David Blaine: Hitting the Heights, Plumbing The Depths

Some say magician David Blaine is just regurgitating old material, but he didn’t have to take it so literally. Anyway, come for the announcement of his newest hair-raising stunt, but stay for the cuisses de grenouilles.

More at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: The Second Foot

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Here’s the second installment of the Five Foot Shelf of Magic. You can read the first installment here.

I’ll assume you’ve  learned enough about basic sleights and presentation so that now I’ll recommend books that explain more advanced techniques or books that offer a broader scope of action. I also include more books that give a more intimate look into aspects of the history of magic.

Bound to Please by Simon Aronson is a collection of three smaller books by the author. The first is a collection of early card effects of  Aronson’s, the second is a description of his memorized deck, and the third is devoted to a single card effect called “ShuffleBored.” Aronson, by training a lawyer, was one of the best writers of magic around. His writing is thorough, detailed, engaging, and some of the cleverest card magic you’ll ever encounter. You will fool yourself.

Let’s take the three sections from back to front (and it’s probably the best way to read the book!) : ShuffleBored is not only the best “self-working” card trick in the universe (and I’ll back that up with money if need be!) it’s stronger than 90% of most other card tricks as well. (Hot tip: do John Bannon’s version from Dear Mr. Fantasy. His ideas with the eye covering and shuffling procedure are great improvements.)

The second section is  an extensive tutorial on Aronson’s memorized deck: how to learn one, and the specific features built into the Aronson stack. You’re not going to acquire a memdeck overnight, but it’s not as hard as many think. If you’re serious about this stuff, you might as well start now, and you’ll get it down long before you get your pass or strike double to where you like it. You’ll have an incredible tool in your kit.

The third section is a collection of card magic, some of which uses the memdeck. My favorite trick here is “Some People Say,” which has a very simple plot, but the conditions are so stringent that it seems a complete impossibility. Very good for driving your analytical friends crazy.

BTW, if you’re skeptical about learning a memdeck or just want to know more, Aronson wrote a booklet for those contemplating learning  a memdeck and graciously offered it for free here.

Simply Simon, by Simon Aronson. More card magic from a great thinker of card magic. There are some wonderful routines, including my favorite memdeck routine, “Past, Present, Future.” But it’s not just a book of memdeck effects—even if you never want to remember another card in your life, there’s great material here, somewhat challenging to learn, but not overly difficult.

Stars of Magic: This thin volume consists of the original Stars of Magic pamphlets that were originally printed separately but are now offered as a bound collection. And a stellar collection it is. There are effects by John Scarne, Dr. Daley, Francis Carlyle, Dai Vernon, Slydini, and more. This is professional level magic and a career could be assembled from learning all these effects. They’re not necessarily easy, and they do contain some advanced sleight of hand, but these are classic routines that have stood the test of time and probably every professional magician working today has one of these effects in his or her repertoire. Even if you don’t master all of these routines, you should be aware of them.

Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: I wrote at length on this book here and here. One of the big hurdles for performing for people you’ve known for years is that they find it hard to swallow that you are suddenly endowed with superhuman powers. How do you perform for friends and family without coming off as a narcissistic jerk? Well, Jerry Deutsch has an approach which really resonates with me. In this style of presentation,  the performer is as surprised by what happens as the spectator is. In fact, even when the performer tries to do a trick, the trick goes wrong (that’s the Perverse part)—but with a stronger effect than what was first expected, much to everyone’s surprise.

There are hundreds of tricks here with cards, coins, balls, dinnerware, all with scripts and detailed explanations. The book does assume knowledge of some basic sleights, many of which you will have picked up by the time you reach this foot of the shelf. It’s great if you want to perform for family or friends at the dinner table, or for casual business associates at lunch. [And I’ll put in a little plug here, since I helped to put this book together. All proceeds go to charity, and can be found at https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/gerald-deutsch/gerald-deutschs-perverse-magic-the-first-sixteen-years/hardcover/product-1z9p5rn5.html]

Dai Vernon: A Biography by David Ben. The most influential magician of the twentieth century, Dai Vernon, was essentially an obsessed amateur for whom the art of magic was more important than business, family, or just about anything else. “The Man Who Fooled Houdini” created some of the greatest close-up effects and techniques in magic and was also a consummate teacher. Because Vernon did little documentation of his own work  (although he was an endless storyteller), this first volume of a projected two volume set about his life is a valuable detailed look at the trajectory of Vernon’s domestic and magic lives.

Tricks Every Magician Should Know by Al Schneider. This is a fun book filled with, well, stuff. The kind of throwaway novelties that some magicians seem to know, but aren’t necessarily written down anywhere: How To Shoot Rubberbands, Making a Handkerchief Rabbit, How To Tie A Knot Without Letting Go Of The Ends, How To Push A Cigarette Up Your Nose—you get it, the essential things.

