In what is probably Steve Martin’s greatest magic performance, Steve performs for Johnny Carson the inexplicable unpublished Vernon/Marlo card miracle, “King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance.”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
In what is probably Steve Martin’s greatest magic performance, Steve performs for Johnny Carson the inexplicable unpublished Vernon/Marlo card miracle, “King of Hearts, Come Down and Dance.”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:
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…
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..
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.
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
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.
(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!
Those familiar with the Jewish Passover Haggadah will be familiar with the invocation of the ritual word “Dayenu,” meaning “It would have been enough.” The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier inspires hosannas along a similar line:
If he had given us the Bruce Elliott Phoenix write-up, but not the Harry Lorayne routine; Dayenu! It would have been enough.
If he had given us the Harry Lorayne Routine, but not the Stewart James spelling idea; Dayenu! It would have been enough.
If he had given us the Stewart James spelling idea, but not the Paul Curry “Cider!” innovation; Dayenu! It would have been enough.
If he had given us the Paul Curry “Cider!” innovation, but not the Bruce Bernstein Psyche Out routine; Dayenu! It would have been enough.
And so on.
Fortunately, Bob Farmer, the entertaining Canadian magic creator, writer, and all around flim-flam man has given us all of the above, and more, in his new treatise on the Ten Card Deal, The Bammo Ten Card Deal Dossier.
The Ten Card Deal is the classic card effect which, in its most basic form, has the performer deal out two hands of poker; and yet despite the spectator having all kinds of choices in the distribution of the cards, the performer repeatedly wins.
The method behind the trick is devastatingly simple, and its very simplicity has inspired literally scores of devilish variations. Farmer, while disavowing that he is trying to document every version, has collected and described in his book dozens of the best variations, so that only the most churlish could dispute the word encyclopedic. If you have any intention of performing a gambling routine, you would be foolish to pass this book up—even if you are familiar with the original version of the trick.
The key problem in a book like this is how to organize the material. If it indeed is to be, intentionally, an encyclopedia, then the key is consistency: find an organizing principle and stick to it. That could mean alphabetically or chronologically, for example. But the Farmer book is organized about a much happier principle than an encyclopedia. In my opinion, its guidepost is readability. The chapter headings are grouped more by methodological considerations than anything else, and while this often coincides with the historical chronology, sometimes it doesn’t. The book begins with an overview of the history of the effect and the various stratagems employed, and then gets down to the individual routines. The book in many ways reminds me of another book solely devoted to one classic magic effect, Switch, Jon Lovick’s treatise on the Bill Switch. Both are comprehensive, intelligent, but above all, useful readable guides to a great effect.
Oh, and funny, too. The copyright page reads: “Thieves will be tracked down and torn apart by packs of pit bulls that have been starved for days, given the offender’s scent and told, “It was this man who took your mother away.” And each chapter begins with a quotable quote such as “I became a policeman, because I wanted to be in a business where the customer is always wrong.”
Like Switch, the writing and descriptions are so clear, and the material so clever and compelling, that one can almost read through the book straight through rather than just dip in and out of, as you would most reference books. Again, because Farmer has not restricted himself too strictly to any one organizing scheme, he is able to connect one effect to another in a loose, associative way which makes for more enjoyable reading. My only quibble would be that I think all the gaffed-card versions should be separate from the ungaffed versions, but that is a matter of taste.
So let’s get down to the routines themselves. For me, the strongest routines are just that—routines. It seems to me, that an important aspect of the effect of the Ten Card Deal is the fact that the magician repeatedly keeps winning, despite increasingly more difficult conditions. Though there are quite a few descriptions of variations here that have only one phase, I think those are much less successful, no matter how clever the method or how free the deal appears to be. Because, when it comes down to it, in my opinion, in a two-handed situation the audience’s perception of just one round of poker is that it is a fifty-fifty proposition. Either the performer wins or the performer doesn’t. Either the spec wins or the spec doesn’t. More important than what the odds would actually be, is what the audience feels the odds to be (see ACAAN!). And, again, in my opinion, the payoff for a one phase trick, with procedure to boot, is just not enough.
So early on, we are given Harry Lorayne’s ground-breaking routine. And if Harry Lorayne has given card magic nothing else, it’s the ability to milk all the entertainment value possible from a card trick. Most magicians know the basic principle behind the Ten Card Deal, but the beauty of the reprint of Harry’s routine here is that it gives every nuance, joke, and scripting idea that Harry has applied to this routine over the years. Memorize the script and structure of this routine and not only will you have a killer anytime, anywhere card routine out of the box, but you can use the same structure and script to fashion other variations from the other ideas in this book that might strike your fancy.
