‘The Kid arrived Sat. nite and left Monday. Smart kid, very enthusiastic, very fond of coin work. Did not believe it possible to palm & produce 35 to 40 half dollars so I had to show him. Did not tip much to him as I don’t want to broadcast. . . he landed in full Turk costume. We had a BIG visit.’
That was T Nelson Downs in April 1924 writing to his pal Eddie McGuire. The ‘kid’ was June Barrows-Mussey, a thirteen-year-old amateur magician from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who donned a turban and robes and set off to tour America as Hajji Babba. The name was taken from a series of adventure books written by James Morier in 1824. June Barrows-Mussey’s 3000 mile American tour was a similarly adventurous journey for someone so young.
I mention this because June Barrows-Mussey came up with the phrase Hard Easy Tricks and Easy Hard Tricks, which is the theme of this newsletter. When he wrote that aphorism he had discarded the name of Hajii Babba and taken up a new one, Henry Hay. Hard Easy Tricks and Easy Hard Tricks is the title of chapter two in The Amateur Magician’s Handbook, a book, which, as a teenager, I had on almost permanent loan from the library.
Hay had a lot to say about self-working card tricks. Some self-working tricks, he said, ‘are intrinsically among the most beautiful things in magic.’ But he went on to warn, ‘If you start off with a few self-working tricks that you can plod through undetected, you may puzzle people, but you won’t have entertained them.’
‘Even the sorriest bit of head magic, unless it is just a cheap substitute for sleight of hand, can often be dressed up by manipulation and showmanship into something you will be happy to do.’ wrote Hay.
As an example of how not to do it, Hay described a self-working card trick performed by Leopold Figner, ‘a German specialist in head magic with cards.’ The trick was called ‘The Division of Labour’ and went something like this: Two spectators assisted. One of them dealt the deck into two piles, ostensibly to make sure all the cards were present. The second spectator chose one of the piles and from it selected several cards. These cards were then placed into the other pile. A third spectator shuffled the packet to lose them. Figner finished the trick by taking the packet, looking through it and pulling out the chosen cards.
‘Splashy showmanship was not his strong point,’ wrote Hay, adding that Figner’s lack of flair might have had something to do with the fact that he, ‘had retired on the proceeds of the first linen-supply business in Munich before devoting his time to magic.’
The first few tricks in this newsletter are not the ‘sorriest’ I could find but, like Figner’s laborious division, they involve lots of process. What they don’t have are presentations that really sell them. They are pretty bare-boned but as Henry Hay also said, ‘…you will keep seeing chances to use sleights in tricks of ingenuity. This gives you a shifty offense with which you can even fool fellow magicians at times.’ With that in mind, I present them as challenges. Processes looking for presentations and, perhaps, a little ‘shifty offense.’
There is no book dedicated to the magic of Douglas Hood, which is a shame because he was the creator of many fine card tricks. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, he was well known in the UK for his work with stripper decks and for his many contributions to Abracadabra magazine. His magic is very practical, often depending on some gimmick or subtlety rather than sleight of hand.
The Fourteenth Location is a good example. It appeared in Abracadabra magazine (November 10th, 1951). Hood described the trick as an impossible effect that can be done with an ordinary deck. That is true. I’ve tweaked the trick and added something that you might think unnecessary. But it’s the mathematical principle underlying Hood’s trick that I’m really drawing attention to. A dealing procedure that can be used in similar effects and does make the method difficult to fathom. By the way, if you perform Martin Gardner’s truth or lie Card Speller (Joe Berg’s Here’s New Magic), this sets up the situation perfectly and renders the trick sleight free. Here then is Douglas Hood’s Fourteenth Location:
THE MATHEMATICAL CARD TRICK
The name of this trick hardly inspires but John Scarne said that while not sensational it was still one of the most baffling card tricks. In terms of a process hiding a method, he is absolutely right. The trick is described in Scarne on Card Tricks, a book packed with self-working goodness. The method is similar in some ways to the dealing strategy Douglas Hood used in The Fourteenth Location which is why it is here. It’s a trick done with a shuffled deck and all the action taking place in the spectators’ hands. That’s its strength.
With a little finagling you could work it so you never touch the deck at all. You could even perform it on Zoom.
