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A Theory on Penn & Teller’s Magic Bullets

This fan theory is a little different from the other ones I normally post.  Normally, the fandom or subject I focus on is a movie, tv series or video game, but the idea of being a fan is not limited to just these forms of entertainment.  I, like so many other people, have always been fascinated by magic tricks and have always adored Penn & Teller for their mastery of their craft.  Not only can I appreciate the final product of an illusion for its beauty, simplicity and performance, but I can also appreciate it for how it was executed and the amount of hard work that it takes to deliver a sincere and realistic performance.  In reality, I have absolutely no performing talent and my evaluation and appreciation of art may be lacking. However, I still love to speculate on the subjects that I love because this is how I personally gain the maximum enjoyment from them. At the end of the day, that is the true purpose of entertainment is to enjoy it in your own way, and my way to is too endlessly speculate on it. That being said, if you are of the school of thought that magic tricks are more fun by simply not knowing how they are done, perhaps this post isn’t for you.  My theory is wrong anyway so take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt.

If you would like to see a couple videos of the Magic Bullet trick check out these YouTube links here and here. I will leave these links here in lieu of a detailed description of the entire trick.

An interesting aspect about this trick, is that at no point does Penn Jillette lie to the audience.  As a magician, he is a professional liar and deceiver which serves to convince the audience that certain events are happening or not happening.  This makes Penn’s performance for this particular trick critical and eloquent.  It is true that Penn and Teller will be moving a signed bullet from the end of the stage to the other because they really do fire the very real bullets from their very real Colt Python 357 Magnum “magic wands.”  In fact, they really shoot each bullet through a pane of glass.

The pane of glass is very important. It can exhibit a bullet hole without giving away the bullet’s true trajectory.  The reason to hide the bullets’ actual path is because each one is being fired to the left of Penn and to the right of Teller; offstage away from the audience.  The laser sight attached to each gun is both a misdirection and a guide. It is slightly angled so that the shooter confidently knows that as long as the laser is on their partner, the bullet will safely miss them.

Let’s just pause this right here and appreciate the level of preparation, practice, trust and safety protocols that would be required to pull off this much of the trick.  Seriously, if it is true that every time this trick is performed, a bullet is fired in the general direction of each participant,  the two performers should receive a standing ovation for the quality of production, preparation and practice it would take to pull off this trick.

Now the question remains; how does each polished performer appear to catch the bullet between their teeth and seem to present the exact bullets to the volunteer audience members that wrote their initials on each bullet?  Again, Penn is very honest about the trick.  The daring duo have successfully moved two bullets to the other side of the stage without anyone crossing the center.  Penn will continue with his frankness and never once claim that the bullets in their mouths are the exact same bullets that were just fired, because they are not.  In fact, they are previously fired bullets that have been shot into some medium such as ballistic gel (to show evidence of being fired on the bullet while leaving it undamaged). How Penn and Teller get identical bullet tips into their mouths is the tricky part.

While the original bullets, still in their casings, are being signed by the volunteers, a member(s) of the Penn & Teller crew is copying the initials being displayed to the audience (and the counterfeiter(s) on a screen.  The forgers use the same color marker and copy the initials on the fraudulent pre-fired bullets.  At this point the hidden assistants carefully place each bullet into the bullet proof vests that are hung on a wall. The wall contains a small trap door that someone can reach into the bullet vests unseen and rig the forged bullets in such a way that both magicians can seamlessly slip the vests over their heads and put the bullets in their mouths in one graceful, well practiced, natural movement.  It should be noted that this is the only time during the entire performance that Penn and Teller ever cover their mouths, albeit for the briefest of moments.

Following a convincing performance of pretending to receive the bullets between their teeth with a snap back of the head, Penn cleverly leads the volunteers to identify their initials without betraying his truthfulness.  The audience members that have identified themselves as being familiar with firearms, confirm that each shell has been spent and each initialed bullet tip also shows signs of being fired.

And that is my theory of how Penn & Teller’s Magic Bullets trick is executed.  It may seem simple, but if this theory is correct, it only confirms the beauty that is contained in simplicity.  I say simplicity, but it is only so on paper.  The actual trick has been agonized over and meticulously rehearsed to the umpteenth degree.  The very act of firing a live firearm on stage would be a whirlwind of coordination, safety protocols and obsessive analyzing of props and placement.

This is an absolutely stunning trick that leaves the audience breathless.  Honestly, examining this trick with the assumption of knowing how it could have been performed, gives me a greater thrill of anticipation and appreciation.  I also take my own flawed assumptions lightly knowing that I am undoubtedly wrong about the whole process.  I have come to terms with this but relish the opportunity to take the time to think on and enjoy the trick on another level. Remember that this theory is most definitely wrong, but I hope that you had even a fraction of the fun that I did trying to figure it out. The definitive mechanics of this trick may never be fully revealed, but only time will tell and until then, keep theorizing!

Author: Erik Montgomery


Blog Posts

Why Doesn’t Batman Become a Batmage?

There are a few universal truths when it comes to Batman.  The trauma of losing his parents as a child drove him to constantly try to eliminate crime in Gotham, his alter ego is a billionaire playboy, he is the world’s greatest detective, he doesn’t kill and he always finds time to meticulously shape all his equipment into bat form.  Another major quality, that has been one of the driving forces leading up to his career as a superhero, has been his need for perfection.  In order to fight crime and become a symbol of fear to criminals, Bruce needs to train and become the best at every skill that would help him fight the forces of evil.  Anything less than perfection means that his failures can and will lead to innocent people getting hurt or it means the bad guy will never face justice (or so he thinks).