Speaking of fancy, my favorite routine in the book is Bruce Bernstein’s five-phase eighteen-card deal called Psyche Out. It is based on Nick Trost’s brilliant observation that with eighteen cards, it is possible to have two alternating nine-card stacks, with the all-important tenth card being a card from the other stack. The beauty of this arrangement is that because the tenth card is always different, there is no pattern for the spectator to discover, and the ensuing procedure can have far greater latitude. Bernstein’s routine has a great dramatic build, and again it is an anytime, anywhere killer. The performer keeps giving the spectator more and more freedom in the choice of the cards to be selected, yet somehow the spectator can never win.
Well I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the entries by J. K. Hartman, Alex Elmsley, Jon Racherbaumer, Tomas Blomberg, John Bannon, and Joshua Jay, among others, assure that the reader will have the toolkit to put together a routine that will fit his or her liking.
In the latter half of the book, Bob reprints some of his Flim-Flam columns originally written for Magic Magazine, and he has an extensive section on Blackjack effects. Most of the Blackjack effects are single phase, but Bob suggests some ways to use them as lead-ins for a ten card poker routine, and this might make for a complete gambling act. To round out the book, Farmer has a chapter on packet switches, and a nicely annotated bibliography.
The physical book itself is quite attractive. Published by David Ben’s Magicana, it is in a format similar to The Feints and Temps of Harry Riser book. It’s a 9″ x 11″, sturdily bound 400 page volume, with quality paper. It was edited by Matthew Field and Michael Vance, with useful illustrations by Tony Dunn. There is a last minute one-page addendum tipped in, the addition of another routine with some very good presentation ideas.
The one problem with a book like this is that there are so many great ideas that I wish there were more signposts along the way, saying: Don’t Miss This One! Of course, part of the fun is in the re-reading and finding those nuggets in paragraphs that you’ve read or skipped over before. Read it and learn the Cardperson’s true Bible story of Jonah!
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!
About a decade ago, I came up with the following variation of Paul Curry’s classic card trick. I call it “Out of This Very Attractive Tree-Lined Street.” My version allows spectator shuffling, no reverse in the middle, and a painless switch. It was inspired by Hideo Kato’s “Out of This Village.” Jeff Pierce independently came up with a similar version.
Effect: Magician and two spectators shuffle the deck. Each spectator takes his or her half of the deck and deals it into two piles, face down based on their intuition about the color. When the spectators’ piles are turned over, they are all seen to be separate colors.
Method: Set up as for OOTW, black on top for the purposes of following the description. There will be no leader cards, so don’t bother setting up for that. Make an upward crimp in the 26th card.
Spectator #1 and Spectator #2 are sitting side by side on one side of the table. Magician is sitting across from them. #1 is on the magician’s right, #2 on magician’s left.
Overhand shuffle, making sure to run the middle cards one by one. The crimped card is now 27th. Cut the cards leaving the crimped card on top; hand the top half to #1, bottom half to #2.
Magician mimes overhand shuffle, asks both spectators to briefly shuffle.
Magician says “As an experiment in intuition, you’re each going to deal the cards face down into two piles.” Looking at #1 he says “if you think the card is red, put it here, on your left. If you think the card is black, put it here on your right.” Magician turns to #2 and gives the same directions: “I want you to do the same. If you think the card is red, put it here on your left, if black on your right.”
Spectators deal out all their cards. The situation now of the four piles is this: from magician’s right to left, the actual piles are red, red, black, black. From the spectator’s point of view, the two end piles are correctly sorted, the two inner piles need to be switched. Here is one handling:
Magician says: “You’ve dealt the cards into four separate piles. One, (picks up second pile from right in the right hand, puts it into the left hand), Two (picks up second pile from left with right hand) Three (gestures with right hand holding cards towards the leftmost pile) and Four (gesturing with right hand and cards towards the right hand pile). Now, you did a lot of shuffling here, and so I don’t expect you to be perfect, but if each of you gets more than half, that would certainly be impressive. I did this last week with a couple and they got almost 60% correct. Let’s see how you did. (Spreads cards in right hand in front of #1) Wow, very nice! (To spectator #1:) Would you please turn over your other pile? Oh my goodness, perfect! Let’s see how #2 did. (Spreads out cards in left hand with the left hand in front of #2). This is getting scary! And #2 could you turn over your other pile? Truly amazing! Thank you, both!”
To make the switch effective, you need the time delay after you pick up the two piles of cards and gesture, so don’t omit the dialogue there. The other thing that will sell the switch is that when you spread each pile in front of each spectator, turn the cards over and place them in the spot where the spectator’s previous pile was located. Then spread downward toward yourself.