The Phoenix, edited By Bruce Elliott. I’m a magic magazine junkie, and it was a toss-up whether to list Hugard’s Magic Monthly or The Phoenix. I went with the latter for now, because The Phoenix has more of a close-up focus than stage, and it’s much more available.

The Phoenix was the offspring of Ted Annemann’s The Jinx, and like The Jinx it eschewed sleight-of-hand effects for those using subtle and clever principles. There were some wonderful contributors, including Vernon, Marlo, and Paul Curry (“Out of This World”) who had a regular column. Bruce Elliott was a writer by trade who kept the magazine lively with his strong opinions and commentary on the magic scene of the 40s and 50s. Yes, you can find pdf files of this, but the bound collection is so much more fun to read.

Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott. I first read this book as a teen-ager when it was issued in paperback. It covers a dozen or so classic close-up effects of magic. This is not meant as an expose book, but a serious book of teaching magic. The book, much of it drawn from articles in The Phoenix, covers effects like the Cups and Balls, The Four Aces, The Miser’s Dream, The Ambitious Cards and others.

The methods given for these tricks are not always the most sophisticated, but they are meant for advanced beginners and they will get the job done. A warning—this book is not for children. There’s a version of the Swallowing Razor Blade Trick that’s not at all suitable for young people, and there’s another trick involving corncob pipes that has a good chance of seriously harming the performer (both ammonia and hydrochloric acid are involved here. Ah, the 50s!). But the rest of the book is very good, and the Dr. Sachs dice routine, which is not easy to find elsewhere, is an excellent impromptu item to know.

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: One

IMG_4410 Some years ago, mentalist Bob Cassidy published “The Thirty-Nine Steps – A Mentalist’s Library of Essential Works” a list of what he considered the most important books for a mentalist to be familiar with. He undoubtedly was inspired by his hero Ted Annemann’s  list first printed in The Jinx in 1936, called The Jinx Five-Foot Shelf. The idea of TJFFS was to put together a list of books that would be foundational texts in the arts of magic. The ground rules were that you had five feet of shelf space to work with, all the books had to still be in print, and the primary purpose of the list was to pick out those books that would best help beginners start in magic and continue on as their skills and knowledge grew.

On several of the magic forums, some people are putting together their own more recent lists; Jeff Kowalk in particular has a very nice series of videos he’s produced which you can see here. I thought I would contribute my own list, based on books that I’ve owned or read. As a little update to the rules, I do not allow ebooks or DVDs—not that ‘s there anything wrong with them. (Perhaps one day I will do a post on the great Books vs Video debate.) Also, if a book is out of print but is readily available through second-hand sources, I allow it.

I figure I can fit about ten average volumes in a foot of shelf space, so here are my nominees for the first foot, which I’ll call Getting Started:

Magic For Dummies by David Pogue: I rarely see this book on lists of this kind, but it’s a great introductory book that teaches a variety of magic without overwhelming the reader. There are contributions in each chapter from some famous modern magicians, but the real contribution is that it teaches from the get-go that magic is a performing art, more than just a collection of methods. It encourages readers to create compelling presentations, not just learn the moves. There are some great tricks in here, pretty much self-working in terms of method, but even if you’re more advanced in magic you’ll find some usable material here. Hot tip—Don’t let the Dummies in the title put you off: on page 64, you’ll find a method that fooled Penn & Teller a few weeks ago.

Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer: A practitioner of any art should have a knowledge of its history, and that’s certainly true of magic. Steinmeyer, who is one of the great modern illusion designers, is also one of modern magic’s best historians. By telling the story of Houdini’s disappearing elephant—and how it might have been accomplished—Steinmeyer introduces the reader to a whole cast of larger than life personalities and what it was like to be a stage magician in a rough and tumble, competitive performing era. But more than that, he gets you inside of magical thinking—what is it to imagine an effect and then to invent a way to bring it to fruition?

The Glorious Deception by Jim Steinmeyer: Another great magic history book by Steinmeyer, it tells the wild story of Englishman Will Robinson, who performed as a Chinese-born magician under the name of Chung Ling Soo. Robinson started out as the backstage assistant and “brains” for several famous nineteenth-century magicians, but his biggest trick—his secret double life—was not discovered until he died in a Bullet Catch trick that went wrong—or did it? Steinmeyer writes books that you would read even if you were not into magic—they’re that full of vivid writing, period detail, compelling action, and some of the most colorful characters in show business. It helps the reader to understand that s/he’s stepping into a deep tradition, and has something to uphold.

Royal Road to Card Magic by Frederick Braue and Jean Hugard: Most people learn a few card tricks along the way, but when you’re ready to get more serious about cards, this is the place to start. It’s an absolute model of how-to-do-it pedagogy. Each chapter adds a new sleight, incrementally, and then teaches a few tricks that focus on that sleight. By the time you reach the end of the book, if you’ve been following it, you are well on your way to card magic mastery.

