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.
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.
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.
A really great card trick with a strong one-two impact from magician Reza. Even after hearing Penn’s clues, I still had no ideas about how both phases could have been done.
Thanks to YouTuber Magic Blood
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.
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.
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):
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.
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
Another no-camera tricks experiment.
“That’s rapid transportation…with thanks to Mr. Regal.”
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
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
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:
- 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.
- The cards are slightly thinner than regular Bicycle stock, and seem more flexible. It makes shuffling and general handling easier.
- The cards fan well and keep their fanning ability even after a period of time.
- Each deck comes with two identical jokers, a blank card, and a DB. Good times!
- 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.
- 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…
- The card box is subtly differentiated so that you won’t mix it up with your other decks.
- 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.
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.”
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…
I’m not usually a big fan of so-called packet card tricks, but here’s a favorite, performed by the estimable and gentlemanly Kent Gunn, who gets a lot of magic out of a small number of cards.
More Kent Gunn at Kent Gunn
Magician Richard Turner, the fabled blind card mechanic, is the subject of a compelling new film documentary directed by Luke Korem called Dealt. I interviewed Korem who spoke about the challenges and pleasures of making the film. Though ostensibly about magic, the story is also about independence, disability, discipline, creativity, and about learning how best to play the hand that life has dealt us.
Click on the grey triangle to listen to the interview as broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM..
The talented Garrett Thomas, performing one of his signature effects, packs in a load of eye-popping magic into three short minutes.
Thanks to YouTuber Dumitru Mariuta
Here’s a first world problem: You have a shuffled deck of cards, and you want to restore the deck to New Deck Order or some other pre-determined stack arrangement.
With a table, it’s easy, but sometimes a table isn’t available, so an in-the-hands-sort is required. Here’s something that might be useful to some card workers. I use the following mainly as an in-the-hands sort for NDO. I’ve used it as well for Aronson, but it can be generalized to any stack:
Run through the deck upjogging all the black cards. Pull out the black cards to the face of deck.
Run through the deck upjogging all the spades and diamonds. Pull out this half to the face of deck.
Spread the bottom 13 spades and arrange in order with the right hand as if arranging a bridge hand. Cut those 13 cards to the top of deck. Repeat with the next three suits. You are now in New Deck Order. Bicycle New Deck Order simply requires you to pull out Spades and Diamonds in descending order, Clubs and Hearts in ascending order.
To generalize for any stack:
1) Upjog all cards within the ranges of 14-26 and 40-52, and cut to face of deck.
2) Upjog all cards within the ranges of 27-52 and cut to the face of the deck.
3) Spread 13 cards at a time and put in ascending order, then cut to back of deck. Repeat three more times.
With practice you can get into stack order quite quickly.
The Dire Wolf knocks on The Grateful Dead’s door.
“I cut my deck to the Queen of Spades, but the cards were all the same.”
How did they know?
Thanks to YouTuber Purf3ctGris
When would-be magicians first start out learning sleight of hand as applied to cards, they often worry that their hands are too small to do the dirty work. Magician Mahdi Gilbert puts that concern to rest, as you’ll see in the above video.
He became a sensation on YouTube and then went on to fool Penn &Teller on their show.
Thanks to YouTuber Riffle Shuffle
More no-camera-tricks nonsense.
With thanks to Mr. Cook and Mr. Burger.
And don’t forget to enter The Contest—two more days to go. Deadline Monday, Oct 31, 11:59 PM.
A little bit of no-camera-tricks silliness I filmed wherein Bernie comes clean about card magic and his new Super-Pack.
Magician Derren Brown fries writer and actor Stephen Fry with one of his signature card routines.
This is one of Derren’s early routines, back when he was still doing card magic. It is a beautiful example of how Derren just thinks harder and longer about what he does than most other magicians. I also really enjoy the way he underplays his role in the effect.
Who doesn’t love a no-camera trick Four Ace effect? Sort of. With many thanks to magician Gerald Deutsch and his overflowing bag of Perverse Magic.
(Note to magicians: you can find the explanation of this and scores of other perverse magic effects in the beautiful new 450+ page hardcover Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years.)
(Remember that Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith?)
I thought it would be fun to talk a little—but not too much!—about what I’ve been reading in the last few months. I seem to go in four month cycles with reading—four months on avidly reading, and then four months off when I don’t want to read at all. Since this seems to be my four months on…
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle–a very fine writer in my opinion. This is the first novel in a trilogy about the life of Dublin-born Henry Smart, IRA gun runner, explosives expert, and lover. Doyle writes with great lyricism and imagination, and each scene is brought vividly to life, both visually and aurally. The fictional character Henry Smart has interactions with the real-life Irish Republican Army figures of Michael Collins, James Connelly, and Ernst O’Malley, and Doyle describes the passion, cynicism, and double-dealing that goes into the making of a revolution and a revolutionary.
