On the Fascination of Gambling for Majishuns

Blackjack2

In a discussion on the Genii Forum a while back, Mark Lewis wrote:

I am quite astonished at the interest of magicians in anything to do with poker, card sharking and gambling generally. I strongly suspect that any book with a gambling theme sells very well to magicians. (…)
As a result I strongly suspect that if a writer was to write any kind of book concerning gambling whether it had card tricks and sleights or not would sell very well if marketed to magicians. That is probably why the Steve Forte book has done so well.

Well, my personal guess is that there are (at least) two reasons for that:

First, we majishuns simply love magic lore, stories, and riddles, the more fantastic the better. Real-world deceivers like cheats and hustlers attract our attention, earn our respect and trigger our imagination.

Second, I think we love to fancy ourselves as suave card mechanics with nerves of steel at the poker table, but because of our embarrassing shortcomings in the real world we resort to the second best thing: we pretend to be experts at the card table by doing risk-free gambling tricks and demonstrations!


 

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


 

A Word on Thurston: Loving Your Audience

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I’m sure most of you have heard or read one time or the other that part of grand illusionist Howard Thurston’s success was his love for his audience. Until very recently, however, I had not been aware of an early source of his mantra in the context of success. Then, by chance, I came across Thurston while reading Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book How To Win Friends And Influence People, first published in the 1930s and still a best seller today.

Let me quote from Carnegie (p. 53 of my Kindle edition), who had visited Thurston backstage in NYC late in his career:

Thurston_quote

I feel there’s a great lesson to be learned here.


 

Card Magic: McDonald’s (Tr)Aces – Fast Food for Thought

Aces Three_FS

Every cardist knows this classic of card magic, but many have probably missed so far both the inherent discrepancy and a choice of effect that come with it when performed as everybody else does. This aspect was briefly discussed within a bigger thread on the Genii Forum recently.

The regular description of the trick goes something like this (quoted from Magicpedia here): It is “an Ace Assembly … where four Aces are shown, placed face up on the table, and covered with three other cards. One by one the Aces vanish from three piles, assembling together under the fourth pile held by the spectator.”

Now, what is the effect?

I think this describes the effect well from a spectator’s perspective. The key word is “vanish” here. What actually happens in most versions, though, as some magicians were quick to point out, is that the Aces do not actually vanish; they (are supposed to) transpose with three other cards which were (seemingly) put onto the fourth Ace in the beginning. To make it even more complicated, the way the trick is usually presented, this effect only happens in hindsight, once it is completed, that is with rediscovering the three Aces in the fourth pile. Until then, the perceived effect was much rather either a one-by-one vanish or a transformation of each Ace into a different card. So the effect changes as the trick progresses: Three individual vanishes or changes turn out to have been one third of a final transposition. Quite confusing, ey?

Two more thoughts from the discussion to make matters even worse: If the Aces actually vanished (= three cards left per pile) and then just reappeared in the fourth pile, there should be a total of seven cards then, not four, right? If not, what happened to the three indifferent cards that took their seats there in the beginning? Where did they go, and when and where will they return?

As mentioned above, this is likely nothing spectators will ever wrestle with; they may be content to take home that the three Aces somehow magically found their way from their piles to their pal in the fourth pile. No questions asked.

Structural and visual clarity

Right, so what’s the big deal? No big deal, but I feel it is our responsibility to carve out the intended effect as clearly as we can. If this is about an artful transposition, we probably need to stage it as one and make this point clearer visually. But many of us simply show a bunch of high black number cards, which are impossible to remember (for a good reason), so they cannot contribute to the concept of transposition which demands that you can clearly identify the objects involved in order to acknowledge the final effect.

Thus, a better option could be to use, for example, three Jacks, Queens and Kings for the three piles and then add the fourth Jack, Queen and King (seemingly) to the fourth Ace. If we now turn the three Aces into the missing Jack, Queen and King in their three respective piles and find the four Aces together, the transposition effect would be hard to miss, wouldn’t it?

