Friday, September 07, 2018

The Fifth Coincidence

Two and a half years ago I published Engel’s QuadrupleCoincidence on this blog, an epic You Do As I Do trick that really does baffle. Earlier this year Laura London, who has been doing the trick quite a lot since we discussed it at The Session convention, suggested that there might be room in the trick for a fifth coincidence. Having performed it regularly she realised that there was an extra beat to be had, perhaps two cards could be selected and pocketed and revealed to match at the end of the trick. I suggested the following handling.

Let’s assume you are using a red deck and a blue deck. From the red deck take out one card, let’s say the Queen of Clubs, and place it in your pocket.

The Queen of Clubs in the blue deck should be marked on the back so that you can easily find it if the cards are spread face-down across the table.

You’re now ready to perform the trick, which is done at a table or bar. Begin by having both decks shuffled. You shuffle the red deck but glimpse the bottom card before placing it face-down on the table. The spectator shuffles the blue deck.

You take the blue deck and spread it face-down on the table in front of you. The spectators follow along, spreading the red deck face-down in front of him.

You move your hand along the blue deck and push out the marked Queen of Clubs towards the centre of the table. You invite the spectator to push a card from his red deck to the centre of the table until it is alongside yours.

You gather up the blue deck and place it aside. The spectator does the same with the red deck.

Now you pick up the red backed card from the centre of the table (the indifferent card) and put it in the same pocket where you have the Queen of Clubs. The spectator picks up the blue backed card, the marked Queen of Clubs, and without looking at it, places it in his pocket.

If you have to, you can say, ‘You take care of my card and I’ll take care of yours.’ But I wouldn’t. This is a You Do As I Do trick and your theme should be that the spectator follows along and does exactly what you do. You move first. He moves second. I’ve seen video of Akira Fujii doing a totally silent presentation of You Do As I Do and it is very effective. It might be worth figuring out how to do it with Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence. However, I digress.

From this point on you can segue into Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence as described in the earlier blog post. You’ll find that here. The spectator selects his card from the red deck, the bottom card of which you already know.

Four coincidences later, when you reach the end of the routine, you raise your hand, show it empty, then slowly reach into your pocket. The spectator does the same, reaching into his pocket. Together you pull the cards from your pockets. You turn the card around, so does the spectator. Both cards are the Queen of Clubs.

NOTES: The Queen of Clubs can be marked in any way that enables you to find it. Instead of a mark on the back you can use a short card or Will de Sieve style embossed card (Greater Magic – Two New Locator Cards) so that you cut to it rather than push it from the spread.

Make a mental note of the card that you place in your pocket from the spectator’s red deck. This card is now effectively out of play. You might need to make an adjustment if its mate turns up in one of the key coincidence positions later on.

I'm not entirely sure who came up with the You Do As I Do plot. There is a chapter devoted to the plot in The Encyclopedia of Self Working Card Tricks. (1936) And the first item in that chapter is called A Peculiar Coincidence. There's a trick by that name in Burling Hull's 1932 Clever Card Collection. Same plot and method but a fuller description. Several other tricks from that manuscript appear in Encyclopedia of Self Working Card Tricks (later reprinted under Jean Hugard's name as Encyclopedia of Card Tricks) so I think we can be fairly sure this is where Glen Gravatt, the anonymous author at that time, got the trick from.

Johnny Thompson has now revealed his own much anticipated handling for Engel’s Quadruple Coincidence and you’ll find it in the recently published The Magic of Johnny Thompson. This is a wonderful book and it also contains Johnny’s handling of a version of the Koran Deck, The Pump Deck. Johnny performed The Pump Deck routine at this year’s The Session convention and for me it is one of the magical highlights of the year.

You can get The Magic of Johnny Thompson here.

The Session convention takes place in London on January 11th – 13th 2019 and can be booked here.

I've written previously about my fondness for The Encyclopedia of Card Tricks here

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Gentleman With a 100 Tricks in his Pockets

The Jerx blog recently published an interesting idea, The Magic Bucket List. A spectator chooses one of a hundred tricks from a list of tricks ‘I want to do before I die.’ You can read about it on Andy’s blog here.

