It is all based on my own guesswork, countless video viewing, and also a little help from those magicians themselves, who carelessly exposed the secrets in the videos.
This is what I think how this penetration illusion is done.
I could be acutely wrong.
This spiker table illusion is a well-thought out conjuring trick design.
I will highlight the ingenuity of this stage prop, as I go along.
Audience Acupuncture is not meant to be a dangerous magic trick.
Even though it uses sharp spikes or skewers, I think it is supposed to be a fun interactive magical performance.
At the end of the routine, there is this perforated newspaper effect.
I am very sure the magician ‘conspires‘ with the participant to further enhance the trick.
Now, let’s look at the effect:
A member from the audience is asked to lay on the perforated platform of the prop, with long sharp spikes beneath.
A sheet of newspaper is placed on top of the participant’s chest to waist.
The magician places a box over the participant’s neck to his knees.
Then the magician pulls or pushes down a big lever to raise the metal spikes or skewers from box beneath.
You can see the rows of spikes protrude all the way to the top of the box which encased the body.
The spikes are lowered, the box over the body is removed, and the spectator is left unharmed.
Finally the newspaper is shown to have multiple spike holes in it.
You can watch the illusion here:
Firstly, I know the sharp metal spikes or skewers do not impaled the participant.
But visually I see the sharp-pointed spikes go all the way through the holes on top of the box which covered the body.
The effect of this illusion is the spikes apparently transpierced the body of the participant.
Audience Acupuncture Illusion Secret
This Jim Steinmeyer‘s ingenious creation is primarily based on these two magic trick principles.
There are five key secrets to Audience Acupuncture illusion.
Now, let’s poke around and find how it is done.
Secret One: Spikes And Bases
The solid metal spikes are definitely authentic and sharp.
There is no hidden spring-loaded mechanism inside the spike, where it can be bent under pressure.
They are not like the gimmicked iron rod used in “Through The Eye Of A Needle” illusion as exposed by The Masked Magician.
This illusion is also known as “Barricaded Barrels“.
It was created by British magician P.T. Selbit back in 1924.
P.T. Selbit (Percy Thomas Tibbles) is popularly known as one of the first to perform the “sawing a woman in half” illusion.
Related: Get this free book by P. T. Selbit from the internet.
Before the magician performs the trick, he pulls or pushes down the big lever, and you see the spikes rise up and thrust through the perforated platform.
Then when he reverses the lever, the set of spikes plunge all the way down to the bottom of the black box.
At this stage, the long spikes really move up and down the prop.
When Trick Is On Spikes Do Not Move
But when the participant is lying on the platform and covered with the box, this time when the magician pulls or pushes the lever, the spikes DO NOT rise up.
Yes, I know, you can see the spikes coming up in the black box below, because they gradually become shorter, right?
The fact is, the spikes do not move at all.
But to your eyes, you see them going up.
It is just an OPTICAL ILLUSION.
This visual illusion is the trickery that fools what you are seeing.
It is only the block base with rivets that is moving up.
The spikes are actually affixed to another thinner base below the block base, which is not visible to your eyes.
The actual spikes base cannot be seen because it is blocked by a piece of black material.
I will explain about the black material in Secret Four.
Actually the block base is just a loose piece by itself with holes.
To get a clearer picture, see the illustration below:
In other words, there are two separate bases.
Before doing the trick, when the magician pulls or pushes the big lever arm, the two bases move up or down together as one.
It is the spikes thin base (not visible) that lifts up the block base together.
During the trick, only the BLOCK BASE with holes moves up by itself.
The spikes still remain down at the bottom of the black box.
Yes, the principle is the same as the popular pencil or pen up the nose trick.
For those who are not sure about the pencil/pen up the nose trick, watch this video.
The Importance Of The Long Spikes
This deceptive optical illusion can only be achieved with the long spikes or skewers.
You need the block base to go up all the way in the black box, just below the platform., so that it appears the spikes are pushed out.
Besides, the length of the pointed spikes also appear fearsome to the audience.
That can help to heighten the impact of the penetration effect.
Rivet Your Attention
Another smart feature which helps this optical illusion effect is the row of rivets on the block base.
