Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monte Mystery

The line of thought here began when I heard an interview with Cy Endfield in the Patrick Page Audio Archive. He was talking, in a vague and perhaps deliberately ambiguous way, about Bob Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte which was marketed in 1951 as a manuscript. There have been many adaptations over the years perhaps the best known being Al Koran’s. Koran turned a trick with three playing cards into a trick with a note under one of three cups. It’s worth seeking out if you don’t already know it.

Cy Endfield’s interview led me to think again of what might be done with some of the ideas in the original Bob Hummer trick. For example, you could try this:

Have someone cut the deck into three packets. You turn your back. They look at the bottom card of one of the packets and then replace it on the table. They then switch the positions of the other two packets so you can’t know which packet was chosen. You are now able to turn around and point to the packet containing their card.

This is not a major mental mystery but it’d be easy to make it a little more involved by adding additional switching moves as per the original Hummer trick. The Hummer trick works by knowing the position of one of the three cards being shuffled around. When the performer turns back to face the spectator he notes the new position of the memorised card and is now able to deduce which of the three cards was chosen.

But in the version I’ve just suggested the performer doesn’t see any of the cards. However, he does see the three packets. And all you have to do is memorise the position of either the largest or smallest of the packets. Doesn’t matter which as long as that one packet is easily distinguished from the rest. It’s unlikely the spectator will cut three perfectly even packets so you have a very good chance of making one of them your key.

Let’s say the middle packet is your key. The position it finishes in after the spectator has swapped the other two packets will tell you the location of the noted card. For example. If the key is in the same position, then it means the selected card is on the bottom of that packet. If the packet is on the left, then it means the selected card is on the right. If the packet is on the right, then the selection is on the left. It’s simple logic and, as I say, you can add some extra swap moves that you either track (as per the Hummer original) or simply bring the three packets back to their original position without the spectator realising it. I’ll leave that to you.

The idea of using packets of cards as opposed to single cards made me think there were additional effects to be had. A spectator could look at a card in one of the packets, assemble the packets and then you might be able to reveal not only the name of the card but its position in the deck. That would be something worth working on. I was discussing this with Shiv Duggal when a simple solution came to mind. And you might just get away with it as a magician-fooler in your next card session. Here it is:

EFFECT: The magician shuffles the deck and places it on the table in front of the spectator. He asks the spectator to give the deck several cuts. The magician then turns away and asks the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. He does.

The spectator is asked to choose one of the packets and look at the top card. He memorises the card and then buries it in the packet. To make sure the magician can’t possibly know which packet has been moved the spectator is asked to swap the other two packets with each other.  Then he asks the spectator if he still knows which packet contains his card. He does. ‘Good. Now I want you to swap that packet with one of the others.’ The spectator does this too. ‘Do you still know which packet contains your card?’ The spectator says he does. The performer cautions the spectator to keep a poker face for the rest of the trick. And then the performer turns around.

The performer slowly moves his hand above the three packets. ‘There are three packets and I can tell you three things about your card. First, it’s in this packet. Am I right?’ The performer touches one of the packets. The spectator acknowledges that the performer is correct.

I can also tell you that your card is….the Ten of Spades. Am I right?’ Again, the performer is absolutely right.

‘And finally, I can tell you that it’s…. eight cards down in the packet. Am I right?” The spectator says he has no idea. So the performer begins counting cards from the top of the packet to the table. And sure enough the Ten of Spades is the eighth card down.

METHOD: Here’s the disappointing bit. You use a Svengali deck. I love Svengali decks. You can riffle shuffle them without spoiling the set up. You can also overhand shuffle them, faces towards the spectators, and they will be absolutely convinced that it’s an ordinary deck. This is a technique worth knowing. You simply spring packets off from the right hand thumb and fingers into the left during the shuffle. The overhand shuffle is actually a series of very convincing cuts. It’s a technique that has mostly been forgotten by magicians.

When you put the deck face-down on the table, you show the spectator how to cut it and complete the cut. Fingers and thumb at the short ends of the deck so they will always cut a short card to the top, of course. Basically you are training him to do the next cutting phase which will happen when your back is turned. Have him cut the deck several times ostensibly to mix the cards. Then turn away from him.

Ask the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. This will put your force card, Ten of Spades in our example, on top of each packet. The spectator chooses a packet, looks at the top card and then slides the card into the middle of the packet.

Have him swap the other two packets. This is just a red herring to have your brother magicians thinking about the Hummer trick. It’ll help take them away from the idea that a Svengali deck is used. Then ask him to swap his chosen packet with one of the other packets. This should convince him that you have no idea which packet he chose.

