Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Psychic Who Wrote to Einstein

To complete a trilogy of Einstein related magic stories let’s take a look at the invulnerable Mirin Dajo. Dajo might be described as a fakir though he believed his skills came from God not practise. He was a Dutchman, born Arnold Gerritt Johannes Henskes in 1912 who adopted the name of Mirin Dajo which, apparently, in Esperanto meant ‘wonder.’

Dajo was indeed a wonder, demonstrating the ability to withstand 24” rapier swords pushed through his torso in various directions and under the closest scrutiny. In one instance a double-edge flat bladed sword also penetrated the wonder worker. It wasn’t a trick and was observed, photographed and filmed by reputable experts. You’ll find a lot of the footage on You Tube. It was shot in Switzerland during May of 1947 and is most impressive.

Dajo declared he could not be destroyed by any kind of weapon and even referred to having survived a bullet to the head.  He claimed he heard messages from angels telling him that his great gift would be of service to all mankind. The idea being that having been inspired by his healing powers all wars would cease. It was less than two years after WWII so not surprising that world peace might be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Many articles and several books have been written about Dajo but what puzzles me most is how Dajo managed to convince his friend Jan de Groot to become his official swordsman. At what point in your life do you ask your friend to push a sword through your body? And what kind of friend says yes?

In December of 1947 Dajo wrote to Albert Einstein who was at Princeton University. He asked Einstein to facilitate his travel to the USA so that Einstein himself might supervise more tests and that together they could collaborate in bringing peace to the world. This four-page letter is reproduced in Luc Bürgin’s book on Mirin Dajo entitled Das Wunder (2004). The author is less sceptical than I am about the supernatural origins of Dajo’s powers but it is here that I discovered the letter containing Einstein’s reply and for that I thank him. 

Einstein might well have already heard of Dajo, in fact Dajo suggests as much in his letter. The story of the tests conducted in Switzerland had made the US newspapers but Dajo had also enclosed some photographs that depicted his various miraculous impalements so that Einstein would be in no doubt about the importance of the matter. Einstein’s reply was brief, saying that he hoped there was some trickery to the demonstration because he did not like to believe that Dajo was truly mutilating himself. Regardless, Einstein said he did not want to be part of Dajo’s project and did not want to encourage others to carry out Dajo’s demonstrations. It seems clear that Einstein did not consider the matter supernatural.  Both Dajo’s and Einstein’s letters can be found in the Einstein Archives. 

One year on from the demonstrations that made him world famous Dajo came up with another feat, possibly to repudiate a sceptical article published by E Schläpfer in the Swiss Medical Weekly.

On instructions from his guardian angels he announced he would swallow a long needle and, according to some reports I’ve read, it would dematerialise from Dajo’s body. Dajo did swallow the needle but a couple of days later, May 13th, it was removed by surgical means. Quite what that was supposed to prove is not clear to me and ultimately it might have lead to his demise. Barely two weeks had passed when Dajo began to feel ill and retired to his hotel room to rest. He was dead when he friends found him three days later, May 26th 1948. 

The autopsy revealed he’d died of an aortic rupture. As expected it also found numerous scars all over Dajo’s body and internal organs. But it found no evidence that he’d once been shot in the head as he claimed.

Aside from God-given powers the most reasonable explanation for Dajo’s invulnerability compares the slow pushing of a sword through the body to a far more lethal violent stabbling. The tissue of internal organs move aside, blood vessels too, to allow the sword to pass rather than tear the body open. It is also thought that Dajo had a higher pain threshold than normal although if you look closely at the video, at one point he seems to be sweating a lot and far from comfortable.

In 1948 a researcher in Brussels, Albert Bessemans, investigated the effect of Mirin Dajo style skewering on anaesthetised animals and found that they survived their ordeal perfectly well.  I haven’t read the paper but it reminds me of an 18th century magic trick entitled To Thrust a Knife in the Head of a Cock or Hen without Killing it. The secret was to push the knife through the bird’s head but miss the brain, which, fortunately for the conjuror lies to the rear of the skull. The instructions said that the chicken would feel no ill effects and that the conjuror could “suspend the bird on the knife as often as one pleases." It’s not a trick you’ll find in many repertoires today. And, to date, no one has duplicated the feats of Mirin Dajo.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Girl Who Amazed Einstein

Following on from the post about Al Koran not baffling Einstein it seems a good time to mention the Girl Who Amazed Einstein. It’s a story I first came across while browsing past copies of The Linking Ring (April 1932 issue). Lewis A Miller wrote:

Gene Dennis,"the girl who amazed Einstein," showed her mental wares at the RKO Orpheum in Oakland, San Francisco. Her act, presented somewhat differently from many acts of this kind, seemed to please the people “who lay it down at the box office."

