Gender-Neutral Playing Cards: Correct or Crazy?

Let’s be very clear from the beginning: Gender inequality obviously is and remains a big challenge, both in business and other areas of life. But do we really need “a set of gender and race-neutral playing cards, … a neutral alternative and a ranking which is accepted around the world … so everyone can feel comfortable while playing cards,” as promoted by this determined young lady who was brought to my attention via the Genii Forum?

So she proposes to kick out all the white supremacist unequal Jacks, Queens, and Kings and replace them with this neutral trinity of Gold, Silver, and Bronze:

Apart from the rather ugly design (in my totally biased old white magic fart opinion), which I would not want to see pass before my eyes every day when shuffling a deck, I wonder whether this suggestion is maybe a solution for a problem that does not really exist in this very specific context?

Besides, I always cringe when major challenges are poo-pood down into symbolic actions, catchy headlines, or marketable items. Which reminds of the ulcer of “political correctness” in the late 80s/early 90s, I believe, when it was considered super correct and fashionable in enlightened circles, for example, to stop calling small people “dwarfs” or “midgets” and promote them to “vertically challenged!” (I always thought of this as a cruel joke. Your mileage may vary.)

But okay, let’s pick up this challenge and take it one step further or two! Let’s not stop halfway to full equality, okay? So what about those white naked angels on bikes on the back of our beloved Bicycle card decks?! Let’s also have yellow buddhas on rickshaws and other spiritual idols on [insert your favorite vehicles here]! And why actually place Tens over Nines or Gold over Silver? Which powerful underground group of supremacist rulers defines these kind of things for all of us?? For a fully equal, truly socialist deck of cards, all cards should be equal, if not identical! (Note: We magicians have actually owned and used these for a long time; they are called force decks.) Also, everyone should be a winner in every game. And get a deck for free, of course!

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Addendum: Genii Forum user Jackpot has identified the perfect all-neutral playing cards: double blanks! So let’s play! (Though it always cracks me up that these come in Blue Tuck Standard Bicycle card cases – why?!)

The Many Deceptions of Master Bosch

YOMM_Bosch

I feel happy and honored because my analysis of the relationship between the juggler and the thief in Bosch’s famous painting “The Juggler” has just been published in Marco Pusterla‘s fine journal, Ye Olde Magic Mag! If you are not a subscriber yet, but interested in the field of magic history and collecting, you should check it out; also, if you are just curious to find out why I believe that the juggler and the thief are actually brothers in deceit! The magazine is published quarterly, both in print and digital, and Marco does a great job in researching and compiling scholarly articles, reviews of books and magic auctions, and other interesting bits.

To warm you up for the many layers of trickery in Bosch’s masterpiece, here’s a little game of seek and find:
Can you spot at least 15 mistakes in my manipulated mock version of the original?

Original:

JI_18_Gewinnspiel_1_Originalbild


Forgery:

JI_18_Gewinnspiel_2_Fälschung

Look closely – and don’t take anything for granted! (Just like in real life.) I will post the solution here in a couple of days, so please call again. Have fun!

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Click here and scroll down to the end of that page to see the solution! How did you do???


When Magic Meets Pinocchio

Lie-Tie: Recent magic dealer ad

There are manifold relations between magic and politics, yet they are not always blatantly obvious. There’s an interesting book (in German) by our dear magic friend, Dr. Harry Keaton (of “Fool Us!” fame), who has thoroughly researched the principles of deception employed by politicians. Yet there are rather few tricks that lend themselves to “political” presentations. But a few days ago, I came across the one above in a dealer’s mailing: a tongue-in-cheek product of Magic Castle veteran Milt Larsen. To reflect reality, I’d say the tie should stretch to four to five yards, at least!


New Contract for the White House Magician?

Donald Sternenkrieger.gif

White House master magician J. Carrod Blimp is currently seeking to extend his lucrative contract for another four years before getting fired and forced back into touring country clubs, second-rate casinos and third-rate TV shows.

