Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween Harry

Halloween is, as all magicians know, a significant date in the life and legend of Harry Houdini. It was the date of his death in 1926 and forever a link between the world's greatest magician and the supernatural. With that in mind, and for your entertainment on this auspicious day, I've published a short story about Harry Houdini, Sherlock Holmes and Spiritualism. I've uploaded it to Amazon. Hope you enjoy it.

Houdini did mention Sherlock Holmes in his 1906 book The Right Way to Do Wrong, an exposé of the work of con men and criminals, when he described a particularly baffling jewel theft that took place in a locked train van as it travelled from London to Scotland. It's a method that is still in use today. In fact many of the tricks and hustles that Houdini described are still in the repertoire of the criminal and we used them as inspiration for many of the stunts in The Real Hustle television series for the BBC.

The observant will also spot something in Houdini's book relevant to the short story. I won't spell it out here because it will spoil the mystery but Houdini said it was originated by an 'English crook.' You'll find it on page 61 of The Right Way to Do Wrong. I like to think that in an alternate universe Houdini learned of the method from his visit with Sherlock Holmes.

You can find my short story as a Kindle book on Amazon. Read it on any device with a Kindle App. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can even read it for free on Kindle Unlimited. Happy Halloween.

Get Holmes & Houdini Here

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sherlock Holmes and the Mayfair Murders

Many years ago I wrote a book about Sherlock Holmes. It was for my friend Martin Breese, who published Sherlock Holmes' pastiches. Unfortunately Martin never got to publish the book. But some years later it was picked up by another publisher and issued in paperback. And now a Kindle ebook is available.

The adventure is set some time after the notorious Jack the Ripper murders. A serial killer appears. Has the Ripper returned? And will Holmes triumph against a psychic detective who Scotland Yard appears to be placing their faith in?

I've always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes and the possibilities for story telling that the Victorian era offers. As a magician you will recognise some of the elements that are used in the story. And as a bargain hunter you will enjoy the fact that for the next couple of days the book is on offer for a very reasonable price. If you are an Amazon Prime member you can also read it for free as part of Kindle Unlimited.

If you don't own a Kindle, you can use the Kindle App to read it on your computer, phone or tablet.

You can find the book here:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Labyrinth: A Journal of Close-Up Magic

Magic magazines are often started by the young. Amateur magicians sharing their enthusiasm and that of their friends for the craft. They gather the material from their contemporaries. Stacked one upon the other magazines form the strata of the history of magic as a hobby and a profession. While the latest issue of any magazine has much to offer the contents can mature over the years.  Much later you read the material in a different context. Forgotten ideas sparkle like gems. At least that’s the hope I have when flipping through old journals.

Stephen Hobbs began Labyrinth in 1994 while living in New York. In the preface to this volume he describes it as ‘an incredibly inspiring and creative period of my life. I was meeting magicians on a weekly, often daily, basis. Everyone was coming up with new ideas and techniques, constantly trying to better himself or herself and improve the art.’

Those magicians included Jack Carpenter, Steve Mayhew, Ernest Earick, Jamy Ian Swiss, John Lovick, Bill Goodwin, Bob Farmer and many others who are well-known names today. All contributed to Labyrinth.

Thirteen issues were printed over a period of several years. They’ve been reprinted here in one volume as a facsimile of the original magazine. I think that’s a good decision. The layout is clear and simple. The illustrations by Kelly Lyles are excellent. It gives you a much better flavour of the era. It also makes for a substantial book of 448 pages.

One of the benefits of having a slow publication schedule is that Stephen Hobbs was able to curate some excellent magic. Half of the issues were devoted to a single contributor. Alain Nu, Aaron Fisher, Erick Dockery and Gregory Wilson each have entire issues devoted to their magic. Steve Mayhew has two issues!

Most of the contributions are card magic and some have found their way into other publications and DVDs over the years. The majority, however, will probably be new to you not least because, aimed mainly at friends, only 100 copies of each issue of Labyrinth were published. Which is why issues and the occasional volume turn up on auction sites at high prices. But it is not rarity that gives Labyrinth its value. It’s the magic. You can flip to almost any page and find something of interest and a glance at the very first issue sets the standard for what follows.

