Receiptful Practices

Some thoughts on recent releases "Transaction" and "EDCeipt", and some more general ideas related to mental magic using receipts.

Recently, two mental magic tricks that use ordinary-looking shopping receipts have been released: "Transaction" by Paul Fowler and "EDCeipt" by Craig Petty. The release by Craig has caused a lot of controversy for various reasons that I'm not going to cover in this article because I want to keep the content on this blog more positive in nature. However, I will publish a separate feature in my Ruseletter later this month. In it, I will share my thoughts on the Petty-Weber debate. The situation does raise some important ethical and moral questions about how magic tricks are published and credited, as well as how professional magicians treat amateurs. 

Instead, in this blog post, I'm going to sidestep the drama currently surrounding mentalism with receipts and take a look at "Transaction" and "EDCeipt" in more detail. I'll discuss some of the challenges when performing tricks that rely on fake receipts, and I'll do this from the perspective of an amateur magician who performs socially for friends, family and co-workers.

I won't be disclosing the methods that these tricks use. However, if you want to learn how to perform them, I encourage you to buy them both from your favourite magic dealer.


What's the Effect?

Both "Transaction" and "EDCeipt" enable you to read the mind of a person thinking of a single item on one of five shopping receipts. However, the two tricks use slightly different methods. The main difference between the two is that unlike "Transaction", Craig's trick doesn't involve fishing. The trade-off is that "EDCeipt" has a more process-driven method that needs to be disguised in some subtle way. Paul describes his trick as a Book Test with receipts, while Craig highlights that his trick is designed to be a piece of EDC1 (everyday carry) magic that you can store in your wallet and perform at a moment's notice.

Below, you can watch the trailers for both tricks. Warning: There is a small amount of bad language in the trailer for "EDCeipt".

Murphy's Magic Supplies have also published a video featuring six full performances of "EDCeipt" that you might also want to watch:

In the first of the six performances of "EDCeipt", one of the participants asks, "Are they real receipts?" Regardless of which trick you perform, "Transaction" or "EDCeipt", there's always going to be a certain amount of unwanted attention on the receipts. If someone suspects that they're not what they appear to be—ordinary receipts from supermarkets—then the power of the effect is greatly diminished. This is especially true for amateur magicians performing for people who know them well.

Suppose you want to present any trick that uses specially-printed shopping receipts as a piece of so-called "organic magic" 2. In that case, you need to counteract any suspicious thoughts that your audience might have about the receipts. There are five main issues that your presentation needs to overcome:

  • The number of receipts - Why are you keeping hold of so many receipts in your wallet?
  • The dates printed on the receipts - Dates pose a similar difficulty. Why are you keeping hold of old shopping receipts?
  • The locations printed on the receipts - The shop addresses printed on the receipts can be problematic because your friends, family and even co-workers might wonder why you're shopping so far away from your home village, town or city.
  • The prices printed on the receipts - Some of the prices on the receipts seem unrealistic or might become suspiciously low over time due to inflation.
  • The items printed on the receipts - For particular people, such as vegetarians or vegans, some of the items listed on the receipts might cause an issue, e.g., it would be odd for a vegetarian to buy sliced cooked ham or a vegan to purchase mature cheddar cheese.
  • The type of paper used - The type of paper on which the receipts are printed is also significant. Most people handle receipts on a daily basis. If the paper used is too thick or has the wrong texture, then it may well cause alarm bells to start ringing.

The first issue is easily solved. There are plenty of ways to justify keeping a bunch of receipts in your wallet. It is a common habit, especially if you use a smartphone app to scan your receipts to track and manage your spending. Some apps even give you rewards for scanning receipts, such as Receipt Hog in the United States and Snap My Eats in the United Kingdom. The current cost-of-living crisis is causing more people to budget their spending carefully. So it makes logical sense that you don't throw your receipts away. You can mention that the five receipts in your wallet are the ones that you haven't scanned yet (or maybe they refuse to scan). Mentioning these services provides a good hook for the trick: "Did you know you can make money from your old shopping receipts?"

This, however, doesn't address the second issue (why are you holding onto a load of old grocery shopping receipts?). This behaviour might make sense if the items on the list were big purchases, or things, such as clothes or shoes, that you might need to return. But not many people keep hold of old receipts for food and household items bought at a supermarket. In fact, many people do not ask for a receipt or throw it away. A simple way to deal with this problem is to gently rub out the date on each of the receipts with an eraser. The text on receipts often naturally fades when the receipt is printed on thermal paper.

