Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Cyclic Aces

This idea was first published in Sorcerer magazine, issue 2 (1988). It’s a simple idea but you might find it useful. It’s also a good excuse for me to try out the OCR software on my new scanner. Let’s hope it works and following is transcribed without too many errors!

Effect: A deck of cards is shuffled, squared and placed in the centre of the table. “It is said that three is a lucky number,” says the performer, “Let’s see if that’s true.” The performer cuts the deck into three packets, stacking one on top of the other and bringing a new card to the top of the deck.

He turns the top card over and it is an Ace. Placing the Ace aside he says, “Well that’s pretty lucky, an Ace.” The performer cuts the cards again, saying, “Of course that’s all it was, pure luck. The odds against doing the same thing again must be pretty phenomenal.” After the cutting the new top card of the deck is turned over and is seen to be another Ace and this is placed with the previously tabled Ace.

The deck is cut again as the performer says, “Three cuts each time, and this is the third time... third time lucky perhaps.” The new top card is turned over and seen to be the third Ace. It’s placed aside, with the first two Aces, and the cutting procedure is repeated.

I should add at this point that the cutting procedure looks incredibly fair, to layman or magician, but despite this, when the new top card is turned over, it is the fourth Ace.

Method: This is more than just an Ace Cutting Routine, it’s a utility principle that you can expand upon and use in many different ways. The whole procedure is made possible by using one crimped card but it’s the novel way in which the crimped card resets itself for each Ace that is of interest. You’ll be glad to know that the trick is entirely self-working.

Place two Aces on top of the deck and the other two, together, about one-third from the face of the deck. crimp the card that lies above the lower pair of Aces. The crimp should be bent downwards and be positioned at the inner right corner of the deck when the deck is tabled face down.

False Shuffle the deck, retaining the positions of the Aces and crimp. An easy way to do this is to cut off the top third of the deck and Riffle Shuffle it into the upper third of the remaining portion. You are Riffle Shuffling above the Crimp and you allow the top two Aces to fall last. This can be repeated several times. You’ll find it even easier if you position the crimp and the Aces below it lower down in the deck before you begin. It will make no difference to the subsequent working.

Spread the deck face down just to show that there are no breaks or whatever and then square it and place it in the centre of the table. You place the deck almost at arm’s length from you. This is for two reasons. Firstly it is a very open gesture; somehow if the deck is away from your body it seems as if there is little you can do in the way of trickery. Secondly it enables you to see your crimp perfectly, a visual check just in case you foul up somewhere along the line.

Reach over and cut approximately one-third of the cards from the top of the deck and place them on the table, beside the original talon. Make a second cut, this time at your crimp, the crimped card becoming the face card of the packet you have just cut. Drop this packet onto the first tabled packet. Pick up the remainder of the deck and drop it on top of the first two portions. Turn over the top card, it will be an Ace.

The cutting can be made to look quite sloppy and effortless, which it almost is, thus adding to the deception. The remarkable thing is that the crimp is again nearly two-thirds down the deck but is now above what were the top two Aces.

Square the deck and repeat the cutting procedure, bringing another Ace to the top and setting the crimp above the third Ace. As each Ace is cut it is laid aside. Cut the deck again, bringing the third Ace to the top and at the same time setting the crimp above the last Ace. Finally cut for the fourth time, bringing the final Ace to the top and revealing it in your most dramatic manner.

Notes: That’s all there is to it but I hope you’ll agree that it is very deceptive and it seems almost impossible to control the Aces during the cuts. The fact that it is self-working should make it easy to use.

Those with a penchant for card handling can of course cull the required Aces to position. You might also like to just locate any pair of cards that happen to be together, position them about one-third in from the face and crimp the card above them as you spread the cards face up in front of you. This leaves only two cards, the other pair, which need to be cut or culled to the top, making your job that little bit easier.

To crimp the card I spread the cards face up between my hands, from left to right, raising them to a vertical position so that only I can see the faces. Having spotted a suitable pair of cards I spread them to the right and use my left thumb to crimp the lower left corner of the card immediately behind them. The left thumb just bends the corner upwards, towards the card’s face.

Vernon’s Aces Ride Again: By reversing the procedure you can use the crimp card to control the aces. In this version you openly places the aces into the deck, apparently at random, and then find them again. Pointless I know but that’s the magic business for you!

