Sunday, December 20, 2009

Annemann's Nightmares

I was curious about the origin of the gimmicked card used in Paul Curry’s The Joker Knows. (See the November 15th 2009 entry on this blog). With the help of Ask Alexander I found Charles Jordan’s Spook Card (1916). Jordan credited the gimmicked card to Ford Rogers who used it in his 'Ever Ready' Forcing Pack. Jordan used the gimmick in a version of Hardin’s Prince’s Card Trick in which a thought of card vanished from a packet. All the cards in the packet were double cards prepared as in the Ever Ready Forcing Pack (see Greater Magic or Donald Holmes' manuscript Tricks With Prepared Cards.

Annemann acknowledged the Jordan idea in an advert for his Annemann’s Nightmare effect which he advertised in The Sphinx in 1928. Here is the advert. The method is the same as that used in The Problem with Premonition:

NOW BORROW THEIR OWN DECK AFTER THEY SHUFFLE. Have them remove a card which they place in their pocket without glimpsing. Now riffle deck, face up, and stop at their command. TELL THEM TO LOOK AT THE CARD IN SIGHT AND TO REMEMBER. IMMEDIATELY HAND THEM THE DECK WITHOUT A MOVE OR SLEIGHT. They deal the pack through a card at a time and THE CARD THEY SAW IS GONE! AND THIS WITH THEIR OWN DECK IN THEIR OWN HANDS! Ask them what it was. They tell you. Then you prove THEY WERE DREAMING, because UPON LOOKING THEMSELVES THEY FIND THAT VERY CARD WAS THE ONE THEY PLACED IN THEIR POCKET!

There are two key points. One is that the force is made with the deck face-up because the rear card of the pair is the shorter of the two. And the second is that Annemann adds the gimmicked card to a borrowed deck. Since the cards are only handled face up, the different back is never noticed. Oh, and at the beginning of the routine he forces the regular card on the spectator, of course.

Annemann returned to the effect in The Jinx (Issue 7, April 1935). It has a great presentation idea which I think is worth knowing about. Here is Annemann’s description of his New Nightmare:

Writing something on the face of a card from the deck in place of paper, the performer hands it to someone to hold for a few minutes without looking at it. Riffling through the face up pack, another person says, ‘stop’ at any time and looks at the card staring them in the face. They are asked to remember it well.

The deck is closed and without a move placed on the table. Turning, the performer asks the first person to read the writing on the card. ‘The card chosen will be the Three of Clubs.’ The prophecy is correct! Now the performer says he has gone further. The deck is dealt through a card at a time face up and the Three of Clubs is gone. ‘And where is it?’ queries the mystic. ‘I made it change places with the card I originally wrote upon!’ And the first spectator shows the card he has been holding from the start and from which he read the writing AND IT IS THE THREE OF CLUBS!

I’m not keen on the face-up riffle force but Annemann uses it so that the force card of the pair is the shorter of the two and better hidden. I think that the second card is very easy to hide in The Problem with Premonition even though it is the longer card of the gimmicked pair. However, I love the idea of giving the spectator a card at the beginning of the trick on which you’ve written a prediction. And having him first read out prediction but only later revealing that it is actually the card.

It might be better to force a red spot card so that the writing can read more easily. You need to control the assisting spectator so that they don’t reveal the card until you are ready. And I think it would be a good idea to have the spectator who selected the card to try to guess the position of the card in the deck as a reason for dealing through it and delaying the surprise. But other than that, Annemann is a genius!

NOTES: Just found Annemann's A Day-Time Nightmare described in Annemann's Card Miracles (1930) as published by Burling Hull. Also there is The Eye-Popper Card Feat which uses the Rogers' gimmick in an Ambitious Card trick.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Harbin Effect

Thinking about impossible think-a-card tricks, The Berglas Effect and Premonition, put me in mind of an article I wrote back in 2002 for Stan Allen’s Magic magazine. It was called Tricks of Faith and dealt with tricks that either didn’t exist or didn’t work. In the article I briefly mentioned one trick of Robert Harbin’s as possibly being apocryphal, mainly because I couldn’t remember where I’d heard about it. But thanks to Martin Breese and his work in making digital compilations of magic magazines available I can now tell you that Harbin's trick was published in the Magigram magazine. Vol 12, number 1 for September 1979 to be exact.