If the title seems cryptic, that’s because this post is another one for the magic geeks. So if you’re not a magic fan, this post may not be that interesting to you.
One of the many pleasant contributions to magic of the esteemed card magician Darwin Ortiz is his way of opening up a new deck of US Playing Card Company cards (Bicycles, Tallys) and rapidly shuffling them into Si Stebbins order. He described his method in a book that is long out of print and expensive to find, even on eBay.
So, some time ago, I tried to reverse engineer the Ortiz method. In so doing, I didn’t discover his method, but I did come up with my own. After finally finding out what the Ortiz method actually was, I realized just how inferior my own attempt was. But here it is, my own (clunky) method for free, just for fun. Perhaps someone can make use of it.
For USPCC NDO to Si Stebbins
1) Run 10 cards, throw deck on top.
2) Run 3 cards, throw deck on top.
3) Say “Oh I forgot about the jokers,” and turn deck face up. Cut the hearts to the top of the deck.
4) Take out the jokers. Say, “I don’t know if there are any more.” Spread the spades, cut at the 7 (that is, the 7 is now the card closest to your palm in the right hand), put the rest of the spades on top of these (without reversing them), then cut all the spades to the top of the deck.
5) Spread the diamonds, cut at the 4, put the rest of the diamonds on top of these, then cut all the diamonds to the top of the deck.
6) Reverse count the clubs into your right hand, stop at the 2 in your right hand, put the Ace under those cards, then cut all the clubs to the top of the deck.
7) Two out faros –keys are 5D and then 8S. You are now in Si Stebbins with the AC on top, JH on the bottom, in CoDfiSH order.
So now for the real value in this post. Last year I was at a magic convention where Gene Anderson slayed a large roomful of magicians with his Si Stebbins routine. He sells the manuscript describing the routine for a laughably small amount on his website.
Magic is a strange art. For the most part, with the exception of fewer than a dozen performers, the majority of working magicians today make up a large portion of their income by performing for, and lecturing before, other professional and amateur magicians. Think about this for a moment. Do painters paint mostly for other painters? Do ballerinas dance mostly for other dancers? Do opera singers sing mostly for other opera singers? The only other art that I can think of that is so inbred is poetry. Go to a poetry reading and almost everyone else there is a poet, or thinks they are one. And like the magicians who bring their own cards and coins to a magic lecture, many poetry readings begin with an open mike of performers made up from members of the audience.
But no matter. In New York City, we are lucky to have some of the foremost magicians come visit the city and give lectures. I was lucky to catch the wonderful Dani DaOrtiz give a lecture last night at Tannen’s Magic shop. I’ve posted before about DaOrtiz’s brand of magic.
The small store, six flights up, away from public view, seated fifty or so guests, with another dozen guys standing. And they were mostly guys–I think I counted two women in the audience. The room was full of the sound of cards being riffle-shuffled and coins being clinked. This is another odd quirk of magicians; they carry their tools with them wherever they go. It’s as if amateur singers carried their mics with them to a concert. Finally Dani came out, and the finger flinging stopped. Dani is a short heavy-set guy, and immediately projects warmth, friendliness, and casual good humor. He tells us that he is here to share everything with us, because magic is more about relationship than secrets. “What good is it, if it is all for me? I will get fatter and fatter and then explode if I don’t share!” He asks for two volunteers to help him out with his demonstrations, and since I was in the front row, I leaped into one of the two chairs at the side of his table. Another gentleman took the other chair on the other side of Dani, and we were off.
After a nice little opening effect, Dani turned to me and had me shuffle the cards under the table. I picked one card without looking at it, and reversed it in the deck, which was still under the table. Then Dani called for another deck of cards. Of course, in this audience of magicians, there were lots of packs available. One was handed to him, but he rejected it as the wrong color, then another had too many jokers, but he finally found a pack that suited him, and he put the rest of the borrowed decks aside. He asked me to spread my deck face up on the table. As I did the audience could see that the one card face-up that I had turned over was the seven of clubs.
Dani smiled, spread his borrowed deck, and, sure enough, the only card face-up was the seven of clubs. As he was about to return the other unused decks to their owners, he spread both of them as well: the kicker—both of those decks had their respective seven of clubs card turned face up, too.
Next, Dani did one of his versions of ACAAN, that is Any Card At Any Number. The plot is a classic; one that endlessly intrigues magicians. The effect is pretty much what the title implies. A spectator names a card. Another spectator names a number. The cards are dealt, one at a time, onto the table, the spectator counting each one off. At the spectator’s chosen number, that card is dealt face up, and, lo and behold, the card is revealed to be the other spectator’s named card.