Gene Dennis might well serve as a template for many famous psychics. She claimed to have discovered her gifts at a young age, had a magician as a manager that saw advantage in the situation, toured the theatres, played radio, courted publicity and went to the grave with her secrets intact.

It was in 1921, when Gene (then Eugenie) was only 16 that she first hit the headlines. She had used her powers to help someone to find lost money and that someone promptly told The Kansas City Star. The story was picked up by other local papers and before the year was out Gene was giving psychic demonstrations in local theatres and clubs.

The following year magician David P. Abbott invited her to his home so that her psychic powers could be tested. Abbott had built a reputation on debunking psychics. Behind the Scenes with the Mediums (1907) was his magnum opus on the fakery of Spiritualist mediums. But, weirdly, instead of debunking Gene Dennis he became her manager. He wouldn’t be the last magician to swap sides either to share a psychic’s limelight, affections or profits.

Abbott explained his actions by telling the story of how Gene Dennis passed a stringent test of her powers in his booklet The Wonder Girl, a name claimed to have been bestowed on her by Arthur Conan Doyle. But Abbott’s manuscript didn’t see the light of day until Walter Graham published it in 1992. Todd Karr casts more light on the arrangement the magician and psychic came to in his book (written with Teller) House of Mystery (2005) which is I think the most complete account of Gene Dennis’ career and contains many wonderful photos and ephemera.

Gene Dennis’ repertoire consisted of a Question and Answer act. However, instead of trying to secretly access questions written down by members of the audience she simply had members of the audience ask them openly. Newspaper reports of the day give us some idea of the kind of questions that were asked and the answers she gave:

Q: Will the coal business be good this year and will the retail dealers make any money?
A: Sure, the retail men will make money.

Q: How much longer will my husband be working at Carey’s Salt Co or be in Hutchinson?
A: He will still there until fall and then make a change.

Q: Where will I go to on my next vacation and will I stay there?
A: You will go West. Yes and marry there.

Given that people had paid to hear answers to their questions and not everyone else’s, you can imagine that question and answer sessions weren’t always orderly. One advert suggested that 'to avoid the confusion of last week' people write their names on slips of paper and present them at the box office. The names were called out and Gene answered their questions for an hour.

Perhaps to ensure that performances didn’t consist solely of finding other people’s lost objects or telling girls they would marry, Gene offered predictions on all kinds of matters. In June 1921 she was asked to predict the outcome of the Jack Dempsey, Georges Carpentier boxing match, a title fight that was one of the most popular topics of the day. She replied with all the wise ambiguity of a professional Nostradamus, “The shortest fellow.”

Solving murders and other crimes guaranteed the act was sensational. Whenever something nasty happened in a town, Gene would be asked for her psychic advice. Dramatically she’d raise an arm and point from the stage to a part of town and tell the audience that the culprit was sure to be found there. Her publicity listed all the problems she’d helped the police solve: recovered 15 stolen bicycles, a long-lost bond, a parole breaker and 23 missing diamonds. It seemed that nothing was beyond her psychic grasp.

She got caught out in New York in 1924 when she said she could solve the deaths of Carl Hostetter and Natalie Wills of Staten Island. Asked about the crime she described the motive, jealously, took issue with the questioner over some of the details and then went on to describe the murderer. But, as the newspaper reported, that particular crime existed only “in the mind of the person who asked her to describe it.” Gene Dennis had solved a crime that never happened.

In 1932 Gene Dennis was vacationing in Palm Springs. So too was Einstein. The two met and, according to the Chicago Herald Examiner (Jan 13th, 1932), Einstein was impressed by the young psychic.

“She told me things no one could possibly know, things on which I have been working, and she demonstrated she has the power to do things I cannot explain. I must tell some of my associates about this. It was miraculous indeed.”

