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Magic that happens in the spectator’s hand is always powerful. But the climax should be theatrically coherent and satisfying as well. Here’s an idea that I kicked around with Chicago necromancer Neil Tobin about a decade ago.

Effect: Finally, after phase seventy-three of your Ambitious Card routine, you are ready to wrap up. You know you will need something hard-hitting to appease the peanut-throwing cynics at the cocktail party. Let’s assume your premise up to now has been that the card the spectator has freely chosen just happens to be the one untamed card in the deck. No matter how many times you put it in one place,  the card escapes and keeps ending up in another place.

Onto the finale. You show the spec’s card again and say, “This time, to make sure the card cannot get away, we’ll put it in prison!” You whip out your handy Sharpie, and draw a set of jail bars over the center of the card. If the card has been signed, so much the better. You turn the card face down and place it between the spectator’s outstretched palms. You snap your fingers, and turn over the top card of the deck, and lo and behold…nothing. It’s not the spec’s card. You act surprised–you didn’t think that drawing the prison bars would actually tame the card, but evidently it did. You take a quick look at the card between the spectator’s hand, and murmur “Hmm…no Great Escape. Maybe those prison bars actually worked.” You return the card between the spec’s hands as you say, “Let’s give the card one last chance to escape.”  You give the deck a quick shuffle. You snap your fingers again, and turn over the top card once again. This time, however, it is the spectator’s card, and moreover, though the signature is still on the card, there are no more prison bars on the card.

But wait. If the card has escaped from the prison cell, then what’s left between the spectator’s palms? You ask the spectator to turn over the card, and what is left is a card that is totally blank except for the Sharpie drawn prison bars. The untamed card has escaped once again!

As gasps and exclamations of astonishment take place, you surreptitiously dump the rest of the peanuts into your suit jacket pocket.

History: As always, the method is probably obvious to those familiar with such things, but it’s the plot that I think is fun and novel. I thought this up when I first played around with Neil Tobin’s little utility gimmick, the Xpert. The principle of the Xpert is probably well known at this point, and I don’t believe Neil manufactures them anymore. While I’d rather not reveal the nature of the gimmick here, nevertheless, it’s not hard to DIY.  At one time, Neil was going to put my effect out in a supplementary booklet or DVD, but to the best of my knowledge that never happened.

Method: Prepare a blank-faced card with a set of prison bars drawn with a Sharpie. For the first seventy-two iterations of the Ambitious Card, you’re on your own, just make sure not to flash the prepared card. For phase seventy-three, make sure you end up with the prepared card on top of the deck, and the chosen ambitious card second from the top. One easy way to get into that position easily is to have the blank card on top of the deck, and pretend to put the chosen card into the middle of the deck. Actually, you’ll use the Tilt move to place it second from the top. Magical gesture, and then DL to show the card on top.

Say that you are going to imprison the card, and draw the prison bars on it. Of course, here you are utilizing the Xpert principle. Reverse the DL and take the top face-down card and place it between the spec’s palms. Shuffle the signed card to the bottom. Magical gesture, turn over the top card of the deck and…nothing happens. It’s an indifferent card. You throw the indifferent card on the table; that gives you the misdirection to wipe the bottom card.

Say that you will give it one more try. Give the deck a quick overhand shuffle, running the bottom card back to the top. Magical gesture again. Turn over the top card–it’s his card escaped. “But if your card is here, then who’s in jail?” The spec opens his or her hand to find the blank card with the empty cell. The card has escaped once more!