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.

Werx of the Jerx


Andy is now well into year two of The Jerx, and Issue #4 of the JAMM monthly newsletter. While the first year’s blog had quite a number of very strong effects, some of which made it into The Jerx book, the second year saves most of the tricks for the newsletter. Now the blog is for the most part Andy’s attempts to flesh out a theory of amateur performance (interspersed with ads in support of his website). Leaving aside the newsletter for now, I thought I’d link to some of my favorite second-year blog posts.

A few things first, though. Number one: I have no idea what sort of human being Andy is in his other lives, but in his Jerx life, he has been, contrary to the expectations of many skeptical magicians, a model citizen. He has delivered everything that he has promised—two books, a monthly newsletter, other paraphernalia, and most importantly in my opinion, his blog—in a timely manner. While this is the normal expectation in most spheres of commerce, sadly, for some reason in the magic world, it’s too often the exception rather than the rule. So although Andy would probably cringe at the designation, he has been a man of integrity.

Number two: I’m sort of done with telling folks how good some of this stuff is. There’s enough for free on the blog to decide whether it’s your kind of thing or not. Andy takes a kind of cost-analysis approach to his magic that basically asks: what investment of time/money/practice will best improve the experience of magic for the audience? Andy’s real strength is that when he puts forth an idea, he really explores it and puts it into practice, rather than just giving lip service to the concept. But because improved audience impact often has nothing to do with issues of method, and rather results from focusing more on presentational issues, some will bypass The Jerx. All I can do is shrug my shoulders.

So, here are some of the Year Two blog posts I’ve enjoyed:

The Hidden Benefit of the Unbelievable Premise


The False Constraint

The Wonder-Room

Universal Presentations

The Gloaming

The Least You Can Do

Romantic Redux

The Five Movements

The Pulp Fringe-Imp

Quirx of the Jerx

I don’t usually do guest posts here (okay, I’ve never done guest posts here), because it’s not that kind of a blog, but I thought I’d make an exception. Last year’s magic contest winner, Joe Mckay of England, asked me if he could present his case here for financially supporting the magic site The Jerx. I’ve written about the site before, of which I’m a great admirer, and right now the site is at a crossroads: after a year of entertaining posts including some very good, original effects and method descriptions, the site is asking for donations to continue.

I think it’s a fair request, and as Michael Close wrote recently in a completely different context, the site is “that kind of thing that those who like that kind of thing will like.”

And yes, this request is totally selfish on my part, as I have pledged towards the site’s money target—but there will be no continuation of the site until it’s completely funded. As of this writing, the site has reached 88% of its goal. So I’m hoping that Joe’s post might entice you to donate (invest?), so that we can all enjoy another year of the site.

Here’s Joe’s post (make sure to follow the links for some great magic):

“Go check out— it is a magic blog written by an anonymous figure called Andy who lives in New York.

He is my favourite thinker in magic today and his blog is something all magicians should check out. He has been posting about 3-5 times a week for the past 18 months. There is a ton of great stuff there. Offbeat magic unlike anything else around. Very funny commentary and a ton of useful theory that overturns a lot of the conventional wisdom we see in most books on magic. A lot of the biggest names in magic are hip to the blog and you should be to.

Andy has a remarkable brain. Imagine if Paul Harris, Derren Brown and Penn & Teller were genetically spliced together and then dropped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. That is how Andy thinks about magic.

Here are some of my favourite tricks from the blog:

1) A lovely trick that was inspired by the effect that climaxed Derren Brown’s first TV special here in the UK. I have never seen an ending to a trick as sweet as this one. That sounds twee but Andy has introduced something new here. It has a lovely nostalgic touch I have never seen before in a trick.

2) Andy applies takes one of my favourite principles in magic (UF Grant’s Million Dollar Mystery) and extends it into an instant transposition that takes place over thousands of miles.

3) Andy reworks The Invisible Deck to create a totally different effect. In this case – you convince the spectator you have hypnotized him. The thinking here is equal parts strange and sneaky. I cannot imagine the odd effect this would create in the spectator’s brain.