These innocent-looking rivets are meant to mislead your visual attention.
With just this row of rivets on the block base, you will see or think the spikes are firmly mounted onto it.
But as you have known by now, the spikes are NOT bolted onto the block base.
Related: Read these free books on optical illusion which can help you in designing magic tricks or use in visual merchandising display.
Secret Three: Hidden Lever To Release Spikes
To perform the illusion, the magician must free or detach the spikes from the block base.
This is the most important part for the magician to do, before he can perform this piercing trick successfully and also safely.
The magician has to secretly release or free the spikes from the perforated block base.
To do that, there is a hidden release lever/switch on the prop.
By viewing the few video clips, I notice the secret release lever is always on the same side with the big lever.
Obviously, it is easier for the magician to discreetly operate it without being noticed by the audience.
From this video clip, I can see magician Martin The Conjurer slides the secret release lever very quickly at 2:17, before he pulls down the big lever.
It is near to the right side of the participant’s face.
This is the hidden release lever of his prop captured from the video at 2:03.
Here is another Martin The Conjuring act, where he secretly operates the hidden lever at 3:02 with his right hand.
Then he pretends to take a quick look at the participant’s face.
You can clearly see the secret release lever from this Japanese TV show at 1:27:57.
This is another image of the release lever or switch taken from Chicago magician Chezaday TV performance.
This is another Audience Acupuncture act which you can see the man manipulating the hidden release lever/switch at 1:16-1:18.
This is the caught-in-the-act scene taken from the video.
Note: If the release lever mechanism does not function properly, the participant lying on the platform could be hurt by the sharp spikes.
I have seen a performance in YouTube, where Audience Acupuncture prop is malfunctioned, and the lady lying on the platform is slightly pricked by the spikes.
I supposed this illusion apparatus has a built-in safety feature to protect both the participant’s safety and the magician’s reputation.
You can have a thin piece of metal or wooden plank beneath the perforated platform.
It also comes with holes in alignment with the holes of the platform.
When the release lever is triggered to unfasten the spikes, it can simultaneously slide the hidden safety piece out of alignment.
Thus, it can cover the platform holes.
After all the audience cannot see this hidden safety-piece.
Secret Four: Black Color Material
Earlier on, I mentioned that you cannot see the thin base of the spikes below the hole-riddled block base.
It is because the spikes base is shielded by a black color material that is attached to the block base.
When the spikes are down at the bottom of the box, you actually see the three black color interior walls of the box.
But each time when the spikes are raised (before or during the trick), what you see below the spikes is NOT the black color interior walls of the box.
It is a actually a piece of flexible black color material which is fixed to the block base onto one end.
The other end is attached to a retractable roller hidden below the box.
See the illustration below:
Every time when the spikes actually (before trick) or seemingly (during trick) go upward, your eyes are focusing on the gleaming metal spikes, and not the black color below the block base.
You will not realize it because both the box interior walls and the material are black in color.
In magic tricks, this confusing black color effect is called the Black Art.
Black Art is a principle where anything painted black cannot be seen clearly when placed against a black background.
Please note, this definition of “black art” is not related to the practice of occult, necromancy or mystical sorcery.
Secret Five: Gimmicked Box
If the spikes do not go through the body and out of the top of the box, then where do the short sharpened ends come from?
Obviously those short sharp spike endings must come from the the box itself.
If you observe the routine in all the video clips, the magicians do not show you the upper interior of the box.
They just lift it up and mount it onto the platform.
These sets of short spiky endings are hidden inside, or to be precise, just below the holes on top of the box.
Look carefully at the two endings of the box, where the cut-outs for the neck and the legs.
They distance from the top of the box to the cut-out holes are rather far apart or wide.
It is deep enough to conceal the short sharp spikes.
The audience could overlook this wide spacing at the two ends of the box, is because it is in black color and they are not facing directly at them.
The hidden short spikes are rested on a metal frame, to be pushed out by these four movable rods from the platform, when the lever is pulled or pushed.
Now as you already know, during the so-called penetration act, the block base is the one which rises. (Secret One)
There are four rods on each corner of this block base that come up to push the hidden spikes out of the box which covered the body.
