At the first workshop of the Penn Illusionists club, we sat on cushions with two accomplished student–magicians, prepared to be tricked. Jiten Suthar, one quarter of the club’s board, shuffled a perfectly normal deck of cards and chatted us up. One of the neophytes, a freshman who had been wooed at the activities fair, picked a card, any card, whichever card she wanted. After more quick–handed showmanship, Suthar coolly asked us to turn around. The four of spades had been drawn on a sign and posted behind us across the room.

Tell me how you did that. Now.

Because this was a public workshop and not a performance, Suthar let us in on a few of his secrets. Out of some respect for his craft, but mostly pure cowardice, I cannot publish the trick behind his trick. But that isn’t the most important thing to be learned at a Penn Illusionists meeting.

The essence of the magic lies in smooth talking, not sleight of hand. Perhaps because the Penn Illusionists are the Penn Illusionists, much of the night’s discussion centered on learning how to talk like you know what you’re saying and how to dupe people that fancy themselves to be smart. This isn’t too hard, considering that “the most intelligent people are the easiest to fool,” Suthar said.

Tell the audience you’ve studied cognitive science and devised a trick based on heavy experimentation, or that “retinal printing” allows you to see the card in the audience member’s pupil. This is a stunt Ross Karlan, a Penn Illusionists board member, likes to use.

Essentially, the magic lies in distracting the audience with words. The group’s leaders, Karlan and Suthar, are middle school hobbyists who grew up and went to college but still haven’t put down the deck. To them, any situation provides an opportunity to dazzle bystanders. “It’s not weird at all to bust out the cards,” said Suthar. “But maybe make sure that everyone’s sufficiently drunk.”

The Penn Illusionists meet every other week in Platt to teach aspiring magicians their craft.