The first trick in issue one of Labyrinth is The Close-Up Billusion. It’s a three-card monte style effect the result of a brainstorming between Stephen and friends. A dollar bill visibly jumps from the middle of a two-card sandwich to the bottom and back again. It uses the topological method pioneered by Tom Sellers and J. C. Whyley and is very effective.

Jack Carpenter contributes Fate or Free Will? This is an almost self-working effect in which a spectator locates three cards that matches your prediction. I like the speed at which this happens. It’s very quick and surprising.

The Big Fat Hairy Con is Steve Mayhew’s ‘magician fooler.’ It’s another quick trick and takes advantage of your fellow magician’s lack of interest in selecting a card. By the time he discovers his card reversed in the deck he will have no idea how you did it. Very good thinking and I like the idea in the notes about how to turn the trick into the location of three-of-a-kind.

The old ‘I have as many cards as you’ trick gets a makeover from Jack Carpenter in A Quickie Revisited. I’ve always been intrigued by this effect and I really like Jack Carpenter’s handling and the addition of a kicker prediction. Carpenter contributes another routine in Carpenter’s Cannibals. Four Kings devour two spot cards before turning into four Eights for the ‘Ate and ate’ finale. It’s a simple set up and efficient handling.

The final trick in the first issue is The Grippo Transpo. Steve Ehlers and Jack Carpenter had seen Jimmy Grippo perform in Las Vegas and been amazed by a trick in which a card held by a spectator changed into their signed selection. Discussing the effect with Steve Mayhew they came up with the solution published here. It requires a double-face card but the handling is simple and the effect is straightforward and very visual.

The hallmark of all the magic in Labyrinth is practicality. There are tricks you can use right away. Ideas you’ll be able to twist to your own requirements. And inspiration for future routines. With so many good routines and notable contributors, Labyrinth is not just another volume to add to the shelves but one you’ll spend a lot of time actually reading.

Labyrinth: A Journal of Close-Up Magic  - Stephen Hobbs – 6.25” x 9.25” – Hardback – illustrated - 448 pages - $60. Published by Kaufman and Company. Available from Kaufman and Company.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Good Guess

Persi Diaconis has been known to perform a card trick during his mathematical lectures. Five people choose cards from a deck that Diaconis never touches. Diaconis asks the people who have red cards to stand up. They do and Diaconis reveals the names of their cards. He then reveals the names of the remaining five cards. He described the trick in Magical Mathematics, an excellent book co-authored with Ron Graham.

The deck is stacked in what is known as a de Bruijn sequence. Magicians call these sequences, mistakenly says Diaconis, Gray codes. The key is the moment some people reveal they have red cards. Let’s say, three people stand up. The five people can now be seen as a sequence of red and black cards, for example, R, B, B, R, R. This is enough information to tell you which section of the stack you are in. And all the cards can be identified.

It does take some work to translate the red black sequence into the names of playing cards and Diaconis only describes a method that works with a 32 card deck leaving the reader to work out their own method for a 52 card deck. There is, however, a simpler way of achieving the effect. It has its own compromises, of course, but the trick is very easy to do and you might already have the skills to do it.

The stack used in this case is Si Stebbins. It’s a simple mathematical sequence. Each card in the stack has a value of 3 more than the previous card. A thirteen-card sequence of values looks like this:

3 6 9 Q 2 5 8 J A 4 7 10 K

Suits are arranged in familiar CHaSeD order.

Hand the deck to a spectator and have him give it a cut or two or three. He then takes the top card of the deck and passes the deck to the spectator next to him. She takes the new top card and passes the deck on. This is repeated until four spectators are each holding a card. The deck is placed aside. Apparently there is no way you can know anything about the chosen cards.

In fact you do know two things. First that there is one card of each suit among the four. Secondly that there is a court card or an Ace among the four. You use these two pieces of information as follows.

First you say, to everyone:

I get the impression that one of you is holding a heart. Is that right?

One spectator will either nod or otherwise indicate that they are holding a heart suit. From this you know the arrangement of suits that the spectators hold.

Next you say:

And I’m getting… a high card. A court card. Okay?