Start with the four Aces face up on the table and a crimp card two-thirds of the way down the deck. Cut off about one-third of the deck and table it. Take one of the Aces and drop it onto this packet. Make another cut, this time at the crimp, and drop this packet on top of the just-placed Ace. Pick up the remainder of the deck and drop it on top of the first two cut portions. You’ve secretly placed the crimp above the first Ace while apparently losing the Ace in the deck.

Repeat the procedure, cutting off about a third of the deck and tabling it. Place a second Ace on this portion and then cut another packet from the deck, again making the cut at your crimp, and drop it on top of the Ace. Pick up the remainder of the deck and drop it on top of the first two cut portions.

Repeat this for the third and fourth Aces and you will end up with two Aces on top of the deck and two below the crimped card. By reversing the original procedure you have arrived at the start position for the original Ace Cutting. Reveal the aces in any way you choose.

Not Quite Final Notes: There is more to say on this system but it will only detract from what is offered here. However, when setting up the Aces for cutting (the first routine) you may like to introduce the same sort of ruse that Vernon used in his Cutting the Aces routine (Stars of Magic). You can do this by setting the deck with an Ace on top, followed by a Six-spot, then five indifferent cards, the second Ace, then the rest of the deck with the crimp card set two-thirds of the way down just above the remaining pair of Aces.

Proceed with the first routine, cutting the first, second and third Aces as already explained. When you try to cut the fourth Ace you turn over a Six-spot instead. It looks as if you’ve missed but you recover the situation by explaining that the six in fact tells you that the last Ace is six cards down. Place the Six­-spot aside and then deal down six cards from the top of the deck, turning the Ace up on the last card dealt. The extra twist on the fourth Ace brings the routine to a more satisfying conclusion.

If your table space is limited you can always hold the deck in the left hand dealing grip and place the cut off packets on another spectator’s outstretched palm. Ask him to pretend he’s a table and then tap him on the head, knocking on wood for good luck.

A Four Star Discovery: With the deck in the left hand dealing grip and a crimp card a third in from the face, riffle down the outer left corner with the thumb and ask a spectator to call stop. Contrive it so that he halts you when you are about one-third down from the top. Cut this top packet to the table. Push off the new top card of the deck and raise it towards the spectator so that he can remember it. This will be his selection. Drop the selection face down on the tabled packet. Cut at your crimp and drop this packet on top of the selection. Place the remainder of the left hand cards on top of all, burying the selection completely.

Repeat this with three more selections and you will finish up with two selections on top of the deck and two under the crimp. It seems impossible since you do virtually nothing. The cards are in position to be revealed just as in the original Ace Cutting Routine.
However, to add spice to the proceedings try the following:

Hold the deck in the right hand, in position for an Overhand Shuffle with the cards facing left so that you can see them. Note the face card. Let’s imagine it’s a Six-spot. Pull the top and bottom cards off together, into the left hand, mentally counting ‘one’ and then draw off five more cards from the face of the deck, counting each one and bringing your count to ‘six’ which is equal to the noted card. The drawn off cards are shuffled on top of the original milked pair.

Drop the remainder of the deck on top and continue with any False Shuffle or Cut which retains the deck order. You can now cut to three of the selections, just as in the original routine. On cutting the fourth selection you will turn up the Six-spot. It looks like a mistake but you rectify it by dealing six cards off the deck and turning up the final card to reveal the fourth selection. Incidentally the selections will turn up in the reverse order to which they were chosen. That’s all for now. Have fun.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Last Game
This poker routine was originally published in The New Talon. It began as an attempt to simplify Karl Fulves’ According to Hoyle, which was published in his The Magic Book, an excellent book now reprinted by Dover as the Big Book of Magic Tricks.

It’s a poker deal with a psychological flavour in which the spectators get the opportunity to switch hands with you during the game yet you always win. Fulves’ effect was great for someone who played poker but the stack was not easily remembered. The following stack is much simpler and you always win with a four-of-a-kind, a hand easily recognised even by non-players. I’ve also added the repeat deal and final blow-off, proving that the spectator just can’t win.

Remove the Ten of Clubs, Ten of Hearts and Ten of Diamonds from the deck and place them in the card case, wallet or anywhere else that you can produce them from later in the routine. The rest of the deck is stacked as follows, from the top:


The “X” can be any card.

A quick glace will reveal that you are merely stacking the Royal Flushes minus the missing Ten spots. The flushes can be in any order as long as the Spades are on top and the other values follow the order of the Spades. For now use the above stack until you become familiar with the principle.

