Sunday, July 3, 2011

21 Card Trick

Like many who come to magic, I have always been drawn to card tricks.  Perhaps I am just a good audience, but they always seem the most magical of effects.  Whereas you might be able to content yourself with a "smoke and mirrors" explanation to the big box illusions, card tricks seem to have no place to hide.  There are few ways to disguise the secret of the trick.

I remember going to see "The Sting" a few times and always being drawn to a short scene where Paul Newman's character, conman Henry Gondorff shows off his skill with a deck of cards.  That was something I wanted to do.

Card tricks were "real" magic and I wanted to be a real magician.

Learning card tricks, I quickly found out, could be very frustrating.  In the days before video tutorials, the only way to learn a trick was out of a book or magazine.  I would go to the bookstores and libraries and search out their magic sections hoping to find a book that would teach me to be as good as Doug Henning or David Copperfield.

I had subscriptions to magician's magazines, I bought a few books, but I could never find a trick that I had any confidence that I could pull off. 

I can remember reading instructions for card tricks in Genii, "The Conjuror's Magazine" and coming to a point where they would say something like, "and then execute a slip cut" and I would be stopped dead.  What is a slip cut?  They didn't explain it, it was assumed to be part of the common knowledge.  It was like being in one of those restaurants where they don't print prices on the menu.  If you have to ask then perhaps you would prefer the McDonald's at the corner.

Another common roadblock was the phrase "by the ususal method."  Again there was not indication what the method was, or where to find it.  It was so frustrating to have the recipe for card magic success and not have access to all of the ingredients.

I remember finding a book called something like "Self-Working Card Tricks" and thinking this was the answer.  It was kind of like finding a cookbook by Julia Child:  I didn't have to master French cuisine, all I had to do was follow the steps and I would be able to look like a French chef.  And after all, wasn't that what magic is all about?  Isn't it the job of the magician to appear to be able to do something he can not?

It was only later that I learned that in the culture of magic, manipulators are held in higher regard than those who rely on apparatus and other shortcuts.

One of the first of these self-working tricks I learned was called "You Do As I Do."  In the trick, the performer and the spectator each have a deck of cards and they each select a card from their deck and when the selections are revealed, they match.  It was simple and direct and it looked like real magic.

I remember seeing a mostly forgettable movie called "Magic" with Anthony Hopkins.  In the movie, Hopkins uses this same card trick to impress Ann-Margaret.  Using magic to impress girls?  Only something that would ever happen in the movies. 

Self-working card tricks depend not on secret moves so much as they do on procedures.  They are essentially mathematics dressed up with a magic wand.

Another classic of the genre is the "21 Card Trick" and this clearly demonstrates some of the principles that underlie this genre of trick and perhaps why it is so far removed from the ideal that I had for myself.

The performer counts out three columns of 7 cards each and has the spectator mentally select a card from any of those on the table.  After identifying which of the columns the card is in, the magician gathers the cards and deals them out two more times.  Following the third time through, the magician reveals the spectator's card. 

There is literally nothing to this trick.  It can be done by a blind person and after watching the performer deal out three columns of cards treee times, there is nothing left for the audience to be engaged by.  I doubt if even Sesame Street's The Count could make all that counting interesting.

Of course, at the time I learned the trick, I thought I was doing a fabulous job of fooling my audiences.  I didn't recognize until years later just why it was that I had to chase them down and force them to sit still while I did one of these "miracles."

Over the years, I have collected books and videos that have filled in the gaps in my knowledge base.  I know now what a slip cut is and I have a pretty good idea of where to look for the "usual method," but I still can't do a card trick that I would describe as real magic.  It doesn't come up that much now, but when I am asked to do a trick, I find myself picking up a deck and starting to count.

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