The idea of a magic list put me in mind of Jean Poisson. I’d read about Jean Poisson, also known as John Fish, in Abracadabra magazine. He was a friend of the editor, Goodliffe Neale, who described him as one of his ‘favourite close-up exponents.’ Of his first meeting with Jean in 1948 he said, ‘I enjoyed meeting Jean Poisson, French magician – and very expert too – with a typical Parisian appearance and a delightful accent which made his quite fluent English as incomprehensible as his French.’ His heavily accented English was much commented up and Jean used it to comedy effect, for instance, when performing a rope trick he’d refer to using four hands to perform it with. ‘These two hands and these two ends,’ holding up the ends of the rope.

You’ll find much written about Jean Poisson in the magic journals of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was born in Angers, France, in 1915, though later made Brussels his home. Gave shows as a semi-professional magician. Served in the army during WWII where he continued his interest in magic by doing shows for the troops. After the war he became a director of Cointreau, the liqueur firm. His work gave him many opportunities to travel across Europe, the UK, and to America where he lived for eighteen months in Trenton, New Jersey. He attended conventions and magic meetings wherever he went. And sometimes, to the delight of conventioneers, samples of the Cointreau liqueur went with him.

At magic conventions Jean was famous for his cut and restored tie. Magicians knew the trick used a stooge but Jean’s presentation was very funny and the trick became something of a running gag. Goodliffe Neale once stooged for him and apparently was incredibly convincing. Alan Kennaugh, writing in The Magigram, described an occasion when Jean asked for a volunteer and twelve men all wearing identical ties rushed onto the stage. But mostly Jean was noted for his ‘pocket tricks’ especially his unusual method of presenting them. As a result he was known by various names, ‘The Man of a 100 Gags,’ ‘The Gentleman with a 100 Tricks in his Pockets,’ or even ‘The Man of a 1000 Tricks.’

And here is where the story of Jean Poisson intersects with The Jerx. David Berglas told me that Jean actually had an actual list of the hundred tricks he could perform. It was a kind of menu of magic which could be handed to the spectator so that he can choose his entertainment. It would be fascinating if someone out there had a copy of the list.

That the magic in Jean’s pockets consisted of more than a deck of cards and a few coins is perhaps shown by what he once told Goodliffe Neale, ‘I only give an impromptu show – it takes me half-an-hour to prepare.’ To discover what those tricks might be I scoured the archives (courtesy of Ask Alexander). Here’s what I’ve found.

Chief among them is certainly The Devil Cigarette. This was the continuous production of smoke from an unlit cigarette. An interesting idea that seems to predate the usual smoking thumb trick. It was said that he vanished a birdcage every minute. ‘It is his idea of a pocket trick.’ He performed Premonition, rope routines and had a ‘a delightful trick with two coins and a pretty girl.’

Billy McComb built a Close-up Card Sword routine for him and described it in Abracadabra. Jean Poisson marketed a device called Cigimmick through Harry Stanley. I think this was like a double-barrelled cigarette pull. You could push a cigarette into one barrel of the gimmick as it was held in the fist and pull out a feather flower from the other barrel to affect a transformation, the gimmick flying away up the sleeve. It had many different uses. Another marketed effect was Timothy the Trained Tortoise in which a toy tortoise found a selected card. Earlier he had what was considered a ‘very unusual effect where a mechanical bird located a chosen card which indicates that it might have been an early version of an effect that became more common post Don Alan.

At the 1949 British Ring convention he performed a trick with a robot swan. A toy swan dived to the bottom of a tank of water and came back up with a selected card. The trick was credited to Minar the Magician of Algeria and you can find it described in The Magic Wand (March 1950) and very interesting it is too. The basic method would work just as well today.

Flying Ring and Do As I Do Imp Bottles (See Ganson’s Close-Up Magic Volume 1) were also favourites. He told Francis Haxton he did not like card tricks but he did publish a couple including a nice self-worker called I Love Suzy in Abracadabra (January 4th 1975).

I wonder what ‘the amazing close-up trick with a miniature pagoda’ was that he performed at the IBM convention in Brighton in 1954.

Another intriguing item was his version of the inexhaustible bottle trick. Jean used a tiny kettle ‘about two inches high’ to pour an unlimited amount of drinks. It was used as a gag at a convention, rather than a major mystery, and was said to be a version of the Miraculous Wine Bottle described in William Robinson’s Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena and the method was presumably the same. I do like the idea of a tiny kettle producing a huge amount a liquid. Possibly shots of Cointreau. It feels very magical.