Some people recommend Roberto Giobbi’s five volume Card College as the more modern place to begin with card magic. There’s no doubt that Card College is quite an achievement, and its teaching is impeccable. But I find Card College dry, better used as a reference resource than a series of books to be read straight through. There’s a ton of information in Card College, but for beginners I would still recommend Royal Road over the Giobbi series. Royal Road is inexpensive, the teaching is very good, and there are some wonderful tricks in there that you will do for the rest of your life.

Fast Track Coin Magic by Al Schneider: Here, I’m again going to go against what a lot of people recommend for a first coin book. People invariably recommend J. B. Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic as the place for beginners interested in coin magic to begin. Frankly, I think Bobo’s is a horrible book for beginners. It’s cramped descriptions are difficult to follow, it’s illustrations are not helpful, and it’s massive size is way too much information for a beginner in coins.

Coin magic is famously one of the most difficult branches of magic in which to achieve mastery. It’s very reliant on what can be difficult sleight of hand. It also depends a lot on the timing and co-ordination of the two hands’ movements. A written description of a deceptive two-handed coin vanish may take very few words—but if the timing is slightly off, there’s no illusion. Frankly, I think coin magic is the one area of magic where video illustration is of immense help.

But if you’re limited to books, I’d go with this Al Schneider book. It goes over the fundamental sleights well with lots of clear photos and explanations, and it has directions for coin tricks with a variety of plots. You won’t find much in the way of presentation scripts, but Schneider does give the bare bones with which to add your own personality. Once you finish this book you’ll be much better equipped to dive into other coin books, including Bobo’s.

Mark Wilson Complete Course In Magic by Mark Wilson: Mark Wilson had a tremendously successful weekly magic show in the 1960s on Saturday mornings and here you’ll find a big book of entertaining magic with kid-friendly illustrations. It covers the range of magic—cards, coins, ropes,  mentalism, and even platform illusions that you can make yourself. It’s kind of like a Forest Gump box of magic. It even includes whole routines for sponge balls and a section on impromptu magic. If you’re thinking about putting together a school show, this is a great place to start. Even for an experienced performer there is some surprisingly good material here. A lot of bang for the buck.

Magic With Everyday Objects by George Schindler: This is a great book for doing magic in casual settings like the dinner table or office. Technically, most of the tricks are not difficult, and it’s nice to have a repertoire of tricks that you can perform at a moment’s notice in just about any situation.

Scripting Magic (Volumes I & 2) by Pete McCabe and others: These are must have books. At a certain point you realize that if you’re going to spend time working to perform your magic for actual people and not just the mirror, your time is best invested by scripting your magic. McCabe gives dozens of examples of how a good script can take a trick from the mundane to the astounding. And as a bonus, there are lots of wonderful tricks–with scripts!–from some excellent magicians.

Theater of the Mind by Barrie Richardson: I have a special place in my heart for this book because it was the first magic book I ever purchased as an adult. And I was very lucky that I did. Not just because of the sheer volume of clever magical thinking per cubic inch, but because of the humanistic approach that Barrie Richardson takes towards his magic. His warm, kind-heartedness shines through the whole book and his magic; in an entertainment form that too often uses audience members as props, Barrie implicitly teaches a generous attitude which is one of the most important lessons a performer can learn. Some of the material is not beginner level, but there’s so much more to this book than just the tricks. And Barrie gives full scripts and presentations for each of the effects. He urges performers to keep thinking about what they ultimately want an audience to experience and walk out with.

Remembrance Of Cards Past

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It’s “Spell To Any Named Card” once more, the Mnemonica edition.

I recently published the Aronson stack version of this effect, as I have been a long-time user of Simon Aronson’s memorized stacked deck. I got a very good response to that, but a number of people mentioned that they were Mnemonica users, and asked if I would create a version for the Mnemonica stack. Well, your wish is my command. I thought it would take me a long time, but strangely the work went very quickly by applying what I had learned from my previous effort. In fact, though I’m an Aronson stack user, I like this version better. Let me know what you think.

You can get a free copy of the pdf for reading or downloading here.

Under A Spell: Any Card Named Spelled To

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Yet one more for the magic nerds, and to make matters worse, it’s for a subset of a subset of us. Namely for those of us who have taken Simon Aronson’s most famous creation to heart…and mind.

For a long time, I’ve pondered how to spell to any card named in a deck of cards. Any card. And  in almost all cases, to do it completely hands off, with only the spectator handling the cards and doing the spelling.

Well, the pandemic has given me a lot of time to think about it, and I finally wrote up the complete way to do it. I was thinking of asking a couple of dollars for it, but then I thought what the heck, I’ll give it away for free. All I ask is that you send me some feedback on it after you read through it. The method of course assumes you are already a committed Aronsonite.

You can get a copy of the pdf for reading or download by clicking here

Alternatively Speaking…The Landmark Cull

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Another one for the magic nerds only.

