Some sleight of hand from a Turkish ice cream man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A while back, I posted about the Buster Keaton short, “Mixed Magic”.
I recently had a pleasant email exchange with noted author and producer Jerry Zolten who told me that he had picked up a one-sheet poster for the Keaton short from a collector who ran an appliance store. The collector had been deeded a bunch of movie posters by the daughter of a movie house owner who didn’t know what to do with the extra posters lying around, so she gave them to him.
Jerry kindly gave me permission to display the poster here.
Jerry is a very interesting guy, and in addition to teaching university courses on stand-up comedy and the roots of rock ‘n’ roll he produced a remarkable audio documentary about the music and radio of the Vietnam War. It’s so difficult to capture the true spirit of a former time, but if you were alive at the time, this will give you flashbacks:
I highly recommend you take a listen.
I’ve been having a fun time at home with a DIY squaring the circle project. (Okay, for the 3-D purists, you’re actually turning a cylindrical tube into a rectangular tube.) There are no camera tricks in the image you see above. What you see in the mirror is the actual reflection of the object in the foreground on my desk.
It’s called the Ambiguous Cylinder Illusion, and I’ve actually referenced it on this blog once before, but the fun thing is that you can create your own paper model as I did, by going here and downloading the printable pattern. Just scissors and tape completes it. It’s very easy, and you too will be able to square the circle.
Some wonderful optical illusions here, some with visual explanations, others not, that may have you doubting your perceptions.
Do they tell us anything about where consciousness is located? Maybe not, according to Ricardo Manzotti, one of the authors of Dialogues On Consciousness. More about that fascinating book in a later post.
Thanks to YouTuber Mr. Mind Blow
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.
I’m always a sucker for magic that involves liquids, and this routine by Australian magician Dom Chambers should quench your thirst.
More at Dom Chambers
An extremely clever, visual, and unusual magic act by magician Sangsoon Kim.
I think Penn’s appraisal, while appreciative, was overly dismissive with regard to methods; shoes are unusually bulky objects, not subject to the same techniques as dresses or shirts as in other quick change acts. Also, the magic method for multiplying the shoes is a very clever adaptation of something usually done with much more amenable objects.
I was so glad to be introduced to this magician with this performance, and I am hoping to see much more of his inventive magic.
More at SangSoon KIM
Had they had too much to drink…?
Thanks to YouTuber HoughsVideos
Twas the end of the year, and I noticed the clock,
The months had passed by, it was time to take stock
Of our magical friends and the pleasures they’d brought
A harkening back to some memories, I thought.
In my mind there’s a party of magical folk
Right here on my doorstep, but as I awoke
The doorbell was chiming, is this just a dream?
In front of my house, a whole magic team:
Chief Geniis are here, both Richard and Liz
The number one names of the magic news biz.
Hi Dustin, Hi Chloe, they seemed to prefer
No small talk, but writing up ten thousand words
The party began, with effortless ease,
The boundless good will of Juan Tamariz.
And here’s another great Spaniard, ah please!
Not Buddha, but better, Dani DaOrtiz
In walked juggler Penn, with his close partner Teller
Assuring us all, Ray’s back was much well-er
Harrison Greenbaum and Max Maven, too
Came with menorahs, ‘cause they both are Jews.
Next was a couple with talent and looks:
Dorothy Dietrich and partner Dick Brookz.
The next four, indeed, were also a thrill,
Regal and Mancha and Vincent and Spill.
The company’s magic just couldn’t be grander
Without the flotations of Mr. Losander
And candy and ice cream—you wouldn’t believe!
Came tumbling out of dear Rocco’s big sleeve.
Lucy Darling, (Carisa is really her name)
Hilarious magic, she plays a tough dame.
And who says a lawyer can’t be a charmer?
Her fellow Canadian, “Bammo” Bob Farmer.
The English chap Hollingsworth, in tails and in tie,
Did some cool sleight of hand, he’s a heck of a Guy.
Mark Lewis walked by, with some jokes and some jollies
Then immediately sold me a deck of Svengalis.
Pop Haydn, Todd Robbins, they put the log on,
And threw us some hype, ye masters of con.
Then cards flew about and changed at his whim:
The marvelous fingers of Master Shin Lim.
What’s this that we see upon the white drapes?
A bear and a dragon and other strange shapes.
The shadows appeared midst the bottles and cans
Sigh of relief—‘twas Raymond Crowe’s hands.