4) You introduce yourself to a spectator and blow his mind by convincing him he is your long lost twin. The presentation and method here play off each other in a way that builds and builds. This is both hilarious and deceptive. This would definitely have fooled me if I have experienced it live.

Another favourite is the trick where you transport a spectator to parallel universe (I am not kidding). But I will leave that one for you to try and track down as you work through the blog.

I could mention a ton of other great things about the blog. But brevity is useful with any recommendation. So I don’t want to make this one too long. It will take a couple of weeks of intensive reading for people to catch up with all the posts. But it is definitely worth doing.



Perx of The Jerx


I’d like to recommend a magic blog to you: The Jerx. The Jerx, whose name and logo are a satirical tribute to Ted Annemann’s mentalism periodical, The Jinx (which in turn was a satirical tribute to the magic periodical, The Sphinx), is the reincarnation of the legendary Magic Circle Jerk blog that ran from 2003–2005. The main goal of the MCJ then was to bedevil and taunt the owners and staff of The Magic Cafe, a noble mission, good even onto itself. However, about three months ago, Andy, the one-named former proprietor of the MCJ, started a new daily magic blog, the aforementioned The Jerx. And even though once in a while it still ridicules The Magic Cafe, this time Andy has cast his net wider to include thinking deeply about what makes an audience enjoy a magic effect. It’s well worth reading every day.

In its new incarnation, The Jerx is still profane, funny, at times hopelessly adolescent, sexy, maybe at times sexist, and oh yes, more than occasionally tinged with genius.

The Jerx‘s operating assumption is that the single most important way for magicians to improve their magic is to focus on the audience’s experience; to this end Andy puts in a ridiculous (no, the correct!) amount of thought to scripting and performance. Andy’s descriptions of the elaborate set-ups he devotes to entertaining his friends and colleagues in everyday situations are downright inspiring, favoring effects that grow out of the organic relationships already present. If reading the description of his Borrowed Money Teleported to Paris effect doesn’t move you to scrap everything you’re doing in magic and start all over, then maybe you should apply to be a Grammar Host at The Magic Cafe. (And, no, I’m not going to link to that post. Dig and find it yourself, it’s worth the effort.)

What I like about Andy’s work especially is that he goes back and forth between theory and practical experiments to see if a proposed theory holds water. He experiments to see which of several hypotheses work out best for him in his world. By this method, he has found a fascinating corollary to the Whit Haydn theory of magic—that theory which states that the best magic is when the audience confronts the experience of the insoluble dilemma: There’s no such thing as magic / There’s no other answer to explain what just happened.

Andy, in one of his recent posts, provides a very nice extension of that theory. You should read the whole post, but the essence of it is this: A successful effect according to Haydn is one that puts an audience member onto the horns of that dilemma and provides no escape. But a big problem that Andy addresses is that spectators will try to dislodge themselves from those horns one way or another. If you give them no possibility of a method, they give up and surrender, falling on one side of the dilemma—which is okay, but not as good as keeping them dangling. If, on the other hand, you give them a believable implied method, even if its wrong, they’ll take comfort in that, and again dislodge themselves from those horns. But the most diabolical strategy is to give an implied method that on quick audience reflection cannot be true. It’s as if

“you’re in a sealed room with a little tiny door the size of a cereal box. You’re trapped, but there’s this thing that beckons you as if it’s an exit. Your rational mind knows it’s not. You know you’ll never fit through it, but you can’t help but keep returning to it and shoving a hand or a leg out and seeing if maybe there’s some way to work your way through. Rationally, you know it’s not the way out, but it’s the only thing that even suggests a way out, so your mind keeps returning to it.

And this is where Mr. Haydn and Andy would like their audiences to end up—endlessly going over each part of the trick over and over again, to take home and re-tell later to their friends and family. The most effective magic, in this view, is the magic that gives the spectator’s brain no rest.

You can read a lot of fancy books about magic detailing the latest tricks and the newest micro-variation of Triumph and Ambitious Card, but if doing and thinking about informal magic is something you enjoy, and you like starting each day with a laugh, The Jerx is required daily reading.