Too-Perfect Theory is not an empirical theory, but a philosophical notion that a trick possibly can be "too" perfect and thus lead the audience directly to the method or to a wrong solution which gives the magician no credit. This notion was first published by Rick Johnsson in Hierophant in 1970, expanding on an idea attributed to Dai Vernon.
Rick Johnsson suggested that magicians should consciously construct their routines to lead the audience away from the actual method by allowing room for "red herrings." Also, since spectators will try to settle upon some solution (right or wrong), whenever possible, the magicians should lead them down a path where they receive the credit for the effect.
The "Too-Perfect Theory" article was republished in Genii 2001 August along with numerous articles debating the topic.
In The Books of Wonder, Tommy Wonder defined two parts in Rick Johnsson's idea. One diagnostic part and one part that suggest a solution. Tommy argued that the diagnostic part was valid, but that the suggested solution was flawed.
Genii August 2001 contains a number of articles by various people on the Too Perfect Theory. (Jon Racherbaumer, Jamy Ian Swiss, John Carney, Mike Close, Darwin Ortiz, Martin Lewis, Patrick Watson, Harry Lorayne, and Simon Aronson). Jamy Ian Swiss's essay on the 'Too Perfect' theory was reprinted in his book 'Shattering Illusions' (2002) along with some additional thoughts.
In the October 2001 issue of Genii, Tom Stone pointed out that the "theory" did not work as an diagnostic tool either, and gave several examples.
Bob Weill in the Linking Ring, April 1940
The theory is mentioned in the column "Bob's This 'N That" by Bob Weill in the Linking Ring, April 1940:
- "As for the magician opening the first or outer doll, that is a bit of logic, too. In fact, this was the point that threw off Joe Berg and some of the other smart men. If you didn't open the doll—or do something—the mystery would be too perfect. It would be such an impossibility that people would realize that the effect just couldn't be done. Hence further reasoning might lead to the natural explanation: two bills. But by giving them something to think about you throw off the minds of the spectators, making making them believe you are doing the dirty work when actually you are doing nothing at all."
Mr. Smith's guide to sleight of hand (1945)
Wilfrid Jonson mentions a certain way to proceed in a coin trick telling the reader not to do it the natural and obvious way tempting as it was. His reasoning for the suggested procedure was essentially the too perfect theory.
The Professional Touch (1945)
Monk Watson in one chapter in the pamphlet was entitled, "Can a Trick Be Too Perfect?" Using the Bill in Lemon routine as an example, Watson noted that the trick was "too perfect" and he described how he modified the routine.