Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Pain Game VS. Smash & Stab (and SPIKE, Too!)

Ho-Ho-Ho! It's an early Christmas present: another review, just in time for the holidays!

One of my goals for this blog of trick reviews is to not only cover new effects, but look at some things that have been out for a while. Looking at older (ie not released this week - LOL) means in some cases I will be able to give you insight into how this plays in the real world after a smooth presentation has been developed.

Also, I know that this blog is described as being a weekly update, and that is y goal, but if possible I will review products more often, too, so check back often.

For this entry, I've decided to review and compare The Pain Game and Smash & Stab, both of which I own. I bought Smash & Stab aout a year a go and have performed it roughly 50 or so times in paid gigs. I bought the Pain Game about four months ago and have performed it about 10 times. Both have flaws and both have great things about them.

The plot is roughly the same for both. Four bags or cups are shown, with one hiding a large upright nail. one by one, the performer smashes three of the bags or cups, thus avoiding the sharp nail.

I also want to comment that for different reasons and the needs of different shows and presentations, I will be using both of these props. I didn't buy one with the intention of replacing the other.

Firstly, Smash & Stab. I bought it because I wanted a "danger" type of effect for my show to add texture. I did not want to simply do mind reading, but I liked the idea of a variety of different emotions attached to my show - drama, comedy, etc. I bought it based on Paul Gross' recomendation. You are supplied with four wooden coasters, one of which has the nail mounted into it. The nail cannot be removed. Once each wooden coaster is covered with a cup, the spectator can mix the coasters and styrofoam cups as much as they wish and you still, with a glance, know which cup has the nail. Although Mr. Dobson supplies a presentation and some number cards for that presentation, I promptly discarded them and created my own presentation. (It wasn't bad at all - just not for me.)

Let me comment on a concern by magicians that the wooden coasters look like "props." I've never had an issue with it, nor have my audiences. I simply say that I have four wooden coasters, "like you'd use on a coffee table for drinks" and leave it at that. Problem solved.

ANGLES: You can do this surrounded, as there is nothing to hide. The secret is out in the open and I have never been caught.

IMPACT ON AUDIENCE: I find that adults react very strongly for this, so this gets high marks. I also do this for high school students. They enjoy it too, but are more skeptical and some react in disappointment when I DON'T smash the nail! It's funny and if played right can be a good thing. I never perform this for any audience younger than high school students and if you do this trick for grade school kids, you're an idiot. (Sorry.)

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTIONS: The supplied written instructions do a good job explaining the principle that keeps you safe. Although I did not delve too deeply into Wayne's specific presentation with the number cards, again, it seemed as though it was explained adequately.

QUALITY OF PROPS: The coasters and nail are of the highest quality. The coasters are wooden and look great while the metal nail could really hurt you. GREAT quality.

SAFETY: Here's where this one falters a tad. The method is completely safe if used as directed. However, the issue is whether the performer is prown to "brain farts" during performances. In the real world, things happen during a show. Maybe your mic cuts out. Maybe your volunteer says something funny that cracks the audience up. If anything out of the ordinary throws you off, don't buy this. Personally, I love bantering and ad-libbing with my audience so this was not a big deal. I LOVE THIS PROP, but there is a question of safety each performer must make for him/herself.

SETUP: Other than having the props (cups and coasters) handy, there is NO set up which really makes this effect superior to The Pain Game. I love how I can just "jump into" this during a show.

GRADE: As far as safety, this gets a 7 out of 10. I only go that low because some magicians like to put things into shows the day after they receive them, so consider yourselves forewarned. Overall, though, I give this prop a strong 10. It's been fantastic.

Now onto The Pain Game...

The Pain Game's plot is the same - avoid the sharp pointy nail! The key difference here, though, is that the SPECTATOR chooses which bag the magician will smash eahch time. This is a very nice advantage over other products. When I began performing this, I noticed a nice boost in the drama of the effect. It wasn't night and day better, but it was better.

SAFETY: This is advertised as being 100% safe. I almost completely agree. If you use it as directed, it is...but if during your performance, you have a brain fart and do not set it, there is a chance of injury, so for safety, I will say it's a 9.9 out of 10. Hey, I gotta be honest, becase during a recent show during this piece, I almost forgot to "set it" when my vlunteer came up to help.

ANGLES: If done properly, there are no angle concerns at all.

QUALITY OF PROPS: This is a gorgeous set and the craftsmanship is incredible. The wooden blocks supplied look very plain and the nail looks completely...ah, I can't reveal more.:) Plus, everything comes in a great case for transport - a big plus for workers.

INSTRUCTION: While I thought the actual instruction of the effect was top notch on the DVD, the actual performance I found to be very bland, even boring. Nonetheless, that's a personal taste.

IMPACT ON AUDIENCE: For me, a 10. Those high schoolers I perform for get more caught up in the drama while adults actually shield their eyes! Great stuff.

SET UP: There is some set up, which if your audience is already in place (as I discovered to my horor at two recent corp gigs) can make this VERY problematic.

OVERALL SCORE: Those minor quibbles aside, I have to also give this a 10 because of the effect on the audience. In the end, that's what matters.

In the end, I can highly recommend both products, with caution about safety, even for the Pain Game.

SPIKE: I do not actually own this, but had the chance to see a friend perform it. I would rate the quality of the props as very high, meaning that they are durable and built for workers to use a LOT. The impact on the audience is the same as Smash & Stab - meaning, if presented well, the audiences will enjoy it.

The safety aspect is about the same as Smash & Stab - meaning, even though the method of detection is solid and bullet proof, if one has a "brain fart" you could hurt yourself.

I do have one BIG concern with Spike, and that is this: The Spike itself is removeable - meaning a volunteer can place it in whichever of the three wooden "holders" he/she wishes. While this makes the routine more "fair" it does raise the possibility that a smart-ass spectator will take the spike out, hide it in her pocket, and wait for the performer to try and find the spike.

This happened to my friend. To be fair, when he heard the laughter, my friend quickly surmised that "something" had happened, and due to the method of dtection, you would also know right away that the spike was not under any of the cups. However, this hampers the flow of the performance.

While the big issue is one of audience management and compliance of volunteers, I prefer to avoid a problem by not making it a possibility. For that reason, I rate Spike an overall 7 out of 10 - the safety is the same as Smash & Stab and the method allows a volunteer to throw you off your game during a show. For the experienced performer, this shouldn't be an issue at all, but the fact that it's a possibility (however remote) forces me to rate this lower.

All three props are worthy considerations, are well-built and are available at Hocus Pocus:

Pain Game:
Smash & Stab: (currently, only the miniature version with metal coasters is available for close-up work)
Next week, I'll be reviewing The Mindreading Goose and Branded, two popular effects.



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