Phase One: Bring out the deck and give it your best False Shuffle, retaining the stack. Tell the spectators that you will show them a very unusual game of poker. Nominate four spectators to help as you finish your shuffles and cuts. Announce that you will deal a five handed game, five cards each, but each person at the table will get a chance to swap his cards with yours as the game proceeds.

Deal out the first five cards, from left to right, dealing to yourself last. Point out that you each have one cards and that one of the spectators can now swap with you, “Who will it be?” Let them choose the lucky person and then openly exchange your card with his. No one looks at their cards while this happens.

Deal a second round of cards so that you now have two cards each. Invite another spectator to swap his two cards with both of yours. It can be anyone except the person who swapped cards in the first round.

The cards are exchanged and you deal a third round. Again one of the spectators exchanges his hand of cards with yours. This leaves only one spectator who has not swapped. It also tells you which four of a kind you will end up with at the end of this phase. As you deal the cards are being dealt out Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten (or indifferent card). So, let’s say the second spectator from the left is the only one who has not swapped. You now know that you will end up with four Kings at the finish. Two rounds of cards have yet to be dealt but you could, if you wished, mention that you are trying to force the spectators to part with the four Kings.

Deal the fourth round of cards and ask the spectator, the one who has not yet exchanged cards) whether he would like to swap cards now or wait until the last round of cards is dealt. It makes no difference what he decides. Swap cards if he chooses and then deal a fifth round. Alternatively deal and then swap.

At this stage you have the winning hand but you play up the impossibility angle by offering them another choice. Tell them that only one spectator may play against you. Without looking at their cards they choose who it should be. Pick up the discarded hands and place them on top of the deck. Don’t shuffle each hand, just drop them one atop the other and then onto the deck because you are setting up Phase Two.

Finally, the nominated spectator turns over his hand as you turn over yours. You win with four of a kind. Don’t disturb the order of either hand as you pick them up and drop them on top of the deck. It doesn’t matter which hand goes on top of which.

Phase Two: False Shuffle and Cut as you tell the spectators that you had, of course, psychologically forced them to give up their best cards. This time you’ll give them a straight deal, no swaps.

Deal out five hands of poker from the top of the deck, dealing yourself last. Ask the spectators to choose one of their number to play against you. They choose and you now surprise them by saying that maybe, you’ve already forced a choice so you give him a chance to pick any one of the hands, bar yours, on the table.

The situation is, reading left to right, the first hand contains only spot cars, hands two to four contain Royal Flushes minus the Ten spots, your hand contains a Royal Flush in Spades. If the spectator chooses hands two, three or four then just return the discarded hands to the deck. If he chooses hand number one let him take it, then say that you’re feeling lucky tonight and you’ll let another spectator play against you. He chooses one of the remaining hands.

If you now have two spectators playing against you, get number 1to look at his hand (the spot cards) and offer him the opportunity to discard some of his cards and take replacements from the deck as is usual. Make sure he shows his hand to everyone who is watching so that they can feel part of the game. He exchanges cards and then you ask number 2 (holding what is almost a Royal Flush) to do the same. Of course he will discard only one card in the hope of filling his Royal Flush with the missing Ten.

If you’re only playing against one spectator, then it will be the one trying for the Royal Flush. In these circumstances I offer him the opportunity of discarding a card (or cards?) and choosing the replacement from anywhere in the deck which I spread face down across the table. Nothing could be fairer.

The spectators turn over their hands, one at a time, and you reveal yours to show an unbeatable Royal Flush. Finally, look at the spectator who was trying to fill a Royal Flush and ask him, naively, which card he was looking for. He will reply, “Ten of Diamonds,” or whatever, and you say, “I never take chances” and produce the missing Ten Spot from your card case or wallet. Be sure not to let the spectators see the other two cards that are in there. This should get a great response if you’ve been able to get the spectators involved with the win or lose situation.

If you are going to use this, you might like to produce the missing Ten spot from up your sleeve in classical card cheat fashion. This routine is particularly adaptable to a pseudo mental presentation because you know the type of hand you are going to win with and how the spectator will lose in the final phase. Judicious use of some alternative predictions could produce a very strong mental effect. Give some thought to the presentation and you may have something you’ll use for a long time.

