There’s more to magic—and how to describe it—than just calling everything a ‘trick’. That’s why we’re highlighting and exploring important terms, concepts, and ideas every week with The Definition of Magic on GeniiOnline.

Because magic is performed in a three-dimensional space in front of a live and skeptical audience, how a trick is viewed and received can be wildly unpredictable from one show to the next. A magician will do everything they can to make sure every single way a trick could go wrong doesn’t, but even the most practiced trick can have its secrets revealed due to unfortunate happenstance. When the secret to a trick is accidentally exposed, magicians refer to this as a flash.

Flashing can take on many forms. It can come from a mistake on the performer’s part; maybe they moved their thumb too much, or aren’t good enough at misdirecting the audience’s attention and the secret is easily spotted. It’s also impossible to predict how the people will interact with a magician or react to a trick. An errant passerby could bump into a street magician and ruin the entire set-up.

And that’s just magic performed live and in-person. Now that we’ve got televised broadcasts, YouTube replays, social media, and the ability to freeze frames, screencap anything, and blast it out all over the internet, a magician could unwittingly flash their secret to the world thanks to a poorly placed camera angle. It’s why having magical consultants on general talent shows is so important—someone needs to be there to know how best to set up cameras, lighting, and performer placement so the illusion remains intact for the in-house audience and the viewers at home.

When watching videos like the ones below, it’s always best to remember that a flash doesn’t necessarily mean a failure on the magician’s part. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during a live performance—and sometimes they do. 

Here are some examples of what a flash can look like

Here’s a trick that got only got revealed because internet detectives paused the video feed and posted screens—had this not been performed on TV, it’s likely no one would have been the wiser. 

This video shows just how unpredictable street performances can be.

Colin Cloud flashed pretty badly on the 2017 America’s Got Talent semi-finals thanks to a crummy camera angle. See if you can spot why.