AMORALMAN: A True Story And Other Lies

Derek DelGaudio, whose theater piece, In & Of Itself was an unlikely hit, has turned that audience-centric play into a film with the help of director Frank Oz. DelGaudio has just published a memoir of his life as a card mechanic, called AMORALMAN: A True Story and Other Lies and it continues with DelGaudio’s obsession with identity and reality.

Click the triangle or MP3 link above to hear my commentary on both the film In & Of Itself and AMORALMAN, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI-FM NY and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

The Great Bombo Dump

Here in NYC we were blessed in the 1960s with at least three incredibly talented daytime television hosts. They masqueraded as children’s program hosts, but they produced thousands of hours of hilarious comedy with no budget to speak of, and whose studio audience was usually only an appreciative camera crew. There was Soupy Sales, Sandy Becker, and perhaps the most talented of them, Chuck McCann. Here’s Chuck as the failed escape artist, The Great Bombo. I believe his sidekick here, Sid Slick, is played by Jim MacGeorge.

Thanks to YouTuber sandysoup

Contest Correction

Well, I screwed up big time. Back in October I ran my annual blog magic contest and I received a lot of wonderful entries before the deadline. Normally, as I receive each entry, I acknowledge receipt and put it aside in a separate folder to read later. Much to my embarrassment, I neglected to put Alfred Dowaliby’s entry into the folder, and so I never got to read his entry.

And the loss was mine. It was an excellent entry, certainly up there with the other prize winners. I’ve since contacted Alfred and he was nice enough to allow me to print his entry here. Other amends shall be forthcoming!

Here is Alfred’s entry:


By Alfred Dowaliby (a/k/a Magic by Alfred)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten magic, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, at a door in my brain. Behind that portal resided my most cherished memories. It was then that I heard an eerie voice calling out to me: “Shalom, Alfred. The time is at hand for the Sixth Annual Blog Magic Contest, and you are among the chosen ones. You are being called upon to enter, and to share the two most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen.”

There was something compelling in that voice – something that said, “This is not a request.” As the voice faded away into the night, as quickly as it had come, I could hear a shrill cackling. Then it grew faint, then fainter, until finally, it was no more. Nameless here forevermore. Thus, I was left alone in quiet contemplation and the solitude of my thoughts.

As I gazed dreamily through the window, I suddenly heard a ferocious roar of thunder and, like magic, there appeared two brilliant flashes of light in the night sky. One was in the shape of a giant magic wand with lightning shooting out of the tip. The second flash lingered. It was in the form of a rabbit peeking out from a top hat. Then quoth the rabbit, “Nevermore.” In haunting tones, the ethereal marsupial continued: “Nevermore shall you neglect your magical memories. You must share, and share you must, the two most magical effects you have ever seen.”

Just then, as my grandfather’s clock struck midnight, two long-forgotten episodes magically came to life. I knew, there and then, that I must honor those memories, and share them with the world. The first was of a trick I had seen many decades before, when I was barely a lad of six. In fact, it was the very first magic trick I had ever witnessed. The other most memorable magical effect was one that I, myself, unwittingly performed in the mid-1990’s in, of all places, a magic shop. I had never rehearsed, nor performed, nor even conceived of the trick before. Of course, this begs the question: Can a trick that I performed qualify as a magical effect that I have seen? It seems to present somewhat of a paradox. But in this particular and unique case, for reasons I hope will become clear, I believe the answer is “Yes.”.

So let me not keep you guessing, with no syllable expressing, but to tell you my tale of two tricks. I should note that while I have admittedly embarked upon certain flights of fancy in this preface, I have taken little in the way of poetic license in the yarn that now unfolds.

The First Most Memorable Magical Effect

The year, 1956, the place, Brooklyn New York, majestic City of my birth. It was my sixth birthday, and my parents announced that they had something really fun in mind for the occasion. They were going to take me to the magic store. I knew nothing of magic, as for most of the prior two years I had been hospitalized with a serious illness. There were no televisions in the hospital, and regrettably, no magicians floating around. My parents explained to me that magic was a really fun way to amaze people by doing things that seemed impossible. They told me that my dad’s brother (and my namesake), Alfred, made people happy by doing magic, and so, he was called a “magician.” I had not yet made the acquaintance of Uncle Alfred, who was later to become a major magical influence for me, as he was living in San Juan, Puerto  Rico at the time.

