Mike: After talking to most of the publishers during the summer conventions, I thought there would be deluge of books and videos out in time for holiday season. But for one reason or another, many projects seemed to be delayed and will not appear until spring or summer of next year. Two major new releases, one book and one video, have appeared in time for your holiday shopping. So if you have a "card guy" in the family or a big fan of Paul Harris, you may find that your magical shopping needs have been met.
Mike: The Federal Express deliveryman's timing was impeccable. He arrived with a galley copy of Darwin Ortiz's new book, Cardshark, just as I was leaving for the airport to fly to Italy. Thanks to him (and Darwin), an eight-hour flight passed by very pleasantly.
Darwin made reference to Cardshark several times in his book Strong Magic, and several of the effects he described seemed too good to be true. So here's the bottom line: This is a sensational book which more than lives up to its advance billing.
The material in Cardshark is divided into three sections titled "Impromptu Miracles," "Presentational Showpieces" and "Gambling Routines." The technical requirements range from routines that are fairly easy (in fact, there is one self-working routine) to routines that demand virtuoso-level "chops." Ton Onosaka did the remarkable illustrations, and the combination of these drawings and Darwin's clear and concise text make learning these routines a pleasure.
In the Foreword to the book, Darwin brings up an important point, one that I wish more would-be authors would consider. He writes: "To justify its existence, I feel a new trick should be different from what has come before. And, to the extent that it resembles any previous tricks, it should be superior to them either in plot, method, or presentation (or in more than one of those categories)." At the end of each routine Darwin has a section called "Comments," in which he discusses those aspects of the routine that he has attempted to strengthen. You may or may not agree with him, but at least you will understand why he felt that each routine should be included in the book. In addition, each routine is accompanied with a section of "Performance Tips" (which many times includes the full patter script) and a section of "Credits."
Cardshark contains 30 routines, so for the sake of space I will mention only a few of my favorites. "The Psychotronic Card" is the first routine in the book and it is outstanding. An unknown card is reversed in a red-backed deck. The spectator selects a different card from the red deck and signs it. This card is placed between four blue-backed Kings. It immediately vanishes. The originally reversed red-backed card is turned over. It is the signed card. "Beyond Sleight of Hand" is a sandwich effect in which minimum work gives you maximum effect. "The New Hitchcock Aces" is just that - a reworking of one of Darwin's best-known routines. "Kartenkunste" is an excellent version of the Hofzinser Ace trick.
My favorite routines in the "Presentational Showpieces" section include: "Pickup on South Street," in which a signed card travels from one wallet to another wallet while the wallets are in the spectators' coats; "Time and Again," a time-travel routine with a bizarre kicker; "Blind Aces," an absolutely killer Ace-cutting routine that's easy to do; "Harry in Your Pocket," a pickpocket routine that could easily be used in a platform situation; "Time Piece," an exquisite presentation for the "Clock Trick"; and "The Showdown," which takes the "Magician vs. Gambler" plot and raises it to a whole new realm of impossibility.
Part three of the book contains the gambling routines and every one of them is exceptional. "Darwin's Poker Deal" is my favorite of the bunch, but if you want to convince people that you are the greatest card handler they have ever seen (and you've got the chops to back up that claim), then check out "The Sting." Is it tough? You betcha. Is it worth it? I can't imagine a stronger demonstration of riffle stacking.
A couple more points before I wrap this up. Ignoring the routines for a moment, Cardshark is a textbook of sophisticated, intelligent card handling. If you only study it for this information you will have gotten far more than your money's worth. If you ignore the routines and the techniques, and study only the theoretical analyses that Darwin offers, then you will have gotten far more than your money's worth. There is information in this book that has solved some problems for me (including the best suggestion I have ever read on how to take the "heat" off when holding out cards at the table), and if you read and study it carefully you will learn things that will make you a better magician. My congratulations to Darwin, and my thanks for sharing this material. Cardshark is a must-buy and I give it my highest recommendation.
Mac: Coincidentally I also read this manuscript on a plane. Probably not so coincidentally, I was also very impressed. I have always enjoyed the tricks in Darwin's books, but I found the selection in Cardshark extraordinarily dazzling. With literally every trick I read, I found myself thinking, "I can't wait to show this to someone. This is a great card trick."