In the 1970s Jean’s interest turned to mentalism and he worked under the name of Jean Sonus. The 100 tricks list was dispensed with but an insight into Jean’s repertoire can still be found in the Triad he published in Abracadabra (June 26th, 1976). These included a gaffed ace assembly, a handling of the Martin Sunshine Color Vision and a paddle routine with paper matches.

In that article Jean talked about magicians ‘not having anything on them’ when asked to do a trick and listed the items he carried with him so that he would be ready at all times. They included, among other things:

  • Out to Lunch
  • T & R Cigarette Paper
  • Kaps Paper to Dollar Bills
  • Sheet of rubber for Coin Through Rubber into Glass
  • T & R Tissue Paper
  • Nail Writer
  • Milbourne Christopher’s Paper Money
  • Find the Lady
  • Gypsy Thread

In the right sleeve of every suit he had the elastic and nylon gimmick to perform the magnetic pencil or knife trick. The left sleeve was fitted with a pull for the Vanishing Key. He said he followed the Boy Scout motto of  ‘Be prepared!’

It would be fascinating to find the list that Jean Poisson used. The Devil Cigarette, the name of his smoke from nowhere routine, gives us an idea of how he titled the tricks so that the surprise was not revealed but I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone who has more details to share.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Story of David Devant's Eight Tricks

David Devant famously said that he performed only eight tricks in magic. It’s a story told in many magic books and the message is clear, learn to perform your tricks well. I was reminded of this recently by my friend Ian Keable who wrote about it in his May 2017 Newsletter. You can read his Newsletter here. Drop him a line if you'd like to subscribe.

Devant’s story can be read in his book Lessons in Conjuring (1922). You’ll find it in the Introduction as follows:

Some years ago, when I was performing at the old Egyptian Hall twice a day and was in the habit of receiving more offers of private engagements than I could possibly accept, a young conjurer called to see me. I asked him how many tricks he knew. He made a rapid calculation and replied: “About three hundred.” I told him that I knew eight tricks myself. He seemed to be very puzzled, but he is puzzled no longer by that reply, for he has since learned wisdom and is now a very popular performer; he now appreciates the difference between knowing how a trick is done and knowing how to do it. 
When I told this young conjurer that I knew eight tricks, I meant, of course, that I performed eight tricks. That was quite true. For some years my repertoire consisted of eight tricks, but I knew them thoroughly. I was always ready to show them at any time, at any place, under any conditions. Until a man knows a trick so well that he is always ready to do it when he is called upon for a trick, he does not really know it. 
To the amateur who has a superficial knowledge of many tricks and an unfortunate habit of bungling even the simplest of them, my method of teaching will seem to be painfully slow. I must ask that young man to take my word for it that my method is sound. If he will take some of the tricks in this book and practice them according to my directions he will certainly know those tricks thoroughly. That knowledge will have some value, because in any assembly the man who can respond to the request : “Show us a trick,” is usually very popular.

This story has been repeated many times over the years but I can’t recall anyone ever saying who the ‘popular performer’ was that David Devant referred to. And yet the answer has been in print for nearly a century. And that performer was Fred Culpitt.

Fred Culpitt was around eleven years younger than Devant. And if Devant said that the meeting took place at the ‘old Egyptian Hall,’ that might place Devant in his mid twenties and still a young man himself.  Culpitt told the story to Max Holden, who was touring Europe with his shadowography act at the time. He saw Culpitt in London and reported the exchange in his column, English Echoes, in The Sphinx

Fred Culpitt relates an amusing story against him, a good may years ago, Culpitt was giving a private show at the Old Egyptian Hall to David Devant and Mr. Maskelyne. At the finish of his showing Mr Devant asked Culpitt how many tricks he knew. Culpitt paused a minute and answered, “Oh about 300.” David Devant answered, “Is that so; I only know eight.” Now then Sphinx readers, think this over and study how many tricks you really know perfect.

You’ll find Holden's account in the November 1920 issue of The Sphinx, two years earlier than the story in Devant's book. Culpitt did become a very accomplished performer, the inventor of many tricks and illusions, including the Doll’s House and the sucker Silk to Egg trick. Eddie Dawes, writing in his Cabinet of Magical Curiosities, credits him as being the first magician to envisage a convention of magic, something that he finally saw brought into reality on a visit to the USA.

