Friday, May 09, 2008


The following idea arose out of a discussion about the Rama Deck with Alex Conran. I’d read the advert and watched the video and thought I recognised an old principle at work. But more about that later.

It got me wondering what the simplest set up might be for an ‘impossible location’ effect using an ordinary deck. And with that thought in mind, the following trick was born.

EFFECT: A deck of cards is tabled in front of the spectator. He is asked to cut off about a third of the deck, shuffle the packet and look at the top card. There’s no way you could know the identity of this card.

He puts the packet down on the table and then cuts some cards from the remainder of the deck and drops them on top of his selection, effectively burying it. Again, there is no way of knowing the position of his card or the identity of the cards above or below it.

Finally, a second spectator picks up the remaining portion of the deck. He shuffles them. He notes the bottom card of the packet and then drops it on top of the rest of the deck. Once again it’s apparent that you cannot know the name of his card or any of the cards surrounding it. So, without any obvious key cards to guide you, how can you possibly locate the two selections?

The answer is, quite easily.

METHOD: The trick depends on a set-up. The 26 red cards are at the top of the face-down deck and the 26 black cards are at the bottom.

Step 1: Table the deck and ask the first spectator to cut off about a third of the cards from the top. It doesn’t matter how many he cuts. Ask him to shuffle the cards, “so that I can’t know the position of any one of them.” With the packet still in his hands ask him to look at the top card and remember it. Then place the packet on the table.

Step 2: Ask him to cut some more cards from the deck and drop them on top of his card to bury it. All you need make sure is that he cuts into the original lower half of the deck. If you are paying attention it should be obvious as to whether he has cut enough cards.

If he only cut a few cards originally, he will need to cut many more now. Conversely if he cut a lot of cards to form the first packet, he doesn’t need to cut too many cards now. Try to play it so that about a third of the deck is left behind.

Step 3: Finally, ask a second spectator to pick up the remaining third of the deck. He shuffles the cards, takes a peek at the bottom card of the packet and then drops this packet onto the tabled cards. Both spectators should be convinced that their cards have been lost in the deck. They have, but because of the original red/black set up it will be an easy matter to find them again.

The first thing to realise is that because of the set-up the first spectator will have chosen a red card and the second spectator chose a black card.

Step 4: Pick the deck up and spread through it. The cards at the face of the deck will be red. The last of this batch of red cards will be the first spectator’s chosen card. That was easy!

Okay, keep spreading. You will come to a batch of black cards. Followed by another batch of red cards. Finally, a second batch of black cards. The face card of this batch is the second spectator’s card. Again, easy. You’ve just found both selected cards.

Now all you have to do is come up with a presentation that makes the finding of the cards as good as the impossible conditions under which the cards were selected.


I showed the above location to Guy Hollingworth who remembered a similar trick though one that involved a slightly more complicated set-up. Unfortunately he couldn’t remember the name of the inventor so I can’t give credit at the moment. However, that trick inspired the idea of revealing the second selection without having to look through the deck.

It requires no alteration to the set-up or procedure so let’s assume that both cards have been selected. Point out that no one could know the location of the chosen cards.

Step 1: Pick the deck up and give it a false shuffle, one that doesn’t alter the position of any card. The false shuffle is not necessary but I think it does two things: it adds to the notion that the cards are lost. And it helps provide a time break before the next phase. A shuffle and some chat from you will allow the spectators to start enjoying the effect as opposed to puzzling out the method.

Step 2: Put the deck on the table and cut off a portion that is less than half the deck. The portion needs to contain more cards than the second spectator cut. Place these cards aside and then pick up the remainder of the deck.

Look through these cards. From the face you will see a batch of red cards followed by a batch of black cards, followed by a second batch of red cards. The last red of the first batch is the first spectator’s selected card. Upjog it from the spread.

Continue spreading the cards and count the number of black cards. Make a mental note of it. Let’s assume it is 11.

Take out the upjogged red card and ask the first spectator to name his chosen card. Turn the card around to show that you were correct.

Step 3: You can now find the second card without even looking through the other packet. Just subtract your memorised number from 26 to give you the position of the selection in the tabled packet. In this case we subtract 11 from 26 which means that the second card is 15th from the top of the tabled packet.