By the way, the Magigram dvd is a wonderful resource. I’ve spent hours browsing through it and found the most amazing material. You’ll even find some early contributions from yours truly in those pages. So consider this a plug and well meant advice and pick up a copy of the Magigram dvd direct from Martin Breese or from where it is available as a volume by volume download.

But back to the Harbin Effect. This is what Stanton Carlisle called
Harbin’s technique, if that’s not too clever a word for what seems blind hope, for making a spectator think of a predetermined card. With Martin Breese’s permission, I’ll let Stanton Carlisle tell the story:
Some years ago, Bob Harbin was discussing one of his ingenious Ideas with a group of magicians and the majority present 'pooh - poohed' the very suggestion, but I pricked up my ears for I realised that what Bob was referring to was ‘the mentative thought process’ which anyone acquainted with psychology, metaphysics, mysticism or any other form of mind-science would readily understand.
Although both Arthur Carter and I discussed this separately with Bob when things had quietened down again, I am not sure whether Bob ever published the idea because of the initial reception as mentioned above. Whether or not he did, it is worth perpetuating for not only have I used it for a long while now with great effect but, after a period of time, I came to the conclusion that although his original idea was most practical, it could, by more usual magical means be developed into something even more staggering. Like most good ideas, this did not come to me in a f1ash of inspiration but gradually evolved over several years.
Bob's original idea will be described first and then my addition; but first, read this true story (which arose out of Bob's idea) and then read the secret. Then I feel you will be in a more receptive state of mind to appreciate the real secret behind the effect. In addition to this, the people concerned in the following can all vouch for its authenticity!
A few years ago when still living In London, I was in bed awaiting admission to hospital and about lunchtime the telephone rang stridently and, having an extension by the bed, I picked It up to hear the friendly voice of our editor, Ken de Courcy. After some cheer-up chatter, Ken mentioned an Idea he had had and in his description used the words, " ... supposing, for instance they choose THE' TEN OF DIAMONDS.. ". Before ringing off, he had exacted a promise from me to 'give it some thought' and this is not an unusual thing between Ken and I and it works both ways!
At approximately half-past three the same afternoon, the phone rang again and it was Arthur Carter who had no idea that Ken and I had previously conversed that day but did, like me, use Bob's idea. After saying, hello, etc and enquiring after my health his next words were, ''Does THE TEN OF DIAMONDS mean anything to you?" and I assured him that it did; that Ken had conversed with me earlier and, without telling Arthur what Ken's idea was, mentioned that it was a coincidence that Ken had mentioned THAT VERY CARD. "Good" said Arthur, "but I had an idea that it might because I am trying The Harbin Effect over the phone". After some discussion we ended the chat and that I thought was that.
Somewhere about five o 'clock that day I pulled open the drawer of the headboard which is situated directly under the telephone, and there, laying on top of a book was a playing card I had been using as a book-mark until finishing the book when I dropped it where it now laid ... THE TEN OF DIAMONDS!
Knowing 'The Harbin Effect' and realising that UNWITTINGLY I must have been looking at and sub-consciously registering that card for several days, I rang both Ken and Arthur and checked that they had not been in touch with each other and told both of them the story you have just read. Arthur knew as already explained but Ken did not so I explained it to him.
What I am now revealing for the first time is my version which I have jealously kept to myself and never presented to magicians anywhere or at any time. Now as this is an effect that can only be presented when the occasion is right (as will soon be realised) let us start with ‘The Harbin Effect’ as he devised it and used it.
Take ANY card from your deck and place it in a wallet ... any wallet you normally carry!
For about three days keep taking it out and looking at it and by so doing, 'imprint it indelibly in your conscious mind.' By a sort of osmosis type of action, this will then 'seep down into your subconscious mind' quite automatically. Having done that ... forget about it!
By this is meant that after some three days you need not bother about it and just let it stay in the wallet. Within a day or two of that someone who knows you are a magician is bound to ask you to “Show us a trick" and this is what you wait for. Under NO circumstances must you attempt to demonstrate it ... wait until you are asked!!
The wallet with its card is in the usual pocket, but you take out the deck it came from and toss it on a convenient surface and then ask the spectator to "Please name the first card that comes into your mind" and, truth being stranger than fiction, IF YOU TRULY BELIEVE HE WILL NAME THE CARD IN THE WALLET THEN HE WILL! I don't mean if you merely 'think' or 'wish' him to do so, but HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT HE WILL.
If he does, mention that the deck is already on the table and, letting it be seen that your hands are empty, remove your wallet and toss it on the table beside the deck. He is then asked to open the wallet and finds the card HE HAS JUST NAMED. It gets better because he can check the deck and find it has but 51 cards and that the card in the wallet is the one card needed to complete the deck.
For those who are still sceptical (and there will always be some of those), let me state that the more you do it THE MORE OFTEN IT COMES OFF! Practice really does make perfect and I can see readers like Tony 'Doc' Shiels and E. Leslie May having 'a field day with it'.
I estimate that it is a 90% trick, so what of the other 10% if they don't name THE card? Just do any effective trick you know with the card they name. From presenting this over a long period, I use the card in an 'Ambitious Card Routine' for good effect.
Having a general understanding now of 'The Harbin Effect, and space does not allow me to go into all the reasons why this works, always go out prepared to do it, BUT ONLY IF ASKED!
This is like most Harbinesque ideas a WINNER , but only for those who can understand the basic effect and believe in it.
Stanton then went on to describe his own handling of the Harbin Effect, one in which he has an out so that he can present a decent mental effect even if the spectator fails to name the predicted card. Which I’d have thought would be pretty damn often. Having said that, I think it makes a great story dressing for any trick of this type. If Harbin believed it, then maybe your audience will too.