Culpitt spent four years as the stage manager at Maskelynes in St George's Hall and became a noted comedy performer. Billed as the Whimsical Wizard, his humour might explain why Culpitt had no problem in telling the world that he was quite the young upstart when he met David Devant. Maybe now he’ll have his name alongside Devant’s whenever this story is told.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Menetekel Mystery

In the 1932 book Houdini and Conan Doyle  (Bernard M L Erst & Hereward Carrington) an unsolved mystery is described:

Houdini produced what appeared to be an ordinary slate, some eighteen inches long by fifteen inches high. In two corners of this slate, holes had been bored, and through these holes wires had been passed. These wires were several feet in length, and hooks had been fastened to the other ends of the wires. The only other accessories were four small cork balls (about three-quarters of an inch in diameter), a large inkwell filled with white ink, and a table-spoon.

 Houdini passed the slate to Sir Arthur for examination. He was then requested to suspend the slate in the middle of the room, by means of the wires and hooks, leaving it free to swing in space, several feet distant from anything. In order to eliminate the possibility of electrical connections of any kind, Sir Arthur was asked to fasten the hooks over anything in the room which would hold them. He hooked one over the edge of a picture-frame, and the other on a large book, on a shelf in Houdini’s library. The slate thus swung free in space, in the centre of the room, being supported by the two wires passing through the holes in its upper corners. The slate was inspected and cleaned.

Houdini now invited Sir Arthur to examine the four cork balls in the saucer. He was told to select any one he liked, and, to show that they were free from preparation, to cut it in two with his knife, thus verifying the fact that they were merely solid cork balls. This was accordingly done. Another ball was then selected, and, by means of the spoon, was placed in the white ink, where it was thoroughly stirred round and round, until its surface was equally coated with the liquid. It was then left in the ink to soak up as much liquid as possible. The remaining balls Sir Arthur took away with him for examination, at Houdini’s request.

At this point, Houdini turned to Sir Arthur, and said: “Have you a piece of paper in your pocket upon which you can write something?” The latter stated that he had, also a pencil. Houdini then said to him: “Sir Arthur, I want you to go out of the house, walk anywhere you like, as far as you like in any direction; then write a question or sentence on that piece of paper; put it back in your pocket and return to the house.” Sir Arthur walked three blocks and turned a corner before he wrote upon the paper - doing so in the palm of his hand. He then folded the paper, placed it in an inside pocket, and returned to Houdini’s home. Meanwhile, Houdini had kept Mr. Ernst with him in order to see that he did not leave the house.

Upon Sir Arthur’s return, Houdini requested him to stir up the cork ball once more in the white ink, and then to lift it, by means of the spoon, and hold it up against the suspended slate. He did so, and the cork ball stuck there, seemingly of its own volition! It then proceeded to roll across the surface of the slate, leaving a white track as it did so. As the ball rolled, it was seen to be spelling words. The words written on the slate were: “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” The cork ball then dropped to the floor, and Houdini invited Sir Arthur to take it home with him, if he so desired. Sir Arthur extracted the piece of paper from his pocket, and upon it he had written, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.” The message written upon the slate was therefore an exact copy of the message which Sir Arthur had written upon the paper.

Over the years several magicians have offered their solution to the mystery. These range from a person hidden behind the board using a long stick to manipulate a magnetised cork to Houdini performing Max Berol’s Menetekel illusion. The latter is in fact exactly same effect but performed on stage rather than at the close quarters desccribed in Houdini and Doyle. It’s believed that Houdini had bought this effect from Berol prior to his meeting with Doyle.

Not satisfied with any of these solutions Bob Loomis scoured the archives, gathered every piece of information he could and came up with his own solution which combines some elaborate information gathering and complex electronic equipment. You can read about it in his new book Houdini’s Final Incredible Secret which you can buy here.

I read the book. And instead of scouring the archives for years I did a search of Ask Alexander and my Kindle. So you might rightly consider my conclusions hastily drawn. However, something has always bugged me about this unsolved effect. And it’s probably that the only source of it seems to be the account given by Bernard Ernst to Hereward Carrington. Ernst was Houdini’s lawyer as well as an amateur magician. He later inherited the Houdini diaries which still remain with the Ernst family. Carrington was a magician and author of popular books on the supernatural. He had been at  odds with Houdini over the investigation of the psychic Margery Crandon. He had also been the business manager of discredited psychic Eusapia Palladino. These two men are not the unbiased witnesses we’d hope for and Bob Loomis does note this in his book. It’s easy to imagine that Ernst wanted to portray his friend Houdini a great mystifier and Carrington wanted a good tale to tell. But that’s just guesswork and so is the rest of what I’m about to write.