The bubbly’s flowing it’s time to converse
While Jerry Deutsch shows us some magic perverse.
And here comes Greg Chapman, fresh off of Four F;
Masks off to McBride, you know him as Jeff.
The blowout was awesome, the guests all a treat
To see all those folks on my little street!
Pit Hartling, Yann Frisch, and cool David Blaine,
The greatest legends of legerdemain.
And you were there, too, I remember it well,
Your name is too secret for us to re-tell
You showed us a trick in the house where I dwell
It was there that we all fell beneath your deep spell.
But all of a sudden, without a portent
The house was devoid of a lady or gent.
My head got too dizzy, was feeling all weird
For poof, gone and vanished; it all disappeared!
My eyes they were hurting, both bleary and groggy
I lurched around drunk, too high and egg-noggy.
I shook off the feeling, I got myself sober
But one thing was clear, it now all was over.
The people were gone, the food and the drink
The fantasy popped, but you know what I think?
Don’t look at me strangely, don’t think me insane
While the dream is a whisper, the magic remains.
And so as you enter the coming New Year
Be kind to your neighbors and wish them good cheer
For more than our cards, either red-backed or blue
The magic is in what we say and we do.
This story was brief, but I had a ball.
Happy holidays, my friends, and Peace to you all!
I read the news today, oh boy.
Simon Aronson died this past week.
He was one of the most brilliant and clever creator of card magic effects of the past 50 years. His methods were… shall we say?…memorable. The house of magic is large, as Eugene Burger was fond of saying, and Simon’s creations fit a particular room. His magic was brainy, intellectual, and absolutely fooling. There are magicians who are great at fooling laypeople; there are magicians who are devious enough to fool other magicians; but the amazing thing about Simon’s card magic is that if you were doing it, it would fool even yourself. To this day, there are probably legions of magicians who perform his “Shuffle-Bored” or “Prior Commitment” who still have absolutely no idea why they work. What they know is that they do work, and they blow the minds of people who see them. If the performers themselves can’t figure them out, you can imagine, then, that the spectators have got zero chance. (If you like, we can discuss in the comments about your personal favorite effects of his.)
But make no mistake, Simon’s tricks impressed non-magicians as well. There’s a funny story that magician John Bannon tells in his introduction to one of Aronson’s books. He shows the secretary of Simon’s law firm a card trick, hoping to impress her, and she only smiles pleasantly. Then she says with wide open eyes, “But have you seen Simon’s card magic?”
Speaking of Aronson’s books, I doubt there has ever been a more meticulous, detailed magic writer than he was. His books—Bound To Please, The Aronson Approach, Simply Simon, Try The Impossible, and Art Decko—are masterpieces of explanation of intricate methods. While Simon was not above using sleights and gaffs in his magic (and he delighted in upsetting fellow magicians’ expectations of what his bag of methods might include) his claim to fame really rests on thinking very hard about a few tools which required mostly sleight of mind. As he would say, just as you have to plan things so that your sleight of hand doesn’t show, you also have to plan effects so that your sleight of mind doesn’t show either. In Simon’s books, he takes you through all his thinking point by point, thoroughly exploring variations and improvements, telling you what versions he threw out as weak or too revealing, giving you his scripting, and moreover, unlocking the reasons why his methods work. Simon’s training as a lawyer shows—his books are not just explanations, but thorough briefs with points and subpoints. In magic circles people like to debate, with near religious ferocity, whether it’s better to learn magic from books or DVDs. Of course both sides have valid views, but for the book-lovers, their strongest argument is two words: Simon Aronson.
No one would call Simon an extraordinary performer, but on occasion he would step away from the card table to do another kind of magic: his mentalism act that he created with his college sweetheart and wife of many years, Ginny. (There’s a great photo of college-aged Simon and Ginny on the Jerx website that speaks volumes about them. And Bill Mullins on the Genii Forum posted a wonderful remembrance from Simon about his father who was very active in the 60s Civil Rights movement). They did a classic two-person mindreading act, and fortunately it was captured on video as an extra on one of his videos. It’s something that neither he nor Ginny have ever revealed, and while clearly there must be some code going on, I have resigned myself to the fact that if Simon created it, I’m never going to be able to figure it out. You can see their act for yourself in the L&L video I posted above.