Turn back to the spectator and, as casually as you can, look at the three packets on the table. Two will have short cards on top. One will have a long card. If you have to, square the packets but it’s generally obvious which cards are long and short. Point to the packet with the long card. That’s the chosen packet.

You can also reveal the name of the chosen card because that’s your force card. Ask the question about how many cards down in the deck he placed his card. He will have no idea but it’s probably around the middle. Look at the packet and name any even number that is just above what you estimate to be the middle of the packet. The force cards in that packet are at even numbers.

Count down to the even number and you should find that it is the selection. You’ll know that before you turn it over because, once again, you can see which cards are long and which are short. However, there is the possibility that the spectator placed his card above the number you are counting to. Again, you will know this either during the deal or by the time you get to the number. At that point you repeat your claim, ‘The ten of spades is eight cards down in the deck,’ but lay a slightly different stress on the words. Count off the even number and then point to the next card purposefully before holding it away from the deck and then turning it over. That’s all there is to it. Could be a sneaky little item in the right hands. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the plot might lead to other non-Svengali manifestations of the trick.

When I told Shiv Duggal about this idea and he pointed me in the direction of a lovely trick from Joshua Jay. In the advertising it specifically says that it doesn’t use a Svengali. So not the same method at all. It is a really wonderful piece of impromptu magic. It’s called Impossible Three and is well worth noting. You watch the performance and buy the trick here.

Friday, June 10, 2016


There has been some discussion among magicians recently about the similarities in performance between the new winner of Britain’s Got Talent, Richard Jones, and previous contestants in America’s Got Talent. One of the effects in question concerns the cutting of a celebrity silhouette from a piece of paper.

The trick was marketed by Oz Pearlman, one of the AGT contestants, as 21st Century Phantom in 2008. Credit was given to Annemann and Percy Naldrett for the original effect. A review by W. S. Duncan in M-U-M magazine said, ‘While it would be easy to accuse Mr Pearlman of grave robbing in his production of this effect, I think a more honest assessment would call it resurrecting.’ The trick was a close-up version of The Phantom Artist published by Annemann in The Jinx (Summer 1937 Extra) and later in Annemann’s Practical Mental Effects  (1944). And in fact it was Annemann who was doing the resurrecting, pointing out that the trick had previously been published by Percy Naldrett as The Celebrity Trick. Which actually wasn't quite true.

The trick was the work of H C Mole, a magician from Aintree in Liverpool with several books to his name. Like Richard Jones he also had a connection to the military in that he organised hundreds of shows for troops in the Boehr War (Mole was born in the 1870s) as well as the first and second World Wars. He wrote about this aspect of his work in magic articles and pamphlets. But he also had another skill and one that might show why he came up with an effect in which a portrait was cut into a sheet of paper. He was a pioneer in the performance of rag pictures.

In this curious art the performer would create a picture from bits of cloth on an easel. Patter, rhyme and music were added to make it entertaining but perhaps what made it interesting to audiences is that the pictures were astonishingly good. You can get an glimpse of the kind of pictures H C Mole made in Abracadabra magazine (28th February 1948). In an article he wrote entitled Rag Picture Wrinkles there is a photograph of a tourist postcard set alongside a photograph of his wife putting the finishing touches to their rag rendition of the postcard. The similarity is amazing.

H C Mole didn’t read The Jinx. And it wasn’t until he read the Potter’s Bar series in The Budget, in which Jack Potter listed published tricks, that Mole realised his trick had been reprinted by Annemann. Mole wrote an article for Abracadabra magazine (24th June, 1950) entitled Piracy. He complained that Annemann had lifted his copyrighted material, saying, Is it not time, though, that such bare-faced robbery should be stopped, for I am not the only sufferer in this respect?’

H C Mole died in 1952 leaving a legacy of interesting books and articles including Those Entertaining Years (1950, a reminiscence of his magical life. The profits went to Benevolent Funds of the IBM. In one story he recalls his wife’s reaction to the Biblical tale in which Aaron cast down his rod and it became a serpent. This prompted the Egyptian magicians to do the same. ‘It’s funny,’ said Mrs Mole, that they all knew the same conjuring trick!’

There is one more thing to mention about H C Mole and The Celebrity Trick. It was published in 1919 by Percy Naldrett in a book called The Magic of To-Morrow. Meaning that the trick that helped Richard Jones win Britain’s Got Talent was almost 100 years old. How very prescient of Mr Mole.