NOTES: Robert Farrell emailed to say that this effect of Harbin's was also mentioned in Abracadabra magazine and republished in Harbincadabra. He's right, check out page 99 of Harbincadabra for an article by Robert Lund. Lund talks about Harbin's belief in telepathy and his explanation of this trick:
Take any card out of a deck and look at it hard. Put it in your wallet, purse, pocket book or whatever you colonials call it and, at odd times, think about it.

Choose a moment among friends when you have been doing a few tricks and when you have noticed a man or woman who believes you have something extra - you can feel this - turn to the person and say you want to try something. Take out your wallet and place it in full view.
In this wallet (you patter) I have put a card I selected this morning. Now look me in the eye. In a moment I want you to tell me what it is,. We will count down together. Ten, nine, eight, seven.... and then immediately say the name of any playing card that comes into your head. I want you to try to think of nothing a t all. Make your mind a blank. Now count with me - ten, nine, eight...

When you reach one say, 'Now! Name the card.'

It works for me every time, but only among friends and only when we have become serious about the possibility of some sort of mental magic, when the time is opportune and there is a feeling in the air.

Lund goes on to say that Zina Bennett had a similar belief that carrying a card about in his pocket for several days enabled him to do a miracle.

I like the counting down presentation that Harbin employs. It's tempting to think that this could be part of some psychological process of getting the spectator to think of a specific card. I'll leave that thought with you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Problem With Premonition

In Premonition (as popularised by Eddie Joseph) the effect is that any named card is revealed to be missing from the deck. In theory it presents an interesting challenge to the cardician. And has a similar appeal to other card problems like ACAAN and The Trick That Cannot Be Explained. In reality you hardly ever see the trick performed, possibly because counting through a deck to reveal that only 51 cards remain and that none of them is the named card might be thought a tedious and illogical way of demonstrating your powers of prognostication. Nevertheless, the effect is thought provoking and the following thoughts were provoked during some correspondence with Bob Farmer about his own creative approaches to Premonition. You will have to wait for Bob Farmer’s unique solutions but meanwhile here is my cheap and cheerful twist on the plot.