One final point. If you are performing this routine for people who know a little more about poker than you do, you may find that in the second phase they will not want to exchange any cards. This will be because they possess a flush (five cards of the same suit) and will not risk swapping one of their cards in order to obtain the Ten spot. In order to prevent this just ensure that all the indifferent cards in the set-up are of the Spades suit. This way they’ll never end up with a flush following the deal in the second phase of the routine.
Zennerism Postscript
Following the previous post on Zennerism and The Zenner Effect, Patrick Converso has contacted me and I'm pleased to say that the original effect and its history will now be detailed in a new edition of The Zenner Effect published by

Anyone that has a copy of Ted Lesley's Working Performer's Marked Deck Manual will find a full deck handling for Zennerism on page 39.

I edited the manual for Martin Breese back in 1987 and it wasn't until I dug a copy out the other day that I remembered I'd included a couple of other effects as well as Zennerism. They are applications of the Ted Lesley marking system to a Peek Pack and they're not bad. Worth a look if you're one of those folks who keeps buying one-trick decks from the dealers at $20 a pop!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Zener and the Art of Inspiration

Yesterday I got an email from a friend asking if I’d seen the advert for’s new trick as advertised on Duncan Trillo’s MagicWeek website. The trick is called The Zenner Effect. And the reason my friend had contacted me is that the advertising says that it is inspired by Zennerism, a trick I’d marketed back in 1980. The suspicion was that the new trick owed more than just inspiration to the original.

I downloaded The Zenner Effect and found it uncomfortably close to my 1980 routine. Virtually identical except for the handling of the finale. And bizarrely, in an age where magicians regularly attach their names to the flimsiest of ‘inventions,’ there was no name to claim credit for this particular inspiration.

Perhaps it is a matter of judgement. Is The Zenner Effect different enough from Zennerism to warrant marketing? Well, you can make that judgement yourself for what follows is a description of Zennerism, the trick from which The Zenner Effect draws its inspiration. I’ll also take the opportunity to correct one grievous mistake. Back in 1980 I spelled the names of the now familiar ESP testing cards incorrectly. They are Zener cards, named after Dr Karl Zener. Not Zenner cards. I notice that the anonymous writer of the TrickShop manuscript has even copied my error. Inspired indeed!

A prediction trick using ESP cards. You have five cards. The spectator has five cards. You place one card face down on the table, he places a card face down on top of yours. This is repeated with all ten cards. At the end of the trick, each pair of cards match. Okay, so it’s not quite as straight forward as that, but we’ll get to the details in a moment. First, some history.

My own interest in this matching effect began around 1973. I was on holiday in Blackpool where I met a magician called Peter Royal. He was demming svengalis for Mark Lewis who had a pitch in Ripley’s Odditorium on the promenade. Mark also had a magic studio and one of the items Peter showed me was a matching card trick. Five cards were laid face down on the table. The spectator laid five cards face up on top of them. And when the pairs were turned over, the cards matched.

If my memory is correct it was sold as something that Al Koran once used. The method consisted of five double back cards and five double facers. I think one side showed an ace to five of a red suit and the other an ace to five of a black suit. The double backers were placed on the table and the double facers were placed on top of them. And then you did the old two card monte move to apparently show that the faces matched.

It was a great effect but I wondered if there was a way of doing it without the fake cards. Back at the rented holiday flat I worked something out and showed it to Peter the next day. It used an ordinary deck and the one ahead method. Some years later Peter Royal marketed it as a manuscript.

Although very pleased with it at the time, I later discovered that the trick was really no different to other one ahead solutions that had already appeared in print. Perhaps the most famous version of the effect is that of Bro. John Hamman called The Million To One Chance. It can be found in LePaul’s The Card Magic of Bro John Hamman. An earlier version is in Dai Vernon’s booklet Select Secrets, as part of his Royal Marriages effect. One routine I haven’t seen is Rolf Andra’s ESP. It was marketed by Harry Stanley in the 1950s and might well have used the same principle.

One problem with all the one ahead solutions is that you often run into a dead end where you need to change the handling to accommodate choices that the spectator makes. Million To One Chance is a nightmare of mental agility. It is a brilliant effect but you really have to be on your toes to do it well. I’d imagine that someone like Lennart Green, with his deliberately chaotic presentation, could really make a grand performance out of it.

The principle behind Zennerism has one thing going for it. The routine never varies. There are no outs. I never felt it was 100% but I did think it worth publishing. Here it is again.

The Cards
You need two sets of Zener cards. They can be different colours on the face but should have the same back designs. And they need to be marked on the back. The Magic Christian ESP-Deck manufactured by Piatnik actually contains two sets of cards that are already marked. See here for a source of all kinds of ESP cards including SBS cards.

