The magician sets a matchbox down on a dinner plate. He partially removes the cover to reveal the drawer filled with wooden matches.
I’m going to dump some of the matches out and keep some inside. I don’t want you to see how many.
The magician turns over the box and some matches fall out onto the plate. He holds back the remaining matches with his thumb as he slides the cover over the drawer.
Please choose one of the matches on the plate and hand it to me.
The spectator follows instructions.
Thanks. Now I’m going to try and poke this match through the center of the box like so…
The magician pokes a hole in the top of the box with the bottom of the match and continues to push downward until the match pokes another hole through the bottom of the box.
It's a little tough to get this match past the other ones in the box, but look...the match is impaled through the center of the box. Impressive, I know, but that’s actually not the trick.
Please hand me another match from the plate.
The magician lights the second match against the side of the box, and then slowly touches the flame to the match sticking out of the box, igniting it. He then quickly blows out the first match and drops it onto the plate.
Watch, I’m going to pull the flame through the hole…
The magician pulls the lit match out through the bottom of the box, extinguishing the flame along the way. He quickly drops the burnt match onto the plate and starts to blow on the top of the matchbox, which has a little smoke coming out of the top hole.
He drops the too-hot-to-hold matchbox onto the plate, and it makes a surprising ‘clunk’ sound, as if there’s something heavy in the box.
The flame must have fused everything together.
The magician picks up the matchbox and slowly removes the cover, revealing what appears to be a solid brass block filling the drawer.
He lightly touches the block once or twice before saying,
Open your hand. It’s not hot anymore.
The magician dumps the metal block from the matchbox into the palm of the spectator, who can then examine everything.
The above is Mr. Widdle’s presentation of an old close-up trick generally known as the Matchbox and Block trick or Matchbox Penetration, or various other names (I do not know the origin but I’m curious about it). Almost all of the presentations of this trick usually involve just a simple penetration of the box with a toothpick or a needle with a ribbon. The box remains closed until the object is pulled through, then the box is opened, usually by the spectator, and the brass block is revealed.
While these simple presentations can be effective, I’ve always had a couple of issues with them. First, a matchbox is used but why are no matches ever seen? Why not use a match to penetrate the box? There is also no explanation as to why there are already holes in the box.
It wasn’t long before I ditched the fake matchbox that came with the trick for a real one. And then I saw that you could cover the brick with some matches and it would look like the box was filled with them. Finally, and this seemed like a no-brainer to me, I lit the match that penetrated the box, and then pulled the lit match through.
This is a dramatic moment, which results in a logical basis for the actions that follow. When the lit match is pulled through, a little puff of smoke comes out of the hole (a nice effect), but it also implies that the box is hot - or at least whatever’s inside it is. So it is therefore natural to blow on the box to cool it, and while doing so, the magician can secure the gimmick in a manner that is completely natural. Even better, when pulling the drawer out, you can continue to blow on the inside and even pretend to brush off ashes, all while absolutely making sure the gimmick is secure.
The lit match also gives a sort of logical reason for the metal brick to appear. “The flame must have fused everything together,” says the magician. Some sort of fire-based alchemy or forging is implied.
As if all this wasn’t enough to use a lit match for this trick, when the brick is given out for examination, there is a nice little smudge of ash on the center, apparently from the lit match going through it. The smudge of ash serves as a weird piece of evidence to the spectator that something happened in that box.
I searched online expecting to see instances of other magicians using a lit match with this trick, but surprisingly, I found none. Some were using a real matchbox and matches, but they were not lighting the match! It seems incredible to me. The only reason I can think of is that perhaps magicians now frown upon using fire when performing, as smoking is now pretty much non-existent in public settings. I can understand that, although the lack of seeing real flames (from lighters or matches) anymore should make the use of fire in a magic trick even more unique and dramatic. I also read some comments from magicians that said the hardest part of this trick was justifying having a box of matches. Perhaps, but generally speaking, magicians don’t need to justify anything - all props are fair game. Besides, people still use candles, don't they?
I did come across a fine routine for this trick by well-regarded magician Danny Orleans, who was the first to point out that it is better to make the block appear in addition to the penetration by the match. He allows the spectator to examine an empty box before he makes the block appear inside it. He also adds a nice touch, which I borrowed, of having the box drop onto a plate, so the spectator can hear a loud clunk before opening it. But again, even in this fine routine, why not light the match? And while the plate is a nice touch to add the element of sound, why is it there at all? In my version, the justification for plate (or ashtray) is for the mess of the burnt matches later on.
There must be others out there in the magical world who have used a lit match for this trick, maybe an old-timer from when the trick was first released, or maybe someone current, who just doesn’t talk about it publicly. I hope so, because the “fire in the hole” really gives this classic little illusion a nice kick.