These are The Magic Memories 65, gone online Sunday, March 27th, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.
What is the Most Difficult Thing in Magic?
In last week’s The Magic Memories (64) I asked you: “What do you consider the most difficult thing in magic?”, this being a question I’ve never been asked in all those interviews I’ve given.
Funny (or not…): I got about a dozen comments on the video of me doing “Thief of Thought for Twins” (see below), but not one single reader commented on this question. What a world are we living in 🙂
I ignore the fact that many are possibly more interested in the fun part of magic rather than the philosophical-theoretical-academic aspects of magic, and will give you my answer to the question, whether you want it or not 🙂
Here is my answer: In the many years of discussing magic in the most diverse situations with kindred spirits, and in giving lectures, and one-to-one coachings, live and via Skype, I come to the conclusion that the most difficult thing is to distinguish our own reality from that of our spectators. Dai Vernon approximated the problem when he said: “The difference between a professional and an amateur is that the former knows what the spectator thinks.” Occasionally he varied this by saying that the difference was that the professional knew what an effect was.
Nowadays, most who have been into magic for a while and have seriously studied it, know that the deception doesn’t take place in the the performer’s hands, but in the mind of the spectators. Yes, that’s the theory, but as so often the difference between theory and practice is even bigger in practice than in theory.
So, the next question is: How can we know what happens in the spectator’s mind? Certainly, experience helps, remembering that to become good at something takes a long time, and to become very good at it takes a very long time.
But this alone is not enough, because we all know people who have been into magic for decades and still do magic as if they were in their first year. You have to understand before you practice, but once you understand, you have to practice. So, it is a question of both understanding and experience. And it takes about ten years to get to this point (in exceptional cases a bit less…).
Obviously, one would think, that if you understood how the human mind worked, it would help. Well, yes and no. Basic knowledge of psychology – the scene that studies the human mind – is irremissible (see the books recommended in “Chapter 27: Theory” of Card College Volume 2). But there is a point where this is no longer practical.
We can see this with the new interest the neurosciences take in magic: They do a lot of experiments and are quite serious about the matter. However, I cannot get rid of the impression that many of them are about as interested in the art of magic as researchers are interested in the rats they use – magic just seems a convenient vehicle to prove the theories they are making up.
I have now read several of their publications, sat into various talks and even been invited to one of their conventions, and I have yet to find one important piece of information that I did not know and with which I could better understand or improve a magic performance piece.
Of course, they tell me quite a bit of things I did not know: About synapses, transporters, receptors and what have you, but all of this is about as useful to us magicians as ornithology is to birds (to borrow an utterance Richard Feynman made about the philosophy of science).
On the other hand, if I read the books by Ascanio or Tamariz, about In-transit Actions, Positive and Negative Insertions, False Trails, to mention just a few, I can immediately identify a flaw in a trick and make it better. These, plus dozens of other concepts, are identified, succinctly described and illustrated with practical examples in Sharing Secrets.
But all of this is, as always, just my opinion, and those who believe the contrary are right, too.
Thief of Thought for Twins – The Comments
First, you might want to watch the five-minutes video again, to refresh your memory – CLICK HERE.
Here is some background information about this video, in no particular order.
The Twins, Really?
Let’s first clear something: Although there is absolutely no camera trickery in the recording of the performance, what you see is what I did, the “twins” are not twins, of course. It’s Guillaume Cerati twice.
Explanation: We taped this first with Cerati 1 on my left. Then Cerati 2 (still Cerati 1… sorry for the confusion) sat on the opposite side of the table, to my right.
We set up the laptop on the table so Cerati 2 (actually Cerati 1, oh my….) could watch the taped performance again, and we filmed just him on this side of the table. By looking at the video he could react properly, and of course I had occasionally addressed the (invisible) Cerati 2 as I performed for Cerati 1.
Then Cerati (1 & 2 back in one), in his studio in Grenoble (France), edited the two videos according to the necessities of the effect (whatever that means…). If you did not get that, you can get Skype lessons from me at $ 150 for 75 minutes 🙂
OK, this cleared (for there were a few who really believed Cerati & Cerati were twins…), let’s proceed to the trick itself.
Although I’ve know about this trick since Dingle’s Complete Works (Kaufman, 1982), and then a bit later from The Classic Magic of Larry Jennings (Maxwell, 1986), it was not until I saw Dai Vernon perform his version in a lecture he gave at the Magic Castle on April 1st, 1977. No, I was not there, but had the good chance of watching the video of it in the early 1980ies. BTW: The video is now legally available in a set of 17 DVDs titled Dai Vernon’s Revelations – 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Box Set by L&L Publishing, and it comes with another two fantastic video lectures by Dai Vernon – I transcribed and commented all of them, and maybe I’ll make this available one day.
