IANAM(agician), and that being said, I think everybody’s right (kind of). Half the fun of seeing a good magic show is discussing it with your friends afterwards, to try and figure out “how’d he do that?” I can also understand from a business and professional standpoint, etc., that magicians would not want to reveal their secrets. So don’t! No one is compelling you to, and since the rest of us (the ones with some common sense, anyway) realize that, it’s understood that it’s just we amateurs trying to figure out the puzzle.
Of course, some of us non-professionals know more than others, but what the hell. Much of this kind of information is available in book stores or magic shops anyways. Most people just don’t want to take the time or trouble or effort to learn it. My wife bought me a magic book a couple of years ago, and while it was interesting to leaf through, I soon got bored with it because I did not want to take the time or put in the effort to learn or practice the tricks. I’m sure there are some top-notch and original magicians who create new illusions from time to time (and I’m sure Penn & Teller would be in that group), but most everything you see is a variation of stuff in a dozen magic books. I’d be willing to bet that same info is available on the web, too. So it’s just of matter of how hard you’re willing to look for it, and it seems to me that The SDMB is a perfect forum to look for and aquire hard to find info. That’s why we’re here!
My (educated) guess on the Conan O’Brien show trick:
First, my guess would be that Conan was NOT an accomplice. If he were, then anything would be possible, but I’m sure this was a professional magician who performed the trick and he used a trick that he normally does in his act. Like pohjonen, I’ve seen tricks very similar to this done many times, and I’d be willing to bet my second-born child that the “victims” of any of those tricks were NOT acomplices.
Using sleight of hand, it would be very easy for an accomplished magician to remove the signed, selected card from the deck. It probably never got as far as “back into” the deck in the first place. That’s what magicians do. If not for the signature, it would even be possible for the magician to not worry about removing the card; he could have a deck with 52 of THE SAME CARD (say all four of spades, for example), and then before he gives the deck to Dole to look for the card, he just SWITCHES DECKS (to one with every card BUT the four of spades)! After the card has been mixed in the deck and the magician is explaining what’s going to happen next, no one bothers looking at the deck closely. It would be easy for the magician to switch decks at that point. In fact, to pick up on CnoteChris’s idea, if he had Conan sign a card during a rehearsal, he still could have done this, using a deck of 52 cards the same as the one Conan had signed earlier… or using a special deck during rehearsal that could “copy” or transfer Conan’s signature onto the specific card used on the show. But I still guess not. He probably just palmed the actual card while “shuffling” the deck after Conan put it back.
Then how did it appear in Conan’s jacket?
I have no idea. Well, maybe a little idea… you didn’t say who it was that took the card out of Conan’s jacket. If the magician took out the card, then it’s easy to imagine him doing a “look, here’s a quarter coming out of your ear” move, albeit far more skillfully than we normally think of. Same thing if Conan handed the card to the guy before looking at it. But if Conan actually took out the card from the jacket and showed it without the magician having any influence over it, then I guess I’m stumped.
If Sublight’s idea of a forged signature is plausable, then maybe it would be possible to have 52 different cards secreted all over the jacket, and depending which card was picked, he directed Conan to the appropriate hiding place. Or even easier, by “forcing” the card into Conan’s hand as he picked it, another professional magician skill, all he needs is access to Conan’s jacket ahead of time to place the forged signature card in it before hand. But I really believe it was not forged (as I’ve seen this trick too many times when the magician could not have possibly known the volunteer ahead of time) so I think he either just placed or switched the card while “removing” it from the jacket (I think this is the most plausible explanation) or he must be able to place the palmed picked card there somehow.
Anyone else want to offer some ideas?