Another, more creative solution is to print your own fake receipts from shops and restaurants and include a hidden, funny or quirky message on each of them from a waiter, chef or shop assistant. This is your excuse for keeping the receipts if anyone asks. The messages also provide you with something interesting to say and give you a better reason to show people the receipts in the first place. For example, you could print a joke on one of the receipts and say something like this:

"Look at this funny message I found on a receipt from my local Thai restaurant. At the very bottom of the receipt, it says, 'What did the nut say when it was chasing the other nut? I will cashew!' Funny, huh?! Whenever I find a receipt like this, I keep it. I've got a few of them..."

The following article from Bored Panda will give you some inspiration if you like this idea enough to try it out (this is where I got the nut joke from): People Share 50 Times They Found A Hidden Message Or Something Funny On A Receipt.

I'm a Receiptologist, Don't You Know! 🧾🧾🧾🧾🧾

Another, perhaps bigger problem is the shop locations that are printed onto receipts as standard. People who know you well might find it decidedly odd that you've been doing big shops in locations far away from where you live. For example, the receipts provided with "EDCeipt" are labelled with locations in London, such as Holborn. As I live in Essex, more than sixty miles away from Central London, this would be very suspicious. Again, you could obscure the location by rubbing out the location with an eraser.


The receipts supplied with "EDCeipt". Photo Credit: Murphy's Magic Supplies.

However, a more quirky way to deal with this issue is to explain to your audience that you have an odd hobby: collecting abandoned receipts at shops. I often find discarded receipts at the supermarket, and, being a nosy person, I usually look at what the person bought. You could even mention that friends and family send receipts to you from other towns, cities and countries so that you can add them to your growing collection. Then, when you introduce the props, say something like, "Here are a few of my favourite receipts", or, "Did you know that I'm a world-renowned receiptologogist?". Remove the receipts from your wallet and perform the trick. This approach solves both the date and location issues. It could even justify the use of US receipts in the UK (or vice versa).

There doesn't appear to be a technical name for a person who collects old receipts, but "receiptologist" makes sense. People who collect used and unused lottery tickets are called "lotologists". This fact acts as a good lead-in to "Powerball 60" by Richard Sanders and Bill Abbott, which is another good trick to keep in your wallet (it also uses a similar method to "EDCeipt").

The Price Isn't Right

Another issue with receipt-based magic is that the prices might be unrealistic, something that will definitely arouse suspicion. Even if the prices are accurate at the time of printing, the current high inflation rate will mean that the numbers will soon appear too low in many cases. This is a difficult issue to resolve without printing your own receipts.

You Bought What?!

For particular individuals, some of the items printed on the receipts might cause issues. For example, your friends might be puzzled why a vegetarian is purchasing sliced cooked ham. Or why a teetotaler is buying so much Budweiser beer. 

So how do you get around this issue? You could say you're shopping for an elderly relative or neighbour. Maybe they refuse to shop online because they don't trust technology, or maybe their eyesight is too poor to use a computer. A side benefit of this approach is that it makes you sound like a good person (so maybe you really should do the shopping for your neighbour!).

In this situation, however, I think your best option, in the long run, is to print some custom receipts, especially if you want the items to reflect who you are. I also like the idea of scripting some jokes in response to some of the things on the list. Of course, you can do this with the supplied receipts, but modifying the items will help you optimise the lists for comedy value. 

I'd even be tempted to put something mildly embarrassing on there, such as TR TROJAN ULTRA THIN, then you can say, "It was a toy horse!" or "It was a pizza with a thin base, honest!". The psychology here is sound. If you did create the receipts yourself, why would you put something embarrassing on this list? However, it is completely plausible that you might accidentally have something embarrassing on a real receipt in stored your wallet.

Tyvek or Thermal Paper?

And finally, the type of paper that the receipts are printed on is also an issue. Personally, I prefer them to be printed on thermal paper because this is the most common type of paper used for till rolls in the United Kingdom. Tyvek often feels too thick, although lighter weights are also available (measured in GSM3).

"Transaction" is printed on thermal paper. Paul Fowler, the trick's creator, said that, as a worker, Tyvek receipts would not feel right when handled by people. He believes that they're too thick and, therefore, wouldn't be a "workable tool" for him4. He decided to print the receipts on premium quality receipt paper because he wanted a genuine-looking set of receipts that would not be questioned in any way.

On the other hand, Tyvek is virtually indestructible and more robust than thermal paper. For this reason, many creators, Craig Petty and Murphy's Magic Supplies included, decide to print props like this on it so that they last longer.

It is also possible to find receipts printed on regular paper, usually ones from small independent shops. This means it is perfectly acceptable to print your own receipts on cheap paper on your own home printer. You can, of course, also go to the effort and expense of buying yourself a thermal receipt printer, such as the TM-T20II (which is a popular choice with small business owners).

