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.


BLACKSTONE'S CARD AND NUMBER

The following trick is the subject of an interesting thread on the Genii forum about a performance of Harry Lorayne’s that is currently on You Tube. The trick in question begins at 00.32 on the video.

The footage is from The Secret World of Magic, a show I helped develop with Objective Productions, in which magicians Ali Cook and Pete Firman toured the world in search of great magic. They certainly found it. Harry Lorayne is one of my favourite performers. I remember a sensational lecture he gave in Liverpool back in April of 1980. He did four hours of material and then many of us retired to Paul Stone’s house for even more. His energy is boundless. And he is one of the greatest showmen with a deck of cards you will ever see. His lecture included the trick you see performed on The Secret World of Magic. Lorayne published his handling as Numero Uno in his 1980 lecture notes. I thought it one of the highlights of the evening.

The premise of the trick and its wonderful kicker has caused much comment and yet has been in print for over 70 years, hidden in plain sight as is the case with many good things. It is Blackstone’s Card and Number described in Greater Magic. See page 461 in the section on Prepared Cards.

I’ll outline the trick the way the trick is described in Greater Magic and then talk about an added twist later that I described in the Not The Berglas Effect manuscript. To do the trick you need a key card that you can cut to. When you cut the cards the key card will be the face card (the lowest card) of the packet you have cut from the top of the deck.

Blackstone used a bellied card in a narrow pack but any key card you can cut to easily will work. A Will de Sieve key card with the raised area on the face (Greater Magic) works well as does a bridged card or breather crimp. Harry describes his own impromptu handling in his lecture notes and, I believe, in his book Personal Collection. Place this key card seventeenth from the top of the deck and you are ready to begin.

False shuffle the deck, leaving the key card in position, and then spread the deck across the table and have a card selected from the lower two-thirds. This is easy to do if you spread those cards more widely than the upper portion of the deck.

Gather up the deck as the spectator remembers his card. Cut the deck at the key card and have the selection returned on top of the lower portion. Drop the cut packet back onto the deck ostensibly losing the selection but really placing it directly below your key. False shuffle again before placing the deck on the table. The selection is now the eighteenth card down in the deck.

Ask another spectator to call out a number between one and twenty, adding, ‘A large number, please, to make it difficult.’ Seventeen or eighteen are often called. I’ll describe what happens if they aren’t in a moment but let’s deal with the optimum outcome first.

If seventeen is chosen, say, ‘Seventeen. That is difficult. But I’m going to cut seventeen cards from the top and the very next card will be yours. Watch.’ Rub your fingers together as if preparing your fine tuned digits for work and then cut at the key card, so the key is at the face of the upper packet, and place the cut packet aside. ‘That’s it. What was your card? Queen of Spades? Look.’

Turn the top card of the talon over to reveal that you have cut to the selected card. ‘Queen of Spades. Seventeen cards from the top.’ As soon as the effect has sunk in the spectators will have some lingering doubts about your claim to have cut exactly seventeen cards. Make the most of this. This is where the kicker to the trick takes over and provides you with the most beautiful finish.

Look at the spectators as if sensing suspicion. ‘I can see some doubts. Let’s count them.’ Hand the cut packet to the spectator and ask him to count the cards one at a time to the table. Count along with him, controlling the tempo of the count so that it ends as dramatically as possible, ‘fifteen, sixteen, seventeen!’ It is hard to find a better finish for so little effort.

The reason the trick garners such strong reaction is that it delivers a result that the audience care about. The number of cards in the cut packet is a nagging question they would like answered but might be too polite to ask. It would play entirely differently if you just counted off those seventeen cards before revealing the selection. But if you wait until the audience start to wonder about the honesty of your claim and demand to count those seventeen cards themselves, well, this is an entirely different situation. It is a strong trick with a touch of humour and echoes Henning Nelms’ thoughts about good magic being that which delivers upon the expectations of the audience.

