I have demonstrated the cube to several unsuspecting victims and a magician and received a mixed response.

Firstly, the example trick is astonishingly easy to perform and reasonably convincing. Out of all the people I have demonstrated the trick to, not one has noticed the deck switch happen. The few people who did catch onto the fact that the cards were rigged (mostly people who knew beforehand) could not figure out how I made the cube find their card in a full deck. In fact, those who thought they did know presented ideas that would have required actual magic.

The fact that I did get a few people (though a minority) for whom the fact that I was using a piece of technology broke the illusion means that the narrative approach may not be the most reliable way of solving the issue – but it is the most interesting so I am sticking to my guns on that one.

But it also demonstrates a fatal flaw that the cube has. It is unreliable. And this is not just because the battery runs out after roughly 2 hours of use and the display doesn’t even have the common courtesy to shut down (so you will find out in the middle of a trick). The real problem is the fact that people tend to see technology as so inherently magical that they end up crediting it with capabilities that it does not have. Despite careful and deliberate framing of the trick, the fact that I made sure that anyone I was performing for would know that at no point would I have any way of interacting with the card they picked, there were people so focused on the fact that the cards were rigged that they started coming up with ridiculous, magical explanations that to them sounded mundane and plausible purely based on the fact that the cube has an Arduino in it.

I gave the cube to Alex to play with for a few days he also passed the knowledge on to other magicians and asked for their opinions, after which he returned the cube with some feedback (and in a considerably worsened state. He broke a card and the cube is now weirdly laggy and sometimes refuses to detect tags).

Most of the feedback is based on the form factor. Apparently magicians like their gimmicks hidden from the audience. He asked for a a much smaller casing he could perhaps carry around in a pocket. Another idea was ditching the cube altogether and making the card scanner wearable inside a jacket using a lilypad and conductive thread. Both these ideas are plausible and it could be worth a shot to prototype them.

Testing, Feedback and Future Improvements

If I want to keep the cube form factor, however, there were two extremely common requests echoed in the feedback. First of all, the size needs to be reduced so the cube is easier to handle with one hand. This is entirely reasonable and was, in fact already on my agenda for ARS. This should not be difficult as I can easily ditch the breadboard, which at the moments just takes up space, and solder the cables. With the breadboard removed, the only restriction in terms of size is the length of the arduino together with the battery connector cable. If I place it diagonally across the box while taping the sensors and the battery to the sides, I should be able to shave off up to 3 or 4 centimetres from each side. Alternatively, I can attempt to use a smaller microcontroller, though the amount of memory available is a restriction on how small I can go since the code takes up more than two thirds of an UNO’s memory.

The second commonly requested change is the placement of the RFID sensor. Though ideal for the example routine, I have been told that it being on the bottom of the cube is too restrictive. I will experiment with moving the sensor to the side. A potential issue here is affordance. There needs to be a simple way of letting the performer know where exactly the sensor is relative to the screen while not revealing to the audience that there is a sensor. A suggestion that Alex came up with was to have a line just underneath the screen and fix the sensor to the side which faces the line. This could work as a subtle form of signage and will hopefully make the cube more user-friendly.

Lastly, the edges are really sharp and could use a bit of sanding off, just for the sake of being more pleasant to handle. Just a thought.