Wednesday, January 30, 2008


You are probably wondering what the above has to do with ACAAN. Read on and all will be revealed.

This blog entry began when Steve Williams emailed me saying that it would be great if The Trick That Baffled Babbage could be done using only one deal. Fortunately it can.

The inspiration for this version lies in one of my favourite tricks from Harry Lorayne’s Close Up Card Magic. It is called Stop! and uses estimation of the kind described in The Trick That Baffled Babbage. Although uncredited in the Lorayne book Stop! probably owes much to Abbott’s Certain card trick, a routine marketed in 1934.

Abbott’s Certain was an impossible location using a shuffled deck. The magician asked one question and was able to produce the selected card. And the question he asked was, ‘Which pile is your card in?’

It is an amazing trick and if the advert reproduced above has you baffled you might want to dig out your copy of Encyclopedia of Card Tricks. The trick is described in Chapter One under the title of The Card Miracle – Certain. And it really is a miracle.

But back to The Trick That Baffled Babbage, and the following version which as you will gather employs estimation, one question and some blatant jiggery-pokery to achieve a yet another thought of card at any number trick. It seems we can never have too many. Let’s call it…


One spectator selects a card. Another selects a number. The selected card ends up at the selected number in a seemingly impossible manner. No gaffes, no fakes, no specially printed cards, no stacks, no stooges, no complicated memory work, no vember. *

I’ll ignore the patter and get straight to the handling but something along the lines of the previous item, The Trick That Baffled Babbage, should give you an excuse for all the dealing.

Step 1: The spectator chooses a card. This is done in the fairest possible manner. Either by him cutting the tabled deck and looking at the card cut to. Or by memorising one from a bunch as the cards are spread in front of him. Either way you are able to estimate the position of the card from the top of the deck. And he is utterly convinced that you have no idea which card he might be thinking of. This was the strength of Abbott’s Certain card trick.

For the sake of simplicity let’s assume that after he has looked at a card you estimate the card to be half-way down the 52 card deck i.e. it lies somewhere around position 26.

Step 2. Let’s backtrack a little. As the card is being selected ask a second spectator to name a number from 1 to 52. You want it to be an interesting number, something worthwhile dealing to when the finish comes, so tell him, ‘Make it difficult, make it high.’

Assume he says the number 36. Don’t make anything of it at the moment. Instead, direct your attention back to the spectator who is selecting the card, making sure he squares the deck on the table and is generally convinced that he had a free choice and can remember the name of the selected card.

Step 3: Take the deck back and give it a false shuffle before dealing it out into four face-up piles. The shuffle isn’t strictly necessary but I feel it enhances the impression that the selected card is truly lost. Tell the spectator to look for his card as you deal but not to give anything away.

If your estimation is not way off this will mean that the selected card will be around sixth from the bottom of the face up packet. To arrive at this figure you merely divide your estimate (26) by the number of piles (4) to arrive at 6. Since the division or your estimation might not always be so perfect the chosen card might be one card higher or lower but we’ll deal with that possibility in a moment.

Remember, you’re covering all this peculiar dealing with your patter story about the trick that baffled Babbage or some other MacGuffin. Always strive to make the presentation interesting.

Step 4: Make a guess as to which pile the spectator’s card is in, saying, ‘Is your card in this pile?’ If yes, great. It looks like you know something. And, of course, you now do.

If the answer is no, ask the spectator to tell you which pile the card is in but not to look at the card itself or give its identity away. When he indicates the chosen pile, act a little surprised, saying, ‘Really? Then I have no idea whether this will work. In fact that’s why the trick baffled Babbage. Because he couldn’t see how one question could result in what I’m about to show you.’

Memorise the values of the 5th, 6th and 7th cards from the bottom of the nominated face-up pile. This is one card either side of the card determined by your estimation. For reasons that will become obvious if all the values are different you need only memorise the values of the 5th and 6th cards.

Step 5: Pick up the deck and in doing so secretly place the chosen card at the chosen number. It’s easy to do, let me explain.

You know the chosen number is 36. And you know which pile the selected card is in. And you know that it is the 5th, 6th or 7th card in that pile.

As you gather the piles you pick up the chosen pile so that it is third from the top of the face-down deck. This means you have placed two piles on top of it i.e. a total of 26 cards from your 52 card deck.

The cards you have noted the values of now lie at 31st, 32nd and 33rd from the top of the deck. You need only move five more cards from the bottom to the top of the deck and you will be able to finish this trick successfully because the noted cards will lie 36th, 37th and 38th from the top of the deck.

You can either move the necessary cards during a shuffle or cut. Or you can simply slip five more cards to the top as you rather messily and casually gather up the piles from the table. Whichever suits your style of working.

Step 6: You're ready to finish. Ask the spectator for his chosen number. And act as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it properly when he tells you.

Ask the other spectator to reveal the name of the card he is thinking of. Bear in mind that this will be the first time he has named his card. And the deck is already face-down on the table set for the finale.

If the card he names is the same value as the card you noted to be fifth from the bottom of the nominated packet, it means it now lies exactly at the chosen number. Anyone can pick up the deck and deal down to the number and find the card there.

If the card he names is the same value as the card you noted to be sixth from the bottom of the nominated packet, have the named number of cards counted off and then reveal that the next card is the chosen one.

If card named isn’t either of the values you’ve memorised then you have a little adjusting to do. The chosen card is one card further down than you want it to be. In this case you pick up the cards and as you deal the chosen number of cards into a pile you deal two as one at any point during the procedure. This is an easy thing to get away with if you do the double deal around the half way mark. As you come to the chosen number you will naturally slow the deal for dramatic effect. The card after the number will be the chosen one.

The overall effect is the same. A thought of card arrived at a thought of number. And no one except the spectator even knew the name of the card until the very last moment. Not bad for a dealing trick of this type that involves minimal calculation or memorisation.

Do check out Abbott’s Certain card trick. You’ll also find it in Hugard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique in the chapter devoted to Self-Working Tricks although there is some interesting information about other estimation tricks in Encyclopedia of Card Tricks.

NOTES: It’s also an easy matter to deal three cards as one if you want to end with the selection exactly at the chosen number. You could even palm off the top card while handing the deck to the spectator to deal in order to set things right. The possibilities are only limited by your skill level and imagination.

* That ‘no vember’ gag is pure Paul Harris. It should be appended to the end of every dealer ad.