And so, we embarked upon our pilgrimage from Bay Ridge to the magic shop in downtown Brooklyn. We emerged from the subway on Third Avenue, and after walking a few blocks, we arrived at our destination, in all its splendor. It was called the “Third Avenue Bazaar.” As far as I can remember, there was an alluring red neon sign above the entrance that added to the shop’s mystique. In the window display, there were colorful, brightly painted boxes — some with dragons breathing fire, others adorned with rabbits, crossed swords, or oriental inscriptions. Jumbo cards peered out at us through the looking glass: Kings and Queens, holding court, and beckoning us to enter their mysterious world. There was a panoply of tricks and apparatus visible through the window. These items, I was later to learn, consisted of wrist choppers, Hippity Hop Rabbits, Chinese linking rings, Passe-Passe Bottles, die boxes, a Ouija Board, Zombie balls, and much more. I was drawn to these strange and mystical apparitions like moth to flame. And they were kindling for the flames of magical desire that were ignited and would burn brightly from that day forward.

We opened the door, and walked through the threshold. A bell chimed, heralding our arrival. As we entered the inner sanctum, I stepped into a world that was about to change mine. A very realistic rubber witch, with eyes that lit up green, was perched mockingly atop a broom in the corner. “Hello, my pretties, welcome to the Bazaar,” she shrieked in mocking tones. To my little 6-year old mind, this was, indeed, bazaar. I looked around, and my eyes drank in the endless array of tricks and silks and books, and posters bearing the images of magical heroes of yore. There was a long glass display case containing many different kinds of coins — silver, copper, brass, and gold. I was especially attracted to the Chinese coins with holes through the center. There was an entire display case entirely devoted to decks of cards. I was to learn that these were mainly “trick” decks, distributed by the House of Haines and Fox Lake.

Then I spotted the centerpiece of this strange and mysterious haunt, an old man, stooped behind the counter. He had on a vest adorned with dancing images of playing cards, and black-framed glasses with super thick lenses. Between his lips was a half-smoked, unlit cigar. His voice, best as I can remember, was a cross between W.C. Fields and Groucho Marks, though I knew nothing of either gentleman at that embryonic stage. We sauntered over toward the counter where the old magician was demonstrating his wares for another little boy and the boy’s mother. As we got closer, he looked up at me penetratingly through the coke-bottle lenses, cigar firmly entrenched in mouth, and said, “Sonny, how would you like to see one of the greatest magic tricks in the world?” I shyly nodded, although I had no conception of what a magic trick was, other than I knew it was supposed to be amazing. The magician then pulled out a glass pitcher from behind the counter. The pitcher was filled practically to the brim with milk. He set the pitcher down for a moment, then reached down and brought part of a newspaper into view.

            I watched the old magician deftly roll the newspaper into a cone. Holding the cone in one hand, he picked up the pitcher of milk in the other. I never really cared for milk, but I was more conversant with it than I would have preferred, since I was forced to drink three glasses of it every day for my “own good.” Thank heaven for “Bosco,” the chocolate flavored syrup that was all the rage amongst youngsters back then. But I knew milk. And I knew (or thought I did) that what was about to happen with that milk could not happen. And yet it did. He tilted the pitcher and poured milk into the paper cone.  Or so it seemed. I could clearly see the volume of milk receding from the pitcher, and when he set it down, it was plainly only about half full. He balanced the cone precariously in his hand, with a suitably worried countenance upon his weathered face, as if at any moment the bovine flood gates could burst, and we would all have to have a good cry.

Then, the old man said, “We shall now say the magic words,” and he proceeded to mutter some sort of incantation — some mumbo-jumbo I had never heard before. I don’t remember the words.  It might well have been, “Abracadabra, Alakazam.”  Suddenly, and with a swiftness that defied his otherwise feeble demeanor, his hands came together, crushing the newspaper, and he threw the balled-up wad into the air. Like cats, our wide eyes followed its short flight and its swift descent down to the counter. He said, “Son, would you mind handing me the newspaper? I haven’t read it yet today.” Gingerly, I picked it up, desperately looking for even a drop of liquid. It was, of course, bone dry. I was shaking with a combination of excitement and disbelief over what I had just seen. It was magic!

This was the first and the most memorable magical effect I ever witnessed.