Before performing the trick, when the magician raises the spikes through the holes on the platform, you can see these four rods thrust out together at each corner.
You can see the movement of these four short protrusions at the platform from JC Sum video at 0:51-0:54
They are just outside the rows of spikes, and they move up and down with them (spikes).
Similarly, you can see the short four rods thrusting in and out of the platform in this video, when magician Chezaday demonstrates the spikes to the lady participant at: 0:35-0:38.
These four short rods are the ones which push the hidden short sharp spike endings out from the top of the box.
To see what I mean, look at the illustration below.
It is the side view of the gimmicked box.
Note: This is NOT the actual or correct design of this apparatus or prop.
It is based on my own guesswork.
Messed Up Your Vision And Perception
Here is another brilliant design feature of this stage prop.
The two mesh screen side windows at both sides of the box.
They are not meant for design or decorative purpose.
Their aim is to mislead the audience to see it an ‘opened‘ box with nothing hidden inside.
As the color of the box is black, the white background against the mesh screen will distract the audience’s attention from the height of the box.
Even though they are not see-through, but the mesh screen gives the impression there is an opening where you can see inside of the box.
In addition, the size of the mesh screen windows are wide right up almost to the edges of the box.
This black narrow spacing around the mesh-screen window will further mislead the audience, there is no space to hide the short spikes.
This is the Audience Acupuncture illusion secret artifice as I see it.
Additional Secret: Perforated Newspaper
The use of the newspaper is originally part of this illusion.
I know some magicians perform this Audience Acupuncture trick without the newspaper.
They want to perform this as a serious and dangerous magic trick.
As I have mentioned in the beginning of the post, this magical illusion is intended to be a fun interactive act.
Why do I say that?
After viewing the video clips, I think in order to include the punctured newspaper effect in the act, the participant has to secretly help out the magicians.
What the magic folks called it a stooge or confederate.
The purpose of a stooge is to secretly helping the magician in the trick.
From my observation, I notice two obvious findings.
Firstly, the participant is not surprised or shocked with the punctured newspaper or poster.
Secondly, the newspaper or poster itself is full of holes, so to speak.
Here is another performance by magician Papa Chico, where you can see two sheets of newspaper as it is placed on the participant.
You can actually see the perforated paper underneath when the top piece hovers briefly.
Then at the finale, the magician Papa Chico shows just one piece of perforated newspaper.
Then hide them in a concealed pocket on either side interior walls of the box.
Updated: July 2021
Recently (2021), I came across a newly uploaded YouTube video of a Japanese TV show titled “Vol 2 Mr Magic With Comedy Magician And 5 Young Magic Illusions Super Stars“.
This Nipponese magician performs the Audience Acupuncture illusion from 1:26:12 onward.
Interestingly, this is the first time, I saw a magician lifts up the set of spikes for the audience inspection.
Probably this is not the original Jim Steinmeyer’s design.
All the other videos which I have viewed, none of the magicians does this.
The key secret working of the this Audience Acupuncture prop is still the same as the original.
Here you can see the bottom view of the block of spikes:
From this view you can see there is the outline of the outer casing or cover.
This piece of outside cover with the perforated (with holes) surface is not fixed to the center piece.
The rows of sharp spikes are affixed to the center piece.
When he pulls the big arm-lever, the mechanism is lifting up this outer cover with holes, leaving the spikes at the bottom.
To block the view of the spikes, the hidden front black material goes up together with the casing.
Do you know why he has some difficulty raising the block of spikes at around 1:28:37 to 1:28:40?
No, I don’t think it is part of his comedy routine.
Yes, the block of spikes actually gets stuck.
It is because earlier he takes out the block of spikes and then replaces it back into the cabinet below.
The problem is the block of spikes is not properly set in place or evenly aligned with the secret mechanism that does the lifting of the outer case.
Similar to all the other magicians as highlighted above, he places two-piece of newspaper before the trick, and later reveals only one piece with just a few holes.
It is a prepared newspaper switched by the girl while she is hidden by the box.
Two glaring slips are the position of the newspaper on her body and there are only a few holes on it.
This is my view of Audience Acupuncture illusion secret way of doing it.