That quote followed Gene Dennis around wherever she went. “The Girl Who Amazed Einstein” became a feature of her advertising. It wasn’t long before she was one of the highest paid stars on the circuit. And, unlike Al Koran who missed the opportunity of a photograph of the Einstein, Gene Dennis didn’t. You can check the original photo on the Corbis website.

But back to the boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. It was called the Battle of the Century and it lived up to its name being the most watched and broadcast event of the time. 9000 people saw it in the arena. They made a $1,000,000 in ticket sales. And 300,000 are said to have heard it on radio. Gene Dennis had a 50/50 chance of picking the winner and settled for the short guy. Jack Dempsey was the winner and, as it happens, the taller too.

NOTES: Thanks to Richard Wiseman for directing me to the following article. It appears that the meeting between Einstein and Gene Dennis caused some controversy. Upton Sinclair, author of Mental Radio (1930), waded in on Einstein's behalf. You can read it here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More on the Lucky Face Scam

Nearly ten years ago I wrote about the Lucky Face scam performed by Indian fortune tellers. You can check out the original blog post here.

I wondered how long it had been going on and the answer seems to be decades. At least back to the 1930s. This information comes from an article written by magician Eddie Joseph. It appears in The Linking Ring magazine for January 1932 (Vol 11, No 11). The article is entitled The Miracle Workers of India and part of it deals with the routine used by fortune tellers. It's the Lucky Face scam. Here is Eddie Joseph's account of the scam:


"Try your luck Sir. Very good Fortune Teller. I see by your face that you are a very lucky man. Two girls like you but you like only one. I can tell you everything". With these words the Fortune Teller will follow one on the main roads of the larger Cities. His stock in trade consists of three or four books, a board, two sets of dies, his business card and a bundle of credentials. His business cards bear the words "TRY YOUR LUCK" and then follows his name.

He will produce his credentials one by one to support his claim regarding his capabilities. He is a great student of Human Psychology. He moves about his business very slowly which tends to add impressiveness to the whole proceeding. He begins by handing the two sets of dies to his client. Each set comprises of four ordinary dies joined together with a pin pushed through the center. He now invites his client to roll the dies over the board. This done the Fortune Teller gets hold of his pencil and one of the books and starts what appears to be some calculation which only he can understand. When he concludes his calculation he exclaims "that very good!" That's all he says and his client now is made eager to learn what is in store for him but the wily one is too clever for him.

"Will the saheb please place some money on the board—anything you like" he continues and on the sight of the silver disc he asks the party to think quickly of a flower. "It must be a rose" says Mr. 'Know All' when his victim acknowledges it. I must admit that when this interlude was perpetrated on me for the first time I was surprised how he knew the name of the flower I had in mind but subsequently it was explained by another F. T. how this is done. When a person is asked to think of the first flower that enters his mind there is nine chances out of ten that he will think of a rose. When one is askedto think of a flower the F. T. is busy turning over the leaves of one of his books. He stops at a certain page and then remarks casually "to me it appears that you are thinking of arose".

It is only natural that most of my good readers will be laughing now within themselves and if I should have been within hearing distance I would hear the argument "What if the person thought of a lily or any other flower." WELL! WELL! WELL! there is a very small chance of this happening and when it does occur the F. T. is prepared to meet it. He will simply say something like this "Oh it was a Lily? I should have thought of that. I see that your good and bad stars are in conflict with one another and he will then turn over a few more pages of the book as if to impress on the party that his fate may be determined on another page.

In order to afford my kind reader an opportunity to satisfy himself as to the feasibility of this small mental test I request you kindly to break your reading here for a little while and try it on any person who happens to be near you. Just ask the person to concentrate on the first flower that enters her mind and there is nine chances out of ten she will think of a Rose. If however the person thinks of any other flower you can pass it off by saying that the concentration was not sufficiently strong in order to transmit a mental image to you.

The F. T. now proceeds to ask the over-anxious person if he has any relative in a foreign land. Whether the reply is in the affirmative or the negative he is told "Yes I know there is a distant relative whom you have not seen. This man has built up a great fortune the major portion of which will be inherited by you. You shall see with your own eyes the wealth that will come your way. If you will only give me a little more money I will show you. What is a few annas compared to what you will be worth in a short time?"