It was at that moment I knew, with absolute conviction, what I wanted to be. Casting aside former aspirations of fireman, cowboy, truck driver, and train engineer, I knew that I wanted to be a magician. I solemnly announced this newly-found vocation to my parents as we walked back to the subway, and it’s what I wished for when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake that night. Meanwhile, I had capitalized nicely on it being my birthday. A Magic Milk Pitcher made the trip home with us, along with a set of plastic Cups and Balls, a Magic Ball & Vase, a set of Nickels to Dimes, a stripper deck (that was also cleverly marked), a black magic wand with white tips, and Houdini on Magic. I immediately began learning some of the tricks from the book, and practicing the Magic Milk Pitcher, which, even after many return visits to the magic shop, remained my favorite trick. Sadly, that pitcher is long gone, but the memory sweetly lingers, and the trick is still one of my all-time favorites.

Soon after my maiden voyage to the magic shop, and practically before you could say “hocus pocus,” another fateful event transpired — one that would help shape my magical destiny. Uncle Alfred came to visit from Puerto Rico, and stayed with us in Brooklyn for several weeks. I could not believe my lucky stars! I was totally enchanted by him, and with the amazing the tricks he performed. He was so entertaining, and charming, and mysterious. I wanted to be just like him. During his visit, Uncle Alfred patiently taught me several tricks, a couple of which I still perform to this day. One of them was an effect he said he’d paid $100 to learn (a lot of money back then!) It was a clock trick with cards. There are quite a few iterations of the clock trick, but this one is the most mystifying I know of – by far — and it has fooled the pants off every magician I’ve ever done it for. He swore me to secrecy on it, and I’ve never broken my vow.

Within a few months of my “Bazaar” birthday adventure, I excitedly gave my first magic show. It was at a party thrown by my parents. I still remember at least most of the tricks I performed. My programme featured the complete vanish of a silk (using a pull), the Cups and Balls, a penetration trick in which I pulled my Uncle Larry’s white shirt off up and through his suit jacket and loosened tie, the location of a selected card behind my back (using my stripper deck), a beautiful effect using 3 Skrip Ink bottles (with tell-tale labels removed beforehand), in which each bottle was covered with a different colored silk, and when each silk was dramatically whisked away, the liquid was shown to have changed color to match the corresponding silk (a slight tilting of the bottles, which had food coloring in their wells, did the trick), a feat of mentalism in which I divined a selected number between 1 and 20 by holding my fingertips against my cousin Jerry’s temples, Uncle Alfred’s phenomenal clock trick, and, of course, the highlight of my show, the Magic Milk Pitcher.

The Other Most Memorable Magical Effect

In 1995, I was living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and doing magic tableside and at the bar four nights a week at Bill Malone’s Magic Bar. The bar was located in the Boca Raton Resort and Beach Club, and featured 3-4 close-up magicians every night. That gig, in turn, opened the door to making important contacts and a host of opportunities to perform at special events.  So, one would think that during the daytime and on days off, I would want to take a break from magic. But then, one would be mistaken. Magic was – and still is – an obsession for me. My favorite pastime was to hang out at the local magic shops, and there were three of them in the area: “Annie’s Costume and Magic” (I met a young Lee Asher there), “Magical Moments,” which was owned by a fabulous magician named Cory Allen (I worked with Cory at Malone’s), and “Merlin’s Magic,” which was about 5 minutes from my apartment, and thus, the one I frequented most.

I loved going to Merlin’s. They sponsored wonderful lectures by illustrious magicians, such as Roger Klause, Chad Long (another of my co-magi at Malones), Danny Tong (Mr. Egg Bag), Dan Garrett, and the Amazing Randi (who lived in Ft. Lauderdale — although he was highly skeptical that it really was Ft. Lauderdale). Merlin’s stocked the latest tricks, along with many of the classics, and they had a voluminous inventory of books. And it seemed like every gaffed card deck, coin set, and packet trick ever invented found its way into the shop. Most of all, I loved the sessions with the other magicians who frequented the joint – and there was a multitude of them in South Florida, both professional and amateur, back in those days.

Gosh, as I am writing this, I’m feeling quite nostalgic, and some tears have magically appeared in the corners of my eyes. There was real camaraderie among the magicians who hung out at Merlin’s. We would try to fool and impress one another, sometimes with success, sometimes not. But there was almost always a wonderful, playful atmosphere in the place, an abundance of joking and banter and good natured one-upmanship. We critiqued one another’s routines, and there was no shortage of serious philosophical discussions about magic.