At the first run of mentalist Derren Brown’s Secret here in NYC, Derren pointed to a man in the audience to volunteer for the next effect. It was dark in the theater so I couldn’t see that well, but I thought the man looked familiar; when he said his name was Simon and the woman sitting next to him was Ginny…
I made sure to “accidentally” bump into him as the theater was emptying, and nervously introduced myself to him. He was so nice—he said he knew my name from this blog, and then proceeded to describe the photo I have on the title page of it! I got to talk with him a little longer as we walked together in the rainy weather, and found them a cab back to their hotel. Really couldn’t be nicer people. I treasured that comment from him, as one of the very first essays I wrote on this blog was inspired by an essay of his.
Simon Aronson was a full-out, full-deck memorable mensch, and I’m sorry to hear about his passing. From the Jack of Spades to the Nine of Diamonds, he will not be forgotten.
I’m a magazine junkie, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, magazines are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s a precarious business. And magic magazines historically have been even more precarious than most other categories of periodicals. It’s not unusual at all for a magic magazine, first announced with the boldest of intentions and good will at the beginning not to make it through even a year. The subsequent cancelling of subscriptions, unreturned money, late and missing issues are the stuff of legend and also often enduring acrimony in the magic world.
And yet new magic periodicals are announced all the time, and folks plunk down their dollars, hoping to get their latest magic fix in measured doses. But to a true magazine junkie, there’s nothing sweeter than pulling down a bound volume of ancient magic magazines from days past and thumbing through it. There’s a saying that if you want to hide the secret of a magic trick, write about it in a book. My corollary to that is if you want to fool the book readers, do something from a magazine. That’s where you’ll find your really obscure effects.
But the pleasure of reading the old magazines is not just to find another magic trick, but to get a sense of the smell and taste of the time, the ads, the news of who was playing in what theater, which dealers were pushing which effects, what the in-group gossip and backbiting was, but most gratifyingly, the imprint of the editor. Because really that is the most important factor in my enjoyment. I love a rag with a voice, an opinion, a personality, a sensibility, even if it’s not one I share with the editor.
Here is a list of five of my favorite classic magic magazines of the past, all of which can be found in bound volumes.
The Sphinx has had a long, long publication history. It ran from 1902-1953, quite a feat in a field where it’s often a wonder when a publication makes it to issue #2. I’ve written a series of posts about this magazine, but even that only scratches the surface in describing its wonderfulness. It is filled to the brim with great stage magic, photographs, and feature articles on famous magicians of the day. The complete print run costs thousands, but the entire number is available on CD for a ridiculously low price.
The Jinx was the newsletter started by Ted Annemann, which ran from 1934 to Annemann’s suicide in 1942. The magazine’s name was a play on its predecessor, The Sphinx. Annemann was a clever inventor of tricks who preferred subtlety over sleights: unlike The Sphinx which focused more on stage and apparatus magic, The Jinx was oriented more to close-up and parlor magic. The Jinx specialized in particular in mental magic, and the bible of mental magic, Annemann’s book Practical Mental Effects, was drawn from effects first printed in The Jinx. Annemann’s honest editorials in every issue managed to offend many, but his observations were often quite sharp.
The Phoenix, which ran from 1942 to 1954, was writer Bruce Elliott’s tribute to Ted Annemann’s The Jinx. In format it was much the same: a newsletter every two weeks or so with some featured tricks and then a column of observations by the editor. Elliott had more outside interests than Annemann, which gave it a bit of a more varied texture than The Jinx. There were lots of contributions from the great names of the day, including Paul Curry, Dai Vernon, Ed Marlo. Like Annemann’s periodical, Elliott’s taste ran to the kind of thing you could show to the boys after the poker game without too much practice. The first Phoenix volume was the first I ever bought from Tannen’s as a youngster, and it holds a special place in my affection. Elliott gave it up in 1954 after 300 issues, and it was succeeded by The New Phoenix for 100 issues with different editors. The magic content of the periodical remained high, but without Bruce Elliott’s savvy Back Room columns, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read.
Hugard’s Magic Monthly had a run from 1943-1964, basically contemporaneous with the two Phoenix publications, but it had a very different flavor about it. The individual issues had a higher page count, and in its stride it had a number of regular columns and features by contributors in each issue. There were regular book reviews, listings of the latest stage shows, excerpts from books, and historical features. Although it was printed on newsprint like The Jinx and The Phoenix, and illustrated mainly by line drawings, it had a larger sense of worldliness than those two publications. Because Jean Hugard and Milbourne Christopher, the two main editors and often pseudonymous contributors, had extensive experience in stage magic and the world of show business, their magazine combined the more professional, international feel of The Sphinx with the magic clubbiness of the other two periodicals.