There are times in card magic when you want to set up a shuffled deck into alternating colors. Tricks like Tamariz’s “Neither Blind Nor Stupid” and Nick Trost’s “Odd Man Out” demand it. The typical way to do it is to first do a separation of the colors à la Mr. Green or Mr. Lorayne, and then do a perfect faro. That’s probably how I would do it these days.

But back in 2004, I couldn’t do a perfect faro, and so I sought another way to do it. Besides, sometimes you’re handed a beat up deck with which even Steve Forte couldn’t do a perfect faro. (Okay, who am I kidding? He probably could.) Anyway, so I came up with a way of putting a deck into alternating red-black condition in one pass without a faro.

The reason I’m re-visiting this from sixteen years ago is because of an excellent new booklet put out by Dr. Hans-Christian Solka called Gaukelwerk with Cards available at Lybrary.com as a pdf for a nominal price. It’s a little monograph on a way of clocking a deck that to my mind is one of the quickest and most efficient methods I’ve seen. I first came across the idea of clocking a deck in one of Martin Gardner’s books decades ago, but others have refined the process through the years. If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to a way of finding out a missing card from a full deck by keeping a mental mathematical count of cards seen by running through the deck a few times, ideally the fewer times the better. Dr. Solka, in my opinion, has come up with the best way yet of doing this.

It turns out that one thing that can really help you clock a deck extra quickly, not surprisingly, is if you know prior to clocking the deck whether the missing card is red or black—and an alternating red-black deck can help you determine that quickly. That is not Dr. Solka’s advance—people like Harry Lorayne have exploited that idea before as have others. But in his booklet, Dr. Solka details his method of clocking called “The Solka Location,” which using the alternating deck and an elegant counting system allows one to clock a deck in two very speedy passes.

In addition to this clocking method, in his booklet Dr. Solka includes a false shuffle and a way to get into alternating colors using a method he calls the Mingau Cull.  After reading a first version of Dr. Solka’s booklet, I pointed him to my 2004 post on the Magic Cafe which detailed my variation of that cull. Never having heard of the Mingau Cull before, I did not realize at the time that what I had created was essentially a mirror image of the Mingau. But Dr. Solka liked my version, and included it in a subsequent printing of his booklet. He calls it the “Landmark Cull,” after my screen name on the Magic Cafe.

While the two culls are similar, if you are dealing from left hand to right hand, I believe that my version is better covered and more natural looking to the audience.

Anyway, here is that “Landmark Cull.” I’ll try to describe it a little better here than I did back in 2004. And I’ll add that Dr. Solka in his booklet added a little suggestion which speeds up the process even more (which I will not put here as it is not mine to share).

Okay. The deck is face up in the left hand, dealing position. The right thumb thumbs the  first two cards from the left hand one by one onto the right upturned palm, the second card on top of the first. The right thumb is now on top of its packet, with the four right fingers below.

The right fingers shift the bottom-most card of its packet (i.e. card closest to palm) a bit to the left so that that card can be seen.

Now, look at the color of the card facing you in the left hand. If it is the opposite color of the card face up in your right hand, then thumb that card on top of your right-hand pile. Keep moving cards from the left hand to the right hand, one at a time, as long as the cards alternate in color.

Now, suppose you reach a point where the face-up card in your left hand is the same color as the face-up card in your right hand. You peek at the bottom-most card in your right hand. If it is the opposite color of the face up cards, use your right fingers to slide this card on top of the left-hand pile as you bring your hands together. Then separate your hands. Now you can thumb this same card, which is now face up on the left-hand pile, onto the face of the right hand pile. So what you’ve done in effect is to transfer the bottom-most card of the right hand pile to the top of the right-hand pile.

What if the bottom card of the right hand pile is the same color as the two face-up cards? In that case, simply transfer the left-hand face up card to the bottom of the right hand pile.

Just continue doing this through the whole deck and you’ll have the deck properly sorted.

To summarize:

1) Deal two cards one at a time, one on top of the other into the right hand.

2) Deal one at a time, alternate colors face up from left hand pile onto right hand pile.

3) If the face colors match, check the right hand bottom color. If the bottom card is different, slide the bottom card onto the left-hand pile. If it’s the same, deal the left hand card onto the bottom of the right hand pile.

One of the keys of this is to keep the bottom right hand card constantly jogged to the left as it changes, so you can quickly decide which action to take, so that you can keep a steady regular rhythm.

And that’s it. Now go learn how to quickly clock an alternating deck from Dr. Solka.

 

The Book Nook, Magic Edition (4)

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Here’s an update on three magic books I’ve received recently, each of which I can recommend to aficionados.

First, The Top Change by Magic Christian. Christian, a seasoned performer and recognized expert on 19th century card magic history (he wrote the massive two volume work on his Viennese forerunner, J. N. Hofzinser: Non Plus Ultra) has written a monograph on the top change and its variants, illustrated with over 200 sharp black & white photographs, and includes an extensive bibliography from Denis Behr. It begins with a chapter on the history of the sleights, then gets down to basics teaching them.