I can’t offer any evidence that this miraculous trick with the inky cork ball did not occur. But I am sceptical that the account is correct. And if the account isn’t correct, then trying to find a solution that exactly matches the conditions is a lost cause. Here are the questions that lead me to believe that Ernst and Carrington’s tale has a touch of fantasy about it:

Why did Houdini make no mention that the trick was performed? The event was said to have happened between April 9th and June 23rd of 1922 when Arthur Conan Doyle, accompanied by his wife Jean, made a tour of the USA. The relationship between Houdini and Doyle started well but soured after Doyle’s wife famously brought a spirit message back from Houdini’s deceased mother. It would not have been uncharacteristic of Houdini to have found an opportunity to say he had fooled the creator of Sherlock Holmes, especially when writing in A Magician Among the Spirits (1924) in which he refers to Doyle many times including their meetings in 1922.

Similarly, Doyle wrote about Houdini but never mentioned this encounter or the trick. Had he forgotten how much it had fooled him?

During his tour of the USA Doyle met Houdini a number of times. A list of them can be found in A Chronology of the Life of Arthur Conan Doyle written by Brian W Pugh. Pugh has tried to chart the almost daily and significant activities of Doyle during his life. And his book shows that Doyle met Houdini at least twice at his home during May and was always accompanied by his wife Jean. Jean does not appear in Ernst’s account.

All the solutions so far offered are theoretical. No one has tried to build or perform their solutions which I think would be an interesting project. I suspect it would be difficult to make it work as effectively as Ernst suggests. It’s not just the conditions under what the trick is performed that make it difficult it’s the fact that Ernst is a magician himself. He would almost certainly know of Berol’s illusion and yet doesn’t mention it in his story. As Houdini’s lawyer he might even have been involved in the purchase.

Max Berol toured extensively with his illusion including the UK. It was a highly paid and sought after act. Given its nature there was always a chance that Doyle knew of it which makes it all the more unlikely that Houdini would have tried to baffle him with a version of a trick that had toured the world and even worked the London Hippodrome.

And what are we to make of the coincidence between the title of Berol’s illusion, Menetekel and the words that Doyle chose to write down? The obvious connection is the story in the Bible (Book of Daniel) from which the phrase originates but there’s no indication in the account that Houdini said to Doyle write something down and I will produce that writing on this board. Could it be that Ernst was describing the Berol illusion and so gave those words to Doyle when telling the story?

Berol’s Menetekel illusion wrote only one word at a time on the board probably because you’d run out of ink trying to write a sentence. Even with a three-quarter inch ink-soaked cork ball in your hand you would be hard put to write ‘Mene, mene, tekel upharsin’ across an eighteen-inch slate. That’s a lot of letters in a small space.  Now trying doing the same thing with a hidden assistant writing it in reverse or using some electronic mechanical contrivance as described by Bob Loomis.

Furthermore, what happened to that apparatus? Shouldn’t it exist somewhere along with everything else that remains of Houdini’s stage gear? What happened to the Max Berol apparatus that Houdini bought?

Finally, why did Ernst wait until both Houdini and Conan Doyle were dead to share this story? He was a prominent amateur magician who published in magic journals. He had ample opportunity to tell his tale.

None of this doubt prevents Bob Loomis’ book being an interesting read. There’s much to enjoy in the detail he uncovers about the characters involved. And it would still be an interesting project to build the illusion. One magician who has created a similar illusion is Paul Kieve. You'll find it in the stage production of the Roald Dahl story Matilda.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lesley Hazlitt and The Piddingtons

Lesley Hazlitt, of The Piddingtons, passed away on the 2nd August, aged 91. She had been in failing health for some years and my condolences go out to her family in Australia. She will be dearly missed.

I met Lesley in London in 2002. Ian Keable and I had been commissioned to write a documentary on mind readers for BBC Radio 4 (Men of Mystery 2003). We could hardly believe it when we heard that Lesley Piddington was in town. A phone call was made and we were invited to meet her at her daughter Kaye’s home in Parsons Green.

Although nearly forty years had passed since the famous Piddingtons’ radio broadcasts, the little lady in front of us was as lively and charming as she was in the British Pathe newsreel we’d seen where she picked up thoughts from the BBC studio while flying high in a stratocruiser. She answered all our questions except one, telling us how she first met Sydney Piddington and went from being asked to participate in his thought experiments to being asked to be his wife.