Let’s backtrack a moment and deal with the other numbers. If the spectator calls out eighteen you change your patter to, ‘Eighteen. Okay, I’m going to cut the cards and your card will be exactly eighteen cards from the top. The eighteenth card should be right about here.’ After you’ve revealed the card and sensed the audience’s doubts you say, ‘I know what you’re thinking. If this is the eighteenth card, then there must be seventeen cards over there.’ Play up to the suspicion about your claim and then have a spectator count the cards as before.

Now we come to the biggest stumbling block of the trick. What happens when a number other than seventeen or eighteen is called? If you’ve done your job right it’s unlikely that anyone will call out a number that is not in the teens but it still presents a situation that looks troublesome. Blackstone provided the simplest and best solution. If, for example, the spectator chooses fifteen, you say, ‘How do you count cards? Like this?’ And you demonstrate by dealing off two cards to the table. Pick them up and put them back below the deck, as you say, ‘That’s not what I’m going to do. Watch. Fifteen, coming off the top.’ Then cut to your key card in the most impressive manner you can. If you want to know how Harry Lorayne deals with all contingencies in Numero Uno, buy his books!

SPECTATOR DOES BLACKSTONE’S CARD AND NUMBER

Here is the tiny twist on the routine that I mentioned earlier. It was inspired by the work of David Berglas. As described in The Mind and Magic of David Berglas, he uses the bridge to force a card on a spectator. He has a bridge half way down the tabled deck, invites the spectator to make a cut and almost unfailingly they will always cut to the bridge. My friend Chris Power uses the same forcing technique but holds the deck in his hand while the spectator makes the cut. It rarely misses.

This technique for forcing the cut is described in Expert at the Card Table as a crimp. Erdnase says, ‘…many an unsophisticated player has unconsciously cut into a crimp and aided in his undoing. If the deck is placed before an innocent player so that his hand naturally seizes the ends, the chances are in favor of his cutting to the opening.’

As described by Erdnase, put a bridge in the deck so that the spectator will lift off the top seventeen cards. The Will de Sieve ridged card works just as well if you press the coin on the back of the card so that the impression is raised on the card’s face.

In performance you control the selected card to the eighteenth position as before. Now choose a spectator who looks like they might have a light touch. A number is named, let’s imagine it is fifteen, you deal some cards to the table to bring the selection to the correct number, saying, ‘Is this how you would normally count cards?’ When the spectator says yes, drop the deck on to the dealt cards and then place it on the table, saying, ‘Well, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to cut fifteen cards. Do you think you can cut exactly fifteen cards?’

Imagine you are Chan Canasta building up the impossibility of it all. ‘Because I think you can. But you have to be sure. You have to want to cut exactly fifteen cards, no less, no more. That’s a deck of fifty-two cards. Imagine what those fifteen will look like. Shall we give it a try?’

With the proper guidance from you the spectator will cut to the bridge. First reveal that she has cut to the selection and then, as in Blackstone’s presentation, reveal that she really did cut fifteen cards. You’ve created a mini miracle with a card and a number that will be long remembered.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

THE MAGIC OF FRED ROBINSON - BOOK REVIEW

I first read about Fred Robinson in Will Dexter’s book Famous Magic Secrets, an inspirational book to a teenage conjuror. Fred was one of the many curious characters portrayed by Dexter in the chapter about The Magic Circle. Fred was the burly rail worker sitting in the corner of the club dealing seconds and bottoms from the deck to the amazement of even the most expert magician. It was decades after the publication of Dexter’s book that I first saw Fred in the flesh and he looked pretty much the same as I’d imagined him, an ordinary looking guy, now silver haired and peering down spectacles that perched precariously on his nose. He was sitting a table dealing second and bottoms and middles from a deck while everyone, including me, looked on in admiration. This was at The Marlborough Arms pub, a favourite venue for magicians in years gone by because it was just around the corner from The Magic Circle headquarters when it was location in Chenies Mews.