Another option (which has even more visual merit and clarity, I think) would be to put three blank-faced cards onto the fourth Ace and then turn each of the other three Aces into a blank.

However, I do prefer the plot of vanishing the three Aces from their piles, which means that three cards instead of four are put to the table after each vanish. That’s why I like the versions of Gary Ouellet/Chris Kenner/David Copperfield and Jean-Pierre Vallarino so much. I never tire of watching the sheer beauty and artistic quality of the card changes. Both also offer fine solutions for the finale.

I believe this concept has two extra points worth mentioning: First, vanishing one of four playing cards seems more impossible (or at least more difficult) than changing it into a different one. Second, you don’t see the climax of the Ouellet routine coming, whereas the ending of the traditional version suffers slightly from its predictable outcome after the vanish (or whatever) of the third Ace.

Another easy version to climax without a discrepancy would be to find the three “lost” Aces in the card box, together with the formerly isolated “leader Ace”, as has been suggested in the Genii Forum discussion.

In short, this is an interesting example of how the planned and the perceived plot may differ significantly from the magician’s and the spectator’s point of view. Plus, we are reminded here that only minor changes in handling or presentation can actually change a trick’s effect from vanishes or transformations to reappearances or transpositions. And because of that we are also reminded to always keep the effect, the handling and the visual imagery as clear as possible to avoid any confusion, which may only diminish the perceived effect and its recall later on the spectator’s side.

A clear vertical version

As a side note, here’ another visual version that also gives the trick a nice vertical dimension of presentation for parlor or stage: Put each Ace into a wine glass with their face towards the audience. Add three cards each to the first three Aces and put a silk over the glass with the fourth Ace (which seems to be left on its own). Take one pile after the other from their glasses, make the three Aces disappear one by one and then return each pile of only three cards to their glasses. Now lift the silk briefly to display the leader Ace again in the fourth glass. Then whisk away the silk over the glass as you rotate it in familiar fashion and show another Ace up front. Take out the pile and slowly spread all four Aces. Ta-daa! (Obviously, this handling would call for another D/F with the same Ace on its front and back.)

Just some thoughts.


 

Magie & Corona

Corona Spongeballs3

Es ist schon sehr beachtlich und respektabel, wie ich finde, was unsere kleine, aber feine Zauberfachpresse angesichts der Corona-Krise mal eben so alles aus dem Boden stampft!

Aladin Corona Special

Hanno Rhomberg und sein Aladin-Team aus Österreich haben kürzlich ein umfangreiches Corona-Special erstellt und online frei zugänglich gemacht, auch für Nicht-Abonnenten. Dabei handelt es sich um den Themenschwerpunkt des kommendes Heftes 1/2020.

Heute folgen nun MW-Herausgeber Wittus Witt und FISM Ehrenpräsident Eric Eswin mit einem gemeinsamen Aufsatz zu den Konsequenzen der Corona-Krise für die Zauberei. Der Clou: Dieses MW-Spezial erscheint dank fleißiger Übersetzer direkt in vier Sprachen (ENG, D, ESP, FR). Als tröstlichen Zaubergag enthält es ein Papierzerschneiden, um das Corona-Virus flugs von der Weltkugel verschwinden zu lassen. Wenn es doch so schön einfach wäre!
Auch dieses Special ist kostenlos erhältlich und darf gerne weiterverbreitet werden.

MW Special Corona

Hier kann man es bei Wittus herunterladen: MW-Spezial-Corona

Beide Produkte sind lesenswert und regen mit ihren Informationen und Ideen dazu an, sich ernsthaft mit den mittel- bis langfristigen Auswirkungen auf die (Zauber-)Kunst zu befassen – was mir auch nötig erscheint, weil doch offenbar sehr viele Menschen noch davon ausgehen, dass unsere Welt und unser Alltagsleben in zwei bis vier Monaten einfach wieder so aussehen werden wie vor dem Virus… Aber dazu bräuchte es schon eine verdammt große Prise Zaubersalz, fürchte ich!