Mac: I have mentioned my fondness for Paul Harris in a past column. When I was in college, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the latest Paul Harris book. The ideas they contained seemed so wild to me. In direct contrast to the other magic books I read, the writing was fun and funny. A big part of my close-up repertoire came from those books.
"Flash Fold," "Dehydrated Deck," "Solid Deception" and "Vacuum Cleaner Cards" kept me employed for a while. Then it seemed like Paul vanished from the magic scene for a number of years. When he reappeared a few years ago, it felt to me like the tricks had less sparkle than in the old days. That could be because now there are a lot of imitators of those earlier P.H. books. Regardless, after viewing this new tape, I once again feel the same wave of admiration for Paul's creative skills.
That's not to say that this videotape doesn't have its inauspicious moments. There is a spectator named Sandra that, to put it quite simply, should be executed. She is that annoying. But any flaws are completely and utterly overshadowed by the appearance of two of the finest impromptu magic effects I have ever witnessed. "The Shape of Astonishment" requires only a borrowed coin and a piece of aluminum foil. This trick has yet to be figured out by anyone I've shown it to. That includes Max Maven, Billy McComb and the guy at my mailbox place. The other trick, "Fizz Master," involves two cans of soda or beer (or any fizzy drink), and is so clever that Paul's brain should be turned into a shrine just for thinking of it.
There are nine items in all. Besides the two incredible impromptu mysteries I've already mentioned, there are: "Unshuffling Rebecca," Paul's take on a self-working "Triumph" type trick; "Backlash," a spectator's card jumps from place to place, then her signature changes to your signature; "Flesh," a tiny bit of a toothpick jumps from one of your hands to the other; "Angel Case," a clever switching box made from a card case; "Zen and the Art of the Boomerang Toss," a very good card trick which owes a great deal to Stephen Minch's "Robin Hood Card Trick;" "Impromptu Nightshades," a method for doing Paul's marketed (and highly gaffed) "Nightshades" with a borrowed dollar bill; and "Buck Naked," an inferior method for transforming a $5 bill into a $20. Of these "Backlash" and "Zen and the Art of the Boomerang Toss" are my favorites. Only "Flesh" and "Buck Naked" are outright losers.
The format for the tape is different from any other magic videotape that I've seen. It has kind of an "encounter group" feel to it that is so off beat that I can't decide if I even like it. What did you think, my brother?
Mike: This is a very unusual tape, unlike any other teaching video that I have seen. Everything is very laid back, and Paul's performance style is ultra-low-key - almost conversational. This style seems to fit him very well. I like the idea of having the spectators discuss the effects among themselves. It gives the viewer a sense of what laymen take away with them.
I also agree with your assessment of the tricks. I was not as taken with the card magic as I was with the foil trick and the pop can trick. These are gems, and I expect that they will become a part of every magician's repertoire.
Mac: So, overall I found this tape to be of superior value. The two impromptu tricks are each worth more than the cost of the tape. Paul Harris is back - and he is astonishing.
VIP: Very Impossible Penetration By Mike Powers
Mac: Turns out Michael Weber was really onto something when he did his bottle-cap-in-the-bottle trick years ago. Since then, both Daryl and Mike Powers have released their methods for that effect. Here's a brief description of the Mike Powers' version.
Turning an empty beer bottle upside down, our hero shakes the last drops of liquid out of the bottle. He has the bottle cap examined, and then rests it on the label portion of the now horizontal bottle. A spectator holds the bottle. The magician slaps the bottle cap and it visibly penetrates the side of the bottle. The spectator keeps the bottle (and the cap that it now contains) as a souvenir.
This is a really good trick. There is what I would call a substantial amount of advance preparation that must be carried out in private. Mike Powers says in the instructions that he can do this get ready in two to three minutes. Even if it took you two to three days, the impact of this trick is such that I feel, under certain circumstances, it would be worth the effort. It is surely worth the ten minutes it will most likely take you to actually set this thing up. Also, you should probably know that even though the effect of "VIP" is that you simply pick up any empty bottle from the table or bar where you are working, in actuality you must put your prepared bottle there earlier and then apparently pick it up at random. But trust me, you can do that.