The section describing the basic top change that Christian prefers is actually fairly brief—four pages of Christian’s general philosophy about the top change, and then about ten pages of photos and text  breaking down the move, step by step. Those familiar with the description of the move in Expert Card Technique or Giobbi’s Card College may be surprised by some of Christian’s recommendations. He prefers a subtle, subdued approach: he does not try to cover the move with wide sweeping arm movements, and he prefers not to move both hands.

The top change is one of those sleights which is extremely useful in card magic—Christian calls it “the most useful, the most regal sleight” in all of card magic. I have to admit that while technically it’s a much easier move than palming or doing a classic pass, I feel much more comfortable with the latter sleights than doing a top change. Like many, I am afraid of being caught out because of the boldness of the move. But I can say that with some study of the book and practice, I have been gaining in confidence, and my current efforts, as recorded on video, are not too awful. So thank you, Magic Christian.

Next up is David Regal’s new book, Interpreting Magic. It’s a big book, with the usual kind of Regal attention to close-up card and coin magic. Regal is a guy whose roots are in improv and scripting (no, not mutually exclusive at all!) and his focus is always on presenting an entertaining story and premise for his audience.  If you’ve seen any of Regal’s other books, you know he’s got literally scores of such workable effects. But curiously, my favorite part of the book was not the close-up magic, but rather the platform magic section. His imagination really lets loose with the larger effects.  He’s got very original, ingenious premises and presentations with props that are more unexpected and amusing than the usual card or coin routines. Also, scattered throughout the book, he has some great interviews and essays. There’s not a whole lot of organization to this huge book, so at 500+ pages it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but I really like dipping into it at random. Definitely recommended.

And finally, there’s Thinking Of You, the latest annual offering from Andy of the magic website, The Jerx.  The previous book from The Jerx, Magic for Young Lovers, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. The current book is also quite good, though unsurprisingly, not in the same league as its predecessor.  MFYL set a high bar to reach and Andy seems to be aware of that. While the earlier book was conceived as a whole philosophy and approach to amateur magic—and largely succeeded—this one is much more modest in its aims. Thinking Of You is mainly concerned with the performance of mentalism in an amateur social context, and as such it’s more of a toolkit—okay, a bag of tricks—rather than some overarching vision, despite some valuable advice on how to approach social mentalism. That said, many of the individual ideas and effects are quite strong and without the comparison to the other book, it’s quite a respectable piece of work. The book is physically similar to the last two Jerx books, though there are no illustrated endpages as the previous books had. However, for those complaining about the high price of subscribing to the site and receiving the book, here’s a hot tip: some of the best ideas and effects in the book are already on the Jerx site for free, if you comb through the site. Either way, Andy has a ton of great advice for those performing in an amateur social context.

And upcoming: the gambling subset of magic fans has been eagerly awaiting Steve Forte’s new double volume opus on gambling sleights i.e. false deals, shuffles, switches, and so on. It’s Forte’s name that’s the draw here, as his status as a card worker is legendary, and his knowledge and invention of gambling sleights is second to none. In any reasoned list of the best living card workers, Forte’s name is probably going to be right at the top. Forte printed up a first run of 1000 copies, and by the time you read this, it probably will be all sold out, despite the fact that it won’t even be published for another few weeks. A special section on Erdnase’s Expert At The Card Table in the book promises to be a paradigm-breaking re-imagining of the old master. It will be interesting to see if Forte’s book, called Gambling Sleight of Hand, lives up to its high expectations.

All of the books are very good. Depending on your taste in magic, at least one of these books will make a worthwhile read for you.

“But Wait, That’s Not All…There’s More!”

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Magician Shin Lim makes like a Veg-O-Matic pitchman, slices and dices you, uses the julienne blade, piles on effect after effect, then throws in smoke at no extra cost. Just no one like him.

Thanks to YouTuber TheEllenShow

Online Ordering

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Photo by Midhun Joy on Pexels.com

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There are Third World Problems, First World Problems, and then there are Conjurers’ World Problems. This is to address one of the latter.

From time to time, a magician needs a deck of cards to be arranged back in the original factory order after it’s been all shuffled up and disordered. Magicians call that original factory order New Deck Order or NDO. Surprisingly, there’s no industry standardized order. It varies according to card manufacturer and even varies from brand to brand manufactured by the same company. So, for example, Bicycle brand cards are ordered in a different arrangement from Bee brand cards, even though they are both manufactured by the United States Playing Card Company. Next time you open up a new pack of cards, check the order. You might find it interesting.

The most popular brand of cards, Bicycles, are arranged from top to bottom in the following order (take a guess first before you read on):

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Ace to King of Hearts, Ace to King of Clubs, King to Ace of Diamonds, and King to Ace of Spades.

