Harry and Carson shooting the breeze about magic.
Rest in Peace, Harry the Hat.
Thanks to YouTuber Missy Logo
Magicians know Harry Lorayne as the author of some very popular books of card magic, but Harry, who is now in his 90s and still writing card magic books, really made his bread and butter from a related but different form of show business. He was recognized as one of the foremost “memory experts,” and in the 1960s and 70s, he made scores of television and night club appearances, amazing audiences with his memory stunts.
In this clip he memorizes the names of the people in Johnny Carson’s audience, having met them briefly just once before the show. It’s fun to see how Harry uses his entertainment skills and enthusiastic personality to turn what could be a dry demonstration into a showstopper.
Thanks to YouTuber Rudy Tinoco
Here’s another installment of my limerick game contributions. As I stated in the first installment, on one of the online magic forums, there’s a game where one person suggests a first line for a limerick, and the next person has to complete the other four lines of the limerick. Many of the limericks have a magic-oriented theme, but that’s not a requirement. Here are a few of my better efforts. (Remember, all first lines were given by others):
There once was a magical duck
Enamored with some poor dumb cluck
He climbed on her bones
She started to moan
Hey!!–It’s a family website you schm*ck!
On a cold dismal night in mid Feb
I Googled ’bout every celeb
I perused every writer
Yes, much like the spider
I waste too much time on the web.
On the top of the mountain stood Harry
Houdini, that is, and then Larry
Jennings, of course
A powerful force
My favorite is Richardson, Barrie.
A man once married his dog
“I’m happy,” he wrote on his blog
The bathroom is free
From ten until three
While the wife is out using a log.
Derren Brown was reading my mind,
Attempting to do it while blind.
But the dude didn’t know
Of my years of Cointreau–
So there was nothing there he could find!
Every once in a while I like to catch up and share the titles of conjuring books I’ve been reading, so here’s what I’ve been enjoying the last couple of months—and a little product review at the end as well:
1. Scripting Magic, Volume 2: Pete McCabe’s first volume, Scripting Magic, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. It contained scripts for dozens of excellent magic tricks, and what’s more, it told you why they were good scripts and compared them to the not-so-good examples. Anyone reading them could improve the effects they already did by following the advice in the book. Now, in Volume 2, McCabe continues with more wonderful tricks and scripts—including examples from America’s Got Talent winner Derek Hughes, and the script of Houdini’s performance of the Water Torture Cell. McCabe tells you not only what makes a good script, but also helps you to understand how to come up with a premise, and how to flesh it out. It’s terrific advice, but even if you choose to ignore it, there are some very good tricks here including “Pleasure To Burn” ( a fifty-two to one card equivoque) and the holiday-themed “Catching a Leprechaun.” While it’s always great to learn new sleights (and McCabe teaches a few here in the context of a given effect) probably no investment of time will improve one’s magic so much as focusing on script and presentation.
2. Malini and His Magic: Dai Vernon was always humble about the debt he owed to the magicians whose work he studied, including Emil Jarrow and Nate Leipzig, but none impressed him more than Max Malini. I’ve written about Malini before, but it is hard to overestimate what an important influence he was on Vernon’s generation of magicians. In an age where magicians mainly entertained with large illusions on stage, Malini changed the paradigm. Whether he was entertaining on the stage of a large theater, a hotel ballroom, or an intimate dinner party of the rich and famous, he needed only a couple of decks of cards and some silverware to make his presence unforgettable. In Malini and His Magic, editor Lewis Ganson collated Vernon and others’ thoughts and memories of Malini in order to produce a slim but valuable volume. It starts off with some basic biographical information, and then describes the presentation and methods of Malini’s full evening show, the highlight of which was his card stabbing routine. Later chapters deal with Malini’s more informal shows, and it’s wonderful to read about how audacious his effects and methods were. Malini was also quite a self-promoter, and not a small amount of his success was his ability to “schmooze” and make friends with wealthy patrons. The one secret that remains is the famous dinner table production of a block of ice from a lady’s hat. While Vernon describes the production and one aspect of the method, he admits that he does not know how Malini loaded up. That will have to be a mystery to all but Ricky Jay, who you can see perform the astonishing trick for a skeptical journalist in the documentary film Deceptive Practice. (Hmm, I just got an idea of what may have happened.)