EFFECT: The performer takes out a small sealed envelope and places it in his breast pocket, projecting so that it is always on display. A deck of cards is introduced and one selected. The deck is immediately handed to the spectator for shuffling. ‘Shuffle the cards. Good. Now you know the name of your card but you have no idea where it is in the deck. Right?’ Now think carefully and give me a number from 1 to 52.’

The spectator chooses, for example, 23.

‘Now it would be incredible if your card was the 23rd in the deck. Let’s check.’ The performer takes the deck and counts through the cards, dealing them face-up into a pile on the table. When he reaches the 23rd card he asks the spectator to name his card. He does, the Five of Spades. The performer slowly turns the 23rd card over. It is not the Five of Spades.’

‘Oh! Interesting. Did we pass it?’ The performer spreads the face-up dealt cards across the table. The Five of Spades isn’t there. ‘It must still be here.’ He continues dealing and counting through the cards. There are only 51 cards in the deck. The Five of Spades has disappeared.

The performer picks up the envelope from the table. Inside is a playing card, the Five of Spades. ‘What was the number you chose?’ The spectator reminds everyone that it was 23. The performer turns over the Five of Spades. On the back is written the number 23.

METHOD: I realise this plays fast and loose with the Premonition plot but it was Premonition which inspired the routine. The trick came about while trying to find a motivation for the counting through the deck. Here the counting seems to be justified even if the trick is the disappearance of a selected card rather than the premonition of a thought-of card.

It is actually a revamp of a trick from Paul Curry’s Magicians Magic called The Joker Knows. That trick used a gimmick to affect a vanish and the same gimmick is used in this trick too. It is made of two cards glued together at the bottom edge. Like a pair of cards from a Peek Deck. The front card of the pair is a corner short (upper left corner when the card is facing you). The rear card is the Five of Spades which will be forced.

The envelope has a duplicate Five of Spades inside it. On the back of the card is a paper sticker. The envelope has a hole in the rear so that with a thumbwriter (a Boon or other type that you can easily put on) you can write the named number on the paper sticker. I’m sure all is becoming clear but here is the procedure step by step.

1: Take out the envelope and lay it on the table with the hole side down. Take out a pen and have someone sign the front of the envelope. This will be the sealed flap side.

2: Take out the deck. Place either the card case or Jokers on the table. Later they will provide you with an excuse for retrieving the thumbwriter which currently lies in your pocket. Give the rest of the deck a shuffle and contrive to have the gimmicked pair of cards about a third from the top of the deck. Since the front card of the pair is a corner short you can now use a riffle force to force the Five of Spades on the spectator. The selection looks very fair, he peeks a card and remembers it.

3: Give the deck to the spectator and ask him to shuffle the cards and name a number. You pick up the card case (or Jokers) and put them in your pocket, getting the thumbwriter in the process. When you know the number, pick up the pen and put it inside your jacket pocket.

Pick up the envelope and secretly write the chosen number through the window before dropping the envelope in your top pocket, leaving it projecting outwards where it can be seen. Ditch the thumbwriter in the pocket too.

The reason you pick up the envelope appears to be so you can clear the table in preparation for the dealing sequence next. But with any luck the spectators will only remember that the envelope, which is signed to prevent switching, was on view from the beginning.

4: Take the deck back and deal to the chosen number, turning each card face up before placing it on the table. Your gimmicked pair will pass as one card. In fact if the gimmicked pair is passed early on in the deal you can have the spectator deal the rest of the cards by himself.

The chosen card does not show up at the named number. So the rest of the cards are dealt leading to the discovery that there are only 51 cards in the deck. The Five of Spades has vanished. Finish by taking the envelope from your pocket and removing the duplicate Five of Spades. Then reveal the number written on the back.