The fortune teller (F.T.) goes on to perform another intriguing trick, one in which writing appears on Eddie Joseph's palms. And then continues with the Lucky Face scam which Eddie Joseph continues to describe:

But the F. T. does not stop here. Having succeeded in startling his customer to a certain extent he has yet another surprise to spring. "Now what is the greatest ambition of your heart—write it down. Don't tell me" and when this is done the paper is rolled into a pellet and burnt down to ashes. From the ashes the original pellet is later reproduced and a prediction is found written thereon underneath the question.

Here too the Fortune Teller had to depend on the Conjurer's guile to attain his objective. You will of course understand that it was a dummy that was destroyed. Now it only remains for me to explain the appearance of the mysterious additional writing. This was done behind his bundle of books after he had gained possession of the pellet. The question of suspicion cannot arise here as in all appearances he is supposed to be noting on his pad the replies to his questions such as "What is your name?" "When were you born?" and so on.

The foregoing explanations do not by any means exhaust the fund of artifices that are at the disposal of the Mystery Mongers of this country. I have only cited those that are generally employed and hope that it was found to be of some interest by my readers. THANKS.

Eddie Joseph was born and raised in India, later moving to the UK. He repeated the description of the Lucky Face scam in his book Magic and Mysteries of India (Abbott's, 1941) along with many other Indian conjuring and psychic tricks that he was acquainted with.

Quite astonishing that this psychic con trick goes back so far in history and yet still continues today with the same patter, psychology and technique. It must be very profitable indeed.

Someone did catch the opening line on camera as he was accosted by a fortune teller in London. You can see it on YouTube here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Trick That Fooled Einstein

The Trick That Fooled Einstein is associated with magician and mentalist Al Koran.  He marketed it as Jackpot Coins. The basic effect is that the performer and spectator grab a handful of coins from a bowl of cash on the table. The magician then makes three statements about the number of coins they hold:

I will take the same number of coins as you

I will take 6 more than you

And I will have enough left over to make yours 15

Both parties count their coins and the magician’s statements are proved true. The trick can be repeated. The trick was originally performed with cards but Al Koran adapted it to use with coins and there have been lots of variations of it over the years. But to many it remains The Trick That Fooled Einstein because that’s the name given to it in Al Koran’s Lecture Notes (1972).  It was here that Koran said:

“While playing at the Savoy, I finished my act, and the manager said someone asked me to join them at their table. It was Albert Einstein, the mathematical genius. He leaned over to me, very personally, and asked: “Where in the world did you get those extra coins…did they come from your sleeve?”

I said, “No, it’s simple, a child can do it.” I did it at his table and fooled him again. I then told him “It’s not the numbers – it’s the words that fooled you.”

In 2005 Richard Wiseman emailed to ask if I knew where and when this trick was performed for Albert Einstein. It was the one hundredth anniversary of the year Einstein wrote three of his most notable papers on physics and seemed a good time to examine the story behind the trick that fooled such a brilliant man.

Richard had contacted the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem but they could find no note of Einstein meeting Koran or being baffled by his trick. While Koran loved to bill himself as The Man Who Fooled Einstein perhaps Einstein wasn’t quite so keen to be known as The Man Who Was Fooled by Al Koran.

I thought that such a memorable occasion might be mentioned in Koran’s best-selling self-help book Bring Out The Magic In Your Mind (1964) and sure enough it is, on page 169. There is an extract from The Bulletin, presumably some kind of PR release, on which Koran makes a comment:

'…But if you’ve seen Al work on TV or the stage and been completely puzzled, don’t worry too much. No less a person than the late Professor Einstein failed to find out how it’s done.’

The professor was fascinated by a demonstration I gave him in London.

When Richard Wiseman checked out Einstein’s travels to England he discovered that he only visited twice: in 1931 and 1933. Both were trips to Oxford although it’s possible he passed through London. But Al Koran would have been nineteen years old and plain Edward Doe at that time, more likely to be cutting hair (he was a barber at the Ritz Hotel) than performing at The Savoy. The meeting with Einstein wasn’t Koran’s only extraordinary encounter with celebrity. In one publicity sheet from the 1970s he is described as being the son of the medium Helen Duncan.

I don’t know how long Koran had been performing Jackpot Coins but magicians saw it at the Annual Festival of Magic in 1956 (Magic Circular, Nov 1956).  That’s a year after Einstein died. The trick was later sold to magicians and first advertised in the March 1960 issue of The Gen.