The Handling
Show the cards to the spectator, explain that they are symbols used for testing ESP, and then ask him to choose one of the packets. “This experiment involves five decisions. This is the first. Take one of the cards and put it in your pocket. Don’t look at it.”

Shuffle the chosen packet and then spread the cards out face down so he can take one. He puts it in his pocket sight unseen. However, because the cards are marked you know what it is. Let’s assume it is the star. By the way, this ruse is the foundation upon which Zennerism rests. It’s also the key method to The Zenner Effect.

Hand the rest of the packet to him and ask him to shuffle them. You pick up the remaining packet and shuffle those cards.

“Here’s the second decision.” You take the star from your set of cards and place it face down on the table. “Just take any of your cards and place it face down on top of mine. Don’t think about it. Just do it.” He does and you then tell him to mix up the three remaining cards he holds.

Look at the markings on the back of the card he just placed down. Take out the matching card from your set and place it face down on the table to the right of the first pair. “Let’s go again. Take another card. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry about it. Just take a card and put it on top of mine.” He takes another card and puts it on top of yours.

Read the back of the card he just dealt and take out the matching card from your set. Place it down on the table, always to the right of the tabled cards. I should say that you can either openly look at the faces of your cards or you can just read the backs and pretend to be pulling a card out at random. It’s up to you.

He now has two cards left. Tell him to take a card in each hand. “Now, when I say go, lay one of the cards down on top of mine. One, two, three, go!” He places a card down. You read the back as before and place another of your cards down next to it.

He only has one card in his hand and places it on top of yours. You place your last card down, saying, “You had no idea which card I’d be left with but you placed one card in your pocket right at the beginning. Take it out and put it down on mine.” He does.

There are now five pairs of cards on the table. Gather them up from left to right, into the left hand. As you pick up the fourth pair, get a break under the top card. Pick up the last pair saying, “This contains the card you placed in your pocket. Let’s leave that for last.” Briefly you drop the pair onto the left hand packet, but you immediately pick up all three cards above the break, as if two cards, and openly transfer them to the bottom of the packet.

“Let’s see how we did.” Deal off the top two cards, turning them over to reveal a matching pair. Lay the pair on the table. Deal off the next pair and place it face up on the table. The cards match. Same with the following two pairs. And finally, “The card you placed in your pocket.” Turn the last pair over, of course, the two symbols match.

In the original manuscript I mentioned several things. First, that you could perform this trick with ordinary cards. The packets are stacked in a memorised order at the beginning of the effect. When the spectator takes the first card its position in the fan gives away its identity.

In this case the spectator deals his cards face up on top of yours, otherwise you have no way of knowing which cards he is placing down. I prefer to use marked cards. They are your cards anyway so they might as well be marked.

The Zenner Effect uses both these strategies. The only point in which the trick differs from Zennerism is the handling of the displacement at the finale. The handling in The Zenner Effect is an interesting idea but I prefer my own routine.

The handling in Zennerism was described for its simplicity but in fact I usually finished the routine with a bottom deal. I turned all the spectator’s cards face down before gathering the packets. The last pair went on top of the packet. I pushed over the top two cards and appeared to turn them over. Actually I executed a simple bottom deal, taking the top and bottom cards as a pair and throwing them face up onto the table. I separated these two cards on the table before taking subsequent pairs of cards and turning them over to reveal that all the symbols matched.

One final thought from the original Zennerism. You can do this trick with an ordinary deck. Give half to the spectator and take half yourself. The spectator puts a card in his pocket. You can force or glimpse this. Either way you know what it is and can now place a card face down on the table. The spectator places a card face up on top.

You continue placing cards face down and he follows each time with a face up card. Unless you have taken care to divide the deck equally there will be times when you can’t match the value of the spectator’s card. So just match the suit instead. Keep dealing until you have about ten or a dozen pairs of cards on the table, just as in the Hamman effect. Present the trick as quickly as you can, slapping cards down on the table and encouraging the spectator to make fast decisions. With so many cards involved I don’t even bother to turn the spectator’s cards face down. Just gather them up and deal off the top and bottom cards together, as a pair, into the right hand. Turn the pair over to show that the cards match. Then deal both cards face up to the table.

No one notices that the left hand packet is now topped by a face down card. You can now legitimately start dealing off pairs from the top and showing that they match. Most cards will match in value, some value and colour and others just suit. But it looks remarkable.