Apocalypse was a monthly magazine put out by Harry Lorayne from 1978 to 1997. Richard Kaufman, the current editor of Genii magazine, started it with Lorayne when he was a young man, but by its second year, Lorayne was the sole editor. The magazine featured close-up magic effects from the top magicians of the time, with many contributions from Lorayne himself in the field of card and coin magic. Lorayne was a tireless self-promoter and writer, and managed to get great material from his contributors. Lorayne also always provided yearly trick and author indices with each volume, a welcome addition, especially in a day and age before digital searches were possible. Harry famously would include his “Afterthoughts” to many effects including his own, which were short paragraphs of variations and additions to a given effect, sometimes useful, sometimes not. While there’s no doubt that Harry had (and still has in his 90s) a distinctive voice and take on magic, for many, including myself, his narcissism and pettiness make it hard to enjoy the more newsy items he reported on. Still, the magic contained within (check out all the great contributions by David Regal over the years) make this a nominee for desert island reading.
Some of my other past favorite periodicals were Karl Fulves’s publications: Chronicles, Pallbearer’s Review, and Epilogue, though they don’t have the voice or editorial content that the others mentioned above have. Another favorite of mine, too, is Steve Hobb’s more recent periodical Labyrinth. It, also, has little editorial content but contains lots of very clever card magic and sleights.
And, finally, if you don’t find something appealing here, you might take a look at this list of magic periodicals:
Magicpedia estimates there have been over a thousand different magic periodical publications since 1895. So magic magazine junkies take heart—you have plenty of choices to keep you busy for a very long time.
This one is for the magic nerds. For the rest of you, nothing to see here, move along.
The close-up magician, Dai Vernon, was perhaps the most influential magic teacher of the twentieth century. His impact was so great that he was known simply as “The Professor.” In his later life, still sharp as a tack in his 80s and beyond, he would hold court at The Magic Castle and other such venues, where conjurers from around the country would come to get The Professor’s critique of their magic. Vernon was a pretty mischievous fellow by most accounts, and his lessons could sometimes be quite pointed. My favorite story about him is one that magician Bill Palmer has told on The Magic Cafe internet forum, which I’ll repeat here.
Palmer was attending a magic convention in Texas where Vernon was one of the headliners. Now one of the nice and maybe unique things about magic conventions is that the performers often mingle with the attendees in their off time. So Palmer is wandering around the lobby of the hotel where the convention was held, and who does he see sitting on a sofa, but The Professor himself, Dai Vernon. He’s startled to see that Vernon is all alone on the couch, so he decides to take this opportunity. He gathers up his courage, goes over to Vernon and introduces himself, gushes a bit, and then Palmer decides he’s going to make his impression on The Professor by showing Vernon a feat of mentalism. After all, though Vernon was expert with cards and coins, mentalism is a whole different branch of conjuring.
Palmer says to Vernon. “Please think of any three-digit number. Concentrate, please. Visualize that number in your imagination.” Palmer then takes out his business card, cogitates furiously, writes something on the back of the business card, then puts the pencil down, and says to Vernon, “I have committed my answer in writing. Would you now, for the first time, name your number, please?”
Vernon replies, “4-5-8.”
Palmer continues in the canned patter of the day, “Aha! Does that number have any special significance to you?”
“Yes,” replies the elderly Vernon, with narrowing eyes, “those are the three most difficult numbers to write with a nail writer.”
And drumroll, please. Here are the names of the winners of the Fifth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest. The contest this time was a repeat of the very first one: describe three actions or ideas that have most improved your magic.
The first-place winner was Dennis Mayne. Dennis’s entertaining entry described a trio of intriguing, uncommonly referenced mindsets and preparations that help him get ready as a working street performer. Dennis chose The Vernon Touch as his prize.
David Kaplan was the second-place winner. David spoke of the wisdom he acquired along the way to becoming a part-time professional, and what it took him to get to the next level. He chose Blomberg Laboratories as his prize.
Third place went to John Allen. John talked about some of the realizations he came to when trying to integrate his magic interests with the rest of his life, and what helped to make that transition less bumpy. He chose Maximum Entertainment as his prize.