Well, many magicians have come up with a way to accomplish that effect, which is often considered by some to be a kind of holy grail. It’s like solving a difficult engineering problem. But the devil is in the details. If you describe someone’s new handling of the effect to a magician, the listener immediately starts an interrogation: Who deals the cards to the table? Does the magician ever touch the deck? Can the spectator really choose any number? How does the spectator choose the card? Are the cards dealt face up or face down? Are the cards on the table from the beginning of the trick? Can it be done impromptu? Do the cards start off in a card case? is there any rough and smooth? Gaffs, gimmicks, wax? And on and on. While none of these “conditions” would be meaningful to the vast majority of laypeople (a magician word meaning non-magician i.e a muggle in Harry Potter speak), to the magician, they are vastly important.
So when Dani announces he is about to perform a magician’s “hands-off” version of the trick, you can bet good money that the ears of every magician in the room perked up. He turned to me with the deck, and had me pick a card. It was the four of diamonds. He turned to Frank and asked him to pick a number from 1 to 52, not too high or too low. Frank picked 30.
Dani announced once again that he was going to perform this effect “hands off.” But despite his promise, he picked up the cards and manhandled them, slapping them, palming them, manipulating them. Then he looked up at us innocently. “Oh, I didn’t mean hands-off on these cards, I meant hands-off on those cards.” And he pointed to a deck on the other side of the table, by Frank. He grinned at Frank and nodded. Frank said this can’t be, but picked up the untouched deck and counted 30 cards onto the table. He turned over the thirtieth card and it was the four of diamonds, the card I had chosen.
As the applause died down, generous Dani asked if we would like to learn how to do the effects we had seen. And, of course, we all shook our heads yes, and pulled our chairs closer.
So he shared, and he taught us. But this post is too long already. 🙂
Every magician has been faced with the situation where the plans go wrong; say, the spectator is supposed to put the card back in a special spot, for the trick to work, but the spec doesn’t. Or maybe someone particularly ornery grabs the deck and shuffles it up before the magician gets to do his magic juju. What’s a magician to do and still save face?
There’s a little booklet for card magicians called Outs, Precautions, and Challenges. It’s not that well known, and it’s very incomplete, but the thing I love most about it, is its title. Charles Hopkins, the author, saw a need and rushed in to fill it. Mr. Hopkins’s book is a little first aid kit for magicians. Let’s take a little tour of its taxonomy.
First is the section on Outs. “Out,” as in find a way “out” of the mess I’m in. The prepared magician knows that there will always be times when things can go awry, and so s/he prepares by having alternate endings in case something goes wrong. Let’s say the magician is about to produce the spectator’s card from his or her shoe, and then realizes at the last moment that the card stuffed in the shoe is not the spectator’s card. Here’s where the magician uses an “out.” Rather than aborting the trick, the magician, surreptitiously or not so surreptitiously, obtains the name of the chosen card from the spectator. Then the magician finishes the effect by, say, producing the card from a pocket instead of the shoe. The spectator has no idea that the effect has gone wrong. Though the effect was not the one originally planned, the magician has not been embarrassed, and the spec is sufficiently entertained.
Hopkins likes to frame this kind of denouement by saying that the magician has won the battle of wits. Magicians nowadays, however, consider that kind of phraseology a little bit too aggressive; it’s like snapping your fingers on the beat, as Duke Ellington once said.
Next are the Precautions. The well-tempered magician, knowing that Murphy’s Law is proved anew everyday (“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” and O’Toole’s corollary: “Murphy was an optimist”), seeks advance preparation. The thoughtful magician has not just a series of outs prepared for when things go wrong, but also has taken precaution to make sure that outs aren’t needed in the first place. So, for example, even before a spectator returns the chosen card to the deck, the magician makes sure to surreptitiously learn its identity. This way, the magician doesn’t have to worry if the card accidentally gets lost in the deck. Or even better, unknown to the spectator, the magician arranges that the card that the spectator “chooses” is a predetermined one. These magical prophylactics insure that there are no unpleasant surprises in the near future.
Finally, there are the Challenges. Because for some spectators, magic is not just the appreciation of the impossible, but is a battle of wits, the magician must always be prepared for challenges. There will always be that participant whose attitude is, “Okay, Magic Maestro, you found my card in your pocket, but can you make it fly to my pocket?” Now, despite whatever previous miracles and wonders the magician has wrought in the past five minutes, the magician will look like a Mook if s/he doesn’t have a way to answer the challenge. What’s a magician to do? The magician can’t possibly anticipate every challenge presented by a clever spectator. This is where the magical artists are at their most devious. The accomplished magician actually steers the spectator into choosing the challenge most advantageous for the magician.