3. Our friend Ron Chavis is now well along with the publication of his “Official Magazine for Mentalists,” Mystic Descendant, having released a solid four quarterly issues to round out the first year. The magazine continues with its friendly, good-natured, bar-room mate outlook, and as I have mentioned before, it focuses mainly on the casual performance of mentalism, with a focus on storytelling. I’ve finally caught up with the fourth issue, and in it you’ll find a lovely true story about a seance that unexpectedly turns into a tribute to a recently deceased mentalist; a presentation of an effect that leaves warm feelings of a spectator’s meaningful relationship; and an interview with South American mentalist Mauricio Jaramillo who talks about preparing for the time when things go wrong in performance. It’s light, pleasant reading, that may well stimulate mentalism thoughts of your own; if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you can go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mysticdescendant to order any issue.
4. On some of the internet magicians’ forums, you’ll find endless discussion of what are the best cards to use, and it may seem amusing to run into spirited online discussions that go into scores of pages on whether blue-backed or red-backed cards are best to use. A lot of magicians take such things quite seriously. Anyway, much virtual ink has also been spilled about what brand of cards is most suitable for card magic. For the past few years, the product of a relative newcomer in the field, the Phoenix deck by Card-Shark, has found favor with many magicians. I like Phoenix cards a lot, but I recently became aware of the new release by the US Playing Card Company of a special edition of their Maiden Back cards. I’ve been using them for a few months now, and I really like them, maybe more than the Phoenix cards. Here’s what I think the advantages of them are:
So if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I’d advise you to try a brick soon, as I don’t really see how they can keep selling them at this price. Happy magishing.
Magician Hector Mancha won the Grand Prix of the 2015 international FISM magic competition with his sketch of a poor man who for a brief moment is able to get money to appear at his finger tips.
Those wiggly fingers have a lot of magicians scratching their heads over where those bills are coming from.
Thanks to YouTuber maxivolkmagic
At one of the online magic forums, there’s a game I’ve contributed to through many years concerning limericks. One person suggests a first line for a limerick, and the next person has to complete the limerick. Many of the limericks have a magic-oriented theme, but that’s not a requirement. Here are a few of my better efforts. (Remember, all first lines were given by others):
A young man from the wilds of Peru
Bought a very new gnu from the zoo
But the gnu didn’t know
What a gnu ought to know
So he bought a new gnu who knew news.
I “invented” a new spelling trick
With 21 cards, it’s so slick
I deal seven piles
But I never get smiles,
They all want it over real quick.
When presenting the spec’s queen of hearts
Some magi take leave of their smarts
They prance and parade
(No, they’ll never get laid)
Not knowing they’re just some old farts
I considered a life on the stage
Not easy for someone my age
But I just got hired
No longer retired
Come see me, the geek in a cage.
I found in my old photo book
The claw of the mean Captain Hook
And also the mug
Of some vicious thug
For Sale: by Hook or by crook.
Yesterday, card magician Derek DelGaudio appeared on NPR radio’s quiz show, Ask Me Another, where his quiz category was…playing cards.
What an incredible stroke of fortuitous luck engineered by the quiz show Gods! (not)
Anyway, Derek answered questions like, “Which suit used to be represented by batons and sticks?” and “One of the four Kings’ faces is different from the other three: which, and why?” Of course Derek answered these questions correctly—he is after all performing card magic nightly in his new one man Off-Broadway show, In & Of Itself—but it was the final question that was the most amusing. Here’s how the conversation went:
Host: “According to mathematicians at Harvard and Columbia, how many—”
DelGaudio (and magicians across the country): “Seven!”