Koran performed the routine on television several times. In The Gen (May 1960) Harry Stanley talks about a BBC Television performance on 20th April in which Koran introduced the trick as “trickery with words.” Interestingly enough that’s how Koran described it in his fictitious encounter with Einstein, saying, “It’s not the numbers that fooled you – it’s the words.”

This might be a point worth noting because the trick is not without suspicion. If you couch it as “trickery with words” you’re accepting that this is more of an interesting curiosity than straight piece of mind reading. Today, if you present it as the trick that Al Koran used to fool Einstein (much as Out of this World is the trick Harry Green fooled Winston Churchill with), then you have yourself a nice story for what is essentially a mathematical puzzle.


Jackpot Coins has its origins in an old card effect that will be familiar to many. In this trick the performer and spectator both cut packets of cards and count them. The performer then makes a statement along the lines of, ‘I have as many cards as you plus three more and enough to make yours up to fifteen.” It’s a mathematical sounding trick that makes a good bar bet.

It's a good trick to perform across a table. Both you and the spectator can count their cards below the table. This prevents you counting each other's cards but also facilitates some of the trickery I'll describe later.

Al Koran’s Lecture Notes talked in terms of the number of coins but in his performances he actually talked about the amount of money. A spectator did not hold 15 pennies. She held one shilling and three pence (old English money). If you used cents and the spectator held 120 of them you would say she had one dollar and twenty cents. Not realising how Al Koran originally performed Jackpot Coins Jon Racherbaumer unknowingly reinvented it when he described his Correct Change routine in At The Card Table (1984).

Koran’s Lecture Notes credit the idea to a card routine called A Matter of Debit and Credit (Greater Magic, 1938). No originator is named there in connection with the trick. Later Jack Avis contributed a note to Martin Breese’s The Magic of Al Koran (1983) tracing the trick to Paul Stadelmen’s booklet Sandu Writes Again (1934). But again Stadelmen doesn’t claim the trick as his. He simply says that it’s an old trick.

I’ve found an earlier reference in The Magic World (November 1920). It contains a trick contributed by Howard L. Grant (Howard the Great) called A Novel Card Effect. Here it says, “While it is by no means new, it has never appeared in print.” As to who Howard L Grant was, well, that seems to be another mystery. Here is Howard L Grant’s original description of the effect as published in The Magic World magazine:

A neat little conception, notable for its simplicity, is the following. While it is by no means new, it has never appeared in print; and as it completely bewilders the unsophisticated observer, I know it will be appreciated.

A spectator is requested to take a number of cards from the pack. The magician also removes a bunch of cards, making sure that he has more than the spectator. The spectator is told to secretly count his cards, the magician doing  the same with his. Then, for example, the performer says: " I have as many cards as you, three more, and enough to make you twenty-four." The spectator says that he has fifteen cards. "Very well," remarks the performer, and he counts off fifteen cards from his heap, three more, and then counts the remaining cards, which prove to be nine, making the total twenty-four.

The secret is absurdly simple. When the performer counts his pile, he disregards a small number of cards, being sure however, that those remaining are still more than those held by spectator. Then we will suppose, as In the aforementioned example, he has twenty-four cards left, and he has disregarded three, making a total of twenty-seven cards. He then proceeds as above and the result is a completely baffled spectator.

This is a rather difficult feat to explain in print, but if the reader will experiment, following the above directions closely, he will find that it works identically as stated. In addition it is one of the few effects that will stand repetition, the magician being careful to change the number of cards in his discard each time.

As Howard Grant pointed out the trick can be repeated as long as you vary the numbers. When Paul Stadelman republished the trick, So Simple, in The Sphinx (Vol 48, No 5, July 1949), he mentioned an idea of Ralph Hull’s. This enables the performer to genuinely tell the spectator exactly how many cards he has in his packet. Here is the Hull repeat described by Paul Stadelman and entitled Still Simpler:

As a follow-up for “So Simple,” start off by offering to “explain” how it works. The apparent explanation seems so reasonable as you proceed with it, and casually mention that since you knew the number of cards they cut off (and mention the number), you simply took the difference between that number and the number you took and fifty-two and then knew the number of cards left on the table.