Holiday Receipts

There are some alternative approaches that can help you avoid these issues entirely. For example, magicians based in the United States might be better off buying the United Kingdom version of "Transaction" or "EDCeipt". You can then tell your audience that you recently visited the UK and kept the receipts as a keepsake of your holiday. Tell your audience that the receipts remind you of where you went, what shops you visited and what you ate. 

This approach has one big advantage: your audience will not be familiar with the shops the receipts come from, so they won't notice any inconsistencies. This is the presentation I developed for the "Age Receipt" trick I got as a member of Real Secrets5 because all the shops mentioned on the receipts were American, and the prices were in dollars.

This presentation, of course, will not work if the person you are performing for knows that you haven't been on holiday recently!

Down the Back of the Sofa

Another possible way to stage the trick is to stuff the five receipts down the back of your sofa. Invite your friend around for a slice of cake and a cup of tea and "accidentally" discover the receipts, along with some other items down the back of your sofa.

It might also be possible to use this approach even when you don't perform this trick in your living room. Say something like, "Look what I found stuffed down the back of my sofa today?" Then remove the receipts from your pocket, along with some other odd objects for comedy value. These other objects could also be used in the trick somehow.

Alternatively, you could plant the five special receipts on a receipt spike in your kitchen on top of some regular receipts. The whole point of this kind of approach is to make the trick feel like an impromptu piece of mentalism with a few household objects. 

Origami Receipts

As well as magic, I also enjoy origami. Another way to frame this as a casual, off-the-cuff piece of magic, you can fold the receipts into a collection of small origami models and keep them somewhere in your home. Then, unfold them, and perform the trick. 

While researching this idea, I came across a great concept for an origami receipt by designer Paul Whittaker. If you go to the effort of making your own receipts, you could make them up using Paul's design and tell people you got them from a local craft shop that sells origami paper. One benefit of making your own receipts in this way is that you can add other magical features to the receipts (the inclusion of a QR code on the receipt opens up many possibilities). 

Daddy Made Receipts

If you're making your own receipts, you could tell your audience that you made them for your son or daughter. For example, I might explain to my audience that my two eldest daughters love playing "shops" together (when they're not fighting, of course) and say: 

"I gave some old shopping receipts to my eldest daughter, but she said, 'These are no good, Daddy. We don't sell any of those things in our shop.' So I ended up spending the whole weekend printing some custom receipts for her! Look at the crazy things she wanted on them!"

As a father of three girls, this kind of stuff happens to me all the time, so I think this approach is believable. Making some "play receipts" for your child also means that your homemade receipts do not need to look like the genuine article.

Murder Mystery Dinner Party Prop

This final idea fixes all of the issues raised in this blog post. If you are concerned that the receipts do not look genuine, then admit it to your audience! As the saying goes, if you can't hide something, paint it red instead. Explain that a close friend invited you to a murder mystery dinner party the other night. One of the props your friend created for the evening's entertainment was an evidence bag containing five receipts covered in bloody fingerprints.

By admitting that the receipts are a theatrical prop, then any inconsistencies will be dismissed as unimportant by your audience. The most important aspect of this approach is to give the impression that, while the receipts were fabricated, you didn't create them. Your friend did.

Final thoughts

I've bought both of these products and will be experimenting with different ways to present them. I'm also going to print some receipts of my own. This way, I can fix any inconsistencies with the props and also add some additional features to them to enable me to perform multiple effects with the same set of receipts.


Footnotes

  1. EDC or "everyday carry" is a term borrowed from the survivalist and prepper communities. In a literal sense, the term refers to the collection of personal items you never leave home without. The exact items vary from person to person and are often defined by your hobbies, such as close-up magic, occupation and daily errands. EDC is now a popular sub-category of magic. In the past, what we might label an EDC magic trick was known as a "pocket magic trick". EDC magic is usually designed to fit in a wallet or pocket.

  2. I actually prefer the term "everyday magic". Organic magic makes it sound like you're going to start pulling carrots out of people's ears! 🥕

  3. The weight of paper is measured in GSM (Gram per Square Metre or grammage). Generally speaking, the lower the GSM, the thinner the paper. But, it is important to understand that technically GSM is not a measure of thickness but a standardised measure of weight.

  4. "-TRANSACTION- by Paul Fowler & Saturn (Book Test with receipts)," The Magic Cafe, accessed February 18, 2023, https://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?topic=748350&forum=218.

  5. Real Secrets was an exclusive club that sent monthly tricks and instructions to members. One of these tricks, published in 2012, was called "Age Receipts" and used a very similar method (if not identical) to "EDCeipt". This situation has caused much of the controversy surrounding the release of "EDCeipt" by Craig Petty.