In the late 1940s  Lesley and Sydney Piddington performed as a telepathy act in Australia, working their miracles on radio, and then set out on a nine-week crossing to England in the hope of getting a theatre tour. The couple found it tough going and were almost on the verge of returning home when the breakthrough came with the BBC. Together they created radio shows that were listened to by the entire nation, this was an era before television, and appeared to demonstrate that mind to mind communication, as researched by J B Rhine at Duke University, was real. The effects were simply impossible and people all over the country asked, ‘How did they do it?’  It was this controversy that kept the nation guessing and the Piddingtons in the headlines.

‘We were very fortunate in that we had a wonderful response from the public,’ said Lesley, ‘It became very clear, very early on that there was something about the people here; they were very generous, they always wanted you to succeed. We felt that and we got hundreds of letters. Of course we got some wonderfully made ones as well.’

‘’One person wrote in and said he knew exactly how it was done. Syd had a little green man on his shoulder who would go over and tell me, fly over to my shoulder and tell me what the answer was. And he knew this was right because he had a little green man of his own.’

The Piddingtons were without doubt the most famous post-war telepathy act. Years later questions about their performance continued to be a matter of debate and even featured in The Guardian’s Notes & Queries column. It was an act conceived by amateur magician Sydney Piddington while a prisoner of war in Changi as entertainment for the troops. That it came to be one of the most famous acts in the history of mentalism is a story worth reading and you can read it in the book, The Piddingtons, authored by Sydney’s fellow prisoner, friend and ally Russell Braddon.

 Lesley was an actress, working under her own name of Lesley Pope, before she met Sydney. She was an experienced performer but confessed that the radio performances were nerve wracking.   ‘I was very nervous for all the shows,’ Lesley said,’  I used to be quite ill sometimes on the day of the broadcast.  I would walk around all day trying to get my mind off it but I was often quite sick physically.  Agonising it was.  It was different in the theatres.  I used to be nervous the first night but after that you sort of settled in.  It wasn’t like the broadcasts at all.  We did two shows a night which was pretty exhausting.  But it was only the first night you’d get uptight, the rest was all right.  But every broadcast was agony.  Because we were told there were more than 20 million listening to us.  And you couldn’t get your head around that.  It was more than we had in the whole population at that stage at home.’  

We stayed in contact for quite a while after the BBC documentary. I remember Lesley joining myself, Kevin James, Curtis and Sophie Evans on a trip to the Hayward Gallery to visit an exhibition of optical illusions. That was quite a magic gang. Later we joined Barry Murray for a drink in one of the Embankment’s well known gin bars. She visited The Magic Circle where David Berglas, who got his big break when the Piddingtons returned to Australia, welcomed her. When I suggested in 2003 that the Los Angeles Conference on Magic History would very much like to meet her, she made the trip and while there not only spoke at the conference but arranged for yet another interview on the BBC’s History of Magic series. When the Piddingtons were on air in the 1950s they had a lot of resentment and perhaps jealousy from the magic community. Many tried to expose their act. Lesley was surprised and delighted by the altogether different reception she received from the magicians of today.

Lesley and Sydney divorced and she married Jack Hazlitt, another war veteran and a man with an extraordinary story of his own which you can read about here. Jack too had since passed by the time we met Lesley and the Piddingtons’ act had more or less been consigned to a memory. I like to think that our BBC documentary did something to reawaken interest not only in the Piddingtons but also in recognising the part Lesley played in making them such a success.

As to the one question Lesley didn’t answer, it was of course the question that she had been asked so many times before. How did you do it? We didn’t expect an answer, of course. But the answer we got couldn’t have been better. 

‘We always ended the show with the word; “You are the judge.” And I have to say that it drives my grandchildren mad. They hate it - but I say it them too. “You are the judge.” And that’s the way I think it is rather nice to leave it.’

And that’s where I’ll leave it too.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


In one of Al Koran’s publicity flyers it is claimed: ‘So great are these powers that Koran was invited to discuss and demonstrate them on Television’s famous programme, Panorama.’ He does not say how that turned out and perhaps with good reason.