One of the magicians I met at Merlin’s was a neophyte named Zoltan. “Zoli,” as his friends called him, was originally from Hungary. He grew up there at a time when Hungary was part of the Soviet Union and was a dictatorship run by the Communists. But Zoli (who also had the sometime-moniker “Goulash”) escaped from behind the “iron curtain” with his family to New York City when he was eighteen. When I met him at Merlin’s, he had (and still has) a very pronounced Hungarian accent, sort of a male version of Zsa Zsa Gabor. When people would ask Zoli where he was from, he liked to joke, “I am frrrom New Yorrrk, but I vent to Hungarrrian accent school.” I secretly wished that I had an accent like his, as I considered it to be an asset for a magician performing in the U.S.

The day I met Zoli, he was most intrigued to find out that I was a professional magician. At that time, he told me that the only branch of the art he cared about was card magic. And, he was passionate about card magic. So I did a 4-Ace trick for him with his deck. The routine entailed fanning the deck, placing each of the 4 aces in a different part of the fan, then “losing” the aces in the deck with a series of shuffles and cuts, and finally, producing each ace in a different, visually striking manner. As aces came popping out of the deck, I could see Zoli’s eyes popping out of his head. It wasn’t that I had extraordinary talent as a card handler. It was just a case of having practiced that routine thousands of times. It was something I almost always did when working for magicians, and it was always very well received. I still remember Zoli’s comment when I was about halfway through the routine: “Oh, you arrre wery advanced!”

Zoli and I became fast friends. We hooked up frequently, both in and out of the shop, wiling away countless hours practicing and talking card magic. We were both wild about a multi-volume video series that was released by L & L publishing around that time, “Michael Ammar’s Easy to Master Card Miracles.” We watched it over and over and over, dissected the routines, and worked out most all of them, often enjoying a snifter of Grand Marnier as an accoutrement. Eventually Zoli landed a job doing tableside magic on weekends at a local restaurant called “Manero’s.” It was like he had achieved magical Nirvana. But seriously, it was quite an accomplishment. After all, he had only been in magic for barely two years at that point. And, In addition to his respectable card work, he had branched out into some tricks with rope, coins, and paper money. Even back then,  Zoli could do a back-palm vanish of a card better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Much to my chagrin, I could never get my hand flat as a board like he could. I was proud of him, and I often told him, only half-joking, that he ought to adopt the name, “Zoltan the Magnificent,” as it would be the perfect name for a magician.

Anyway, one day a bunch of us were at Merlin’s. Zoli was there, as were several magicians from Malones, along with Lonnie, the manager (a real old pro), and Brian, the principal demonstrator, who was a fantastic magician. Also in attendance were about 4 or 5 magicians from the local IBM chapter, and a few customers. All told, there were probably about 15 people in the store. Zoli was in a particularly playful mood that day. I was carelessly perusing a magic book (the name of which, like Houdini, escapes me). I was about 20 feet away from where Zoli was standing. He was, as was his custom, endlessly shuffling a deck of red Bicycles, alternating between Faro and riffle shuffles, punctuated by an occasional Charlier cut.

Next thing I knew, I heard my name being called in a thick Hungarian accent. “Hey Alfredo.” He liked to call me Alfredo, as he felt it had more panache than “Alfred.” I looked up at his smiling face and said, “Yes, what can I do for you my friend.” Ignoring me, and speaking to the room, at large, he announced, “Alfredo like to theenk he’s a mageeshun.” I started wondering if maybe he’d brought a flask of the Grand Marnier with him. Then, with all eyes focused upon him, his countenance now all business, he furtively removed a card from his deck. Holding the card in his hand, back outwards, he proclaimed: “Vell, let me tell you somesink, eef Alfredo vas as good as he theenk he ees, zen he could tell us vat card these ees, no?”

Of course, I had no clue, as this had not been set up. But, for reasons that will likely never be known, or perhaps no reason at all, my response was immediate, without the slightest hesitation, and spoken with absolute confidence and conviction: “Six of diamonds.” Zoli’s eyes got big and wide, and he smiled broadly, his face lighting up like a jack-o-lantern on the darkest of Halloween nights in Budapest. He slowly turned the card around to reveal the… Need I even say it? And the reactions of the others? As Zoli later described it, as we sipped Grand Marnier at his apartment, “Zey vent codazy!”

Following my fortuitous revelation, as I stood there in Merlin’s, silently contemplating the religion that would be started around me, and envisioning the tee shirts bearing my likeness, Zoli spoke once more: “It vas never in doubt. I knew Alfredo vould know vich card it vas. You see, I teach heem all he know — but not all I know.” As the laughter rippled through Merlin’s Magic Shop, I realized that not only had I just blown everyone away, including a group of world-class magicians, but myself, as well — and with a trick I had never even conceived of, let alone performed. And that made for a very magical and memorable moment, indeed. What made the effect particularly magical was that I was, at once, both magician and spectator, as astonished, if not more so, than anyone else who was there. Of course, I could never have pulled it off without the help of my lovely assistant – Lady Luck!