NOTES: There is a lot of room for improvement in the trick but I like the plot. If you favour sleight of hand you could simply palm any chosen card from the deck, drop it into a gimmicked wallet and find a way of writing a number on the back of the card or elsewhere. The effect will be much the same.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Chan Canasta Forces A Word

In researching the book Chan Canasta: A Remarkable Man, I came across another version of Canasta’s famed book test, one in which he used a word constructed from letters called out by members of the audience. A video of this routine, as performed on a Dutch television show, has now appeared on You Tube. You will find it at the link below. Thank you Gaafman.

While the routine does not compare to Canasta’s Great Book Test it does show Chan demonstrating some of the skills that made him the first genuine psychological magician of the modern age. Chan billed himself as the psycho magician and there was a genuine element of psychology used by Canasta in his performances. Some of that can be seen in this video.

If you watch the video you will see that the starting point of the routine is Canasta asking members of the audience or panel to call out letters so that they can create a word. The word he wishes to create is Sprak. Let’s see how he goes about it:

“First of all, let’s start. Let’s make up a word,” says Canasta. “I go to the blackboard and I shall ask members of my panel and you ladies and gentlemen in the theatre to shout, to call out, any letter of the alphabet that you wish. Will you please do so, go ahead?”

A member of the panel calls out A. “Faster,” says Canasta, writing it down. Very quickly now we hear the letters K C and P and Canasta writes them down in no particular arrangement on the board. And then he does something very interesting. He shouts out S and writes it down with the other chosen letters. It is the first letter of the word he will force. The fact that he called it out seems to go by unnoticed.

“Who else?” asks Canasta and the letters Y and G follow. “Too many says Canasta but someone else shouts out O. He does not need another vowel. It might confuse matters. So he writes it in a smaller font and away from the rest of the letters.

Canasta recaps and writes the letters down a sccond time, in a line.

“We have here S P C K A Y G”

He completely ignores the O. Note that as yet he cannot make the word Sprak from the letters on the board. “I don’t think a word can be made out of it can it, in Dutch?” he says. But he leads the audience in the direction of his force word by appearing to try to make a word from those on offer.

He writes down S P A K, leaving a space. And then says, “R perhaps instead of C.” He openly inserts an R in the space to make the word Sprak. This is a very clever ruse. It sounds plausible “R perhaps instead of C” but provides the key to him creating his force word.

“Sprak is alright? Is that a word?” The panel tell him it is and that it means 'spoke.' Apparently unsure he asks if the spelling is correct. He is assured it is.

He underlines the word on the board. “Let’s take the word sprak and let’s make that our word.”

Canasta’s attitude to the creation of the word is interesting. At the conclusion it might be obvious that the word had to be forced. But Canasta always acts like any word could be chosen. Similarly he suggests that three cards that will be used to arrive at a page could be put in any order.

A common theme in Canasta’s presentations was that ‘whatever you want will be’ but you have to want it enough. And when he failed, as he sometimes did, the audience simply thought they didn’t want it enough. But next time they would try harder. Next time Canasta would succeed. It was all part of Canasta’s enduring charm.

Have fun studying the rest of the video and noting how careful Canasta is with his words. How he always appears to give the audience a chance to change their minds while in reality locking the doors on all other possibilities except for the outcome he intends. Every performance is a master class in psychology.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Trick That Can Be Explained

EFFECT: Spectator shuffles the deck while performer takes a small envelope from his pocket and places it on the table. The spectator is asked to cut the deck into three piles and then choose one of them. The top card of the chosen pile is turned over; it is the King of Spades. The envelope is opened. Inside is a playing card. It too is The King of Spades.

METHOD: This is nothing more than a simplification of Ted Lesley’s excellent Kismet Connection, a marketed trick that you will also find explained in Ted Lesley’s book Para Miracles.