Zu zahlreichen weiteren kostenlosen Zauberangeboten rund um Corona geht es hier!


 

A Riddle and a Magic Lesson

Here’s a nice little riddle (of unknown source, sorry) that was recently sent around among friends and family, and it kept us busy and entertained for a while. It’s not really hard to solve when you pay attention and remember some math basics from school.

Why don’t you give it a try before you read on:

puzzle


 

<<>>> Wait before you scroll further! <<>>>

 


So, what number did you get? (Hint: It is >40!)

This is not just about some basic math. Obviously, there’s a deeper lesson to be learned here. Especially when you managed, like me, to proudly spot one trap, but missed another one completely.

Selective perception, that’s what this thing is about. It’s a fascinating phenomenon and one that is being exploited in magic, too, like change blindness and other related shortcomings of the way we humans perceive, process, and store information (or don’t).

Just like with this famous attention test video, it’s hard to realise and to accept what you have probably missed once it has been pointed out to you afterwards. Because it seems so super-obvious and impossible to miss—but only once you KNOW it.

All too often, we look but we don’t see. Let’s take this in as a fun, but important lesson, both inside and outside of magic!


 

Well Said: Edwin Hooper on Magic Enthusiasm

Neon2

Found this nice and fitting quote by Edwin Hooper in an issue of Supreme Magic’s “Magigram”:

WHAT’S WRONG WITH MAGIC? is a question continuously being asked in various magazines. We say NOTHING AT ALL ! — only the dried-up old fogies who make such remarks! MAGIC lives on ENTHUSIASM…something sometimes lacking in our present day and age. Give it a good dose of that…YOUR enthusiasm and it’s as alive and virile as ever it was.

Right!

By the way, this was written back in 1966…


 

Free Things to Do in Corona Quarantine

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Please note: This list is currently being updated regularly, with further links and suggestions coming in from loyal blog followers and Genii Forum readers. Thank you all!

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Bored to the bone at home? Or even quarantined? Here are some tips on what you could get and do now. In total, it easily adds up to more than 2,000 free pages of magic to digest:

Chief Genii Richard Kaufman has just kindly provided a link to a free read of his classic work, CardWorks. Enjoy!

KaufmanCardWorks

Or take the time to read Paco Nagata‘s fine book, The Passion of an Amateur Card Magician, which is an enlightening labor of love on 554 pages. It’s huge, and you can download it for free here.

PN_Cover_engl_final

Jamy Ian Swiss wrote 71 (!) masterful essays for Magicana featuring and analyzing many of the leading practitioners of magic, accompanied by carefully selected performance videos. You can find them here.

The Science of Magic Association has provided their newsletter readers with a lovely list of “SOMA’s Social Isolation Suggestions,” which includes several links both to videos and interesting websites. Check it out here.

Magic historian and publisher Marco Pusterla kindly offers you free access to any back issue of his Ye Olde Magic Mag. Learn here how to get access.

The Conjuring Arts Research Center has just started their “FREE Quarantine Book Club” which offers six classic books of magic while you are stuck ast home.

Or check out Paul Romhany‘s VANISH magazine. It’s a change bag full of diverse topics, and I feel there’s always at least one interesting piece in each issue. The eight latest issues can be downloaded for free here. No. 69 also contains some corona quarantine tips from various magicians (plus a nifty card trick of mine!).

Go see my recent post on some of my personal heroes and wizards of the world wide web. There’s a lot more free stuff to get and to digest via the links I have compiled there.

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Head over to lybrary.com or to any other magic dealer. Check out their free downloads, but also try to spend a few bucks, if you can, to help support the magic community in this new age of anxiety. And get some new books, manuscripts, or tricks in order to learn and improve in the arts. Just two examples that will keep you busy for a while:

Lybrary.com offers, among many other things, three volumes of Lives of the Conjurers by Professor Solomon for free here. Hundreds of pages for a nice and easy read. In fact, they currently have a total of 135 (!) publications that you can get for free – see them all here.

