Thursday, April 21, 2016


Michael Vine told me about a very interesting trick performed by Ron Wilson, ‘The Uncanny Scot.’ Ron asked Michael to take a deck of cards, hold it under the table and give it a shuffle. With the cards still under the table, Michael then looked at the top card, remembered it, and placed it anywhere in the middle of the deck. Satisfied that there was no way Ron Wilson could know anything about his selection, Michael brought the deck back into view. Ron asked him to take out one of the Queens from the deck and hand it to him. Ron put the Queen to his ear as if the card was whispering to him. He listened. And then announced the name of Michael’s card. Ron had never touched the deck. It was completely baffling.

Michael thought about the trick and did a little research. When he next saw Ron he said, ‘Annemann’s $1,000 Test Card Location.’ And Ron smiled. 

Annemann published the $1,000 Test Card Location in his booklet SH-H-H—It’s a Secret in early 1934. It was a good enough trick to headline the advert for the book. He said it was based on a principle he read ‘in one of Ellis Stanyon’s magazines back around 1907.’ I can’t find anything for that date but did find mention of the principle in the July 1913 issue of Stanyon’s Magic magazine. Stanyon was writing about stacked decks and how they could be given an Overhand Shuffle by the spectator and yet still be useful to the magician:

It amounts to this: As a last resource you allow the pack to be shuffled and take the chance of having a card selected from a portion of the pack where the shuffle has not separated it from its adjoining cue card.

He went on to say:

In support of all this I have shuffled the pack no less than six times, purposely dropping half the cards on one occasion, and even then failed once only (in six times) to name the card. Even after more and repeated shuffles, I find that I can, as often as not, name the drawn card. This fact in respect to the genuine shuffle of an arranged pack, is one of the prettiest things in conjuring I have ever discovered - it’s the hitherto considered impossible achieved absolutely.

Annemann used this principle in his $1,000 Test Card Location. The deck is stacked in Eight Kings or Si Stebbins order. He handed the deck to the spectator and asked him to shuffle them. He hurried the spectator along by saying, ‘Ready?’ and then asked them to cut the deck once and complete the cut. Then look at and remember the top card and then bury it in the centre of the deck. 

The shuffle doesn’t entirely mix the cards. It breaks the deck up into chunks. The final cut is likely to be in the middle of one of those chunks. Annemann took the deck back, glimpsed the face card and used it to deduce the name of the card that was once on top of the deck.

Annemannn didn’t say much about the presentation of the trick. He just took the deck back and named the card. That’s where Ron Wilson comes in. Ron had been performing The Whispering Queen routine since at least 1956 because there’s a reference in the May 1956 issue of The Linking Ring to him performing it at Ring 116 in Windsor Canada. It was a favourite trick and he explained it in full in the January 1971 issue of Genii magazine. The effect is as follows:

Spectator is asked to take a deck of cards into the next room out of sight of the performer. He is told to shuffle and cut the deck, place a card in one of his pockets without looking at it, and return to the performer who simply asks the spectator to give him one of the ‘Queens’ from the deck. Putting the queen to his ear, performer then tells the spectator the name of the card in his pocket.

Of course to take a Queen from the deck the spectator needs to turn the cards face-up. That’s when you glimpse the face card of the deck and use it to deduce the identity of the selection. Ron Wilson said the trick was ‘an adaptation of an Annemann idea.’ He also mentions that it’s a good idea to perform the trick at the table and have a spectator shuffle the deck beneath the table. The reason being that he’s unlikely to use a riffle shuffle in these circumstances. And shuffling under a table helps ensure that the shuffle won’t be a thorough one. This is the version that Michael Vine saw Ron Wilson perform. 

Annemann and Frank Lane had a bit of a spat over the principle used in the $1,000 Test Card Location mainly because Frank not only used the principle himself but because he alleged Annemann hadn't given proper credit to Stanyon. The dispute seemed to arise because after Annemann's publication Frank Lane published his own trick using the Stanyon idea. See his Three Pellet Card Trick described in A Real Magic Show (1935). Frank Lane said Stanyon had published the principle in 1901. But I haven't found that reference either.

In the Genii magazine Ron Wilson said he'd been performing The Whispering Queen for 25 years which takes it back to the middle of the 1940s. But there’s a curious addition to this story and I found it in the March 1976 issue of The Magigram. There Harry Carnegie described two Billy O’Connor effects and one of them is The Whispering Queen where he wrote, ‘This is really Annemann’s $1,000 Test Card Location, but with the Billy O’Connor touch.’

The presentation and method is similar to Ron Wilson’s.  Someone is sent into a corner of the room with a deck of cards. They shuffle it, cut it and look at the top card. This is placed in the middle of the deck as per the original Annemann trick. They return, give the performer one of the Queens and the Queen whispers into the ear of the performer and reveals the name of the selection. Billy O’Connor showed it to Harry Carnegie in 1938, which is four years after Annemann published SH-H-H—It’s a Secret.

NOTES: I wonder whether there is any advantage is glimpsing the top card of the deck rather than the bottom card. I’m envisaging a situation where the cut isn’t just made in the middle of a chunk of cards but at some natural break. If so, then maybe it’s even better to check the top card. Of course, you could check both.

The inefficiency of a short Overhand Shuffle is very useful when performing Out of this World. The deck is stacked with the two colours separated. The spectator can give the cards an Overhand Shuffle. You take the deck back and pull out two Indicator Cards, one red, one black, which you set on the table. This gives you an opportunity to check the arrangement of the deck. More often than not only the centre cards are mixed. As you pull out two Indicator Cards (which might well be the only two cards out of sequence) you’ll find it a very easy matter to get the deck back into red and black order. Give it a try. As Stanyon pointed out, you’ll be surprised how much shuffling the deck will withstand. In fact even if you, the performer, Overhand Shuffles the deck, there’s no need for a special False Shuffle, the spectators will be convinced the deck has been thoroughly mixed.

There are several papers that analyse the shuffling of playing cards. For example, this one by David Aldous and Persi Diaconis. I haven’t yet found a paper referencing Ellis Stanyon’s discovery so if you do, please let me know.

Finally, you might have noticed that there is a bit of a difference between Annemann's advert describing his $1,000 Test Card Location and the description in SH-H-H—It’s a Secret. I guess that's called dealer hyperbole.