Last year I read Doyle’s second book in the trilogy, Oh Play That Thing! and also greatly enjoyed that book. It has the disillusioned Henry jumping ship to the United States where he manages to land a job working as the bodyguard of Louis Armstrong. It sounds improbable, but somehow Doyle makes it all sing, and the book itself is a jazzy improvisation of plot and character that Doyle brings to a stunning conclusion.
The Secret Miracle, edited by Daniel Alarcon, is an excellent set of interviews with contemporary authors, focusing on the writers’ work strategies. The book is organized by question, so that all the interviewees’ answers are recorded as if they were in conversation with each other. The authors interviewed include Stephen King, Jennifer Egan, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, Edwidge Danticat, Roddy Doyle, Allegra Goodman, Jonathan Letham, Haruki Murakami, and many others, so you expect an absorbing read, and it is. They answer questions about their influences, how they prepare to write a novel, their work habits, how they go about revision, how long it takes them to write a draft, whether they draw on real life for their characters or not, who they allow to read their drafts, how they know when they’ve reached a final draft, and so on.
It’s the kind of book about the arts that I really enjoy reading—experts at their craft talking about what they really do. The most comforting part for anyone hoping to learn more about writing from such a book is the wide diversity of habits, styles, and practices that are described. Each author, Machado-like, has carved out his or her own path.
No Applause—Just Throw Money by Trav S. D. (Yes!) is a chatty, informative book about the creation and evolution of vaudeville. The author neatly explains the rise of vaudeville as the standardization and rehabilitation of the other forms of variety entertainments that had played across America at one time or another since the country’s inception. The lecture hall, the dime museum, the circus, the minstrel show, the medicine show were the sometimes measly but ubiquitous entertainments criss-crossing the country. After women got the right to vote, the theater entrepreneurs understood that they could make more money by sanitizing the previously primarily male enclaves of variety entertainment. So vaudeville provided entertainment to men, women, and children, and at the same time provided a venue for the audience to see themselves on stage in the form of immigrant singers and comedians.
The formula of variety family entertainment made huge stars of many, and the same formula was put to work with the advent of television, which catered to the same audience. The new medium eventually killed off vaudeville. The likes of Ed Sullivan and Saturday Night Live were the direct descendants of that format. The book also does a nice job talking about some of the well-known vaudevillians—George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker—and some of the lesser known personalities, such as comedians Weber and Fields, and tap dancer Joe Frisco who were also huge stars in their time. Some great insight here on what it is to take an act, hone it to perfection, and perform it hundreds or even thousands (six a day!) of times a year.
And in the Magic Department we have The Chicago Surprise by Whit (“Pop”) Haydn. I first read Whit’s monograph detailing his unique handling of the classic card routine “Chicago Opener” quite a while ago, but it’s a booklet that I keep going back to. First of all, it’s a damn good trick, and as my skill at card magic improves, I want to make sure I’ve got it right. But even more importantly, it details a whole theory of performance magic
Briefly, the plot is this: a spectator chooses any card from an ordinary red-backed deck and it turns out to be the one card in the pack with a blue back. The blue-backed card is placed face down on the table. The magician then gives the spectator another choice of cards—offering the spectator a chance to change to another card if so desired. The card is lost in the deck, but when the spectator names the chosen card, the face-down blue-backed card is turned over to reveal that it is the same one that the spectator chose.
What is so valuable about Whit’s booklet is that it’s not just a description of a trick, but the outlining of a whole philosophy of magic, his now famous “dilemma” theory. Haydn holds nothing back, and the routine is there with a complete script, and with some great tips about the use of the major sleights involved: the palm, the DL and the CF. But in addition, Whit tells you why he constructed the routine the way he did, and his explanation yields great insight into audience perception and psychology. What with an included bonus routine for the Brainwave Deck, this is a must for any card worker.
And in progress: Arthur Phillips’s first novel, Prague; C. Wright Mills’s survey and critique of marxisms, The Marxists; The inventive Swedish magician Tomas Blomberg’s compilation of eclectic conjuring effects, Blomberg Laboratories; Michelle Alexander’s description of the new era of oppression for African-Americans through the criminal injustice system, The New Jim Crow; and a very interesting nuts and bolts book about writing, Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon. I hope to report on all of these at another time. Until then, happy reading!