Someone is bound to ask how you knew how many cards were cut off before the spectator announced it. At this point tell him that you are gifted with “third sight,” and tell him to count his cards again to see if you were right.

Do “So Simple” again, as an example. This time the spectator cuts ten cards and you take fifteen. At the end of the trick, calculate mentally that ten plus fifteen equals twenty-five and throw them back on top of the deck, but note the bottom card of the packet of twenty-five, which we will assume is the ace of hearts.

Have the spectator cut off another bunch of cards, “To prove that I know how many you take,” let us say he takes seven. Now you cut off a bunch, but be sure you cut past the twenty-fifth card. For example, you took twenty-eight. As he counts his cards, you begin to count yours face up but what you actually do is pass them from hand to hand until you come to the ace of hearts. Call that card one mentally and count the cards from then on and you will find you have eighteen cards, which you subtract from twenty-five. This tells you he cut seven, as the ace was originally twenty-five cards deep.

Now for your explanation. “You see the way I do this trick is that I first count my cards. In this case I happen to have thirty. (You mention any number here, for you really do not know how many cards you have, due to the fact that you only counted part of them, just guess at what you think you have.) Since I know I have thirthy, and I know you have seven, then I know I have as many as you and twenty-three more.” Then make the remark about “third sight.”

Now proceed again with the original method of “So Simple” and you will have them believing you each time.

The idea for this second version was suggested by the late R. W. Hull, who was the inventor of many clever card tricks.


It requires considerable mental work but if you count the cards in your hands you can also know the number of cards not only in the spectator’s packet but also the packet left on the table. There are various ways of making this calculation. One is to take the position of the key card from the top of the deck and deduct it from 52 (the number of cards in play).

If the key card is 20th then 52 – 20 = 32. That’s the number of cards below the key card and you memorise this key number.

When you spread through the cards in your packet, mentally you count the number of cards that are above your key card starting at 32 (your new key number), counting backwards: 32, 32, 30, 29 etc. When you hit the key card the number you reach in your counting is the number of cards in the tabled packet.

Now continue counting, starting on your key card (20), and again counting backwards: 20, 19, 18, 17 etc. When you run out of cards you know the next number represents the number of cards the spectator holds. Sounds complicated on paper. Makes sense when you try it. But you still need to keep your wits about you to pull off.

One way to ease the task is to place your key card at an easy to remember and predetermined number like 20. You can do this just by moving a few cards from the top to bottom of the deck, or vice versa, while setting up your key. That way your key numbers are always the same, 20 and 32. The only new item you are memorising is the key card itself.


Ed Marlo had a wonderful bit of business that turned the tables on anyone who performed the  “I have as many cards as you” routine. He described it in Ibidem (No 17, July 1959). When someone says, “I have as many cards as you, four more, and enough to make your cards seventeen” you are able to immediately say, “I can do better than that. I can tell you exactly how many cards you have. You have twenty-one.” And you'll be right.

All you do is total the two numbers they give you. As Marlo says, it really takes people off guard.

Ed Marlo dated his note November 9, 1958, which is just a year or two after Martin Gardner’s Mathematics, Magic and Mystery was published. Gardner’s book describes the trick under the title The Estimated Cut. It’s possible Gardner’s book brought the trick back into popularity. As part of the book’s promotion Estimated Cut was reprinted in The Magic Wand (Vol 46, No 254).


John Bannon came up with an unexpected finale for the routine in his Einstein Overkill (Bullets After Dark DVD, 2009) in which four aces are produced. It’s an odd idea but an interesting one and it occurs to me that if you tell the story of the Trick That Fooled Einstein then you might add an equally fictitious finale in which the great Einstein fools Koran.

The version described here is different from Bannon’s original. Now the beauty of the original card trick is that it can be done impromptu and with a shuffled deck. However, to produce four aces you need to set the cards up.

As mentioned earlier the trick is performed across the table with the assisting spectator seated on the opposite side. The aces need to be positioned as follows: one on top of the deck. Two together somewhere in the middle. And one on the face of the deck. A smart culler could do this relatively quickly. But you could also do it quite more simply as you pick up the cards and talk to the spectators about how Einstein, having been baffled by Koran, examined the cards closely for marks.