Anyway, in this lecture he introduces the trick, crediting it to Larry Jennings, by saying, “I put little touches to it, it’s called the Vernon touch. Larry and I are great friends. Larry is a great technician. This is a very effective card trick because every effective card trick has to have a beginning, a middle and a climax. That’s like a good play that has an opening, a middle, but the climax is the most important thing. That’s why the Cups and Balls is a great trick, it has a beginning, a middle and a terrific climax in form of the loads, a lemon, an onion…” And of the trick itself he said, “I don’t know of a purer trick, all is based on the buckle of the bottom card.”
And then he proceeds to perform and explain the trick (without the selection and the presentation you saw me do). His presentation starts with this Prologue, ““Houdini claimed that nobody could fool him three times in a row with the same card trick. Now, I claim that I can fool the smartest guy living twice with the same trick. I can’t fool him three times, but I can fool him twice. I show you what I mean.”
For Jennings’ original handling see Mike Maxwell’s The Classic Magic of Larry Jennings, p. 95, “Ambitious Classic.” Dai Vernon’s version is elegant, to say the least, and reminds me of the Russian painter Bryullow, who corrected a pupil’s painting. “How is it possible? You only changed a detail, yet it is completely different.” “Art starts where this detail begins.”
As a curiosity, here is a photo from one of my notebooks with my write-up of the trick (it received four out of five stars…):
The information about who first came up with this plot, as so often, is not clear. If you are interested in this type of information, a place to start is Denis Behr’s “Conjuring Credits”, CLICK HERE.
Briefly, Bruce Cervon in his version “A Matter of Psychology” from Ultra Cervon states in the introduction to the trick:
Several versions of this effect have reached print over the years. To the best of my knowledge, they were all inspired by the trick about to be explained. While reworking anideaof Ray Grismer’sI evolved the trick I call ‘A Matter of Psychology”: I demonstrated it, with the presentation given below, to many at the Magic Castle. Even Dai started doing it! Derek Dingle was one of the people who saw it there. He developed a handling of his own, which he eventually performed on a national television show; and for a time the trick became associated with him. When Derek eventually published his handling, “Too ManyCards”, in The Complete Works of Derek Dingle, he mentioned having seen me perform the trick at the Castle. My friend Larry Jennings was the ﬁrst to put methods for this plot into print, when he contributed ‘Ambitious Classic’ to Epilogue Special, No. 3; and consequently many believed the trick to be his invention. Good tricks have a way of getting around. I thought my original version, been published before, might be of interest.
So much for a short look at the “historical part”.
The Presentation I Use
In the Nineties I spent a week (yet another one!) at Juan Tamariz’s summer home near Cadiz and he showed me a three-part routine made up of the effect I call “The Palindrome Cards” (see The Magic Memories 59), “Ambitious Classic” and a third I don’t remember: In all three or just one (?) he used the presentation of “I’ll make you forget your card”.
That was the first time I came across this presentational idea, and I took note, but never used it as I considered it Juan’s.
Years later my Spanish publisher Laura Aviles, of Páginas fame (originally called Editorial Frakson founded by Juan Tamariz), gave me the reprints of the books by Padre Wenceslao Ciuró, a priest who wrote over a dozen influential magic books between 1952 and 1978 – Tamariz keeps recommending them, as they were his first magic books, and indeed they are very interesting to the day.
In one of them, Juegos de manos de bolsillo – tomo1, «Hacer perder la memoria», p. 80 (1961), he describes a simple trick that uses exactly the presentation of “I’ll make you lose your memory” (see the short PDF of this HERE). Ahhh, that’s were Juan probably got it from. This went into my folder for “Presentational Ideas” (I’ve written about this in several of my The Magic Memories: It is a sub-notebook in my Evernote with hundreds of presentations that await their association with a trick).
That’s how Vernon’s version and the presentation came together and formed what you saw me do in the video. There might be other people who had similar ideas, but I didn’t know about them, and they were of no influence to my work.
The First Few Problems and Their Solutions
They way I study a trick is to go through it chronologically, identify what I believe to be problems, and then try to find the most elegant solution to each of them.
The first and last problems are always the Prologue and the Epilogue (see Sharing Secrets, p. 88), and once those are solved, they almost automatically define the presentational plot of the trick.
This was taken care of with Ciuró’s idea. And according to the old journalist credo “No first sentence without the last”, I had made up the Epilogue-line: “…and don’t forget that you just witnessed a minor miracle!”
The next problem was the repetitive structure of the trick, actually a “double repetition”: Not only do you repeat the same effect with the Ace, Two, Three and Four, you also do each one twice. This was solved by the pacing, and of course by the line, “…but now you have forgotten your card, haven’t you?”, which becomes a Running Gag with an unexpected denouement.