Host: (Stunned silence, then laughter) “Yes, correct.”
Spoiler: As the host later told the audience, the question’s finish was, “how many riffle shuffles does it take to fully shuffle a deck into a randomized state?” It’s a more interesting question than might appear at first glance, with quite a few sticky points.
First of all, is it referring to any kind of shuffle? No; it applies specifically to the riffle shuffle, also known as the dovetail shuffle—the deck is divided into two packets, one packet held from above in each hand, with each thumb at one short end of the cards, and the other fingers at the opposite short end. Then some cards are riffled off the bottom of one packet by the thumb onto the table, and next, some cards are riffled off the bottom of the other packet by the other thumb onto the table. This is repeated, riffling off cards from the bottom of the two packets onto the table, alternately, until both packets are exhausted (or at least a little bit sleepy). Most bridge players are familiar with this kind of shuffle.
Do the cards have to be perfectly alternated, one card from each hand, in perfect syncopation (magicians call this a “faro shuffle”)? Again, the answer is no. There is no requirement that the cards be perfectly interlaced, nor that the deck be cut into two even packets at the beginning. But even with imperfect shuffling, the cards should be fully randomized after seven riffle shuffles.
With some reflection, one might ask, what does it even mean to say that the cards are now in a random order? Isn’t every order a random order? The whole question of randomness is non-trivial, but a quick and dirty explanation as applied to shuffling depends on two notions. First, suppose we number all the cards in a deck consecutively from the top, 1-52. Now we shuffle the deck. When we look at our new shuffled order, are there any clues in the new order that might lead us to suspect what the original order might have been? For example, if the new order looked like 1-20, 26-40, 21-25, 41-52, we can see that the “chunks” from the original order have left a calling card of sorts of the previous order; we would not say that the shuffle had randomized the order yet. The other thing to realize is, that given our original stack ordered 1-52, it is not true that every other conceivable stack could be obtained by one riffle shuffle—even if we were allowed to decide exactly how the cards should fall. For example, if we wanted a new stack that began 2-1-7-3 on top, there is no way of splitting the original 1-52 stack and doing one riffle shuffle that would put those four cards on top.
So, now we are in a position to talk about what a randomly shuffled deck would mean. It means that if we were to compare the positions before shuffling and after shuffling, there would be no clues left as to what the original order was; and that the new order was just as likely to have resulted from the actual beginning order as from any other beginning order. It turns out that only if you riffle shuffle at least the magic seven times, can you be sure that the preceding two conditions are true.
This result was proved by Persi Diaconis, presently a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, but also one of the most intriguing and elusive figures in modern sleight-of-hand conjuring. When he was 14, he ran away from home and joined a much older magician, Dai Vernon, on a cross-country scramble to track down the best underground card sharks in America. The idea was to learn new card sleights that other magicians had not yet discovered. Diaconis was so intrigued by gambling questions that he enrolled in college math courses to learn the math that would give him more insight into such problems. Later on, Diaconis got himself a teaching post at Stanford on the recommendation of the Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner. Gardner it turns out, was a first-class amateur magician; Diaconis had shown him a few card tricks that he had invented, and on the strength of those card tricks, Gardner recommended Diaconis to the department head at Stanford who then hired Diaconis.
Diaconis has since published papers on many topics of potential interest to magicians and gamblers, including a proof that when flipping a fair coin, it is slightly more likely to fall on the side it started on. Equally intriguing is Diaconis’s tight-lipped attitude towards questions about the now-deceased Vernon. Vernon had many acolytes, most of whom have shared in print or video what Vernon had taught them. Vernon himself was not averse to revealing some of his confidences. But Diaconis is one of the few who refuses to speak about any of the Master’s teachings, and believes that some mysteries are meant to be taken to the grave.