But Gus Southall, writing in his A Watching Brief column (The Budget, Feb 1958) did give a very interesting account of what happened. Panorama is one of the BBC’s longest current affairs series. In 1958 it was presented by Richard Dimbleby, the father of David Dimbleby the presenter who later, in 1973, introduced Uri Geller to the world on his own BBC TV show. Richard Dimbleby became one of the BBC’s most noted presenters. He was not unacquainted with the magic world, having played host to other magic acts on TV and been a guest and speaker at The Magic Circle Banquet in 1954. This particular edition of Panorama seems to have been a serious investigation into the nature of Extra Sensory Perception. The person chosen to demonstrate this power was none other than Al Koran. I’ll let Gus Southall continue the story as he switches on his TV to join the show partway through the broadcast.

We switched on in time to witness Al undergoing an ordeal. (and we mean ordeal) which turned out to be a challenge by a Mr. X to test Al’s powers of E.S.P. We can only surmise that Al had been inveigled into this or that something went wrong. 
Both participants, seated at tables, were divided by a curtain. A pack of cards provided by the B.B.C. was introduced and it was stated that these had been in the possession of Richard Dimbleby most of the day. Under these stringent conditions Mr. X at Al’s request shuffled the pack and dealt five cards face up on the table and selected one of the cards. To put it briefly this procedure was complete three times without a definite success from Al.
Then followed a test with a blackboard divided into four parts. Again at Al’s request Mr. X filled these with four designs chosen by Al. Two of those were decided upon by Mr. X and numbered. Al then correctly named the first one but failed on the second one. Throughout the tests Al received no help whatsoever from Mr. X who ignored all of Al’s probing statements. This became clear at the finish when Mr X was revealed as  a Mr. West of the Psychical Research Society. Richard Dimbleby volunteered the fact that at a rehearsal in the afternoon Al had been correct twice in three attempts with similar tests. On being asked if he would submit to further tests in the future, Al readily agreed.
We hope not as there is so little to be gained and so much to lose.

Donald. J. West was the Research Officer of the Society for Psychical Research. He was a professional criminologist and the author of several books on parapsychology. In 1963 he became the society’s President . He had been interested in E.S.P. experiments since at least 1946 and had written papers on the telepathy and the mediumship of Helen Duncan. Incidentally in one of Koran’s pieces of publicity (Register Republic flyer 1971) he claimed to the be son of Helen Duncan.

West had also conducted experiments in Card Guessing with only chance results, something that went against the grain of his contemporaries who at that time placed a great deal of hope that card guessing experiments would lead to proof of ESP. Donald West was assisted in that work by Denys Parsons who would later, in the 1970s, join the New Scientist panel to investigate the Geller phenomena. West was a serious researcher who was sceptical of demonstrations of ESP. West's thorough attitude put him in a good position to test Al Koran. 

It is fascinating to speculate how Koran planned to achieve his effects given the conditions he would face along with the possibility of a very public failure. It’s hard to make an assessment on the card guessing test but as regards the blackboard experiment maybe a glance at Part Two of Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism would provide a clue, especially Part Three of that volume. Interestingly, it was published the same year as the broadcast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monte Mystery

The line of thought here began when I heard an interview with Cy Endfield in the Patrick Page Audio Archive. He was talking, in a vague and perhaps deliberately ambiguous way, about Bob Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte which was marketed in 1951 as a manuscript. There have been many adaptations over the years perhaps the best known being Al Koran’s. Koran turned a trick with three playing cards into a trick with a note under one of three cups. It’s worth seeking out if you don’t already know it.

Cy Endfield’s interview led me to think again of what might be done with some of the ideas in the original Bob Hummer trick. For example, you could try this:

Have someone cut the deck into three packets. You turn your back. They look at the bottom card of one of the packets and then replace it on the table. They then switch the positions of the other two packets so you can’t know which packet was chosen. You are now able to turn around and point to the packet containing their card.

This is not a major mental mystery but it’d be easy to make it a little more involved by adding additional switching moves as per the original Hummer trick. The Hummer trick works by knowing the position of one of the three cards being shuffled around. When the performer turns back to face the spectator he notes the new position of the memorised card and is now able to deduce which of the three cards was chosen.

But in the version I’ve just suggested the performer doesn’t see any of the cards. However, he does see the three packets. And all you have to do is memorise the position of either the largest or smallest of the packets. Doesn’t matter which as long as that one packet is easily distinguished from the rest. It’s unlikely the spectator will cut three perfectly even packets so you have a very good chance of making one of them your key.