To achieve his goals, Bruce traveled the world for 10-15 years (this has varied over the years) training in every skill that might help him in the future.  He has mastered almost all forms of martial arts, become an escape artist, honed his detective skills, stunt driving, chemistry, marksmanship, burglary, engineering, psychology, the list goes on.  (Incidentally I would LOVE to read an ongoing comic series detailing the years of his training, get on it DC!).  Even though Batman has learned meditation, spirituality, and human mysticism, one thing that he has not conquered is magic.


It is generally understood that if there is a skill to become proficient in, the Dark Knight has mastered it. So why not magic?  Batman definitely recognizes magic as both a real and useful tool in defeating supernatural or otherworldly beings.  In fact, he enlists the help of Zatanna and John Constantine whenever he goes up against a magic-based foe.

Constantine, Zatanna, and Batman

Some would say that since other heroes are expert magicians, there is no need for him to learn it himself.  However, our caped crusader would never fully rely on some other hero completing a job for him. Even though Batman does not practice magic, he is no stranger to it. There have been instances in which he has managed to perform a spell or two when left with no other choice. The fact that Bruce would use an ability that requires a certain amount of skill and not perfect his expertise within that field shows that he intentionally does not dive deeper into the magic realm.

It would make sense that he would encounter enemies who are proficient in magical ways on a regular basis, so it would  also make sense for him to add it to his skill repertoire.  Plus we know of one godlike spit curl superhero that has a history of going rogue who also happens to be weak against magical energies.  This seems to certainly be enough motive to learn so why hasn’t he?

Of course the real answer to this question is that if Batman learned magic, we would lose the Batman character we know and love.  For this reason, it is very likely that writers will never make Batman the Sorcerer Supreme of the DC universe, which is a good thing.  I, like many fans, love the character the way he is; using his physical and mental abilities to bring justice to the world.  All I am saying is, this is a pretty big gap in his character that should have a solid explanation. So let’s examine a few justifications that are circulating the internet.

Stick to the classic

One theory that I am personally not a fan of is that Batman does not have a natural affinity to the mystic arts.  To me this seems like a lazy way to offhandedly dismiss his lack of interest in magic. Not only would the Dark Knight see this as a personal challenge to overcome, he could always stock up on magically infused items and equipment that would make actual spell-casting unnecessary. Also, we see other characters in DC that are supposedly not magically inclined, for example, the before mentioned Constantine.

Other fans speculate that magic by its very nature is unpredictable and unstable while Batman prefers the reliability and control that technology offers him.  I believe this idea is closer to the truth.  Batman is definitely a control freak and plans everything to work in his favor 100% of the time.  He prefers to rely on his wits and physical abilities to get the job done.  However, this is not the case all the time.  Technology also has its flaws and isn’t always reliable.  Even a simple rifle can jam from time to time.

Lots of tech, lots of bugs

Also, it would fit within Batman’s personality that he would also view this as a challenge to overcome. I will grant that since the  Caped Crusader has stated that magic is just a science that isn’t fully understood yet, he would have to devote an immense portion of time studying and fully realizing this mysterious science.  Batman simply just doesn’t have the time, but Bruce Wayne did have the time during his years of training.  Is there some untold story that turned him away from using magic? (Again, DC please!).

So if natural ability and the nature of magic aren’t the issue, what is it?  My theory is a concept that is actually very familiar to Batman. Remember way back in the beginning of this long winded post when I briefly mentioned that Batman doesn’t kill? Well this is because if he were to ever mentally justify killing someone, Bruce knows himself well enough to know that it would be easier for him to justify the next murder.  When you really take the time to examine this character under a bat-microscope, it becomes apparent that Batman is actually as disturbed as his villains and is the very definition of unhealthy obsessions. The difference between him and his enemies is that he recognizes his particular brand of crazy and keeps it under wraps.  Putting it simply, Batman does not trust himself.  If he were to kill once, he knows he wouldn’t be able to stop, hence his no kill rule. If Batman were to become a master magician he would have an incredible amount of power.  Too much power, in fact.  He knows that if he were to be imbued with unlimited magical abilities, he would go too far and never be able to uncross a very distinct line.

We actually have evidence of this too.  In a few different story lines we see what happens when the Justice League decides to forego government control and take over as the government calling themselves the Justice Lords.  Justice Lord Batman has no problem with the idea of world domination to protect the citizens of the world from themselves.  This is a clear example of Batman having crossed a doorway that he does not come back from and mastery of the mystical arts is one of these doors that must remain closed to him.

The Justice Lords

I personally think that this brings a wonderful complexity to the Batman character.  I have always questioned Batman’s choice to not kill but when you take into consideration that the only thing separating Batman from his rogue’s gallery is iron-clad will, he truly becomes the Dark Knight.  He will always choose to opt-out of obtaining more power for the simple fact that he KNOWS that he could not control himself if he had it.  Or maybe I am completely off-base and Batman will become a sorcerer’s apprentice at some point in the future.  Only time will be able to tell, but until then, keep on theorizing!

Author: Erik Montgomery