When I first saw Ted perform this trick I thought immediately of Dai Vernon’s The Trick That Cannot Be Explained. To my mind Ted’s use of the Will de Sieve gimmicked card meant that the Vernon effect was at last within the reach of ordinary mortals. Anyone could shuffle the deck, cut it and you had a chance of predicting the identity of the top card. This is because it is very likely that the Will de Sieve card will be cut to the top.

As mentioned before on this blog the Will de Sieve gimmick is a card that has a slightly raised centre portion. It is described in Greater Magic. A good way to make the card is by pressing a small coin, the size of a quarter, onto the face of a court card. If you shuffle this prepared card into the deck you will have no problem cutting the card to the top of the deck. The raised back creates a natural break. Even better, if a spectator is asked to cut the deck, there is a very good chance that they too will cut the prepared card to the top.

For this trick you need two prepared cards: the King of Spades and the King of Clubs. Both cards are marked on the back so that you know one from the other. In the envelope you have a King of Spades with the same back pattern as the deck you are using. This is all you need to perform a very reliable version of Vernon’s miracle.

HANDLING: Give the deck to the spectator and ask him to shuffle it. Take out the envelope and place it on the table. When the spectator has finished shuffling tell him to place the deck on the table. Look at the back of the top card. If either of your gimmicked cards is there you can proceed straight to the revelation.

If the King of Spades is on top you say, ‘You gave the cards a good shuffle? Good. Because this morning I also shuffled a deck of cards. And I placed it on the table. And I took the top card. I didn’t even look at it. I promise. And I put the card in that envelope. Turn over the top card of the deck. What is it?’

The spectator turns the card over to reveal the King of Spades. ‘Okay, now reach inside the envelope and remove the card. Turn it over. Let’s see if I’ve been lucky.’ It’s the King of Spades, a perfect match.

Now for the second scenario. Let’s assume that the top card of the deck is the King of Clubs. In this case you alter the patter slightly, saying, ‘You gave the cards a good shuffle? Yes. Good. Did you notice anything odd about the deck? No? Well, there’s actually one card missing. Because this morning I also shuffled that deck of cards. And I placed the deck on the table. And without looking I took the top card and slid it into this envelope. Let me show you.’

You open the envelope at fingertips and slide the card out face-down onto the table. ‘They say like attracts like. Let’s see if that’s true.’ Turn over your prediction card to reveal the King of Spades. ‘Will you turn over the top card of the deck?' They turn over the top card and discover the King of Clubs, the mate to your card. A spooky coincidence.

To clean up put both cards back on top of the deck, palming away the duplicate prediction King of Spades and returning it to your pocket as you put the envelope away. If you don’t want to do any sleight of hand, it is easy enough to steal the card away under the envelope as you chat to the spectators.

MORE HANDLING: Of course the spectator won’t usually shuffle one of the gimmicked cards to the top. You will know the situation as soon as he puts the deck on the table. If no gimmicked cards are there, ask him to cut the deck and complete the cut. This gives him another chance of bringing a gimmicked card to the top. If that happens, proceed as described earlier.

If there is still no gimmicked card on top, ask him to cut the deck into three piles. This gives you a couple of more chances of him cutting a gimmicked card to the top. As soon as you see that one of the piles has a gimmicked card in position, use Equivoque (Magician’s Choice) to force that pile.

This is actually the best outcome. The spectator has shuffled the deck, cut the deck, divided it into three piles and then chosen one of them. It looks like he has made a lot of choices. This makes the prediction look all the more impressive.

If you are unlucky enough not to find either of the gimmicked cards on top of any of the three piles, then this is definitely not the day for you to go gambling at the race trick. But you can still bring the trick to a successful conclusion.

You now cut each pile once and complete the cut, saying, ‘Okay, you’ve shuffled and cut, now it’s my turn.’ Having a more delicate touch than the spectator you will have no difficulty in bringing one of the gimmicked cards to the top of one of the piles. You might even bring both of them to the top of different piles. Use Equivoque to force that King pile, saying, ‘You have one more decision to make.’ Finish by revealing your prediction. It’s still a very strong trick.