Hopkins is a little sketchy on this, but there is another wonderful book called Card Fictions by Pit Hartling that goes into brilliant detail about Challenges. One of Hartling’s suggestions, for example, is the following: Suppose the magician does the Card to Pocket effect, where the spectator’s chosen card lands in the magician’s pocket. The magician must now lead the spectator into challenging the magician towards a specific direction. But it must be done subtly and indirectly. For the magician to declare the intention explicitly would be gauche. No, the magician must make it seem as if it were totally the spectator’s idea. Ideally, the magician would proceed as follows.
The magician offers to repeat the effect of card to pocket. Only this time, the magician steps away from the deck on the table and says, “Now I will do something even more difficult. I will make the card fly to any pocket!” As the magician says this, s/he gestures towards the spectator’s pocket and then quickly says “I mean, this one or that one,” but now pointing towards the magician’s own pockets. Thus, the magician with the first part of the sentence communicated that the card could fly to the spectator’s pocket, but then with the second part of the sentence clarified that it was only the magician’s own pocket that was meant. The trap is set. The ornery spectator cannot help but jump at the misunderstanding–okay, Houdini, let’s see you make the card jump into my pocket! The magician protests that there was a misunderstanding. The spectator insists. The magician, like Br’er Rabbit jumps into the briar patch. There’s no fear, because long beforehand, maybe even during a previous trick, a duplicate card had been loaded into the spec’s jacket pocket.
Game, set, and match.
Outs Precautions, and Challenges. A dandy set of concepts. It helps one understand the sage advice of the gambler in Guys and Dolls:
“One day, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you’re going to wind up with an ear full of cider. ”
So said Sky Masterson who had an out for everything, but falling in love.
Magicians: catch what Derren says at 3:55-4:00. It’s total cheek. Magicians will hear Derren say, if they listen very carefully, exactly how the trick is done. Derren says the name of a trick that’s known to all magicians. He’s winking at magicians and saying, “See–I can take that old trick and dress it up so that you can barely recognize it.”
And the rest of us can just enjoy watching a magician who can take a standard effect and make a performance piece out of it. It’s what makes Derren Brown so watchable.
I’m going to talk about something that I don’t think I am able to talk about directly. So let me tell some stories.
When I was in college, I had a very strange and seminal experience with my acting teacher. During his office hours, I asked him an acting question. He told me to stop and try an exercise. He told me to focus my attention on exactly what I could sense with my senses, one by one, at that moment. And as I did so, I sensed his aura grew stronger and stronger. My teacher was a short heavy African-American man. From the cloud of that aura, he transformed into a tall, thin, Russian man, who I recognized as Stanislavski.
I was not under the influence of any drugs at the time.
I was somewhat alarmed and told my teacher why; he was calm, and said, just remember what brought you to this place.
Sometime later, I performed a scene in his class, and as was his custom, after the scene was over, he said to me and my scene partner, “What were you working for, and how did it go?” I forget what the scene was, but it was always a little nerve-wracking to have to speak about my work, and I muttered something. Then he pointed to my foot which was jiggling up and down. “When,” he asked, “will we see that in your acting?”
From a different field: magicians have a way of shuffling a deck of cards that they call a faro shuffle. I’m not going to go into why magicians like to shuffle this way, but suffice it to say that there are certain properties of the shuffle that are inherently useful to a card magician.
Now the faro shuffle is not simple to acquire. For better or for worse, once you can faro shuffle, you generally are not considered a beginner at cards anymore. You can read a number of descriptions in the magic literature about learning this shuffle; how to place each finger, what the action of the left pinky and right forefinger are, how to adjust for the varying qualities of card stock and brands, and so on. But one thing almost all the books agree on is this: the way to learn how to do the faro is to find someone who already knows how to do it. Then you ask them to teach you.
American actors classify themselves into the Strasberg, Adler, Meisner, or Spolin camps. Magicians trace their lineage to Vernon or Marlo.
There is the written law, and there is the oral tradition. Furthermore, every religion has its exoteric and the esoteric traditions. Actors and magicians too.
Another time, I did a scene where I played a character who uses racist language. Afterwards, my teacher asked me to take a moment, and think back to when I–not the character–first saw my first Black person. My thoughts raced back to my childhood. He looked at me for a few seconds: “That.” My mind jumped at the indication. How did he know I was thinking that, then?
What book? What text? How is it preserved? What, exactly, is transmitted? Can the thread be lost? How far from me to you?