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.