Here’s another tip for this presentation. Let’s say that the first card you placed down was a jack of spades. And you also know that the jack of clubs is in the spectator’s pocket. Well, during all the subsequent dealing it is just possible that the spectator will deal one of the red jacks face up onto one of your tabled cards. If this happens, and there are at least half a dozen pairs on the table, I stop the dealing procedure here.

I gather up the pairs, hand them to the spectator and ask him to cut the packet several times. As he does this I tell him I’m trying to get an impression of the card he placed in his pocket. When I see that he has a face down card on top of the packet, I tell him to stop cutting. Then I ask him to deal the cards off in pairs. They match. Finally, I mentally divine the card he put in his pocket right at the start. You can see that in this instance the pocketed card acts as insurance against ever reaching a dead end in the Hamman effect. Other ways of handling the finale should occur to you.

When downloading the The Zenner Effect from MagicShop I did send a note saying that I hoped the trick would be sufficiently different from Zennerism that I wouldn't be disappointed. I then received an email from the owner Patrick Converso who graciously refunded my money saying that he had intended to mention to Duncan Trillo that he wanted to send me a complimentary copy. Perhaps if he had contacted me before putting his manuscript on the market I wouldn’t have felt so irked by seeing Zennerism reproduced within its pages. Then again, you wouldn’t have been reading it here. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Great Poker Trick
Nelson Downs described this in The Art of Magic (1909). It’s a fascinating idea. Imagine a totally impromptu poker deal with a brand new unopened borrowed deck. You shuffle the cards and deal out seven hands of poker. Everyone gets a full house, except you, you get a winning straight flush.

There’s a little more to it than that (isn’t there always) but it’s great idea all the same. Here’s the working as described in The Art of Magic. All you need is a deck that is in new deck order: Each suit separated, Ace to King from the bottom upwards.

The performer removes the pack from the wrapper, calling attention to the fact that the cards are fresh from the manufacturer. He throws away the joker and gives the pack a false shuffle, using whatever method he is most adept at. If versed in fancy blind cuts he may indulge in a series of manipulations of this kind; but for the purpose of the trick it is sufficient to give the cards a false shuffle. Then allow the spectators to cut the cards. They may cut as many times as they wish without destroying the order of the cards, as the halves simply revolve around each other. This is, in fact the strongest feature of the trick; for most persons believe that the conventional cut completely disarranges any prearranged order of the pack.

Now deal the cards out to six persons, giving the top card to No. 1; the second to No. 2; the third card to No. 3; the fourth card to No. 4; the fifth card to No. 5; and the sixth card to No. 6. Begin the round again, dealing the seventh card to No. 1, and so on to No. 6. As soon as the twelfth card is dealt, shift the next card (the thirteenth) to the bottom of the deck, and continue dealing two more rounds. As soon as the twenty-fourth card is dealt, shift the twenty-fifth card to the bottom of the pack, and then deal around once more, handing one card to each player. Now deal five cards from the top of the pack for your own hand. Ask the spectators to turn over their hands, and each one will be astonished to find that he holds a full house. The performer then turns over his own hand, exhibiting a straight flush.

CAUTION – If the order of the pack is ace, two, three, four etc., up to king, the performer must take note of the bottom card of the deck after the cut; for should the bottom card be a jack, the trick will not come out as described. Another cut will obviate this difficulty.
Downs suggested that the trick is best performed standing if the shifts are to be covered. Not a problem in his day, especially after his retirement from the stage, when a stand up performance at the Elks was a typical gig. He would deal the cards onto the spectators’ hands, which gave him enough cover to make the pass or sideslip in order to move the top card to the bottom of the deck.

Were it not for the shifts, this would be an almost self-working trick. All you have to do is get rid of two cards during the deal. It wouldn’t be too difficult to work in a line about the other players suddenly becoming suspicious and asking you to “burn a card.” So you openly take the top card off the deck, turn it over and place it on the bottom. This happens twice during the routine and obviates the need for the pass. Another observation is that at the end of the trick you practically have four-of-a-kind together, three at the bottom and one at the top of the deck. Must be useful for something.

The trick wasn’t original with Downs. He said it was a favourite of Adrian Plate. Tom Boyer published his version in 1926 in Linking Ring (Vol IV, No. 1). He dealt seven hands, dealing a bottom card on the 14th and 28th cards. This gave everyone a full house. The performer than draws four cards to win with a straight flush. Ross Bertram resurrected it, publishing it under his own name as Exhibition Poker Deal, in the Linking Ring (July 1930). Leslie Guest spotted that it was a variation of the Downs trick and added some notes of his own, including a story about throwing the unlucky thirteenth card away and the fact that the trick will not work if certain cards are showing on the bottom of the deck. Downs referred only to the Jack, but in fact there are more cards to look out for than that.