However, the last card bothered me: In the other versions the last card, the Five of Hearts, simply changes into the Five of Spades. As always I ask: Why? What’s the dramatical and magical reason for this transformation?
Yes, a capable performer can make this an effect, and it shows in Dingle’s performance on the Dick Cavett Show (3rd OCT 1974). Similar to Fred Kaps’s 11 £ Trick, which also has no real climax, through proper presentation and force of personality such tricks can be made effective, but for the average performer it will be a problem.
Therefore, the idea of changing the last card into a selection seemed obvious to me, although I have yet to find a version by someone else who does the same thing. (My friend Rafael Benatar does it for birthdays, and has the message “Happy Birthday, (name of person)” appear on a duplicate 5H, and that’s a good solution, too.)
More Problems, More Solutions
Most technical problems are taken care of by Vernon’s brilliant construction using the improvised double-backer. And the need to repeat each phase because of this, has already been taken care of by the presentation.
Remains the small problem of how to load the face-down selection to under the five-card-packet. I find it absolutely unacceptable to take the five cards, put them on top of the face-down deck (which at this point is no longer necessary in the perception of the audience!), to display them, and to then steal the card.
BUT, “If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain” (this BTW, is not a Bible saying as I thought, but can be found in “Of Boldness”, an essay by Francis Bacon from 1625 – bless Internet, for once…). Thinking about this problem reminded me of the first time I saw Juan Tamariz in 1978 at a convention in Düsseldorf, Germany, where in his lecture he did one of his early versions of “Oil and Water” (my favorite, later published in Pabular magazine). In this he needs an extra black card. He starts by placing four red cards face up on the table, and then four black cards, but apparently by oversight he tables only three.
I clearly remember how I completely went for it, and thought, “Oh, he only has three…” As soon as I had thought that, he says, “Oh, wait, there is a black missing here…” He picks up the deck, takes the black card he apparently left on the face of it, and then adds it to the three-card-packet… thereby adding the extra red card. He got me with this, and all of the audience, too…
So, this was the solution I adopted for my version, and as a Bonus it also solved the problem of how to avoid that one of the Heart cards from the five-card-packet would be selected, and how to control it to the top. That’s what I call a good deal: One question asked, three problems solved!
At the beginning I take out the AH, 2H, 3H and 4H, in any order, and put them aside in a face-down packet, explaining, “I put these aside, because I don’t want you to choose one of these.” This action allows me to naturally bring the 5H to the bottom. Automatically this suggested its use as a Key Card: It makes all the sense in the world, since I need to look through the deck anyway a moment later to find the 5H.
This leads to the next problem: What type of Key Card Placement and subsequent Key Card Location & Control to use. Your knowledge and abilities are the limit.
In my case a quick mental check of the available tools led me to the Hindu Shuffle as a procedure to have the card selected and tagged with the Key Card (5H), my motto in these cases being: As sophisticated as I can, but as simple and safe as possible – the three “S” (Sophistication, Simplicity, Safety).
If the Key Card goes above the selection (using the Hindu Shuffle Bottom Extraction Placement as you can see me use in the video), when you afterwards cut the 5H to the top, the selection ends up directly under it, from where it is stolen by using an Intelligent Double Lift (Sharing Secrets, p. 54).
The belief that the selection is hopelessly lost is further cemented by the very clean replacement of the selection, and by setting the deck aside, as if it was no longer used. It is now that the previously tabled cards are picked up, the “missing” card noted, then located in the deck and added as you can see me do in the video. From here on the things take their course…
Oh, one more thing: One might be tempted to tell about the cards et aside and that the whole story of making the spectator forget a thought, but that would be counterproductive. The information would function as a Negative Insertion (Sharing Secrets, p. 52), and you would risk that the card is forgotten before you even tell them that you intend to do so! However, if you tell them all this at the beginning, as part of the Prologue, not only can you go straight to the effects after the selection, you also make sure that they won’t forget the card.
There might be a few more things to say, but let’s leave it at that – as if that was not enough 🙂
The Moral of the Story
Sorry for having been a bit text-heavy in this blog, but there are things that cannot be simplified, or else they become trivial. If you’ve read up to here, you are with me 🙂
I hope to have been able to describe how to study a trick – at least one way of doing so – using the practical example of the above piece: Go through the trick on its horizontal timeline, stop each time you identify a problem (ask questions!), recognize the open architecture this implies by going into a vertical line, mentally listing the available solutions (or write them down), and then select the proper solution. Try out the resulting piece a few times, then keep it the way it is, if it is good, or change it. Continue like this until you are satisfied. This is the path to perfection: You’ll never reach perfection, but having it as a vision will lead to excellence.
Wish you a healthy and prosperous week,