Well Said: George Goebel

Magic has her own secret ways. The other day, I was browsing through my files when I came across a 1985 issue of Magic Manuscript featuring illusionist George Goebel (1932-2021), who had just passed away a few days earlier at the age of 88. Incidentally, this issue was signed on the front page to a fellow German collector by Goebel, stating “May your life be filled with the Wonders of Magic.”

Inside the issue you will find ten pages dedicated to Goebel, including a portrait and an interview. The latter closes with five basic things he has learned during his magical career. They are all valid, but I like the very last one best:

It’s not in the crates that you carry a magic show, it’s in the spirit of the people that you are working with.

Well said, Mr. Goebel!


Magic’s Wasteland: The Raccoon in Your Show

You know that you need to work both on your magic and your personality when Rocky Raccoon is the hoot of your show.


Du weißt schon, dass du an deiner Zauberei und deiner Persönlichkeit arbeiten musst, wenn Rocky Raccoon der größte Hit in deiner Show ist?!

Craig Petty is Back with Rants, Reviews, and Tricks


YouTube Screenshot

Craig Petty, magic performer, inventor and co-host of the original “Wizard Product Review” is back on the magic scene. After a few years doing one thing or the other, he has started a YouTube channel called “Slightly Unusual” and is back with a daily dose of tricks, reviews, rants, Q&As, and more, slightly matured, but still with explicit lyrics guaranteed.

Here’s his latest rant on the ridiculous flooding of the magic market with daily truckloads of download trash:

He has also produced a very funny, self-deprecating video about the trick RED (not his trick at all, as it turned out) “that literally killed his career.” Kudos for that!

Magic certaily needs much more honest trailers like this one!

What I rather dislike is how Craig shoves his little boy into the poisonous world of YouBurp. I don’t feel that little kids belong there and that they should be protected from all the jeer and filth and hatred until they are old enough to decide for themselves.

But then, I’m old-fashioned and also believe that political leaders should have a bright, honest mind, respect for the Law and some love and understanding for the people and their needs and concerns… What do I know?

On the Concept of Time in Magic


“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.”
– John F. Kennedy

The concept of time is a wonderful invention (or discovery?). In short, time is both momentary and eternal, flying and stretching, a constant blending of then, now and soon, irretrievable and virtually inescapable. Except for magicians, of course, be they on stage, in books or in movies.

Incidentally, I believe that time traveling is one of the most fascinating phenomena for people, besides resurrection and floating, as they know bloody well from daily experience that time cannot be stopped, replayed or altered in retrospect. Time wasted is time lost forever. That’s why it’s a strong premise for any trick if it seemingly allows people or objects to travel through time and space.

This got me thinking about various concepts of time in magic, beyond the time-traveling theme. Here are a dozen other aspects:

  • the time and age of magic, way back when and today, with fashions always shifting and sometimes coming back in circles (and magicians sometimes “falling out of time” with their props, patter, or demeanor)
  • tricks with clocks, watches, etc. or about time as an overarching theme
  • the right time (and place) you choose to perform (or not)
  • the specific, measurable time and duration of a trick or performance
  • time wasted during tricks or endless patter (see JFK quote above!)
  • the perception of time passing quickly or slowly during a show from a magician’s perspective vs. the audience’s (and boy, that gap may be huge!)
  • time as a benchmark tool as in Silly Billy‘s laughs-per-minute ratio
  • the right “timing” of doing something, secret or not
  • time as in time misdirection
  • time used as a dramatic countdown towards the climax of a trick (cf. David Copperfield‘s death saw illusion)
  • time as a presentational choice to do tricks either in slow motion or in high speed/fast forward mode, or part of a trick as a replay
  • time as the crucial factor between trigger and effect that determines whether a transposition is actually perceived as a trick in the mind of the audience – a slow sub trunk illusion would not qualify as magic, neither a slow quick change.
  • …?

That’s my list so far, but I guess there’s at least another dozen more out there.

Time will tell…


There is a nice discussion on this topic over at the Genii Forum now!

Wie umgehen mit Trickverrat???


Liegt der Zauber der Zauberei im Geheimnis, in der Präsentation oder doch nur in der guten Laune? Eine ebenso alte wie ungelöste, weil kontroverse Kernfrage unseres Metiers. Fakt ist, dass es nach wie vor zum von Zaubervereinen gepflegten Initiationsritus junger Adepten gehört, sich Geheimnisse zu erarbeiten und zu verdienen, sie zu schätzen und zu hüten – und bei deren Verrat an Nichtzauberer den Zorn der Bruderschaft und mögliche Sanktionen bis zum Vereinsausschluss und der sozialen Ächtung auf sich zu ziehen.

Aber ist das noch zeitgemäß in Zeiten von Google, YouTube & Co.? Nimmt die Zauberkunst durch allgegenwärtigen Trickverrat wirklich Schaden? Werden prominente Trickerklärer besser oder schlechter behandelt als der Auchzauberer? Und wo verläuft die Grenze zwischen Trickverrat und Nachwuchsgewinnung?

Hanno Rhomberg, der ebenso rastlose wie ideenreiche Macher des Aladin, hat sich aus aktuellem Anlass dieser vielschichtigen und brisanten Fragestellung angenommen und dazu soeben ein kleines, lesenswertes Sonderheft produziert, das hier kostenlos heruntergeladen werden kann. Daneben hat er eine Umfrage initiiert, um ein möglichst breites Meinungsbild aus Zaubererkreisen einzuholen. Macht also gerne auch mit und verratet eure Einstellung zu Geheimniskrämerei und Trickverrat!


Quelle: Screenshot Aladin Blog


On the Fascination of Gambling for Majishuns


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


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!



A Word on Thurston: Loving Your Audience


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:


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.