So suppose the cards are all mixed up, and you want to get them back into the original order—not that you are trying to do it secretly, you just want to do it quickly. What do you do? Well, yes, the logical thing to do is to make four piles on a table, one for each suit, and sort out the cards that way.

But often a performer doesn’t have a table available, so sometimes an in-the-hands-sort is useful. Here’s a method i came up with a few years ago of how to sort a deck of cards quickly into Bicycle NDO when no table is available. Later, I’ll talk about how to generalize the process to make it even more useful to magicians.

1) Hold the deck face up in the left hand, facing you. Spread through the deck without changing its order and, using your right hand,  as you come to each black card, upjog it about halfway. Then, with your right hand, swing out all the black cards to the face of deck.

2) Run through the deck again, upjogging all the Spades and Diamonds. Swing out this half to the face of deck.

3) Spread the bottom thirteen Spades and arrange them in order with the right hand as if arranging a bridge hand. That is, holding the deck facing you in the left hand, spread the thirteen Spades out in a fan so that you can see all the pips. Now with your right hand, fingers pointing down, palm facing you, thumb closest to your body, pick out the King of Spades from above; next scan the cards and pick out the Queen of Spades on top of that, then the Jack of Spades and so on until the Ace of Spades is on the face of that small packet. Then just cut those thirteen Spades to the top of the deck.

4) Repeat with the next three suits (remembering that for Clubs and Hearts., you will reverse that order, pulling out the Ace first, then the Two on top of that and so on up to the King). You are now in Bicycle NDO. You’ll see that after just a bit of practice you can arrange the whole deck quite quickly.

But here’s the part I’ve been saving for magicians. Getting into NDO is nice, but even more useful is to get into a memdeck arrangement like Aronson or Tamariz quickly in the hands. This can be done for any stack by generalizing the above:

To generalize for any stack:

1) Upjog all cards within the ranges of 14-26 and 40-52, and cut to the face of deck.

2) Upjog all cards within the ranges of 27-52 and cut to the face of the deck.

3) Spread thirteen cards at a time from the face and put them in ascending order, then cut them to the back of deck.

4) Repeat three more times.

The first step is the hardest to get down, but if you know your stack cold, you’ll soon get it. I find that by using this method, I can stack Aronson order in my hands as fast as on a table.

Done. Next job: Solving world hunger and the exploitation of workers by bosses.

Hint: threads, mirrors, and a good Double Lift.

Shin Lim Meets Larry King: Hilarity Ensues

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In a jaw-dropping turn around, it’s interviewer Larry King who stuns magician Shin Lim. You can actually feel Shin Lim thinking WTF is going on here. Who is this guy?

Larry King. Greatest. Spectator. Ever.

Reports that Mr. King was replaced in this video by a head of cabbage are still under investigation.

More of Larry’s magic at Larry King

 

The Great Divide

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FISM has been called the World Olympics of Magic. It’s not quite that, but it is an international competition where performers attempt to wow their fellow magicians. This year’s winner was the amazing Eric Chien who turns some common tropes of card and coin magic upside down and inside out. For me, he’s the most refreshing card man since Shin Lim. 

Click on the video to see some powerfully entertaining magic that will leave you shaking your head, “How?”

More at Eric Chien

The Sword Of Vengeance

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The world lost a wonderful magician this week. The above video is by no means Ricky Jay’s most baffling trick, but in some sense it is one of his most quintessential. Who else but Ricky Jay  would think of pulling this off this way.

Thanks to YouTuber PrestyGomez

“King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance”

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In what is probably Steve Martin’s greatest magic performance, Steve performs for Johnny Carson the inexplicable unpublished Vernon/Marlo card miracle, “King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance.”

Thanks to YouTuber Jeff Dresback

Shin Lim Amazes Again

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Shin Lim’s card magic raises the bar for everyone. It’s rare that card magic looks and feels magical, rather than just an intriguing puzzle or demonstration of skill.  Shin Lim’s performances give me that feeling of wonder.

Thanks to YouTuber Talent Recap

 

Billy Ray, Super Fly Cards Across

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The stage version of the cards across magic trick has always struck me as something less than compelling, but this performance by magician Billy Ray [aka anesthesiologist Dr. Millard Brooks] has got to be one of the most entertaining magic acts I’ve seen.