Do check out Ted Lesley’s original handling. It takes a little more preparation but it is very good. When Ted rediscovered the Will de Sieve gimmick I think he found one of the best devices a card magician could ever hope for. It makes absolute miracles possible.

NOTES: Nikolai Friedrich gave a good tip on the Will de Sieve gimmick in his Sympathetic Decks routine (Genii, December 1997 ). Make the card it into a short card. It increases the chance of it being cut to when required.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Trick That Cannot Be Explained

The Trick That Cannot Be Explained is described in Dai Vernon’s More Inner Secrets of Card Magic. The author, Lewis Ganson, having witnessed the effect said to Vernon:

‘Dai, I saw the effect. You wrote a prediction on a cigarette packet and placed this on the table. Al Koran shuffled the pack (and made a thorough job of it!). You told him to turn over the top card – which happened to be the Six of Hearts. You then told him to turn over the cigarette packet which had been out of your reach since you wrote the prediction. Al himself read out what you had written – The Six of Hearts. It was a knockout.’

He was trying to persuade Vernon to describe the method in the book. Vernon’s reluctance, as anyone who has the book will know, is because the method depends on a series of outs. The effect never plays the same way twice. And Vernon admitted he got pretty lucky when Koran shuffled that Six of Hearts to the top of the deck.

Which brings me to June 1978 and I’m watching Lewis Ganson give a lecture at a convention in Newcastle. He takes a pack of cards and gives it to a spectator to shuffle. And while this is happening Ganson writes a prediction on a slip of paper. The shuffle finished the top card of the deck is turned over. Unbelievably, it matches the prediction.

For a minute I thought I’d just seen Vernon’s legendary card trick and that Ganson too had got lucky. I was wrong. This wasn’t Vernon's once-in-a-while miracle, it was Ganson's works-every-time miracle. And Ganson explained it during his lecture which is why it amazes me that no one seems to know about it.

It wasn’t until much later that I found Ganson has been using this principle for a long time. He described it in the May 1954 issue of The Gen magazine. See Ganson’s Mickey Fin routine. And now, I’m going to describe it to you because it is just too good an idea not to know about and if you try it just once in front of your magic buddies you will be thankful that the genial Mr Ganson chose to give it away.

METHOD: It’s easy. You use a rough and smooth forcing pack. And yes you actually hand it to the spectator to shuffle. Best to indicate that you want them to give it an overhand shuffle but don’t be scared because it really does work. The pairs of cards will stay together. After a short shuffle the top card is almost certain to be a force card. Marking the backs of the force cards will help. If you don’t see your marked card on top, have the spectator shuffle again or give the deck a cut. Sooner or later you will end with a force card on top. Which is why your prediction is always correct. You can even write ‘The top card will be the six of hearts’ something that even Vernon couldn’t do.

Now no doubt, like me, you're thinking wouldn't it be great if it didn't use a trick deck. True. Except Ganson did use a trick deck and it looked bloody brilliant. Still, magicians are lazy devils who expect to work every miracle with only a deck of cards and the lint in their pockets. So next post I'll describe a different approach that is somewhere between 'gaffed to the hilt' and 'can't be bothered.' See you shortly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chan Canasta's Book of Oopses

Which card? That was the question posed by Chan Canasta on the cover of the Radio Times (8th Jan, 1960). This novel interactive trick was used to promote his new series of psycho magic on BBC television.

Having thought of a card, readers were asked to turn to page 9 for the results. If you click on the photo you should get a better view of the cards. And having chosen one you can read Canasta's prediction in the very next paragraph of this article.

'Yes,' says Chan Canasta 'you probably chose the five of spades on the cover. If you didn’t, however, don’t worry. The eight of clubs and the ace of clubs - or even the seven of diamonds - were also likely choices.'