Because you know the position of the selection there are lots of ways of revealing it dramatically. For example, you can have the spectator deal cards from the packet face down onto the table and when you ‘sense’ the card you call stop.

NOTES: Alex Conran pointed out a great Lie Speller trick in Simon Aronson’s book Aronson’s Approach. It’s in the description of the Self Control trick. See the Comments section on page 26 and 27. It offers a way of spelling to any position in the deck and is ideal for this particular location where you know the location but not the identity of the card.

When I first came up with this location it was only designed to find one card. The spectator cut a packet of cards, shuffled them, noted the top card and then placed them on the table. He then cut a small packet of cards (though one that took him beyond the 26th card in the deck) from the larger packet and dropped it on top of his selection. He continued cutting small batches of cards from one packet to the other, burying his card even deeper. Soon the deck was fully reconstituted and his card lost. He could then cut the deck and complete the cut several times to lose his card.

At that point you can pick up the deck. If you spread the cards towards you, you will see two batches of red cards. The rear card of one of these batches is the selection. To determine which batch look for the smaller bunch of black cards. If you imagine that this smaller batch of black cards is what separates the two red batches, then the selected card is the rear card of the batch nearest the face of the deck. I’m assuming that nothing bizarre has occurred during the selection process.

I should mention that if the red batches become split during the cutting, just cut the deck between the black cards to reconstitute them and make the thought process easier for you. Play with the trick. You’ll figure it out.


I mentioned earlier that when I saw the Rama Deck video I felt it was a familiar idea, one that had been reinvented for a new generation. In the Sid Lorraine archives at Ask Alexander there is a very clever trick attributed to Victor Barbour that reveals just how long magicians have been toying with this principle.

The effect was one in which a miniature photograph of a playing card was produced. Spirit Photography effects of this type were very popular during right up to the 1930s but Barbour’s version featured a novel combination of methods.

He used a special deck which did two things. It restricted the choice of card to one of twenty-six. And at the same time it told him which of those twenty-six cards had been selected.

The deck was constructed along the lines of a Mene-Tekel Deck but instead of being made up of twenty-six pairs of identical cards it had a full complement of fifty-two cards. Each pair of cards was set up according to the Si Stebbins system. So if the first card of one pair was, say, 3C the second card would be the 6H, assuming that suits were arranged in CHaSeD order.

The top card of each pair was a short card. In fact it was both short and narrow, exactly as in the improved version of the Mene-Tekel Deck, sometimes called The Self-Shifting Deck. This meant that if the deck was riffled shuffled by the spectator, then the cards would always fall in pairs. And no pair of cards would be separated.

Additionally each long card was marked on the back. If the spectator cut the deck he would bring a short card to the top. He looked at that card while the performer secretly looked at the mark on the back of the next card. Because of the Si Stebbins system the performer could work out the name of the selection. In effect Barbour had created a deck of cards that could be riffled shuffled by the spectator, any card cut to and the performer would instantly know which card had been selected. All very prescient of the Rama Deck.

Barbour used this knowledge to bring out a two-way envelope already loaded with a small piece of photographic paper on which was the image of the selection. A blank piece of photographic paper was then examined by the spectator before being inserted in to the free compartment of the envelope.

During all this Barbour took the opportunity to switch out the gaffed deck. Then the spectator returned his short/narrow card to the regular deck and gave the cards a thorough shuffle. All very convincing.

After some mumbo jumbo Barbour opened the envelope but only showed the blank side of the photograph. He pretended that the trick hadn’t worked out. And suggested that perhaps the special paper had to be closer to the cards. He cut the deck into two packets, secretly cutting at the spectator’s selection which because of it being both short and narrow was now acting as a key card.

Carefully he put the photographic paper between the halves of the deck. He did this by balancing the paper on the blade of the knife he had used to open the envelope and using it as a scoop to place the paper in position. This was a common handling for tricks of this type. It lent some authenticity to the idea that a photographic image was going to be developed on the paper.

After a few seconds the deck was opened at the paper and the paper turned over to reveal an image of the selection on it. This would have been very impressive in its day. For the kicker the top card of the lower packet was turned over to reveal that it was the selected card. I think it’s a really interesting routine and well worth resurrecting with a smarter trimmer handling perhaps having the spectator cut the deck and using the old Crossing the Cut Force to reveal the selection at the finish.