The trick itself is pretty easy to do, although certainly not self-working. One negative is that the instructions have really grainy photos that are just barely good enough to see the moves required to effect the penetration. The text, however, is so easy to follow and well written that you really don't need the photos to be any better. Can you tell I really like this?
Mike: I think that Mike Powers has added a visual element to the original Weber/Rey cap-in-bottle trick. One advantage of the version released by Daryl is that the bottle can be sitting on the bar and you just pick it up and, "wham," put a cap in it. With the Powers' version there is a small amount of set-up before you do the trick, but this is minimal. The only thing I can think to add is a warning. The Powers' trick does involve the use of a magnet. If you weren't careful, I imagine that some idiot could accidentally erase all the data from his credit cards.
Mac: As you know, I am that idiot.
Mike: Card guys will want to check out this set of lecture notes from Tom Frame. (I can only assume that the cryptic title refers to the places we stay while on lecture tours.) There are eight routines explained in the notes, and while there are no illustrations, the text is very clear and includes Tom's patter.
The effects include "Parallax," a combination card tunnel/sandwich effect; "The Drunken Dealer's Triumphant Return," a reworking of Simon Aronson's "Super Stoned Poker Deal"; "A Case of Polygraphy," a really clever lie-detector effect, in which the selected card ends up in the card case; and "Leadership Potential," a "Follow the Leader" effect which blew away all the heavies at the recent Convention at the Capitol. This last effect is really sneaky, uses a diabolical swindle, and gives you an incredible effect for almost no effort whatsoever.
I liked these routines a lot. The tricks require only average technical ability, and they pack a good punch. I suggest you check them out.
Mac: I had never read anything by Tom Frame before, and had no idea if I'd like his stuff. As a matter of fact, because we have recently gotten a bunch of packet tricks and small manuscripts that were crap, I was less than enthusiastic when I saw these notes in the mail. But when I saw the title, Scary Hotels, I perked up a bit. Well, at least the guy had the guts to use an interesting title. Then I read the first trick. Hmmm. Interesting. By the time I got to "Leadership Potential," I was wishing I could see these fine tricks in action. I enjoyed this.
Mike: This is the third video in Dan's Connivery series (the others being Closeup and Kid Show). Dan is well known around the world as a talented creator, performer, lecturer and magic dealer, whose offerings are always practical and entertaining. In this installment, Dan presents 12 routines suitable for stand-up and close-up performances.
The tape begins with Dan performing all the routines in a casual clubhouse-type setting. The explanations follow afterwards. I like this format because it allows me to show the video to my non-magician friends without having to stop and fast-forward through the explanations. You also get a feel for the performer's style.
The routines include: "Sphere It!" a sponge ball routine; "Roots," the surprise production of a sponge tooth from a top hat; "Rings of Saturn," Dan's very clever four-ring routine, which includes a disarming move for displaying the key ring; "Ultimate Card Revelation," a method for doing the "think of a card" trick (this is one of the best things on the tape); "Pickle Trick," a multiplying/vanishing sponge-pickle routine; "The Professor's Daydream," Dan's additions to the classic Bob Carver "Equal & Unequal Ropes"; and "Four Card Reiteration," a terrific version of the "Six Card Repeat," and a trick of Dan's which has been in my repertoire for many years. In addition, Dan performs
(but does not explain) the "Cardtoon Card Rise," which is one of his signature pieces and which (if you've never seen it before) will really fool you.
There is much of value on this video, and I learned several ideas that I am going to incorporate into my own routines. If you're looking for practical stand-up material, and video is your learning medium of choice, I think you'll find that Cabaret Connivery delivers the goods. But I will mention one small caveat and a tiny complaint. You should be aware of the fact that several of the routines require props (sponge teeth, sponge pickles, a Sanada gimmick, the "Plastic Cash" trick) that you would need to purchase. Dan includes an order blank in the tape should you wish to order the props from him. While this does give the tape the feel of a "dealer show," I think that there is enough other strong material explained to offset this. My small complaint is that there are several times when the camera work is less than effective, for example, during the explanations of the Sanada gimmick and the mental card force. I wish that there had been some close-up shots that could have clarified the actions.