In August of 1942 the Linking Ring magazine presented yet another version of Klondyke Poker, this time by W. C. Fownes Jr and E. F. W. Salisbury. They credited Tom Bowyer with the notion of dealing out seven hands and added that if the card on the bottom of the deck is a Nine to King, you won’t get the straight flush. They also incorporated a Color Monte style patter story about gambling Dan McGrew who bet everything he had against all the players at the table. An open bottom deal was made to accompany the story of McGrew’s cheating. He is spotted and the other players demand he draw a new hand. He does, the straight flush of course, and still manages to win.

It’s a great trick, one step away from a self-working miracle.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Chalice from the Palace

Many decades ago, Cyril Tomlinson published a very good presentation idea for a popular mathematical swindle in Abracadabra magazine. I found it interesting because I’d once played with a Ken de Courcy routine sold by Supreme Magic called Luck of Lucretia. Both effects were themed around the idea that the performer can locate a glass filled with poison by the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. The following is an impromptu looking handling of the Tomlinson routine, suitable for performance in a bar or at a dinner table.

You need a pad and a felt-tipped pen, five beer mats and five empty glasses. Take out the pen and openly write something down on the back of each mat. The spectator’s don’t know what you’re writing. In fact, you are writing down five of their names, one on each mat.

“What I’d like to do is play a little game. Well, actually, you’ll be playing the game. It involves these five beer mats and those five glasses. And in a moment I want you to imagine that one of those glasses is filled with poison.”

As you write down the names, you need to mark one of the mats so that you’ll recognise it later on. One way of doing this is to make an ink mark on the second mat down in the stack as you write a name on the back of the top one. It’s just a matter of pushing over the top mat so that you can get access to the second. When you write a name on the reverse side of the marked mat, make sure it is the name of someone near to you because you’re going to use that spectator in the routine. Let’s assume his name is Bill.

When you’ve finished writing on each mat, turn them writing side down and mix them up. “Let me just give the mats a mix so that you don’t know which is which.” It’s practically a genuine shuffle. The only thing you have to do is make sure that the marked mat finishes in the centre of the stack of five. This is not difficult to engineer as you mix the cards between your hands. Deal out the mats in a row on the table. The centre mat will have the name “Bill” on its underside.

Ask one of the spectators to place an empty glass on each of the mats. “Now I mentioned that one of the glasses will be filled with poison. But who will the victim be?” Look at each of the people whose names you have written on the beer mats. Everyone in the audience should feel that he or she is a potential victim.

Take out the pad and write down the name that is on the mat at the centre of the row. Tear off the sheet and fold it up into a billet and then draw a skull and crossbones on the outside so that it represents the poison. Casually hand the folded paper to Bill. “I want you to move your hand along the row of glasses, back and forth. And whenever you feel the urge, drop the poison into one of the glasses.” If he happens to choose the glass standing on the mat bearing his name, well, your luck is in. You might decide to make the most of it and end the trick right here, revealing that he has chosen the glass standing on top of the predicted name. In most cases he won’t have dropped the billet into the centre glass so you would continue as follows:

Turn your back as soon as he has dropped the billet into one of the glasses. Put the pad away and you’re ready to start the trick.

Having seen which glass he chose, you know whether it is at an ODD or EVEN position in the row. This piece of information will decide what happens next. “I want you to change the position of that glass with the one next to it. It can be the one to its right or its left, it doesn’t matter which. Call out 'switch' when you’ve done that.”

This is just a practice session, to get Bill familiar with the moves. It means that if the glass started off at an EVEN position, it is now at an ODD position and vice versa.

Ask Bill to move the glass several more times and each time he moves it he calls out “switch.” If the glass is presently standing at an ODD position ask him to move it an ODD number of times, say 5. If it is at an EVEN position, ask him to move it an EVEN number of times, say 6.

At the end of all those moves, the glass will end up at position 2 or 4. “You’ve shuffled the glasses around and I couldn’t possibly know where the poisoned glass lies. But I’m going to take a chance. Take away the glass on the right. Good. And now would you take away the glass on the left. Good. I think the poison is still on the table.”

The spectators see that you have managed to leave the chosen glass in play.