One of three things will happen:

  • The person with the heart card also holds a court card and thinks you are talking to them. They say yes.
  •  Someone else says yes.
  • No one says yes.

In the case of the first two answers, you now know there is a J, Q or K in play.  Because the four cards are in CHaSeD order you also know the suit. So announce that too.

From the spectators’ point of view you’ve made two good guesses so far. Let’s continue to divine the court card.

Announce that it’s a King. You’ll be right one out of three times. If they say you’re wrong, ask them for the name of the card. It can only be a Jack (looks similar) or Queen (nearest value card). Even when you’re wrong you’re pretty close. Make the most of a minor mistake that you hope the audience will forgive because you now have enough information to reveal all four cards.

Let’s assume no one says yes when you make your guess about there being a court card. If no one says yes, you know that the Ace is in play. In fact you now know all four cards because the only combination that features an Ace without a court card is A, 4, 7, 10.

But segue into this by correcting your previous guess about it being a court card by saying:

It’s definitely a high card…. An Ace… Ace of Spades

Naming the suit which you nailed without further prompting. You can also now reveal the rest of the cards. Do this in the most interesting way possible, going from one spectator to another.

That’s all there is to it. A miracle using a stack you already know. There are other strategies for working the trick if you prefer to use five selected cards instead of four. But, like Persi Diaconis, I will leave you to figure that out for yourself.

NOTES: Si Stebbins (William Henry Coffrin) sold his system to the public in a number of booklets from the 1880s onwards. He said it had been shown to him by a Syrian card manipulator, Selim Cid, who worked alongside him in a travelling magic store. Although Stebbins sold a system involving a 3-card progression, the one he used himself featured a 4-card progression and he published at a much later date in1935.

St Stebbins performed what is known as a ‘rube act’ with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was a kind of clown act, which, judging by his publicity photo, he was perfectly suited for! You can download one of Si Stebbins’ booklets here. Fans of Chan Canasta will be intrigued by Trick no 5. See how it pays to read to the end?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Phase Six

In 1951 Eddie Joseph released a manuscript called The Invisible Influence: The No Touch Card Act. The manuscript can still be bought from Abbott’s Magic.

The trick seems little known these days, which is a pity because the principle upon which it operates is very interesting. One reason it might be overlooked is that The Invisible Influence was a six-part routine using a deck that had to be stacked in a particular and unorthodox order. It was a coincidence effect played out with a deck of cards cut into two portions. Cards chosen from one portion would turn up matching cards in the other.

But if you manage to read through the first five phases you get to the crux of the method, which is best highlighted in the sixth phase. And that’s what I’m describing here. The only adjustments I’ve made are a simpler set-up, the use of two decks and some ideas that might be useful in presenting the trick. The genius is all Eddie Joseph’s. Do give it a try. And then seek out the rest of the manuscript from Abbott’s.

EFFECT: Two decks of cards are shown, one red, one blue. The spectator chooses one. The other is used as your ‘prediction’ deck.

From the chosen deck the spectator now cuts to three cards. And leaves them reversed in the deck. The two decks are now placed face-down, side by side.

You deal through the two decks simultaneously until you reach the first face-up chosen card, for example the Six of Hearts. The card at the same position in the neighbouring deck matches it exactly. It too is the Six of Hearts.

The cards either side of the Sixes do not match.

The dealing is continued until the next face-up card is reached. Once again, the card at that same position in the neighbouring deck matches exactly.

This is repeated with the third face-up card. Another match. All three selections were apparently correctly predicted.

METHOD: This is the sixth phase of the Eddie Joseph routine and the trick is completely self-working. Take a deck of cards and shuffle it. Now take a second deck and set it up in the same order as the first but in reverse. So the top card of one deck is the face card of another.

In performance you place both decks on the table and have one chosen. It’s a free choice. Put the other deck aside for the moment telling the spectators that it is your prediction deck.

The trick works because of the way the spectator will choose and reverse the three cards. Begin by asking the spectator to cut a few cards from the top of the face-down chosen deck. And place them face-down on the table.

The new top card of the deck is now turned face-up, noted and dropped onto the tabled packet.

The spectator now cuts more cards from the deck and drops them face-down on top of the packet, burying the reversed card.

