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).