Vanishing Inc. has, among other things, Magic in Mind for free. A few years ago, Joshua Jay “set out to assemble some of the most important, influential, and helpful essays on magic ever written, and make them available to all serious students of magic for free.” That’s 500 pages of great thinking and inspiration!

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Whoops, we have just missed a weekend of free access to Kozmo‘s site, Reel Magic, which he offered in order to “enjoy the weekend, learn some magic and forget about all of this crap that’s happening around us.” Nice! However, one issue of of his DVD series (No. 41) remains accessible for free. Check it out here.

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Chris Michael and Danny Orleans (the latter a co-founder of AmazeKids) are working on a preschool theme show. In their words, it’s “about how to prevent the spread of the virus. You can bet it’ll be a perfect program for them when schools re-open.” Both are currently writing a complete script for it, but they allow you to create your own themed show based around their ideas, which I find quite amazing, kids, and very generous. The Title is “Scrub-a-Dub-Dub” and you can download a free outline here.

Nick Lewin shares “Five ways to be positive” in these times in his blog post here.

Silly Billy (David Kaye) was quick in putting together a free ebook called 11 Things Every Performer Should Do During The Coronavirus Quarantine. It’s useful and a quick, fun read.

KayeCorona

Magician and magic publisher Wittus Witt and FISM Honorary President Eric Eswin are sharing their thoughts on the magic future after COVID-19 in a special issue of Witt’s magic magazine. Their text is printed in English, Spanish, French and German, and it comes with a nice paper-cutting trick to make corona virus disappear from our planet. You can download the issue for free here.

MW Special Corona

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Videos: As the Portland Magic Jam also had to be cancelled, each of the four headliners (Max Maven, Shawn Farquhar, Stephen Bargatze, and John Shryock) kindly agreed to do a small online video lecture – for free. It’s scheduled for Saturday, March 28, 1:00 p.m. in Portland, Oregon (which should be Pacific Standard Time).

If you missed the live event, you can catch up here.

Tim Ellis currently interviews other magicians nightly from his Laneway Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. Recent guests have included Michael Close, David Regal, and Gaston.

Haven’t heard much from the UK’s Magiflix project recently, but they do have a small free video section available here where you can learn the “Pre-Prefiguration” card trick (by Jennings/Elsdon), which is astonishing, simple, and totally impromptu.

Carisa Hendrix shares her lovely magic comedy stage show “Indulgence” with her alter ego, Lucy Darling, for free here.

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The inimitable David Stone has uploaded a quick and funny short Corona Card Virus Trick here which you really shouldn’t miss!

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And then there’s coin master and all-around wizard Helge Thun, who keeps us spellbound with his Chinese-American Corona Virus Coin War:

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If you are more into High Brow entertainment, why don’t you check out Teller‘s production of Macbeth, which he directed a few years ago?

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There are two magic streaming events coming up – and they are free of charge. But please consider donating to the artists or to charities which help coping with corona!

VanEvent

Vanishing Inc. will be hosting “ShareMagic:Live” on April 5th at 12 pm NYC time. You need to register in advance for the event. Artists include Morgan and West, Harapan Ong, Caroline Ravn, Jim Krenz, Daniel Garcia, Andi Gladwin, Joshua Jay, and more.

Update: If you missed it, you can now download and watch the entire session for free here.

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MagicatHome

German magicians Marcus Weissenberg and Till Frömmel have also gathered together a great line-up of artists for their “Magic at Home Livestreamfestival” on YouTube and Instagram. It will run on three consecutive nights from April 3rd to 5th, always starting at 6 pm German time. Featured artists include Topas, Wolfgang Moser, Gaston Florin, Simon Pierro, Moritz Müller, and many others more. Follow the event here (Day 1).

Day 2 here!

Day 3 here!

Here’s a fun preview by Wolfgang Moser:

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Plus: Already looking forward to this treas(h)ure from Milk Can Magic Motion Pictures!