Thanks to YouTuber Millard Brooks

Book Nook, Magic Edition (3)

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Every once in a while I like to catch up and share the titles of conjuring books I’ve been reading, so here’s what I’ve been enjoying the last couple of months—and a little product review at the end as well:

1. Scripting Magic, Volume 2: Pete McCabe’s first volume, Scripting Magic, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. It contained scripts for dozens of excellent magic tricks, and what’s more, it told you why they were good scripts and compared them to the not-so-good examples. Anyone reading them could improve the effects they already did by following the advice in the book. Now, in Volume 2, McCabe continues with more wonderful tricks and scripts—including examples from America’s Got Talent winner Derek Hughes, and the script of Houdini’s performance of the Water Torture Cell. McCabe tells you not only what makes a good script, but also helps you to understand how to come up with a premise, and how to flesh it out. It’s terrific advice, but even if you choose to ignore it, there are some very good tricks here including “Pleasure To Burn” ( a fifty-two to one card equivoque) and the holiday-themed “Catching a Leprechaun.”  While it’s always great to learn new sleights (and McCabe teaches a few here in the context of a given effect) probably no investment of time will improve one’s magic so much as focusing on script and presentation.

2. Malini and His Magic: Dai Vernon was always humble about the debt he owed to the magicians whose work he studied, including Emil Jarrow and Nate Leipzig, but none impressed him more than Max Malini. I’ve written about Malini before, but it is hard to overestimate what an important influence he was on Vernon’s generation of magicians. In an age where magicians mainly entertained with large illusions on stage, Malini changed the paradigm. Whether he was entertaining on the stage of a large theater, a hotel ballroom, or an intimate dinner party of the rich and famous, he needed only a couple of decks of cards and some silverware to make his presence unforgettable. In Malini and His Magic, editor Lewis Ganson collated Vernon and others’ thoughts and memories of Malini in order to produce a slim but valuable volume. It starts off with some basic biographical information, and then describes the presentation and methods of Malini’s full evening show, the highlight of which was his card stabbing routine. Later chapters deal with Malini’s more informal shows, and it’s wonderful to read about how audacious his effects and methods were. Malini was also quite a self-promoter, and not a small amount of his success was his ability to “schmooze” and make friends with wealthy patrons. The one secret that remains is the famous dinner table production of a block of ice from a lady’s hat. While Vernon describes the production and one aspect of the method, he admits that he does not know how Malini loaded up. That will have to be a mystery to all but Ricky Jay, who you can see perform the astonishing trick for a skeptical journalist in the documentary film Deceptive Practice. (Hmm, I just got an idea of what may have happened.)

3. Our friend Ron Chavis is now well along with the publication of his “Official Magazine for Mentalists,” Mystic Descendant, having released a solid four quarterly issues to round out the first year. The magazine continues with its friendly, good-natured, bar-room mate outlook, and as I have mentioned before, it focuses mainly on the casual performance of mentalism, with a focus on storytelling. I’ve finally caught up with the fourth issue, and in it you’ll find a lovely true story about a seance that unexpectedly turns into a tribute to a recently deceased mentalist; a presentation of an effect that leaves warm feelings of a spectator’s meaningful relationship; and an interview with South American mentalist Mauricio Jaramillo who talks about preparing for the time when things go wrong in performance. It’s light, pleasant reading, that may well stimulate mentalism thoughts of your own; if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you can go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mysticdescendant to order any issue.

4. On some of the internet magicians’ forums, you’ll find endless discussion of what are the best cards to use, and it may seem amusing to run into spirited online discussions that go into scores of pages on whether blue-backed or red-backed cards are best to use. A lot of magicians take such things quite seriously. Anyway, much virtual ink has also been spilled about what brand of cards is most suitable for card magic. For the past few years, the product of a relative newcomer in the field, the Phoenix deck by Card-Shark, has found favor with many magicians. I like Phoenix cards a lot, but I recently became aware of the new release by the US Playing Card Company of a special edition of their Maiden Back cards. I’ve been using them for a few months now, and I really like them, maybe more than the Phoenix cards. Here’s what I think the advantages of them are:

  1. They faro out of the box very nicely. They are traditionally cut, so if you’re a top down faro person like me, you can just turn the cards face up. The cards are so amenable that I don’t mind the difference for me at all.
  2. The cards are slightly thinner than regular Bicycle stock, and seem more flexible. It makes shuffling and general handling easier.
  3. The cards fan well and keep their fanning ability even after a period of time.
  4. Each deck comes with two identical jokers, a blank card, and a DB. Good times!
  5. The cards will make fans of Boris Wild and Ted Lesley very happy, if you get my meaning, wink wink, nudge, nudge; quick, and from a distance too.
  6. The factory sealed decks are in Tamariz order. Even if you don’t know that system, what it means is that with a copy of Mnemonica to inform you (see chapter five, especially) you’ll be able to do poker routines, including any poker hand called for; bridge demos; story deck effects; and finally you can convert to stay stack and New Deck Order with some (admittedly fancy) finger flinging. All this straight out of the box. And if you do know the Tamariz system, well…
  7. The card box is subtly differentiated so that you won’t mix it up with your other decks.
  8. Penguin is selling them now for $60 a dozen, which is a totally ridiculous price for cards with the last three features. They can be your everyday decks.

So if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I’d advise you to try a brick soon, as I don’t really see how they can keep selling them at this price. Happy magishing.

