAL comes down to evolution. Our brains devote most of their energy to processing visual input. We navigate our lives visually; much less brain-power being allocated to other senses. Our magic performances reflect this bias. Magic effects usually have a visual climax, not an audible, tactile or olfactory one. Nature has insisted that the easiest way to cut to the core is visually. We’ve all adapted to the dance.

Interestingly, our dependence on vision also leads to many false assumptions about the world around us. An example: Our eyes tell us the sun is rising in the East and setting in the West. Romantic as this may seem, we all know it is not the case. The earth is rotating at 460 meters a second—roughly 1000 miles per hour at the equator—and we are oblivious to it; our eyes telling us otherwise, and our brains accepting the false conclusion.

This dance of the senses brings me to a wonderful little illusion called “Less is More” by Joe Deng. A charming concept that also takes advantage of the visual assumptions made by our brains. Consisting of three seemingly innocent wooden blocks, these most innocent props set our sense of “vision” against the sense of “touch” in a striking manner. With Joe’s refined updating of this old matchbox puzzle, we find that we can create a compelling illusion of “reversed gravity.” In effect, the spectator weighs the three wooden blocks in his hands. Then, putting one block down, he surprisingly finds the remaining two blocks to be HEAVIER than all three combined. How can this be? Furthermore, the spectator tables a second block, leaving just one in his hand, and it’s HEAVIER than all three combined! It is quite mind-boggling. We all know, instinctively that if you take something away, then you have less than what you had. But, not with “Less is More.” Here, the lighter you make the load, the HEAVIER it becomes! The effect turns common sense on it’s head!

Being a tactile illusion, the direct effect (per se), is only performable for ONE person. This does not mean that you cannot perform it for a small group—you can—but only one spectator will experience the illusion; the others, in turn, will be entertained by the participant’s reactions. Other close-up illusions that share this particular restraint are Paul Harris’ “Solid Deception” (where a deck becomes one solid block and is felt to be such by a single spectator), and Jamie D. Grant’s “Industrial Revelation” (where a deck becomes a solid block of steel in the spectator’s hand; the appearance of the additional weight being striking). Both these examples do have the added benefit of a visual post-climax: “Solid Deception” ends with a displayable solid deck; something that can be experienced by more than one spectator. Jamie’s effect ends with a solid steel block that can also be shared as VISUAL confirmation.

“Less is More” does NOT have a visual end-cue. In this respect it is much like an intimate mind-reading effect: Only the PARTICIPANT knows that you have correctly perceived their thought; everyone else is entertained by the ripple-on effect created by the REACTION to this revelation.

“Less is More” is intimate magic. This is it’s power. Your spectator’s reactions should be heart-felt and genuine. If we can encourage this, then the enthusiasm will ripple out to the rest of the audience. To do this, we need a presentational hook that sells the concept of “anti-gravity” with COMPLETE CONVICTION, and in a way that relates to today’s modern audiences. In other words, the set-up needs to be “Google-proof.” In fact we’ll do more than that, using Google to ENHANCE the validity of the claim, establishing it as a “fact.” We’ll then introduce the props against this convincing background-story—our psychological trap already set.

TO PREPARE YOUR SET OF BLOCKS Wrap the three blocks with a piece of old and battered cardboard. (Simply cut an A5-sized piece of cardboard from an old carton and then secure with one or two thick rubber bands). The idea is to make it look as if someone has hastily packed the blocks and then left them on a bookshelf for a very long time.

THE GOOGLE GAMBIT As already mentioned, we’ll use Google to establish a completely factual-looking background story for our “anti-gravity” demonstration.

Do this by saying… “Have you ever heard of an ‘anti-gravity hill’? Sometimes they’re called ‘magnetic hills’… or ‘Gravity Hills’…”

Allow a reply, or two, and then continue right along:

“These very strange places on earth seem to have a reversed gravity. Cars roll up hill and not down… Seriously, you have your phones with you… Google ‘anti-gravity hill’ (or just ‘gravity hill’) and see for yourself—it’s all rather amazing!”

Actively encourage those with phones to establish the reality of these strange places (they are, surprisingly, common) by undertaking a quick search on their phones. The’ll come back with countless examples of the realities of these strange sites. Quite wondrous really. We’ve allowed the internet to establish our entire background story. The bait has now been taken; hook, line, and sinker! The concept of “anti-gravity” has been established and the psychological off-shoot is that of “powerful suggestion”—a “willingness to believe.” Your participant, and the greater audience, are now CONDITIONED for your demonstration.

Submerse your props into the story by saying…

“Back in 1982, a Menlo Park scientist felled a single tree in the region of the famed “Lorens Hill” Anomaly. Examination of tree rings can reveal many details including, age, radioactive decay, and magnetic or gravitational disturbances. He had hit pay dirt. The timber did, in fact, reveal unusual ‘anti-gravitational’ properties. Eighteen small blocks were carefully cut from the crosscut, measured, weighed, calibrated and polished. Since the late 1980s, ALL BUT THREE BLOCKS have vanished from the face of the earth…

“All but three…” you repeat, bringing the cardboard-wrapped slabs of wood into view, plonking the package on the table. “All, but three…” you again emphasize, now unwrapping the blocks, all the time maintaining a matter of fact (yet slightly mysterious) persona.

Proceed by having the blocks examined, and a participant selected for the performance. Seat the spectator with you, and continue with the three stacked blocks as described in the instruction set. Tweak your patter to emphasize how gravity is interacting with the blocks in an INVERTED manner. “The blocks becoming HEAVIER the less you hold…”

FINAL TIP I have found that the effect is deeper and more profound (the weight differences seemingly more pronounced) when the participating spectator uses their NON-dominant hand for the lifting procedure. In other words, if they are right-handed, have them lift the blocks with their left hand. And, vice versa. The explanation, I would surmise, is that the non-dominant hand is less accustomed to judging weight. This gives the visual element of the illusion an unfair advantage, thus strengthening the effect.

IN CLOSING I can honestly say that “Less is More,” by Joe Deng, is a great product. I know some have been dismissive of it’s power, and I hope that this short blog may prompt you to reconsider. Quite frankly, If Uri Geller had started his career with this, rather than the spoons, then our current-day memes would be very different! That’s how strong I think this is.

Love to hear your feedback. Don’t be shy about leaving a comment in the box below.

And, please do check out my book, Machinations, right here at Vanishing Inc.


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