More than a few overseas observers of magic La-La-Land have come to the conclusion that “The Blimp,” as he is affectionately known to the stunned trade press, is the biggest and best deceiver this strapped and torn country has seen in a long time. Here’s why:

His verbal control and patter are unique. A master of misdirection and surprise, he effortlessly turns facts into lies, transforms factoids into “alternate facts” and changes topics and positions quicker than a Sliding Die Box. Timing and misdirection of the feisty faker are flawless and only seen through by the initiated few.

A master contortionist and leading global bizarrist, he has also single-handedly introduced the very visual genre of “nose-flag magic,” which he likes to perform in formal and informal circles (see below). Always a stunner! Equipped with a handful of funny pinstriped sock-puppet Secretaries, he also practices his effortless ventriloquism and makes grown men sound like goofy rugrats. So funny! And let’s not forget his time-honored burlesque pussy-grabbing routine, which certainly is a favorite among fledgling models and lawyers alike!

Like Moses parted the Sea, the deporter-deceptionist parts his huge audiences into “Us” and “Them” with just a wave of his ole tiny wand. Where Copperfield only walked through an old Wall, he announces to build a brand-new one nobody will ever penetrate! What a Houdiniesk challenge! And hold your breath for the biggest and most enduring trick ever in his upcoming Grand Desillusion Show: Where Copperfield only made the Statue of Liberty disappear temporarily, he is about to make the Constitution disappear– permanently, that is. Merlin Awards galore!

So get in line and book your ticket now – and don’t let his ole sidekick Donny, the Demented Deceiver make that one disappear, too!

Nose-Flags


 

Faking Impossible Bottles…

I have hesitated for a while whether to share this cheap cheat bit here or not, because if you have ever dealt seriously with the subject of “impossible bottles” and its masters like Harry Eng, you will know that it’s an absolute no-go and a disgrace to temper with the bottle you are trying to stuff stuff into in any way!

Yet it is understandable that not everybody with just a passing interest in this matter has the means or know-how, not to mention the patience, to master this craft and art. (I have actually tried it, and it is both an arduous and satisfying experience. You can read a bit more about it here.)

So for those easy come, easy go folks among you, let me tell you that there’s a fake “bottle” out there (it’s not even made of glass) that you can easily fill with the biggest and most complex objects, which should make for a nice display on any shelf. This bottle I came across is produced by Peleg Design (they also produce other magic-themed paraphernalia), and its shabby secret is not actually designed to be hidden well:

ImpBottle_ch

Let’s consider this as a beginner’s ticket into the wonderful world of impossible bottles. But please do not trick yourself into believing that you have accomplished anything magical by filling and displaying this kind of bottle!


 

Magic History: Miracle Infants, Fish and Dicks

One of the fascinating aspects of studying history is the constant realization that a lot of ideas, fashions and actions come around again and again in circles over the ages, sometimes just rediscovered or copied, sometimes reinvented, and sometimes as old stuff simply dressed in new clothes. Naturally, the same goes for magic tricks and plots. Here’s an interesting example.

In recent years, you may have gotten in contact with a minor novelty called the “Fortune Teller Miracle Fish” in one form or the other. It’s a cheap piece of thin plastic foil in the shape of a fish (or else, see below), and when put on someone’s hand it starts to move, turn or curl. Depending on the movement, you can consult a little clue sheet that comes with the fish to find some meaning in this mildly amusing spiel.

The provenance of this trick was under discussion in a recent Genii Forum thread, and it seems to have many forms and “fathers” who claim to have invented it many decades ago.

Alas, there isn’t much new under the same old magic sun. I happened to come across a description of a truly magical performance of this feat (rather than as a joke or novelty), and this book was already published back in the 1780s! It’s called Testament de Jérôme Sharp by Henri Decremps, an eminent, early French magic writer. (I browsed through the German translation of this book.)

He vividly describes an eery performance by an old gypsy woman: She puts a piece of paper with the drawing of an infant in a cloth (see below)  into the hands of two women. The paper then twists and wiggles in one woman’s hand only, which “proves” that she has given birth to a child, while the other woman has not. (The secret lies in the organic material of one of the two pieces used. No chemicals here. Plus some pre-show work, I assume.)