The new top card of the deck is turned face-up, noted and dropped face-up onto the tabled packet.

The spectator now cuts a third packet of cards from the deck and drops them face-down onto the tabled packet, burying the reversed card.

The new top card of the deck is turned face-up, noted and dropped face-up onto the tabled packet. Three cards have been chosen and reversed.

Finally, you take what remains of the deck and drop it on top of the face-up selection. The deck is now complete, face-down and with the three selections face-up and buried somewhere inside.

To finish, place your prediction deck face-down beside the chosen deck. Remove cards, one at a time, and simultaneously from both decks, placing them face-down on the table.

When you reach the first face-up card you also turn the card at the same position in the other deck face-up. It will match.

Drop both face-up cards onto the table.

You can, if you wish, now turn over the top cards of the dealt packets. They will in all probability not match. Neither will the new top cards of the decks. Turn them face-down and continue dealing through the decks until you come to the next face-up card.

You repeat the previous procedure. The card at the same position in your prediction deck will match the face-up card. Deal the matching cards to the table and continue dealing until you reach the third face-up card. Again you can show that the card in the opposite deck matches.

Deal the matching pair to the table. Reassemble the decks and, if you want, spread the cards. The two decks are not in the same order.

NOTES: The working is very simple. The effect very strong. With a little thought it might become something even better. There is the possibility that in turning over cards either side of the selection, you will find a match. But that’s purely accidental. And it’s unlikely this will happen more than once during the trick.  You can actually show lots of different cards as you deal through the deck, none of which will match. It's very convincing. However, if you want to know how to predict such matches, then it’s worth consulting Eddie Joseph’s manuscript and employing his original card set-up.

SIGNED PHASE: Another presentation you might want to try is instead of the spectator turning the cut-to cards face-up, have him sign the back.  Then place the signed face-down card on the cut packet as per the original handling.

This means the spectator never sees the faces of the three cards but he has signed them. Now when you deal through the two decks you take out each pair of cards, signed and card at the same position in the opposite deck, and place these pairs of cards aside. You can turn over these pairs of cards at the end of the trick, rather than during the deal, to reveal the match. It’s just an option but might some might prefer to present it this way.

SINGLE PHASE: Nick Trost mentioned the Eddie Joseph trick in one of his New Tops Conjuring with Cards columns (October 1991). Nick Trost suggested another way of reversing the card and cutting the deck, one based on what he called the Hen Fetsch Force.

This inspired the following, a prediction for a single chosen card using a handling similar to the Bill Simon Business Card Prophecy. The starting point is the same. Two decks, one in reverse order to the other. Have one deck chosen and spread it  face-down between the hands, from left to right, so that the spectator can point to a card. You divide the spread so the selected card is on top of the left hand portion.

Now with the left thumb push the selected card to the left. The right hand turns over, completely, so it is knuckles up. It takes the sidejogged selection between the right thumb and the deck of the inverted right hand.

Turn the right hand back to a palm up position. The selection is face-up on top of the right hand packet. The card is noted by the spectator. And you now place the right hand packet of cards below the left hand packet, burying the face-up card in the centre of the deck. This also effectively cuts the deck, setting up the single reversed card for a coincidence with the matching card in your prediction deck.

ADDITIONAL PREDICTIONS: There is room to make additional predictions. It would be great to show that you have predicted the three matching pairs in advance. But that would require a lot of extra work. However, there is a very simple prediction you can use at the beginning of the trick to lay the foundations for what comes later.

When you ask the spectator to choose one deck for himself and leave the other as your prediction deck, wouldn't it be good to show that he chose the right deck? An easy way to do this is using a two-way prediction. For example, have the decks cased. On the underside of one case it says 'Your deck.' On the underside of the other deck it says 'Prediction Deck.'  The cases contain the decks and each deck has a Joker on the face. On the backs of the Jokers you write similar captions. But each Joker contains the opposite caption to the one written on the card case. You now have a simple two-way prediction. When the deck is chosen, you either turn it over to reveal the caption or when you remove the jokers you turn them over to reveal the captions. That's it. Good luck and don't forget to check out the original manuscript, Eddie Joseph's Invisible Influence, which you can order from Abbott's Magic.