Spies, Tribes & Cupid

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Around 1980 Bob Ostin showed me a packet trick with a very novel finish. I could see that it was a version of Elmsley’s Four Card Trick and so I never asked Bob for the full working of the effect. As I recall, Bob said he had the trick from Arthur Day. And indeed Arthur may well have shown him the trick. I also might have misremembered our conversation. It was only recently I learned that the trick was actually created by Peter Moffat.

The trick went under a couple of different titles. I found one advert from Scottish Magical Services in Abracadabra magazine (June 23rd, 1979) where the trick is called Spy Card. Last year, thanks to Liam Montier, I managed to get a copy of the instructions where it was titled Spy Hole.

Ever since Bob showed me the trick, I’ve played with different handlings that used a regular deck rather than the duplicates in the original packet trick. Both my handlings and Moffat’s rely heavily on Elmsley’s original Four Card Trick. It was Peter Moffat’s surprise finish that made the Spy trick stand out. Here is my handling of Moffat’s trick. Turn the volume up if you want to hear the soundscape.


If you need to make holes in playing cards, you might be interested in the following. I used the EK Success Circle Pro to cut the hole for Kingsmen. I bought it from Amazon a couple of years ago though it doesn’t seem to be currently available. However, there may be similar items on the market. With it you can cut holes of all sizes in paper or card. Here’s how it works.


I’ve always liked the idea of Vernon’s Follow The Leader effect but never found a routine that led anywhere. Maybe it is better as an interlude in an Oil & Water routine. Faucett Ross said he gave Vernon the plot having seen something similar in Hofzinser. It seems to have gone out of favour. As a card problem it is fun to play with, finding how many switches of position you can get for minimum effort.

The following handling came about because I discovered an idea of Audley Walsh’s in his Rackets Are My Racket lecture notes. It’s also published in Tarbell Volume 2 as Ten Card Color Change. The Walsh idea is a small swindle that enables you to extend the routine without any extra work. The routine described here began as an almost self-working trick and then evolved into something more complex. This is the middle version of three.


This came about after reading Unhappy Couples in Nick Trost’s Subtle Card Creations volume 8 (2021). This version is absurdly simple. I’m sure others have had the same idea but it struck me as something worth knowing. It is the same principle employed in well known tricks such as The Congress of Court Cards (Modern Magic, 1876). And, as with that trick, is simple enough to teach a spectator who might want to learn some magic.

You can make Stupid Cupid more interesting or unfathomable by adding a few subtleties or presentational touches. Here is one idea that might get it by your fellow magician. The one requirement is that the spectator must be able to do a reasonable riffle shuffle.

Secretly arrange the Kings and Queens, in their cyclic order, near the top of the deck. For example, just a couple of cards below the top card. Saying that you need the cards thoroughly shuffled, hand the deck to the spectator and ask him to give it a riffle shuffle. And then a second riffle shuffle. Now he can give the deck a complete cut. Take the deck, spread it face up and upjog the Kings and Queens as you come to them. Strip them out, put them on the table and place the rest of the deck aside. You are in the perfect position to begin the trick. The two riffle shuffles and cuts do nothing to alter the cyclic order of the court cards.


I like tricks in which cards mixed face up and face down are magically righted. Topsy Turvey Cards in The Royal Road to Card Magic (1947) made me the aware of reverse effects in which blocks of cards are stacked together as opposed to being riffled shuffled together as in Triumph. I published a three-block version called Tri-Umph in Equinox (1984). Here is another version from that era.


My friend and mentor Joe Dignam would apply moisturiser to his hands before doing any dealing work. He worked at a printers and the chemicals they used didn’t help his sleight of hand. As you get older, your skin gets drier. Moves you did in your youth don’t work as well. The following is one of those moves.

It was originally published in a booklet called Cardopolis (1984), put together my me and my friend Marc Russell. It featured some good tricks, and a few years ago I published one of them, the Spin Change, in Genii magazine (February, 2017). It has definitely become increasingly difficult to do over the years. I thought I’d better put it on video before it’s too late!


I see from a search on Ask Alexander that Joe Dignam was not alone in seeking an aid to manipulation. Thayer advertised Manipex in 1930. ‘Are your hands too dry to work billiard balls? Does perspiration cause coins to pop out of your palms? Are your hands too sticky work with cards? The Manipex hand treatment and make-up are the first ever scientific preparations for the hands ever devised for magicians.’


Every day I see trailers for trick downloads. Snappy cutting, energetic music, tons of hyperbole and rarely a full view of the performance. I thought to would be fun to make a similar trailer for Cardopolis Newsletter 18. And yes, this trick is in the next newsletter. Enjoy!



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