Miracle Baby_2

Now, compare this haunting plot and its deeper meaning to today’s slum version with its shallow horoscope-like “reading”, and you will have both a good and sad example of the ongoing trivialization in many branches of magic today!

It’s almost superfluous to mention that there are other meaningfuless and “blue” variations around today, including miraculous bacon stripes and dicks . . .

Fortune Teller Miracle Dick


Postscript:

When I looked up the availability and prices of these fish on Amazon, I came across this funny screen display: People who bought the fish had also bought this fine fortune teller’s turban… Well, some things will probably never change!

FortuneTeller


 

Revealed: Magic Tricks Displayed on Playing Cards (4)

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3!

The final take on exciting research revelations from the Schaffel College for Industrial Pasteboard Paraphernalia in Ryffling, Denmark on the magic tricks which artists shown on our familiar court cards have supposedly been performing for up to hundreds of years, yet unnoticed until today!

Further Pasteboard Secrets

Despite the important breakthroughs in magic and playing card history featured in the previous three episodes, some other court card motifs remain the subject of intense scholarly debate for the time being, explains visiting postgraduate fellow, Tang Acapao, who also happens to be a passionate card magic amateur. Here they are:

Jacks of Diamonds and Clubs: Pole Levitation?

Jacks_Pole

In some cases, the diagonally mirrored images of all court cards make it difficult to identify the provenance of the originally featured magic trick, especially when both arms or hands would actually exercise the same movements. That’s why, in this case here, the pasteboard researchers are still debating whether the Jacks of Clubs and Diamonds are both performing an early version of the two-hands pole levitation, as junior researcher Les Kerfol speculates in his forthcoming B.A. thesis.

Queens of Clubs, Hearts and Diamonds: Flower Act?

It is also conceivable that the three Queens holding flowers so obviously inconspicuously in their hands were actually three sisters performing a lavish act with spring flowers or are shown here right after performing a choreographed triple silk-to-flower effect. Researcher Anna Gramm is still devoting much of her scholarship time to this particular florid question.

Joker King on a Bicycle: A Grand Illusion?

Joke_r

Another mystery yet unsolved: Why is the USPS Joker depicting another King, and why is he riding, among all vehicles in royal possession, an ordinary bicycle? “We have yet to determine when and how the first bicycle prototypes were introduced to the French and English Courts,” says the teams’ documentation officer, Sheldon Gitlip. “We are also checking some Court magicians’ papers for possibly lost information on early productions of performers using vehicles. But it really takes a maximal maven to find that needle in a haystack!”

Team leader Gioberto Robbi and his young research assistant, Farhad Fahrar, however, are on a different trail here. “The banishment of Philadelphia from Berlin and his famous exodus through the city gates got us thinking,” Robbi says. “Maybe a fun-and-riddle-loving King like Louis XIV of France rode out of his lavish ballroom at one end, while his then still unknown, but not yet incarcerated twin brother reappeared at the other end two seconds later, thus demonstrating the King’s legitimate absolute power over time and space to his astonished courtiers!” He hastens to add, “Of course this is, unlike our other findings, pure conjecture at this point.”

We hope that time will tell and that these imaginative, undisputed card experts will continue to unshuffle further secrets at Schaffel College, and you will make up your own mind about this paradox pasteboard pocus!

Be that as it may, but from now on you will certainly look at your familiar court cards from a different angle, won’t you?!

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Addendum:

Some more facts you probably didn’t know about playing cards (with a big thank you to the real Reinhard Müller!)


 

Revealed: Magic Tricks Displayed on Playing Cards (3)

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2!

Further exciting research revelations from the Schaffel College for Industrial Pasteboard Paraphernalia in Ryffling, Denmark on the magic tricks which artists shown on our familiar court cards have supposedly been performing for up to hundreds of years, yet unnoticed until today!

King of Hearts: Jastrow Illusion (held vertically!)