And finally Honorable Mention to Rick Benstock for his iconoclastic advice for amateurs.
Thanks again to all who entered. It’s always a treat for me to read what you have to say. Sometime next week, everyone who participated will receive a pdf compilation of all the entries that were sent in.
Yesterday, I put a wrap on the fifth year of this blog (put your favorite emoji here), and in keeping with my annual tradition, here are 25 of my favorite posts of the past year created by the Shalblog Industries® team. In no particular order:
Thanks for an enjoyable year and all your comments and support so far!
“So to make things fair—even though it is not easy to be fair in a capitalistic society—each time I earn money from performing magic, I would have to give a portion to Ascanio’s widow, Slydini’s heirs, and many others and say, ‘Here, please, this is your portion of my success.’ “—Juan Tamariz
Over a cup of coffee at a back table at the magic convention, a magician is informally doing magic as a crowd of onlookers watch. The people in the crowd nod their heads knowingly in approval, or they throw in their two cents to make suggestions at this “session.” The young magician has great chops, an engaging personality, and an easy laugh. You feel an instant warmth, a comradely attitude. He’s not trying to prove his superiority, he just wants all of us to have fun and experience the magic.
At one point, a know-it-all makes an arrogant criticism; about to defend himself, the young magician stops that impulse, and steels himself, as if to say, “No, I’m not going to defend myself, I’m going to listen to it all, be humble, and take it all in.” I think to myself, this young man has been mentored and parented well.
I wish I had been able to find that magician again, to talk with him about that incident. It was such a great attitude. It must have come from somewhere. The magician had a Hispanic last name, but I had no idea whether he came from Spain or not. Nevertheless, I think this young man has absorbed much of the spirit of what’s now come to be known as the Spanish School of Magic.
By Spanish School of Magic I am talking about the style of magic that is exemplified by Juan Tamariz, Gabi Pareras, Dani DaOrtiz, Miguel Angel Gea and several other younger magicians, many who have been mentored by Tamariz himself. There are sometimes discussions on the magic internet forums as to the distinguishing features of this school of magic, but for me, the most important—and often overlooked—aspect has to do with emphasizing the feelings of friendship between the magician and the audience. It’s much more than just an approach to constructing an effect, or the means utilized for the method, though there’s a lot of that, but it’s also about consciously constructing a relationship of comrade-to-comrade with the audience, rather than competitor-to- competitor. It’s akin to, but not quite the same as, Gerald Deutsch’s conception of Perverse Magic.
If magic is about power—and it is—then it’s natural to ask, who gets to keep that power? In a sense—let’s say metaphorically, for now—it’s a question of capitalism versus socialism. Does the individual get to keep all the power s/he accrues individually, or is the power going to be shared among the community? For convenience, I’m going to describe two styles of magic: capitalist and socialist. If you don’t like those words, you can substitute two other labels, though I think there may well be a good reason to use those particular terms.
It’s enlightening to look at the experience of magic for many audiences: the capitalist magician’s effort is to widen the power inequality perception, seeking to put the magician far above its audience. “Admire me because I am so much more powerful than you,” implies the capitalist magician. After all, real capitalists like to proclaim that the most wise, the most moral, the most worthy, the most capable of solving all problems—business and otherwise—are those with the most power. So it’s natural that some magicians would strive to emulate those models. But the Spanish School approach is the opposite. The socialist magician is not your superior; on the contrary, he’s your bar buddy, the guy you want to hang out with, or the lovable eccentric, maybe the town Foole, who wants nothing other than to delight you and to be friends with you. The socialist magician has somehow won or been gifted his power, and now he wants to share it with you. I say “he,” because while it is changing, some of it does have an undercurrent of sexism; in that comradely fraternity, there’s the assumption of mainly male bonding. Now here’s the leap, you can take it with me if you like: it’s like the aura of the Ortega boys during the Nicaraguan revolution and the Castros during the Cuban revolution. The masses loved them because they were the boys who made good, the brothers who stuck together and won power for the people. “You’ve won the power, we admire you, we thank you for it, and we have no fear of you at all, because we know you are going to share that power with us.” Whether those promises ever came true politically is an issue that I won’t get into here, but the point is the similarity between the revolutionary and his audience on the one hand, and the socialist magician and his audience on the other.