Now you do have a couple of advantages. The first is that the deck is already in three packets. Yours, the spectator’s and what’s left. That gives you a lot of opportunities to pick up each packet separately, casually spread through them, secretly find the aces and put them into the right positions as you assemble the deck.

The other advantage is that you already had a chance to look through your cards when you counted them. You’ll know if it contains aces and you can arrange them accordingly.

With the aces in position tell the spectators that Einstein asked to try to the trick himself. Pick out someone else to play the part of Koran. Now repeat the first part of the trick. The spectator cuts some cards but don’t have him count them yet.

You now cut a packet of cards ensuring that you cut deeper than the two adjacent aces which are in the middle of the deck. Hold the cards face-up under the table and count them as before. You also spot the two aces and cut the packet, bringing one to the top and one to the face. Turn the packet face-down and bring it from under the table.

You know how many cards are in your packet and can now make your three statements about how many cards you have.

When you’ve done that ask the spectator to count his cards one at a time face-down onto the table. This will place an ace at the face of his packet.

As per the original routine you now count exactly the same number of cards into a separate packet on the table. “To Koran’s amazement Einstein was right. He had exactly the same number of cards.”

Three aces are already in position on the table. But there is one ace at the face of the packet in your hand. There are various ways of getting it into position for the finale.

A simple way is to pass the packet to the right hand and fan it. Now when you deal the “and three more,” or whatever number you named to the table, you take cards from the bottom of the spread not the top. It’s reasonably natural to do this. Deal these cards into a packet on the table. The ace is now the face card of that packet.

Alternatively do a bottom deal as you count the cards to the table. It’s not that difficult. No one is even looking for it.

Finish the last of your statements, “and enough to make your packet up to twelve” or whatever. And deal these cards onto the spectator’s packet.

You are now set for the finale. There are four packets of cards face-down on the table. And at the face of each packet is an ace.

“Koran was amazed. How did you do that?” Finish with a little misquote from Einstein. “I do not believe that God plays dice. But sometimes he gets lucky with cards.”

Turn over the packets to reveal the four aces.


Michael Weber published a very clever presentation for Jackpot Coins called Picking on Rainman. The trick uses cocktail sticks/toothpicks instead of coins which are more practical props for impromptu work. It further develops the “trickery with words” of the Koran routine too. You’ll find it in M.U.M magazine (Vol 98, No 8, January 2009).

Earlier Karl Fulves had used matchsticks in his version of the trick. See Matching Matches in Self-Working Table Magic (1981) Bill Mullins emailed and advised that he had tracked down an even earlier version the trick to Will Blyth's book Match-Stick Magic (1921). The publication date also makes it one of the earliest references to this effect. Bill has posted his quest for the origin of The Trick That Fooled Einstein on the Genii Forum and you can read it here.

The Will Blyth trick is called Matchstick Divination and you can download a copy of Match-Stick Magic from

Al Koran’s Bring Out The Magic In Your Mind must be one of the most successful self-help books ever written perhaps in part due to the mystical sounding name of its author. You can find it all over the world. Far from getting rich on this it is more than likely that the book was ghost-written. There is a claim in the Review section of the Amazon site that the author was June Hope Kynaston, who also authored The Mind That Works Miracles, a book that seems as hard to find as Koran’s book is ubiquitous.


I've found a few more references that might be of interest. The first is Harry Franke's handling of The Trick That Fooled Einstein. See Bill Miesel's Precursor magazine (LV, August 1996).

The second is also in Precursor (LXXIX, August 2001). It is Al Thatcher's Climax Estimation which produces four of a kind at the end of the "as many as you" routine.

In Precursor editor Bill Miesel mentions that he learned the trick from Scarne on Card Tricks (1950). Scarne calls the trick The Quickie Card Trick. Given the 1950 publication date it is interesting to wonder whether Al Koran read this book and it inspired Jackpot Coins because not only is The Quickie Card Trick there but also a story about a magician and Einstein. See Einstein and the Magician in which the great scientist baffles a conjuror.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Think A Card Mystery

A couple of weeks ago Steve Tucker sent me a photo of a magician asking if I knew who it was. I didn’t. The photo had been sent to him by Don McCamley of the Mahatma Magic Circle in Liverpool, the society that Steve and I were once both members of.