Note Canasta’s well chosen wording. He never actually said that he would guess the card you thought of. He merely asked you to think of one and then turn to page 9. You may or may not have thought of the five of spades. You’d be damned impressed if you did. But if you didn’t, Canasta brushes the error away as if it didn’t really matter. And leaves you with the feeling that any mistake was your own.

In 1966 George G Harrap & Co published Chan Canasta’s Book of Oopses, a small 48 page volume of interactive tricks. It was billed as 'a collection of thrilling experiments in which the book itself plays the part of the mind-reader.'

Each double page spread was comprised of a set of instructions on the left-hand page and a diagram on the right-hand page. Following the instructions you chose one of the items on the opposite page; a playing card, a symbol, a number or word. When you'd made your decision you turned to the back of the book and looked at Canasta's predictions. Hopefully he would be right. But if he was wrong he offered a humorous and delightful apology and said 'Oops.'

Canasta was very clear about the nature of the tricks, saying in the introduction ‘Well, in many cases the working of the trick is certain, depending on logical or mathematical principles that are cleverly concealed. In other cases, the tricks are of a psychological character, so designed that they are successful only about 80 per cent of the time.’

‘Thus you see the Book presents a kind of challenge to you and to itself. When it fails - Oops! - it shrugs its page sadly and admits failure. But, when it scores a hit the effect is nothing short of miraculous, giving you an eerie feeling that it possesses some occult and incredible powers. This, in fact, is true in a sense. The psychological tricks are planned so that you are led unconsciously along certain mental paths without realising it.’

Original copies of the book are highly sought after and have been selling for around $200 on the internet. But now Martin Breese has reprinted the book and offered it at a much lower price. The original was printed on a sort of black cartridge paper, inadvertently making it difficult to copy, but the reprint is a good one and made on harder wearing glossy stock. You can find the reprint on Martin Breese’s website.

At least one of the Oopses seems to be based on something Canasta performed on television. I’m talking about Oops 10 which is entitled Making a sentence of nonsense. The reader is asked to choose four words from ten on offer to make a simple sentence.

On his show Canasta had tried a very similar trick in which a panel of celebrities did the choosing. In The Budget magazine for February 1960 Gus Southall wrote:

‘Then on to a mass experiment with four sets of large cards each bearing four words. These were shown quickly to the panel and the studio audience who were invited to compose a sentence from them which should agree with one previously written down by Canasta. Unfortunately it was a total failure.’

Obviously not the most successful of routines but Canasta had tried it on an earlier show, where it had also failed, so he seemed keen on it. When I met Canasta in 1996, I asked him about the trick and he told me a story that had been told to him by film actor Michael Rennie.

It appears that Rennie had arranged to take his mother out to dinner but she was reluctant to go. The reason was that she was a big fan of Canasta's and didn't want to go anywhere until she'd seen his television show that evening. Rennie, reluctantly, is forced to watch the show with his mother. He was not impressed, the show was the usual mixture of hits and misses. One routine in particular was a spectacular failure, the one that Gus Southall later reviewed. The celebrity panel were shown words on cards and asked to choose some and arrange them into a sentence. They did. But when Canasta's prediction was revealed it was utterly wrong.

For Rennie, who was perhaps watching Canasta for the first time, this was a total shock. He turned to his mother and said, 'You made me stay in for this? He was completely wrong.'

'No,' said his mother 'he wasn't wrong. They were!'

Which perhaps tells us a little about Canasta's enduring charm. I asked Canasta about the routine and how he had intended to make it work. It was clear he didn't have a specific method in mind, just hope that his persuasive powers might bring about the right result. 'It might have worked,' he said, 'but whether it worked or not, I knew it would fill seven and a half minutes.' Filling the time must have been a major consideration when you're the sole artiste on a weekly television series.

I hadn't known about the Book of Oopses when I met Canasta. T.A. Waters told me about it and, later, Peter Lane kindly loaned me his copy. It was years before I managed to get hold of an original copy of my own. I think Oops 10 in the Book of Oopses is a version of the routine he used on his television shows. It's a wonderful effect. Maybe one day it will work.