Zoli still loves to tell people that story.

Faro Fundamentals by Greg Chapman

When I hear from Greg Chapman that he’s working on a new book, my ears perk up like a rabbit hearing about a new cabbage patch. His first two books, Details of Deception and The Devil’s Staircase were advanced explorations of gambling style card material with methods that leave the audience in the dust. When I heard what Greg was up to this time, I was filled with joy in a completely different way. What he had in mind was a small book, 52 pages to be exact—a monograph, for the more precise among us—on the faro shuffle. And I’m happy to say that book has now come to fruition, Faro Fundamentals. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier books.)

It was a brilliant idea. First, because Greg was the man to do it, and second, because it was such an obvious gap in the literature that it was startling that no one had thought about it before. Those starting the journey of learning the faro shuffle have always had to be like mosaic quilters taking patches from here and patches from there, piecing together the knowledge. Some of the sources were easily available and some of the sources were not. You didn’t know where it was going to turn up. The knowledge consisted of three categories: a) the mechanical information necessary to actually accomplish the shuffle, b) the properties of the shuffle that make it useful, and c) how to put those properties to work in magic effects. Although there are some wonderful chapters about the faro in Marlo, Elmsley, and Expert Card Technique, to my knowledge there was no one exclusive resource that covered all three aspects. Greg’s book can help in all three areas.

Let’s start off with just learning how to do the damn thing. I have to admit I am skeptical of those who claim to have learned the shuffle from the few sentences in a certain famous book about close-up card magic. If you did, my hat’s off to you, and you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Let’s face it, for most,  there will be cursing and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the beginning without proper instruction. Fortunately, Greg’s book addresses several issues that beginners to the shuffle come up against. If listened to, Greg’s helpful advice can significantly cut down on the wrong approaches that only serve to frustrate. Greg has the knowledge and the chops to describe and to illustrate excellently what an approach to the faro could be. He isn’t dogmatic about how to approach it—he openly admits that if you’ve already got an approach that works for you, fine, then go with it; he isn’t trying to proselytize for one particular method. What he does do, though, is to lay out a path to achieve the faro. I especially enjoyed the line drawings made from photos to emphasize the key placements of the fingers of each hand. I also learned some very surprising properties of straddle faros.

As Jeremy Griffin says spot on in his foreword to the book, when it comes to the faro shuffle, people tend to overestimate its difficulty or underestimate its usefulness. In ancient Greece, at a certain point, students of Euclidean geometry advanced to a theorem known as the “Bridge of Asses.” The student had learned all the proofs of previous theorems, but now it was time to join the big boys: the crossing of that bridge signaled something special. It meant that if you could now prove that theorem you had enough tools under your belt to tackle the larger problems. So it is with the faro. I can’t say that I use the faro everyday, but the learning of the faro is what convinced me that I could actually progress further with card sleights. Once you have the faro under your belt, nothing seems too difficult to accomplish. I mean it’s absurd on the face of it: to perfectly split the cards in half and then to perfectly interlace them while no one suspects that that is what you are doing? And moreover, even if they do understand what you are doing, they don’t understand the implications of such an action? That’s powerful.

And that’s something that Greg has expressed to me as a prime motivation for writing the book: “If only I could get folks to climb this mountain with me, because from up here you can see what’s on the other side. Sometimes you can’t know what’s possible until you actually experience something.” Jeremy Griffin in the introduction puts it perfectly: there is the balance of learning something along with all its difficulty, but also balancing the knowledge of its potential on the other side.

And so Greg’s teaching of the faro has a not-so-hidden agenda: he wants to teach you the fundamentals because he wants to grab you and take you up the mountain so that you can see what he sees. And what’s up there? Well, of course, some wonderful effects like Paul Gertner’s Unshuffled (which he doesn’t teach here) and the two bonus routines Greg does teach from his two previous books. But also more than tricks; once you know the faro shuffle you have a very effective way of controlling cards to any position while doing a very fair shuffle, and when combined with a memdeck, it’s an especially powerful tool.