Although I didn’t know the face in the photo it did remind me of a story I’d heard from the late Bob Ostin. Bob had told me that there used to be a photograph on the wall of The Wizard’s Den, the magic shop, in Liverpool. And the photo was of a magician holding up a fan of cards. The shop owner would invite you to think of one of the cards and then he’d reveal it. Sounded like a good version of a think-a-card effect. In fact I’d mentioned this story to Roger Crosthwaite many years ago when discussing think-a-card tricks. But I had never seen the photo. Until now.

Don had found this photo among Bob Ostin’s effects. It had never occurred to me before to try and trace this photo. So, playing detective, I consulted Ask Alexander and searched for anything to do with The Wizard’s Den magic shop in Liverpool. One of the owners proved promising, a cardician by the name of Wilf Bennett. I then searched for any reference to him. And that’s when I arrived at Wilfred Bennett on the cover The Magician magazine (March 1937). It was the same photo!

I don’t have any details about how Wilf Bennett might have revealed the thought of card. The arrangement of the cards in the photo is unusual. As if a new deck order has been very slightly altered. That might mean nothing at all. The closest think-a-card method using a new deck order is a note on A Color Force by Jean Hugard at Ask Alexander. Hugard said, “This is purely psychological but a wonder when it works.”

The note is not very clear. The deck begins in new-deck order. Let’s say the first bank of cards are diamonds and they are in numerical order.  Take a diamond card from near the end of that run and move it five or six cards further along so it sits in the next bank of cards which are black. This is the set-up for the trick.

During the performance the deck is taken from the case and handed to the spectator. “Ask them to fan the cards slowly through and to think of a card as they pass by. Then they are to shuffle the deck and hand it back.”

“The reaction of the person is easy to figure. They are running through a new deck symmetrically arranged and suddenly they notice one card out of line, and apparently packed that way.”

Hugard added a note: “Presumably the pack is to be steamed open and then resealed.”

Sounds unlikely to me but it does seem a little like the set up in Wilf Bennett’s photo. A simpler solution would be that it was just a photo taken spontaneously and the most likely cards to be thought of are the ones that are most exposed.

But I do like the idea of a photo on the wall of a magic shop. And you can always reveal a thought of card using a Brainwave or Invisible Deck. Which reminds me of an idea I read some years ago, possibly in The New Pentagram. You can construct an Invisible Deck using just one suit of cards, for example the Spades. Each Spade card is paired with an indifferent card and each pair roughed back to back. This block of 26 cards (13 roughed pairs) is in the centre of the deck.

To use as a mental effect ask everyone in your audience to think of a card. Now point vaguely to one section of it and say something like, “I’m getting a strong impression of a black card over here. A Spade.” And wait for someone to nod or indicate that they are indeed thinking of a Spade. Single that person out and have them name their thought of card. Now bring out the deck, spread through it and reveal that their card is the only one reversed (and has an odd back if you decide to create a Brainwave version).

As I say, this is not my effect but I like the idea of a partial Invisible/Brainwave Deck. And the point I’m getting to is that you can construct the same kind of deck to work with Wilf Bennett’s photo. I like the partial Invisible/Brainwave Deck. It handles really well and feels more like a real deck. Give it a try, you might come up with something interesting.

NOTES: Yaniv Deautsch emailed to say that Stanton Carlisle used the idea of restricting the spectator to a single suit when thinking of a card. The idea was inspired by a conversation he had with Ken de Courcy about Al Koran.

Apparently Koran believed that the Brainwave Deck needed a follow up trick. Having performed the Brainwave Deck with one spectator Koran would point to another spectator and say, "You wouldn't have thought of that card, would you sir? What card would you have thought of?"

The spectator named a card and Koran took a sealed envelope from his pocket, tore it open and produced the chosen card. To do this he used pocket indices that covered all fifty-two possibilities. Stanton Carlisle liked the idea but didn't want to use a full set of pocket indices. So he would have just the Spade suit in envelopes and distributed in various pockets. Having just three or four envelopes in a pocket makes the trick easier to do.

After a performance of the Brainwave Deck, Carlisle would say, "I get a very strong impression that someone else has another card on their mind. A black card. A Spade." As soon as someone acknowledged that it was so, he went on to produce the named card from an envelope. You'll find the trick described in Stanton Carlisle's article Successful Mentalism Part 7 (Magigram Vol 7, June 1975).