A nice Cuban magician I discussed this with didn’t agree with my characterization of the socialist personality as the driver of the Spanish School’s attitude towards magic, but rather he attributed it to the close family ties in Spain. He reminded me that many Spanish men live with their parents up until the time they get married. Well, yes, but what is a family but a group of people who care for each other, and work with each other, and are committed to each other?
At any rate—and I’ll add here the fact that Tamariz in the 60s lived in a commune with 15 or 20 other people and was thrown out of his university for opposing the Fascist Franco regime—the Spanish model is of the community member who gives back. He makes good and returns to buy his Mom a house, he pays for his sister’s college, he buys a round of drinks for the boys at the pub, he plays with and entertains his nephews with laughing magic. It’s the understanding that the magic itself is only important so far as it engenders positive relationships. The magician makes the whole community feel more powerful because of his skill and talent, and the magician knows that what he is doing—that is, his effect on his audience—is not just a personal good but a social good as well. It’s his social responsibility to share what he has. He shares with his comrades this wonderful gift of inducing the magical feeling in others. They laugh together about how wonderful it feels, and how happy they are to have each other.
Now it’s true that some capitalist magicians also see the dilemma of declaring themselves all-powerful magicians, and so they, too, seek to ameliorate the power imbalance. But rather than sharing power, they seek to solve the power inequality problem by denying that power exists at all. So we have the great spate of comedy magicians who do magic, but while so doing, they undercut their own effect on the audience with a wink or a nod, or a wise guy remark. In effect, they deny that any magic occurred. And, indeed, if magic is what happens in the spectator’s brain, in such circumstances, it can’t occur. The actual experience of magic for the spectator is obliterated. By denying the power imbalance, these magicians present the magic community correlative of real capitalists who like to deny that there are in fact any class differences. It’s a false solution to the dilemma of unequal power in magic.
The socialist magicians, however, seek to maximize the magical experience in the spectator without undercutting it. The implicit message is always: “Yes, I have this power to make you feel something special, but I am going to share it with you.” It is a beautifully humanistic way of dealing with the power imbalances inherent in the performance of magic.
I came home after four days of being away and The Horror, The Horror!
Whole shelves of my magic items were completely empty.
“Stop, thief!” I cried. “Someone’s stolen my very best magic books, DVDs and tricks.”
Just then my wife appeared. “Jack, stop having a cow. Everything’s all right. You’re having a magic contest, right?”
“Uh, yes,” I said confused.
“Well, I know how much you respect the readers of your blog, so I put the best stuff aside for your contest.”
“But, but, but…” I stuttered. “That’s my favorite…best…”
“No complaining. I’ve got your prize grab bag set up for you. And who knows there may be even more to come. Now tell everyone to enter soon, timeliness counts and the contest is ending soon. And make sure you tell them that they can find out all the details here:
Anyone can enter. See, I’ve done you a great favor.”
I nodded half giddy, as I went through the list. Bye, bye, favorite magic items, it’s been good to know ye.
The contest magic prize grab bag includes:
Milo & Roger
The Vernon Touch
The Collected Almanac
John Luka’s L.I.N.T
Korem Without Limits
Tricks and DVDs
Charlie Justice’s Prohibition
Jon Allen’s The Vanishing
Duvivier’s Magic Vol 3
Striving’s Sight Unseen Case
Scott Alexander’s The Needles
Peter Eggink’s Phantom
with more to come!
I was happy last week to spend four days in Orlando, Florida, attending the 2019 Genii Convention. For a comprehensive, contemporaneous, blow-by-blow audio account, click on the triangles below.
Day One: Intro, Tom Gagnon, Paul Vigil, Sara Crasson, Jonathan Neal
Day Two: Michael Chaitlin, Hector Mancha, Jim Steinmeyer, Paul Vigil, Nick Diffate, Lucy Darling, Hector Mancha, Raymond Crowe, Eric Jones
Day Three: Gaeten Bloom, Bill Cheung, Michael Vincent, Hector Mancha, Alexandra Duvivier, Terry Ward, Hannibal, Penn & Teller, Pat Hazell, Jonathan Neal, Gaeten Bloom, Read Chang, Piff the Magic Dragon
Day Four: 49 Boxes, Eric Jones, Gaeten Bloom, Dominique and Alexandra Duvivier, Nick Diffate, Lucy Darling, Romany, David Kovac, Jay Johnson, John Archer, Summing up