But, these are small criticisms. Dan is a fine performer and teacher and there is much to learn from this tape. I recommend it.
Miller's Dice By Paul Green
Mac: Paul Green is a Southern California resident who makes his living doing magic. This is a dice routine taught to Paul by the late-great Charlie Miller (hence the title). The trick involves a story about a couple of dice gamblers. During the course of the story, you roll a zero with one die and a seven with another single die. The trick is neat, the story relatively entertaining, but this is not self-working. Sleight-of-hand is involved.
To me the best thing about this trick is the dice you receive. You get five red dice: two of them are normal, one is completely blank, one is mis-spotted (opposite sides don't add up to seven), and the final die has seven spots on each side.
Mike: It is important for the readers to know that the key move in the Miller routine is the Palm-to-Palm switch. You have to be able to do this move with both hands. I'm sure that you could work out a version with an easier sleight, but I want to make sure that everyone out there knows what they're getting into.
Standing Ovation and Mental Masterpieces: The Larry Becker Videos Volumes 1 and 2
Mike: Larry Becker is well known as a creator and performer of high-caliber (no pun intended) mental magic. On these two videos, Larry performs and explains several of his favorite routines. On each tape he is first shown performing all the material as a complete set in front of a (more or less) lay audience. He then explains the routines in the second half of the tapes.
Volume One includes six routines, five are mental effects, and one ("Here, There, & Everywhere") is a clever, almost sleight-less card-to-wallet routine. My favorite is a routine called "Some Total." I have already started to think about adapting this to my own work. Also on this tape is Larry's famous "Russian Roulette" routine, which is demonstrated but not explained. To be honest, this trick gives me the willies, and I have a hard time watching Larry do it. (In fact, when I see him do it live, I have to leave the room.) If you have impressionable children in your home, be sure to use common sense when viewing this tape.
Volume Two contains seven mental routines, including a demonstration (but no explanation) of Larry's very ingenious "Ultimate Flashback." Of the seven, my favorite is "Clearly Predictable," a routine that Larry fooled me with years ago at an Ibidem convention.
As with all of Larry's material, the routines taught on these tapes have been thought out to the nth degree. The material is strong, the explanations are lucid, the performances are fun to watch, and the production values are first rate. If mentalism is your thing, you'll want to add these tapes to your collection.
Mike: It is rare when a working pro offers the magic community a routine from his current repertoire. Rich Marotta has done just that, and I would imagine that a lot of you will take advantage of his generosity.
The effect of "Mugged" probably goes back to an English magician of the 1 920s named Oswald Rae. Rich provides a contemporary handling, snappy patter (which may or may not be suitable for your performing style), and all the necessary props.
The performer explains that he was mugged recently. The mugger took his money, his watch and his ring. These three items are placed into a ski mask (which has been introduced with a hilarious, patter line). But the mugger didn't realize that the performer was a magician. The mask is turned inside out, and the items have vanished. The money has returned to the wallet, the ring is back on the performer's finger, and the watch is back on his wrist.
Rich provides everything you need to do this routine. I would imagine that you might want to upgrade the props (for example, using your own Himber wallet rather than the plastic tri-fold wallet included). Since this is a platform routine, upgrading may not be that important. This is a sensational opening effect; one that gets laughs and establishes you as a magician. I highly recommend this (and secretly wish that I was the only person who had one).
Mike: Jerry Winn recently sent me information on two new magic tables he is producing. They are very well made, using half-inch plywood painted black with a charcoal speaker carpet covering. The tables come in two sizes: The small table is 31" high with a tabletop of 21" x 21". It weights 21 pounds and when closed stands 36" high. This means it can fit in an airline luggage box. The large table is 37" high with a tabletop of 24" x 21". It weighs 27 pounds and when closed is 40" high. Both tables have a back drawer that can store props or be used as a servante.
The table opens and closes in two seconds, and would be very useful in wide variety of performing situations. If you're in the market for a table, give Jerry a call, and he'll give you more info.
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