There are those who are skeptical of the audience acceptance of the faro shuffle, and feel like that’s why they wouldn’t want to spend time to learn it. But Greg definitely holds another view. He gives persuasive arguments and advice on how to condition the spectator to accept the shuffle’s fairness and naturalness. Yes, another magician will often recognize an in-the-hands faro—but even then, Greg suggests ways that can throw the wise guys off course. Of course, if one can master the table faro, then that objection disappears completely; and while not claiming to be the last word on the table faro, and acknowledging its difficulty, Greg also gives some tips for achieving it. I don’t pretend that I am willing to put in the time, or that reading Greg’s book will make me a master of the table faro, no book can do that, but I know that if ever one day I wanted to start that journey, this would be the first place I would look to begin my instruction.

The two effects that Greg includes from his previous two books are “Searchers Undone” which is an almost self–working (aside from the faro) version of Larry Jennings “Searchers” effect, where two black kings trap two known cards; and a real magician fooler, “One Card Missing”: a card is chosen, the deck shuffled, cut by the spec, and then shuffled, cut again by the spec, spread for an instant and the performer names the card. (Think about those spectator cuts, even if you’re familiar with the faro!) Greg also streamlines a Marlo location: a card is taken by a spec from the center of the deck, replaced, shuffled, one cut, and the card is on top. The strong parts here are that no breaks are held after the card is replaced, and the shuffle happens immediately afterwards. There’s nothing to see.

As I mentioned before, Greg’s hope is to open up a can of worms. He tantalizing gives you a glimpse of what in practice the ability to faro nonchalantly can mean for stack work. The positioning of cards as they are shuffled means that one can work not with just one kind of stack but different stacks throughout a set for different purposes. Imagine various effects depending on the deck being stacked first by color, then by suit, then by four of a kind. The faro becomes a powerful tool to cycle from one stack to another with relatively little effort.

Is there everything here about the faro? No; in this 52-page book there’s not going to be everything, nor is it meant to be encyclopedic, though there is a short bibliography of major works concerning the faro. Greg’s last two books were eagerly snatched up by aficionados, but they were clearly for a limited audience. But I predict that Faro Fundamentals will be one of those relatively rare perennial sellers in the magic literature. Because there can be no question now: if someone asks, “Where should I go to learn about the faro shuffle?” Greg’s book is it.

If you’ve been putting off learning the faro, or you’ve tried but just couldn’t get it, or if you can faro, but want to understand more about what the faro can achieve, I urge you to pick up a copy of Faro Fundamentals. It fills a huge gap in the magical literature and you will be glad to have this as your faro companion.

Duet: A Magic Contest Winner

Ken Muller of Tennessee was the winner of the Sixth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest. The contest asked participants to talk about two of the most memorable magic moments they had ever experienced. With his permission, I am re-printing one of his stories:

Fifty-two years later I observed an effect where “situation” was more important to the magic than the simple effect and fumbled performance.  My daily walks with my 93- year-old Dad were magical enough, and the interaction with neighbors and strangers always a bit astonishing.  This event was “more than” in several ways. Here it is also offered in story form:


            Two strange ladies live down the road–sisters, they say, but you couldn’t tell by looking at them.  Katie is petite, always impeccably dressed with hair, makeup, and nails to match.  Lynn is large, clumsy, prefers sweats and cut-offs, and might have combed her hair in another life.  She always lumbers out to the sidewalk when Dad and I happen past.  She haltingly guides Dad back to sit with Katie, using gestures more than speech as her words never come out right.  Then she has me help with some ‘fix-it’ project around the place.  Lynn is afraid of ladders and paint and lots of things.  The modern term is “developmentally delayed,” but I’ll bet she has been called a lot worse names.  She could never live alone and is lucky to have Katie.

            Now, this Ms. Katie speaks a couple of languages and chats with Dad about world travels and treats his advancing senility with respect.  She gives him time to answer questions and doesn’t care if they are for a different question.  He flirts a bit and she dimples and hands him another cookie.   You might think that chatting with Lynn all day isn’t very eventful and Dad, even past ninety, is just an improvement.  That’s what I thought at first.

            Truth is that Lynn won’t leave Katie alone with someone she doesn’t trust and stared into Dad’s eyes real hard when we first met.   Mine too.  Somehow she knows that even in his younger days Dad would not have been bothered by the wheelchair and missing hand and facial scars.  Katie would be in a nursing home without Lynn to bathe and dress and feed and clean.  One sister is so physically disabled from a car crash she cannot live alone despite being so bright and aware.  The other sister is too mentally disabled to pay the phone bill, but can work all day without resting.  Alone each is helpless.  Together they make one hell of a fine woman.

