Wednesday, February 25, 2009

PRINCIPLE X

In 1978 I attended the IBM convention in Hastings. It was a memorable convention for three main reasons. It was the year I met Phil Goldstein and his alter ego Max Maven, who blew everyone away with a unique brand of card work and mentalism. It was the convention I got to watch David Berglas give one of his incredible card performances part of which involved named cards being found at thought of numbers. This at a time when the legendary Berglas Effect was uppermost in my mind. I wrote about it in The Mind and Magic of David Berglas.

The third reason that convention was so memorable had to do with another card problem that bore the mysterious title Principle X. Bobby Bernard had told me that he too had an impossible card trick like The Berglas Effect. One that he had worked on for many years. One that he had shown to several luminaries in the magic world. He had described it to me. And the conditions did indeed seem impossible. Now, not to be outdone I think, Bobby Bernard decided it was time to perform Principle X.

In the convention hotel lounge he took my deck of cards and demonstrated what was to be done. He would ask me to shuffle the cards. Cut them and remember the face card of the upper packet before replacing the cut. Then I was to shuffle the cards again until I had no idea where my card was. Sounds good, yes?

Having demonstrated what he wanted me to do he handed the cards back to me and then walked across to the other side of the hotel lounge saying that he didn’t want to be accused of getting a glimpse of my card or estimating the cut. He moved away a good distance, easily about 30 feet, and seemed to make no effort to watch what I was doing.

So, with the deck in my own hands, I gave it an overhand shuffle, a cut, noted the face card of the upper portion, replaced the cut portion and shuffled again. I admit I did not try to be awkward. I used overhand shuffles. I didn’t deliberately try to outfox Bobby. I wanted to see this trick work.

I called to Bobby and he returned and took the deck from me. He placed the deck behind his back and asked for the name of my card. I told him, let’s say it was the Six of Spades. Then he asked me to name a number. Let’s imagine it was 19.

Bobby fiddled with the deck behind his back and then brought the cards forward and handed them to me. With the deck face down he asked me to deal to the 19th card. I dealt the cards onto Bobby’s hand. When I reached the 19th card he asked me to name my selection again. I turned the 19th card over. It wasn’t the Six of Spades.

Bobby looked surprised. ‘Maybe it’s the next card’, he said. I turned it over. It wasn’t the Six of Spades either. Principle X seemed to have been a failure. ‘How far out was I?’ said Bobby. I turned the next card over. This card was the Six of Spades. Now I didn’t know what to make of the trick. Had I seen a near miracle of a fluke?

Bobby did assure me that the effect usually worked, that he had performed it successfully many times and had a stack of notes on the workings of Principle X at home. But he didn’t repeat the trick. I was reminded of a satirical essay in Jon Racherbaumer’s Hierophant that advised if you want to fry your fellow magicians attempt a trick that cannot possibly work. They’ll spend weeks trying to figure out what might have happened if all had gone right. I wondered if that’s what Bobby had done.

Despite my reservations I did spend a long time thinking about how Bobby’s Principle X might work. Stephen Tucker and I discussed all kinds of methods. How an extra card might be pulled from a card index behind the back. Or how an inefficient overhand shuffle might leave a card in roughly the same position. But at that time we didn’t have any solutions that could meet all of Bobby’s conditions. And I still don’t have any now.

You might wonder why I’d give the trick any credence but some months later I was at Bobby’s apartment in London and looking at the close up apparatus he had collected over the years. And there, in a cabinet, was a small leather bound book. It wasn’t new. It was clear from its appearance he'd had it some time. And it had a lock on it like a miniature version of a Goldston Locked Book. Except this wasn’t any magic book I recognised. Bobby smiled as he handed it to me. The title of the book was embossed in gilded letters on the front. It said, ‘Principle X.’

I never got to peek inside that locked book and for me Principle X remains a mystery to this day. But, like The Berglas Effect, it got me thinking. And while meeting the original conditions of the trick seems impossible there are a number of ways that a pseudo version of the trick can be performed. One of them has already been described in this blog. Take a look at The Bogus Effect posted previously on this blog. Forget the shuffling and replace it with some cutting. Now you have a trick in which the spectator cuts to a card, notes it, cuts the deck several times and yet you can take that deck behind your back and bring the card to any named position.

If you prefer not to use a trick deck use a crimped card or Will de Sieve gimmick (Greater Magic) in which the force card will cut to the face of a packet. The spectator unknowingly cuts to your force card. He can shuffle it back into the deck. But you’ve prepared the force card so you can find it again when the deck is behind your back. Now it is a matter of being able to insert it at the named number as quickly as possible. A good riffle count and a low number would help!

Principle X has provided me with food for thought for many years. I hope it keeps you entertained too.

NOTES

Visitors to Ken Brooke's Magic Place, in London's Wardour Street, will recall the excitement they felt when they saw a book entitled The Magic of Fred Kaps lying on the counter. As soon as they saw it, visitors stopped whatever they were doing and picked up that book. And then laughed when they flipped through the book only to discover that all the pages were blank.