Seven Shuffles

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Yesterday, card magician Derek DelGaudio appeared on NPR radio’s quiz show, Ask Me Another, where his quiz category was…playing cards.

What an incredible stroke of fortuitous luck engineered by the quiz show Gods! (not)

Anyway, Derek answered questions like, “Which suit used to be represented by batons and sticks?” and “One of the four Kings’ faces is different from the other three: which, and why?” Of course Derek answered these questions correctly—he is after all performing card magic nightly in his new one man Off-Broadway show, In & Of Itself—but it was the final question that was the most amusing. Here’s how the conversation went:

Host:  “According to mathematicians at Harvard and Columbia, how many—”

DelGaudio (and magicians across the country):  “Seven!”

Host: (Stunned silence, then laughter) “Yes, correct.”

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Spoiler: As the host later told the audience, the question’s finish was, “how many riffle shuffles does it take to fully shuffle a deck into a randomized state?”  It’s a more interesting question than might appear at first glance, with quite a few sticky points.

First of all, is it referring to any kind of shuffle? No; it applies specifically to the riffle shuffle, also known as the dovetail shuffle—the deck is divided into two packets, one packet held from above in each hand, with each thumb at one short end of the cards, and the other fingers at the opposite short end. Then some cards are riffled off the bottom of one packet by the thumb onto the table, and next, some cards are riffled off the bottom of the other packet by the other thumb onto the table. This is repeated, riffling off cards from the bottom of the two packets onto the table, alternately, until both packets are exhausted (or at least a little bit sleepy). Most bridge players are familiar with this kind of shuffle.

Do the cards have to be perfectly alternated, one card from each hand, in perfect syncopation (magicians call this a “faro shuffle”)? Again, the answer is no. There is no requirement that the cards be perfectly interlaced, nor that the deck be cut into two even packets at the beginning. But even with imperfect shuffling, the cards should be fully randomized after seven riffle shuffles.

With some reflection, one might ask, what does it even mean to say that the cards are now in a random order? Isn’t every order a random order? The whole question of randomness is non-trivial, but a quick and dirty explanation as applied to shuffling depends on two notions. First, suppose we number all the cards in a deck consecutively from the top, 1-52.  Now we shuffle the deck. When we look at our new shuffled order, are there any clues in the new order that might lead us to suspect what the original order might have been? For example, if the new order looked like 1-20, 26-40, 21-25, 41-52, we can see that the “chunks” from the original order have left a calling card of sorts of the previous order; we would not say that the shuffle had randomized the order yet. The other thing to realize is, that given our original stack ordered 1-52, it is not true that every other conceivable stack could be obtained by one riffle shuffle—even if we were allowed to decide exactly how the cards should fall. For example, if we wanted a new stack that began 2-1-7-3 on top, there is no way of splitting the original 1-52 stack and doing one riffle shuffle that would put those four cards on top.

So, now we are in a position to talk about what a randomly shuffled deck would mean. It means that if we were to compare the positions before shuffling and after shuffling, there would be no clues left as to what the original order was; and that the new order was just as likely to have resulted from the actual beginning order as from any other beginning order. It turns out that only if you riffle shuffle at least the magic seven times, can you be sure that the preceding two conditions are true.

This result was proved by Persi Diaconis, presently a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, but also one of the most intriguing and elusive figures in modern sleight-of-hand conjuring.  When he was 14, he ran away from home and joined a much older magician, Dai Vernon, on a cross-country scramble to track down the best underground card sharks in America. The idea was to learn new card sleights that other magicians had not yet discovered. Diaconis was so intrigued by gambling questions that he enrolled in college math courses to learn the math that would give him more insight into such problems. Later on, Diaconis got himself a teaching post at Stanford on the recommendation of the Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner. Gardner it turns out, was a first-class amateur magician; Diaconis had shown him a few card tricks that he had invented, and on the strength of those card tricks, Gardner recommended Diaconis to the department head at Stanford who then hired Diaconis.

Diaconis has since published papers on many topics of potential interest to magicians and gamblers, including a proof that when flipping a fair coin, it is slightly more likely to fall on the side it started on. Equally intriguing is Diaconis’s tight-lipped attitude towards questions about the now-deceased Vernon. Vernon had many acolytes, most of whom have shared in print or video what Vernon had taught them. Vernon himself was not averse to revealing some of his confidences. But Diaconis is one of the few who refuses to speak about any of the Master’s teachings, and believes that some mysteries are meant to be taken to the grave.

But Diaconis’s riffle shuffle paper is well known among magicians. So now you know why Derek DelGaudio didn’t need to hear the rest of the question…

 

Hugh Laurie And Stephen Fry Do A Magic Trick

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Who knew that our friend from House was a magician, too? Laurie and Stephen Fry are quite funny and good, actually. Host Terry Wogan looks on in amusement and amazement.

Thanks to YouTuber Jeannine1974