Fred’s work was impeccable. And unique too because he didn’t deal cards like any magician. He dealt them like an ordinary bloke. You were never aware of him positioning the deck in the mechanic’s grip. He didn’t sit bolt upright in his chair as if he had a rod of iron down his back the moment he picked up the deck. And he didn’t attempt to play the part of the smart alec gambling expert. He handled the deck like a layman and dealt as if about to play a game of brag or whist with friends rather than give you a lesson in crooked gambling. Only the outcome of the deal, a winning hand, indicated that some chicanery was afoot. Dai Vernon considered him ‘one of the all time greats with cards.’ You could understand why Vernon liked Fred’s work. It was so natural and so perfect. His image and handling belied any suggestion of skill

Fred Robinson died in 1986 and although he was editor of Pabular magazine for many years he left little behind in the way of a coherent magical legacy, just the odd item printed here and there and an intriguing video tape marketed by Vic Pinto in which he and, I think, Jack Avis anonymously demonstrated but did not explain some false dealing and other gambling tricks.

Peter Duffie, one of Fred’s friends, thought it was time to put the record straight and gather together all of Fred’s expert card techniques into one book. That must have been around 1987, back when I was working with magic publisher Martin Breese. I remember Pete approaching Martin with the idea for the book and Martin commissioning it for publication. Pete spent a long time contacting Fred’s friends, and fellow card workers and collating as much information as he could about the tricks and techniques he had used throughout his life. He did a marvellous job.

At one point, because of pressure of business, ownership of the book transferred from Martin to Chris Power and JJ of Opus Magazine fame. But for one reason or another they never got around to publishing it. Peter’s manuscript lay idle for a decade at which point I helped get it back into the hands of Martin Breese who with Peter Duffie began the process of putting the book back together. It was the first time I got to read the material. What a treasure house it was.

It still took several years for the book to be published but the time was not wasted and Peter and Martin took great pains to make sure it was the best book it could possibly be. Finally it is here, one big handsome volume filled with Fred Robinson’s superb magic, a tremendous tribute to one of Britain’s finest cardmen. For those who didn’t know Fred Peter has provided an excellent biography, one made possible through the generous help of Fred’s family and in particular his daughter Annabelle who provided much information and even family photos. There are affectionate and informative tributes from Fred’s friends, notables such as Roy Walton, Darwin Ortiz, Jerry Sadowitz, Walt Lees, Max Maven, Simon Lovell, Barrie Richardson, Bobby Bernard and Patrick Page. Dominic Twose, a pupil of Fred, recalls the lessons in card handling that he had. And Dai Vernon provides a foreword.

The book contains all the moves that card workers will want to know about. Here are Fred’s second, bottom, middle and Greek deals upon which Fred built his reputation as a master of sleight of hand. There are four versions of the pass including his legendary riffle pass. There are counts, palms, double lifts and colour changes. And Fred Robinson’s gambling routines.

There are tricks too. One of my favourites is Fred’s Rising Cards as described by Patrick Page. This would fool you. It could easily have been a marketed trick. Then there are Fred’s handlings of classic plots like Cards Across, Dunbury Delusion, Do As I Do, Daley’s Last Trick, Out of This World and many more. And some excellent coin items and a smattering of stand up magic. The one thing that draws them all together is simplicity. Fred didn’t go in for complicated magic. He once told Francis Haxton that he never found anything in Marlo’s books. And when you read this book you can see what Fred meant. The tricks are all simple and direct. The moves are invisible. The outcome is magical. Fred performed his magic in the same deceptively natural manner than he executed his false deals.

Martin Breese has done an excellent job in the production of the book. It is a big heavy tome of 284 pages, features dozens of items and is clearly illustrated by Paul Griffen and Roy Johnson. But the kudos must go to Peter Duffie because in Peter you have an author who really understands the techniques he is describing. Peter’s false dealing and work with the pass is extraordinary. You can be sure that when he describes Fred Robinson’s middle deal you are getting every last detail.

If natural handlings and straightforward magic is your bag then you will certainly enjoy The Magic of Fred Robinson. You can buy it from Martin Breese here. And if you want to see what Peter Duffie’s handling of some difficult material is like, then this You Tube trailer is a great starting point. It will give you an idea of the skill level that can be achieved when the mechanics of a sleight are thoroughly mastered and combined with the naturalness of execution that was at the heart of Fred Robinson's philosophy of magic.