Do be aware that the selections can turn up at any point in the deal including being the very first cards. So be prepared to contain your surprise and adjust your presentation accordingly.
EDDIE JOSEPH’S THE BLOODHOUND CARD
Eddie Joseph is another magician with many excellent self-working card tricks to his name. In Genii magazine (February, 1956) he described The Bloodhound Card. He doesn’t mention Scarne’s Mathematical Card Trick but the method is essentially the same. The presentation, however, is different. It gives the trick some sort of reason for being and it also hides one weak point in the trick i.e. the cutting of the packet prior to the deal.
Once you understand the Scarne trick, the following will make sense. Imagine performing the Scarne trick in the following way. Take out the Ace of Spades. You tell the spectators that the Ace is your Bloodhound Card.
As in Scarne’s routine a spectator deals some cards, selects one and loses it in the deck. You make a mental note of how many cards he deals. A second spectator deals cards into a pile, stops anywhere, and instead of making a selection, he takes your bloodhound card, the Ace of Spades, and leaves it face-up in the deck at the chosen point.
The deck is cut several times and then dealt into two packets. Your face-up bloodhound card will be seen in one of the packets. Note whether the card falls in the first or the second packet. You take the packet with the bloodhound card, the spectator takes the other.
Place your cards behind your back, the spectator does the same with theirs. With the cards out of sight, you secretly move some cards from the bottom of the packet to the top. Note this is the reverse of Scarne’s trick. The number of cards to be moved is calculated in a similar way to that outlined in Scarne’s routine. If the AS is in the second packet, move half the number of cards the spectator dealt. If the AS is in the first packet, move half the number of cards plus one.
The result is that your card and the spectator’s card now lie at the same position from the top of your packets. Each of you now removes a card from the top of your packet and holds it out, then drops it to the table. When you are holding the face up Ace of Spades in your hand, the spectator is holding their selection. The bloodhound has found the culprit.
Instead of having the Ace of Spades as the bloodhound card, you can have the spectator choose the bloodhound. First follow the procedure outlined in Scarne’s routine. When the second spectator selects a card, have him sign it and declare it the bloodhound card. It is dropped face up in the deck. From that point on, you continue with Eddie Joseph’s presentation, the signed bloodhound card turning up at the same time as the selection.
Good plots disguise process. They can be hard to find in most ‘impossible location’ tricks. We can, however, find examples in other areas of card magic. Ed Marlo’s Elevator Card Trick is a great plot. As with the old Four Burglars card trick it is a story trick in which the deck represents a building and several cards represent the people who enter it. The Ace, Two and Three are the cards taking part in this tabletop drama of an elevator that takes people up and down the building. The story justifies the handling.
Marlo’s original is, like the Four Burglars, almost a self-working trick. However, since it is impossible to leave even the most perfect trick alone, I’ve added a little ‘shifty offense.’ It’s not better. Just different.
You will find The Swing Change explained fully in Cardopolis Newsletter 2. This might be a good time to add that all the past issues of the newsletter are still online. If you have missed any, do go back and check them out here.
Ed Marlo published the first version of his Elevator plot as Penetration in The Sphinx for June, 1948. He said he was inspired by a Dai Vernon effect that used the Ace, Two and Three. Possibly he meant Vernon’s 123 trick which was published a year earlier (The Phoenix, issue 129).
Most versions follow Marlo’s lead and use an extra card on top of the Ace, Two & Three to get into the one-ahead situation. In this version I’ve explored the use of a Second Deal so the trick can begin clean. If false dealing is your speciality, you might like it. Otherwise, Marlo’s original works just fine.
Orson Welles knew how to take a simple trick and present it as a miracle. The tricks he performed were largely self-working but his mere presence elevated them into theatre. Take, for example, the following card trick from his 1979 TV Special.
Incidentally, this YouTube video bills the show as an unaired pilot but according to Bart Whaley’s book on Welles, The Man Who Was Magic, the show did air. Whaley’s book has a lot of fascinating information on the making of the show.
This routine reminds me of Dai Vernon’s story in which a deck of cards is thrown from the deck of a boat and only the selection remains floating face up on the water. The trick Welles performs is not totally thought through. They don’t even get a good shot of the finish. But I like the use of the translucent box. And Orson Welles sold the routine like the master magician he was. Enjoy.