HarryandHarryIG

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NOT FREE, BUT…

Many famous pros and teachers like Alexander de Cova or Roberto Giobbi are using the current hiatus to offer or intensify paid private coachings. Check them out if you have the time and the money to improve on your techniques, scripts, or creativity!

Do you remember the world’s first magic online convention a decade ago? The Essential Magic Conference ran for three consecutive years, with an amazing line-up of talents, and produced a total of  97 lectures on 48 hours of tape. You can get the entire Trilogy set of 24 DVDs currently with a 50% Covid discount here.

Upcoming: The Magicians Forum will be running a Live gathering on Friday, May 15 and 16th. Its a 2 day virtual event with a nice line up and break out sessions. Performers include Rafael Benatar, Allan Ackerman and Mike Powers. Registration is $5.99 per person. You can find out more about it here.

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This is probably how the late great Ricky Jay would have attacked and killed the coronavirus:

JayVirus2

JayVirus

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Work on new ideas, thoughts, moves, tricks, and presentations! Time is on your hands. Bingeviewing may make you happy, bingeforumsurfing may make you miserable, but both options won’t make you much smarter or better in anything…

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Read or learn other stuff outside of magic. The other day, my younger boy created this fine rendition for me of America’s Premier Illusionist, Master Showman Deceptionist, Mindblowing Mentalillist, Global Bizarrist and Super-Factual Contortionist, THE GREAT DONALDILI (and it just took him a few minutes). Pure magic! I’d like to learn that, too! So far, I can only cut out and move around stuff in Powerpoint…

Donald Sternenkrieger

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Maybe you are more into arts and craft? Then check out the art of Orimoto. It’s about cutting and folding book pages in order to create relief-like images or words. Barbara Giobbi does them beautifully, and they are for sale. Learn more about it here.

Orimoto-Magic

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Make plans for the future, or at least give it a thought: How will we emerge from this global crisis? What changes are likely to happen in your personal environment, your business or maybe in your career? Do you already have a plan B? What do you want to change?

There may be lots of problems ahead; but what about the opportunities? If you’re a magician, conjure up some good spirit for yourself and for others and get to work!

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Finally: Use your head! Be cautious, be sensible, take care of your loved ones and yourself, and please stay safe!


 

Well said: Robert-Houdin on “False Bottom” Conjuring vs. Art

Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, “The Father of Modern Magic,” 1868:

It is easy enough, no doubt, to play the conjuror without possessing either dexterity or mental ability. It is only necessary to lay in a stock of apparatus of that kind which of itself works the trick. This is what may be called the “false bottom” school of conjuring. Cleverness at this sort of work is of the same order as that of the musician who produces a tune by turning the handle of a barrel-organ. Such performers will never merit the title of skilled artists, and can never hope to obtain any real success.

Well said!

So beware of the “false bottom” or “push button” school of (pseudo) conjuring!


 

The 60% Force

Having a spectator freely select one out of four objects gives you a chance of 1:4 or 25% that each single object is picked. By knowing which face-down card in a row of four is selected more often than others, you can increase the chances of having your “favorite” card picked to 60%. (You could call this a force, even though it’s not surefire.) This is the essence of a new piece of academic research by Gustav Kuhn et. al., which has just been published. You can read the abstract online here.

According to the paper, out of four cards, 60% of the participants in an experiment freely chose the third card from their left (or the second from the right–but I’m sure that you’ve already calculated that). Please enjoy my masterful visualization of this key finding:

Graph60%

Yet these participants felt that their choice was extremely free. They also underestimated the actual proportion of people who selected the target card.

(My guess would be that this result is partly due to the overwhelming majority of right-handed people in the world.)

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By the way, Matt Tompkins from the SOMA Committee keeps a constantly updated “Science of Magic Bibliography” with academic papers published in English since 1887 (which means that some important early German and French research on the psychology of magic is missing there.) And here’s a special on the topic from “Frontiers in Psychology” in free PDF format.

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Read more about the upcoming SOMA conference in London here.