Speak as if you are about to eliminate another glass. “And would you please take away….” Then change your mind. “No, I tell you what. Make three more switches.” Bill moves the glass three more times. This leaves the glass in the centre position. Again you eliminate the outer two glasses. “That’s better. Would you please take away the right hand glass. And now the glass on the left.”

Only one glass remains, the one with the billet inside. Somehow you have managed to keep it in play. “Strangely, the poisoned glass still remains.” Turn around to face the spectator and then turn over the empty beer mats to reveal the names on the backs. “So Johnny, Sarah, Mike and Leila, all got away. Let’s see who got the poisoned glass.” Ask Bill to lift up the last glass. You turn over the mat to display the name written on the reverse side. “Sorry Bill, looks like you’ve poisoned yourself.” Finish by asking Bill to remove the billet from the glass. He opens it and discovers that you predicted the victim’s name.

You can if you wish weave into your story some details about Lucrezia Borgia but not if you are performing before an audience of historians because Lucrezia is undergoing something of a character reassessment at the moment. Never do tricks for people who are cleverer than you are!

Finally, I’d recommend you look up Cyril Tomlinson’s original presentation in Abracadabra (Vol 28, No. 704) because he has a killer idea in which the “poison” materialises in the chosen glass. Very clever it is too.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Super Memory Remembered

There are some wonderful ideas to be found in the magic magazines of old and each time I delve into those old volumes is like a treasure hunt. It is a rare day that you don’t return laden with gems. The Magic Wand, a British journal published in the first half of the last century, is a site worth returning to again and again. It is now available on a searchable CD Rom courtesy of Martin Breese. Thank you Martin.

Some enterprising magicians have found that they can market memory courses to the general public. It makes sense. It's an alternate form of revenue and magicians are used to using mnemonics in their work. A good demonstration of the Giant Memory feat is all that's needed to convince prospective students that their magical tutor knows what he is talking about. The following routine could also prove to be an excellent classroom exercise.

The original title was Super Memory in Close Up and you can find it in issue 254 of The Magic Wand. It is the creation of Arthur W. Roots and all I’ve done is tweaked it a little and dusted it off in the hope that someone will find it of value. All you need are thirty blank visiting cards, a pencil and the ability to memorise a list of thirty objects using the standard mnemonic system.

I’ll assume that you are lecturing your class on the art of memory. Ask one of the class to call out any five objects eg Cat, Egg, Book, Clock, Desk. As he does so you write the name of each object on a card, turn the card over and write a number, from one to thirty, on the back of it. So the first card is numbered 1, the second 2, the third 3 and so on until you have five cards each bearing the name of a different object on one side and a number on the other.

Choose someone else and get them to name five different objects. Continue the writing and numbering. Go through all the cards until six people have helped you build a list of thirty objects and all thirty cards are numbered on the back with a number from 1 to 30.

This isn't the most stimulating part of the exercise which is why I suggest it would work in a memory class better than it would in your act. However, the action starts here. Ask someone to mix the thirty cards, number side up. Take the pack and spread it number side up across the table.

Three people now draw cards from the spread. You look at the numbers and, because of your mnemonic system, are able instantly to reveal the name objects on the other side. This is an extremely impressive demonstration of memory. You may even want to test your pupils' own recollection before revealing the answers.

You can repeat this or have the pack gathered up, shuffled and spread object side up across the table. Three cards are drawn out. You see the objects on them and so are able to reveal the numbers on the opposite sides. Cue more amazement and people saying they can't wait to sign up for the rest of the memory course.

To finish, ask someone to take the cards and fan them out with the object side facing them. Get them to stand behind you so that you can't see the cards. Now you are going to call out the entire list of thirty objects. Begin by calling out the first object in your memorised list. When the assistant acknowledges it ask him/her to hand the card to you. Place it object side up at the left side of the table. Call out each object, in order, from your list. Your assistant finds the card that matches, you take it and place it next to the previous card on the table, building a line of cards from left to right. Each time you name an object correctly make sure you get the assistant to acknowledge the fact that you are right. Speed up towards the end and add the usual dash of showmanship.

When all thirty cards are on the table the demonstration is finished. Well, almost. Now for the finale as you point out that not only did you remember the thirty objects but you remembered them in their correct order. Turn over the cards on the table to reveal that they are indeed arranged in numerical order. Cue applause.

That's it. It seems to me much more interesting than writing objects on a blackboard. And the fact that the names of the objects are not on view throughout the demonstration makes it seem all the more impressive. Using larger cards might make the demonstration play to a larger audience.