Friday, July 04, 2008


The search for the perfect solution to Stewart James’ Fifty-One Faces North inevitably involves some compromise. James’ own version of his own problem unfortunately compromised the effect to such a degree that it was no longer recognisable as the clear and clean version of The Open Prediction that magicians wanted it to be. This version presents what appears to be a very clean version of effect. But there is a price to pay.


The performer has been performing some tricks for friends after dinner. He writes a prediction on a piece of paper, Ten of Diamonds. ‘That’s my prediction. You all know about it. I can’t change it.’ The paper is placed on the table and a borrowed and shuffled deck of cards is handed to one of the spectators.

The spectator has a very simple task. He is to deal through the cards, one at a time, turning them face-up onto the table. And then, whenever he feels the urge, the performer tells him to deal one of those cards face-down.

The spectator carries out the task, dealing the cards slowly face-up onto the table from the top of the face-down deck. He deals one of the cards face-down. ‘Are you sure?’ asks the performer. ‘Good. Now let me point out that so far we haven’t seen the Ten of Diamonds. Continue dealing the rest of the deck face-up. Let’s see where the Ten of Diamonds is.’

The spectator deals through the remainder of the cards. The Ten of Diamonds does not show. ‘There is only one card we haven’t seen. The one you dealt face-down. Turn it over.’ A spectator turns the card face-up. It is the Ten of Diamonds.

Hype and Blurb: A borrowed deck is used. Genuinely shuffled by the spectators. Performer need not touch the deck. Magician has no idea where the predicted card lies in the deck before the deal begins neither has the spectator. No switches of the face-down card. No gimmicks, fakes or outs. Works every time. No sleights. Totally impromptu. Fools everyone who sees it. Well, almost.


The method is based on two things, an instant stooging process that David Williamson told me about many years ago. And an impromptu stooge key-card trick I published in Abra about twenty or more years ago having been influenced by George Anderson’s excellent book You Too Can Read Minds. The only proviso is that you need to be sitting at a table with your spectators when doing the trick. It makes for a good after dinner routine.

Here is the handling:

1: Have a deck of cards shuffled and then spread face-up across the table. Note any card in the middle of the deck. This will be your predicted card. Let’s say it is the Ten of Diamonds. Note also the card behind it (above it when the deck is face-down). This will be your key-card. Let’s say it is the Ace of Spades.

Ask someone to gather up the spread, making sure that they don’t mix the cards up in the process.

2. Write down the name of your predicted card, Ten of Diamonds, and place the prediction on the table where everyone can see it.

3. Ask someone to cut the deck several times. An odd number of cuts will more or less ensure that the predicted card stays in the middle of the deck.

4. You’ve already worked out that the spectator sitting next to you, Jim, a friendly guy, will make a good stooge. Here is how you get his cooperation.

Following on from any other miracles you have been doing that evening you tell your audience that with a little concentration anyone can do what you do. ‘Jim, I’m sure you could do something tonight that everyone will remember for a very long time. Really. I’m not joking. All you have to do is follow my instructions.’

You are going to cue Jim during the trick by tapping your foot on top of his. You prepare him for this as follows: ‘Let’s try an experiment. But I promise you, if it goes well, you will amaze a lot of people here.’

‘I’m going to ask you to have an open mind when doing this. We’re going to deal some cards to the table. During that deal I want you to call stop. But I don’t want you to call stop just anywhere. Only call stop when you feel something’

You tap his foot below the table.

‘Only call stop when you feel it is right.’

You tap him again.

‘Do you understand? Good.’

If Jim hasn’t already said, ‘Who’s kicking my foot?’ the trick is probably going to work well.

5. Ask Jim to pick up the deck and start dealing cards face-up into a pile on the table. When you see your key-card, the Ace of Spades, tap Jim on the foot. He will call stop. Ask him to take the next card and deal it face-down on the tabled pile. He deals the rest of the deck face-up and you point out that the Ten of Diamonds has not been seen.

6. Finish by asking someone else, not Jim, to turn over the face-down card and reveal that it is the Ten of Diamonds.

7. Thank Jim profusely. Tell him you couldn’t have done it without him. And tell everyone else that they will remember this for the rest of their lives. Spectators are usually happy to play along and take credit for a job well done. Jim doesn’t, of course, know how you knew where the Ten of Diamonds was so there is even a little mystery in it for him.

NOTES: Despite the rather unsubtle method this is a fooler. Tricks that use instant stooging, like the Electric Chairs, are very powerful routines. It just takes a little courage and a lot of spectator management to make them work.

You might want to note a key-card that is two cards away from your prediction. It gives you slightly more time to react during the deal.

You might also want to show your prediction to everyone except Jim, asking everyone to concentrate on the name of the card as Jim deals. I think this little twist adds a little more flavour to the routine. It also justifies the nature of the open prediction. And Jim gets to react when he sees he has found the correct card that everyone has been thinking about.

Stewart James is alleged to have said that his method could be 'used for criminal purposes.' I suppose this method could too if you were a pair of card cheats signalling each other's hands across the table. I mention this purely for those seeking the grail that is Fifty-One Faces North.

ADDITIONAL CREDIT: Michael Weber emailed to say that a credit is due to John Riggs who published a similar Fifty-One Faces North effect using the foot-tap cue in a volume of Steve Beam's Semi-Automatic Card Tricks. I don't have those volumes so if anyone can track down the John Riggs routine and point me in the right direction I'll post some more details. Thanks Michael

AUGUST UPDATE: Werner Miller has kindly forwarded me a copy of the John Riggs trick. It is called The Solution and appeared in Steve Beam's Semi-Automatic Card Tricks volume one. It's practically the same idea I described above. Or, more accurately, I should say that my routine is practically the same as John Riggs'.

John Riggs provides some additional credits in his write-up. He attributes the foot-tap cue to Whit Haydn and found it in Haydn's 1982 lecture notes Fast and Loose. Whit called it the Impromptu Card Code.

So if someone has baffled you recently with an impossible looking version of Fifty-One Faces North. Check out the assisting spectator's shin for bruises!