            Then one day Lynn had me come inside too.  Katy asked Dad if he would like to see a magic trick the two of them had been practicing.   Lynn was obviously excited with eyes brighter than usual.  She clenched her hands in front, but her feet wanted to dance.  They knew I was a magician as I had performed an effect for them in the past, but this was a special treat for Dad.   I moved his chair back from the table to give the girls some performance room and stood well back in the shadows.  Lynn gave Dad a wooden cup to hold and reached for Katie’s almost useless right hand.  This she cradled on her own right palm that was almost twice the size.  Then Katie closed her hand into a fist using Lynn’s palm for support.  Lynn reached into Dad’s cup and pulled out a yellow handkerchief, waved it in the air and began stuffing it into the top of Katie’s hand.  None of this was graceful or flowing, but she got the job done.  Katie made little cooing sounds as the silk went in.  Next a red handkerchief was pulled from the cup and the process repeated.  With both silks now hidden in Katie’s hand, Lynn began some slow but erratic swirls with her free left hand accompanied by strange sounds that may have been a chant.  Katie’s hand gradually turned upwards to allow the compressed silks to unfold and grow upwards.  But, it was one large silk with red and yellow stripes!   It eventually hung down from all around Katie’s hand as Lynn removed her supporting hand and stood proudly with her arms folded.  Katie indicated that Dad should take the silk from her empty hand now resting on the table.  It was a magic duet that neither could have done alone.

          Dad laughed and pushed the silk partially back into the cup and placed it on the table. Then he, in turn, kissed Katie’s hand and then Lynn’s, bowing to each like a courtier. As we left Dad whispered to me, “Better’n you on that one.  I’ll call them Katilynn from now on.”  

Sixth Annual Magic Contest Results!*

Oh, man, you really put me in a tough position. The contest challenge as you may remember was this:

What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.

Well, you truly wow’ed me this time. I had a terrible time making this decision. I had to choose three winners. It was really, really difficult. Frankly, among the entries I received there were four that particularly stood out, and each of those was deserving of a first-place win. They were each great in their own special way. I was facing a four-way tie, so I really didn’t know what to do. But I remembered what the rules said: in case of a tie, the decision goes to the earliest entry among them. And I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that this would be the fairest way to decide among them. I would decide by looking at when I received each of those four top entries. Based on that, I made my decision.

There was still one problem–the rules provided for only three prizes, yet as I said, there were four entries that were essentially equally excellent. So I decided to award four prizes instead of three.

So with that out of the way, let’s announce the winners!

First prize goes to Ken Muller. He picked The Compleat Magic Vol. IV. edited by Bascomb Jones. Ken told of two heartwarming magical experiences that were particularly memorable for him–one when he was a youth performing magic and Santa Claus ended up surprising him, and another, as an adult, when a pair of sisters down the street, one developmentally delayed, and the other unable to walk, joined forces and together performed a magic trick for Ken and his Dad.

Second Prize goes to Sean-Dylan Riedweg, who wrote about two baffling magic performances he witnessed, the memory of which stayed with him many years. The first was a Times Square street performance of cigarette through jacket–with his own jacket, which hooked him on magic as a a teen. The second was later in life working behind the counter at Tannen’s when he was badly fooled by a visiting David Roth, who performed an unfathomable card trick. Sean-Dylan chose Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years.

Third prize goes to Danny Doyle. As a young boy, he was amazed by Doug Henning on TV, and then later as a brash young teen who thought he knew everything about magic, gets seriously schooled at Schulien’s by Heba Haba Al. He chose Harry Lorayne’s Classic Collection, Volume 4

And, finally, fourth prize goes to Steven Paul Carlson who tells of two times when he seriously fooled himself! He chose Reputation Makers.

Thanks very much to all of you who participated. Sometime next week, I’ll be sending out the pdf of all the entries to anyone who sent in an entry.See the correction here:

*See the correction here:

Quick Change!

This was fun. I count ten changes that Léa Kyle performs on her person, and a bunch more in isolation. As Penn says, quite unusual and accomplished for this kind of act.

Click on the image to play.

Thanks to YouTuber Best Magic and Magical Acts

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: Foot Three

Here are my suggestions for foot three of the five foot shelf of magic books. You can find my suggestions for the first foot here, and the second foot here.

In this installment, we’ll be getting into more specialized and advanced books, yet I think the information in each of them is valuable no matter what area of magic most intrigues you.

The Dai Vernon Book of Magic by Lewis Ganson: Some of the classic close-up routines of magic, including The Chinese Coins, that should be in every magician’s repertoire.

