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 Lybrary.com 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.