But Diaconis’s riffle shuffle paper is well known among magicians. So now you know why Derek DelGaudio didn’t need to hear the rest of the question…
French magician Laurent Piron daringly conceives and executes a wonderfully surreal and visual magic scenario for the 2015 FISM international magic competition. Lots of clever misdirection; you’ll probably catch some moves if you repeat the video–but a live audience only gets one chance!
More at Laurent Piron
The saucy Lucy Darling does it with a cherry on top.
In her other life, Canadian performer Carisa Hendrix is a fire-eater, but it’s as her burlesque character Lucy Darling that she really heats things up.
More Lucy at Carisa Hendrix
Magician Richard Turner, the fabled blind card mechanic, is the subject of a compelling new film documentary directed by Luke Korem called Dealt. I interviewed Korem who spoke about the challenges and pleasures of making the film. Though ostensibly about magic, the story is also about independence, disability, discipline, creativity, and about learning how best to play the hand that life has dealt us.
Click on the grey triangle to listen to the interview as broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM..
Last year, Penn & Teller performed this little stunt from their classic repertoire on their television series, Fool Us; it’s still a knuckle-biting performance.
But for the purists who remember the original version, here’s a clip from twenty-five years ago, back when Teller took a few more hair-raising chances . . .
Thanks to YouTuber secretSociety40
I recently had the pleasure of seeing Harrison Greenbaum’s comedy magic act at two different venues, and he killed at both of them. His philosophy of performing comedy magic is that the comedy has to be good enough to stand alone without the magic—and indeed that is what he has done for a good deal of his career; that is, he often performs hilarious stand-up comedy only, without the magic. But don’t underestimate his magic chops either—his routining and performance of the venerable magic Baby Gag is a standing ovation wonder.
Here’s Greenbaum with one my favorite comedy routines of his—no magic—“Lightning Roy,” the man who defied lightning.
Thanks to everybody who participated in the contest. I had an enjoyable time reading the entries. There were some really great stories told. Here are the three winners:
First Prize goes to Daniel Doyle for his hilarious story about a chimp gone ape, complete with the requisite bite in the ass. It’s a classic. Maybe if you see him in person someday he’ll tell you about it. He chose as his prize a copy of Marlo Without Tears by Jon Racherbaumer.
Second Prize goes to Alfred Dowaliby who told a wonderful magician-in-trouble story. While Alfred was working aboard a cruise ship, fortune played a dirty trick—but instinct took over, and he emerged a hero. Extra points for a side portrait of his boss, Bill Malone. He chose as his prize Volume 5 of Richard Osterlind’s Mind Mysteries DVD.
Third Prize goes to Gallagher Hayes who told a touching and philosophical story of a misunderstanding that led him to the wrong place at the wrong time; but he still had the unstinting support of his beloved wife. He chose as his prize a copy of The Magic of Milt Kort by Stephen Minch.
Thanks again to all who entered. Sometime next week, everyone who participated will receive a pdf compilation of all the stories that were sent in
See you next year?
Though David Roth first introduced his coin magic showpieces some forty years ago, they are still fresher, more original, and more creative than just about anything seen since in coin magic. Here he performs one of my favorites, the inexplicable Funnel effect.
And…we’re nearing last call for my third annual Contest. It’s a fun contest, with lots of prizes, and should not take you much time to complete. You can’t win it if you’re not in it, and everybody who enters gets a free prize. Click on the link for details.
Thanks to YouTuber SpaghettiMagic
Pit Hartling has amusing presentations for card magic, along with some of the most clever methods. His book In Order to Amaze should delight most card workers. Here is a fairly recent performance from The Magic Castle.
More Pit Hartling at Pit Hartling
And…time is running out to enter a dead easy contest. Magicians and hobbyists, spend a little time today to get in your entries. Read the details here.
In order to whet your appetite about participating in this year’s contest, here’s a story that magic historian, collector, and magician Mike Caveney told at the Genii Convention this past weekend.