Restaurant and Bar Magic by Jonathan Kamm: Kamm is a bar magician, and in this slim book of effects he explains some wonderful mainstays of the bar magician. If you’re not a drinker, don’t let the appellation of bar magic worry you. Bar magic is close-up magic that requires little in the way of props, but it has a very clear plot, is visual, often modular, and has high impact. There’s a great repeat card under deck routine here as well as seven other routines which, as they say, are workers.

Marked for Life by Kirk Charles: This is a slim paperback on how to create your own deck of marked cards and tricks to do with same. There’s a hilarious trick done with a rubber stamp imprint of a cat’s paw that I used to have a lot of fun with. But the real winner here is the system for marking cards that Bob Farmer came up with that requires only a red Sharpie on a red Bicycle deck which produces marks that can be seen from a good distance.

Expert Card Technique by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue: This one may sit on the shelf until you’re ready for it, but once you are, you will be amazed at the gems of advanced card magic sleights and effects it contains: passes, glimpses, transpositions. Though written before Royal Road to Magic and Card College, this is the post-graduate course.

Taschen Magic Posters: I’ve written about this book before, and I continue to feel that it’s one of my favorite magic books of all time. This multi-lingual large-size edition pictured above is out of print and hard to find now, but there’s a smaller sized abridged version available at very reasonable cost, which is still quite wonderful. It’s beautifully put together with glorious reproductions of hundreds of years of magic posters interspersed with essays from the likes of Jim Steinmeyer. It’s big, heavy, and an absolute pleasure to pull out on a rainy day.

An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski: while this volume was meant for theater actors performing in a scripted play, there is much here to be learned here about communicating with an audience. The Spanish magician Juan Tamariz summarized some of this information in The Five Ways of Magic, but An Actor Prepares goes more deeply into some important aspects of performing and getting ready to perform. Pay special attention to the sections on Relaxation, Concentration, Units and Objectives, Faith and a Sense of Truth, The Super-Objective, and Communion.

Act Two by Barrie Richardson: There’s more great mental magic in this sequel to Theater of the Mind. If you’ve always wanted to learn a memdeck, but don’t think you’re quite up to it now, there’s an easy to memorize half memdeck here that’s very useful. In particular, it’s used in a easy-to-do stage ACAAN that plays big. There are many other mental effects and techniques here that are worth exploring as well.

Card College, Volumes 2, 3, and 4: by Roberto Giobbi: Card College is a massive achievement but I think Royal Road substitutes well for Volume 1 and has better tricks, and Volume 5 is largely a book of pleasant but unessential card tricks. For me, the real stars of the CC series are Volumes 2, 3 and 4, which form an excellent detailed reference for learning and executing the most common card sleights one might come across in other sources.

Magic is My Weed and How to Make Love the Steve Spill Way both by Steve Spill. I put these two books together because frankly it is hard to decide between them. Simply, read them both. They are not cheap, but if you are planning to set foot onstage before a large audience in a regular professional capacity, these books would be a very wise investment. I did detailed reviews of the two books here (Weed) and here (Love). If you want to be a performer and not just a guy or gal doing tricks, these books are a goldmine of information. Wonderful effects, jokes, scripts, but even more wonderful advice about how to construct an act and entertain an audience.

The Sixth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest

It’s time once again for this blog’s annual magic contest!

So here is the challenge this year:

What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.

First prize is first choice from the terrific grab bag of magic books I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag; and third prize, in a parallel, numerically pleasing manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be very happy to have.

All are welcome to participate. And even if you were a past winner before, feel free to participate again as long as you were not a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winner last year.

And in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will NOT BE SOLD, but will be offered only as a free download to all those who entered.

Send your entries please to

Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line

Deadline Monday,  November 2, 11:59 PM. In case of a tie, earlier entries get preference.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

David Blaine: Hitting the Heights, Plumbing The Depths

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

More at The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: The Second Foot

IMG_4421 (1)

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]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Five Foot Shelf of Magic: One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembrance Of Cards Past


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

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

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

Under A Spell: Any Card Named Spelled To


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

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

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

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

Alternatively Speaking…The Landmark Cull

alternating suits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To summarize:

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

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

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

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

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


Poster Boy

mixed magic Jerry Zolten

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.

DIY Squaring The Circle


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.

Double Vision

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

The Book Nook, Magic Edition (4)


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.

No Business Like Shoe Business: Sangsoon Kim


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