At my 30th birthday party, my friend Cooper arrived at my house and—with great ceremony—handed over a card and a wrapped gift. Our mutual friend Vinny casually suggested I try to guess what was inside; he mimed rattling something next to his ear. I gently shook the package next to my ear. Cooper instantly tensed up and nearly yelped. "No, no, no, don't do that!"
I stopped and started trying to open the packing and he said "you're holding it upside down . . . okay it's too late it's ruined." He looked upset. When I finally tore the paper away, I discovered an Etch-A-Sketch. Cooper explained that he'd spent the day carefully drawing a portrait of me, but the shaking had erased it. I put the gift on a table and read the card. It described how, as one grows older, certain childish things begin to appear less important and in fact SMALLER.
Later, I noticed that the Etch-A-Sketch seemed slightly smaller. From then on, every time I passed the toy, it had shrunk. Eventually, it could fit in my palm. Near the end of the night, it vanished from the table completely. Cooper suggested that it had become microscopic.
The whole thing made my world feel larger and more mysterious
The next day I got a text asking if I ever found the Etch-A-Sketch. I searched everywhere, hoping that there was an extra step, that there was a tiny Etch-A-Sketch hidden under my pillow or beneath the sink. But I never found it. The End.
Some details. I make my living as a magician and most of my closest friends are magicians (the pranksters in this story, Matthew Cooper and Vinny DePonto, are both professional mentalists). While we frequently try to fool one another with cleverness, it's much more rare for a fellow performer to go full force and refuse to admit any form of trickery.
My best guess is that Cooper arrived at my house with three or four extra Etch-A-Sketches hidden in his jacket. Throughout the night, he swapped them out by waiting for my attention to drift, or by engineering distractions. The real masterstroke was Vinny getting me to shake the thing and then denying having made the key shaking gesture, or having any involvement at all. Since neither of them will admit to anything, all of my solutions feel unsatisfying.
I was flattered to be made the center of such an elaborate scam. Most importantly, the whole thing made my world feel larger and more mysterious. Cooper still texts me on occasion to see if I've found that tiny Etch-A-Sketch. I'm still not sure the prank is over.
Noah Levine is a magician and the host of Magic After Hours, a Thursday night show at New York's legendary Tannen's Magic.
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