It concerns Chung Ling Soo, a magician who performed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in England and the United States to great acclaim. He performed in traditional Chinese garb and made a sensation with his version of the bullet-catching effect, a notoriously dangerous illusion. In Chung Ling Soo’s version, a marksman would load a marked bullet into a rifle, and Chung Ling Soo would place a plate in front of his traditional robes, right in front of his heart, where the marksman would aim. Ordinarily, when a rifle is shot in this manner, the bullet would break the plate and go through the heart. But, of course, what happened at each performance instead was that the bullet would not pierce the plate, but instead would magically be stopped and caught in the plate—and the mark on the bullet would verify it as the original bullet loaded in the gun. A real showstopper. Until…
One night the trick went wrong. The trick that had claimed several other magician’s lives, now claimed another. The bullet pierced the plate, hitting the magician in the heart. Chung Ling Soo went down in front of the entire audience. He was rushed to the hospital and despite the best efforts of the doctors, died. An inquest was subsequently held to determine what had happened and the examiners came to the conclusion that it had been an accident. The gun had been loaded incorrectly.
Or had it?
Back to historian Mike Caveney. He showed his Genii convention audience a fascinating letter in his possession which a gentleman named Robert Smithson had written to a well-known journalist of the time. In his letter, Smithson explained to the journalist that he had been a great fan of magic when he was a child. In fact, he had been so taken by magic as a youngster, he had attended every one of the fourteen performances that Chung Ling Soo had given when the magician was in Smithson’s town. He had memorized the act, never forgetting the deep impression that Chung Ling Soo’s magic had made on him—especially the bullet catching trick.
Fast forward a number of years later, and Smithson is in the army, on leave for a few hours with his friends in the center of town. Lo and behold, he passes a theater and who is performing that night but Chung Ling Soo. Smithson turns to his companions excitedly and tells them about how obsessed as a youth he was, watching this great magician, and he eventually persuades his friends to come with him to the theater to see Chung Ling Soo perform.
Well, as it turned out, that night was the night. Smithson and his companions eye-witnessed the death of Chung Ling Soo. But the reason Smithson wrote to the journalist was that he was sure it was no accident.
You see, Smithson told the journalist, he had memorized the whole routine from top to bottom during his fourteen previous viewings. And on the fatal night, Chung Ling Soo did two things that Smithson was sure the magician had never done before: First, before the bullet-catching trick, he went center stage before the audience to tell them just how dangerous this trick was, and imparted the fact that several other magicians had died performing this effect. This was something, Smithson wrote, that Chung Ling Soo had never done before. But, second, the clincher for Smithson was this: instead of an assistant loading the rifle, as Smithson said had always been done before, this evening Chung Ling Soo had loaded the rifle himself.
Was it possible? Well, Will Goldston, a magician and magic dealer who Chung Ling Soo had been friendly with, thought it could be so. Goldston said that Chung Ling Soo had been in his shop earlier that week, depressed about his life—he was hard up for money and he was supporting the families of both his wife and his girlfriend on opposite sides of town.
But another twist of the story occurred at the hospital, when the doctors tried to save Chung Ling Soo. Because it was only as the doctors took off Chung Ling Soo’s robes, make-up, and wig that they learned the truth, which only a few in Chung Ling Soo’s inner magic circle had already known: Chung Ling Soo was in reality William Robinson, a New York-born Irishman who had made his way to England and had become the invaluable chief assistant to the biggest magical star of the time, The Great Hermann. Robinson had taken on his Chinese persona by basing his act on that of an actual Chinese magician who had toured Europe, Ching Ling Foo. Robinson went so far in his deception, that in public appearances in costume he would go out with a “translator” who would “translate” Robinson’s nonsense gibberish into English. Robinson even had had the audacity to publicly call Ching Ling Foo—the genuine article—a phony.
Talk about fake news.
But it took Robert Smithson, Chung Ling Soo fan extraordinaire, to uncover Billy Robinson’s final deception: The accident that was no accident.
You can read more about Robinson in Jim Steinmeyer’s wonderful book, The Glorious Deception