Let’s say the middle packet is your key. The position it finishes in after the spectator has swapped the other two packets will tell you the location of the noted card. For example. If the key is in the same position, then it means the selected card is on the bottom of that packet. If the packet is on the left, then it means the selected card is on the right. If the packet is on the right, then the selection is on the left. It’s simple logic and, as I say, you can add some extra swap moves that you either track (as per the Hummer original) or simply bring the three packets back to their original position without the spectator realising it. I’ll leave that to you.

The idea of using packets of cards as opposed to single cards made me think there were additional effects to be had. A spectator could look at a card in one of the packets, assemble the packets and then you might be able to reveal not only the name of the card but its position in the deck. That would be something worth working on. I was discussing this with Shiv Duggal when a simple solution came to mind. And you might just get away with it as a magician-fooler in your next card session. Here it is:

EFFECT: The magician shuffles the deck and places it on the table in front of the spectator. He asks the spectator to give the deck several cuts. The magician then turns away and asks the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. He does.

The spectator is asked to choose one of the packets and look at the top card. He memorises the card and then buries it in the packet. To make sure the magician can’t possibly know which packet has been moved the spectator is asked to swap the other two packets with each other.  Then he asks the spectator if he still knows which packet contains his card. He does. ‘Good. Now I want you to swap that packet with one of the others.’ The spectator does this too. ‘Do you still know which packet contains your card?’ The spectator says he does. The performer cautions the spectator to keep a poker face for the rest of the trick. And then the performer turns around.

The performer slowly moves his hand above the three packets. ‘There are three packets and I can tell you three things about your card. First, it’s in this packet. Am I right?’ The performer touches one of the packets. The spectator acknowledges that the performer is correct.

I can also tell you that your card is….the Ten of Spades. Am I right?’ Again, the performer is absolutely right.

‘And finally, I can tell you that it’s…. eight cards down in the packet. Am I right?” The spectator says he has no idea. So the performer begins counting cards from the top of the packet to the table. And sure enough the Ten of Spades is the eighth card down.

METHOD: Here’s the disappointing bit. You use a Svengali deck. I love Svengali decks. You can riffle shuffle them without spoiling the set up. You can also overhand shuffle them, faces towards the spectators, and they will be absolutely convinced that it’s an ordinary deck. This is a technique worth knowing. You simply spring packets off from the right hand thumb and fingers into the left during the shuffle. The overhand shuffle is actually a series of very convincing cuts. It’s a technique that has mostly been forgotten by magicians.

When you put the deck face-down on the table, you show the spectator how to cut it and complete the cut. Fingers and thumb at the short ends of the deck so they will always cut a short card to the top, of course. Basically you are training him to do the next cutting phase which will happen when your back is turned. Have him cut the deck several times ostensibly to mix the cards. Then turn away from him.

Ask the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. This will put your force card, Ten of Spades in our example, on top of each packet. The spectator chooses a packet, looks at the top card and then slides the card into the middle of the packet.

Have him swap the other two packets. This is just a red herring to have your brother magicians thinking about the Hummer trick. It’ll help take them away from the idea that a Svengali deck is used. Then ask him to swap his chosen packet with one of the other packets. This should convince him that you have no idea which packet he chose.

Turn back to the spectator and, as casually as you can, look at the three packets on the table. Two will have short cards on top. One will have a long card. If you have to, square the packets but it’s generally obvious which cards are long and short. Point to the packet with the long card. That’s the chosen packet.

You can also reveal the name of the chosen card because that’s your force card. Ask the question about how many cards down in the deck he placed his card. He will have no idea but it’s probably around the middle. Look at the packet and name any even number that is just above what you estimate to be the middle of the packet. The force cards in that packet are at even numbers.

Count down to the even number and you should find that it is the selection. You’ll know that before you turn it over because, once again, you can see which cards are long and which are short. However, there is the possibility that the spectator placed his card above the number you are counting to. Again, you will know this either during the deal or by the time you get to the number. At that point you repeat your claim, ‘The ten of spades is eight cards down in the deck,’ but lay a slightly different stress on the words. Count off the even number and then point to the next card purposefully before holding it away from the deck and then turning it over. That’s all there is to it. Could be a sneaky little item in the right hands. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the plot might lead to other non-Svengali manifestations of the trick.

When I told Shiv Duggal about this idea and he pointed me in the direction of a lovely trick from Joshua Jay. In the advertising it specifically says that it doesn’t use a Svengali. So not the same method at all. It is a really wonderful piece of impromptu magic. It’s called Impossible Three and is well worth noting. You watch the performance and buy the trick here.