KingofHearts_frame

This discovery tracked down over time by researcher Juanita Marz triggers another necessary rewrite of a chapter of magic history: Obviously, the venerable optical illusion described first by Joseph Jastrow in 1892 had already been around for one hundred years plus before that and was performed as an amusing diversion and paradox at royal courts! “Had the pieces been held horizontally and parallel to each other, we would have advanced much quicker on this magic way,” admits Marz.

KingofHearts_close

In this context, the third hand with a presumed sword in the background, behind the King’s head, has been identified as a large knife, which was probably used to cut a long strip of paper into two pieces of equal length before performing the illusion.

King of Spades: The Indian Rope Trick (under Glass!)

KingofSpades

You have to marvel at both the ingenuity of the creator one hundred or more years ago and of the scholar who finally unlocked this genius mystery! Likely 999 out of 1,000 contemplators of this card would claim that this King was simply holding his sword and looking at it somewhat quizzically, if not hypnotically. But, owing to her intimate knowledge of magic history, Fay Knjus, the youngest member of the research team, had a sudden brain wave “right after studying Dr. Samuel Hooker‘s legendary illusions,” as she recalls. “Then suddenly it dawned on me that what we had always decoded as an ordinary sword was in fact a piece of string rising under a glass dome in best Dr. Hooker fashion! Both the strange shape of the dome and the uncommon knob for holding it had been misdirecting us for a long time.”

KingofSpades_close

Further research has yet to determine whether this strange design was caused by slip of the drawing artist or an imprecise briefing, or whether these artful versions of early portable glass domes simply got lost over time.

A tiny dot way up the rising string on an early print run of these cards may indicate that a little boy figure was probably once attached to it, maybe climbing to its top before vanishing, just like in the centuries-old famous story of the Indian or Chinese Rope Trick.

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Check out the final Part 4 with more exciting discoveries!


 

 

Revealed: Magic Tricks Displayed on Playing Cards (2)

For Part 1, click here!

Further exciting research revelations from the Schaffel College for Industrial Pasteboard Paraphernalia in Ryffling, Denmark on the magic tricks which artists shown on our familiar court cards have supposedly been performing for up to hundreds of years, yet unnoticed until today!

King of Diamonds: Palming Cards

KingofDiamonds

This image was more tricky to decipher than the others for the researchers, as it was hiding its secret in plain sight! But team member Liam Erdnus finally cracked the code: The artist’s hand is evidently shown empty, yet the body profile (necessarily turned sideways) and the familiar position of the flat hand and the fingers tightly pressing against each other can only lead to one scholarly conclusion: This artist is an early master of the back palm, and he is just about to make a playing card (or even more?) appear!

KingofDiamonds_close

According to research fellow Grennart Leen, it is not unlikely that this particular image served as the inspiration for young Harry Houdini to bill himself as the “King of Kards” in 1895. He also sharply rejects the notion recently suggested by Prof. Silke Kloeppelt from the University of Yarnmouth that the diamond pip is supposed to represent a red handkerchief which has just appeared out of the the artist’s empty hand, unfolding in flight. “This idea is really off-center! It escapes me how any serious scholar of our pasteboard art could come up with woofledust like that,” Leen says in the upcoming paper in Glibecière.

The Jack of Hearts: Color-Changing Silk

JackofHearts

This image has fooled and mislead many a scholar — until now! Traditionalists among cardboard historians have always held up the romantic belief that the Jack of Hearts represents a sensitive, woeful lover writing moanful poems to his mistress crush with a quill. Duh!

Magic researchers know better now. Just look at the tight grip of the hand: “You don’t hold a feather in an unnatural position like that when you want to write something,” explains junior researcher Reinhard Pithart-Muellinger. Thus, the closed fist likely covers an early dye tube, and what we see is the artful display of two different silks as one in order to perform the now classic color-changing silk trick!

It is wisely assumed that the lower tip of the silk was once printed in red color to emphasize the effect in action, but this detail obviously got lost over time in the declining craft of fine printing of playing cards, as it moved on into the age of less careful mass production.

JackofHearts_close

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Check out Part 3 now with more exciting discoveries!