When I was a little kid my folks would take me to Stoner's Magic Shop in Fort Wayne, Indiana. An almost electric thrill ran through me when I entered the store; so much stuff, so many mysteries, so little money to spend. Eventually that thrill faded, but in 1976 I time-traveled for a moment and got the same tingle when I walked into the dealers' room at my first magic convention, the IBM convention in Evansville. A few other occasions have evoked these feelings - visiting the Magic Castle and sitting at the same table as Dai Vernon and Francis Carlyle, getting a chance to get my hands on my first "underground" manuscript - but unfortunately, familiarity does breed complacency, and the longer you have been in magic the less likely you are to get that "expectation buzz."
But it does still happen, and this month I got "buzzed" twice. The first time happened when I went to the mailbox and found a small parcel from England. The name in the return address was "A. Elmsley." Had it been "L. Beethoven" I don't think I could have been more thrilled. (Surprised, yes. Thrilled, no.) A little later on I will tell you what Mr. Elmsley sent me, and if you grab your checkbook, you can be thrilled, too.
The second thrill came with the arrival of a large package from Hermetic Press. Stephen Minch had sent me the galleys of The Books of Wonder. I was instantly seven years old again.
For many MAGIC subscribers the first stop in a new issue is the "Parallax" column. If this is your habit, then you have already read Max's one sentence review of The Books of Wonder by Tommy Wonder and Stephen Minch. To be honest, there is not much more I can add - but I will, otherwise this column will run several thousand words short.
Tommy Wonder has made two appearances in MAGIC, the first in a small booklet called Square One which was a promotional subscription bonus. Tommy contributed an essay called "Thoughts in Mid-Air" which was a brilliant analysis of the Zombie effect. Tommy was on the cover of the May 1994 issue of MAGIC, and he was profiled in an article by Phil Goldstein's good twin - Max Mavin. Another of Tommy's essays was a sidebar to this article, and at the bottom of the essay mention was made that Tommy's book would appear in the fall. This, remember, was back in 1994. Like Topsy, the book grew, becoming two books, encompassing over 600 total pages, and containing some of the most stunning magic and insightful analysis that it has been my pleasure to read.
Before continuing, I want to make clear that while in the following discussion I may for convenience refer to Tommy as the singular author of these books, they are entirely the happy collaboration of Tommy and Stephen Minch. Tommy is, of course, the creator of the material, while Stephen wrote the majority of the trick descriptions and lent his able editorial hand to the essays.
Here is the overall layout of the two books: Volume One focuses on close-up magic and contains 28 routines. In Volume Two the emphasis is on platform and stage magic and there are 26 items explained. Intertwined among the routines (and I mean intertwined in all senses of that word) are fabulous essays which explore all facets of the performance of magic. There are 35 essays in Volume One, 23 in Volume Two. These essays are introduced so that the theoretical concepts discussed are then applied to the routines which follow; a fine organizational approach which allows you to see how an experienced performer puts theory into action. Let me now give you the details of what is included in each book.
Volume One begins with an prologue titled "The Limitations of Theory" which examines the relationship between theory, intuition, and the refining and polishing of talent. There then follows a chapter containing three essays on Misdirection (or more properly, audience management and direction). These 30 pages contain some of the finest information on this subject that I have ever read. Chapter Two focuses on card routines. The first routine, "Magic Ranch," uses the aforementioned Misdirection information to achieve the long distance production of a plastic egg, which, when opened, contains a small duplicate of a selected card. There are routines for Card through Handkerchief, Everywhere and Nowhere, the Torn and Restored Card, and the Haunted Pack. Also included in this chapter is routine of card effects which is a highlight of Tommy's lecture: The deck is removed from the card case, and the case immediately shrinks. The deck is rapped on the table and all the pips fall to one end of the deck (a hilarious sight gag). A card is selected and signed. It appears in a folded condition, inside a small box. Finally, the entire deck is replaced into the small card case. (This last bit is one of the most remarkable visual effects I've ever seen. You really can't believe your eyes.)
Chapter Three concerns itself with one effect: Tommy's handling of Wild Card. If there is a stronger version of this, I am unaware of it. The routine is designed for walk around situations, no table is required, the cards end up in the spectator's hands, and if a curious spectator decides to follow you around he will discover that the set of cards which you finish with change into a completely new set of cards when you perform for the next group of people.
Coin tricks are the subject of Chapter Four, and here you will find a lovely Boston Box routine, a handling for Cigarette through Quarter, and a superb Spellbound routine. Chapter Five concludes this volume and it contains stand-up routines, the highlight of which is Tommy's handling of Oswald Williams' "Holdup" routine. The method is extraordinary.
In the first chapter of Volume Two, Tommy offers more close-up material, including a table designed to be used for table-hopping, a torn and restored cigarette effect, a ring on wand move, and an extraordinary effect in which several dozen strands of thread are immediately passed through the eye of a needle.
Chapter Two contains a complete description of one of Tommy's best known routines: The Two-cup Routine. This is a cup and ball routine using two cups, two balls, and a bag with a large tassel on it. This routine is an object lesson in audience management, as during the course of the routine both the tassel and bag appear under the cups.
Manipulative magic is the subject of Chapter Three, and included are a card manipulation sequence with an errant card case, Tommy's version of the Diminishing Cards (another of the highlights of his lecture), and some ball manipulations.
The last two chapters of Volume Two were a revelation to me. I had always thought of Tommy as a sleight of hand performer, and I was not aware of his remarkable abilities as a creator of mechanical marvels. Chapter Four contains Tommy's work on four utility devices: the tails topit, the belly servante, the pendulum holdout, and the Jack Miller holdout. His modifications to these gimmicks are light-years beyond anything else I have read.
Finally, in Chapter Five, Tommy gives the complete details of three of his signature pieces: the Vanishing Birdcage, the Zombie, and the Nest of Boxes. For those who are mechanically inclined, every detail of the construction and modification of these props is explained. In fact, the amount of detail given is far beyond that of most of the "illusion plans" books which I have seen. The description of the Nest of Boxes is possibly my favorite section of the books. Tommy explains three different methods, each successively more ingenious and deceptive. In the final version, a spectator's watch ends up inside two boxes, inside an alarm clock (the back of which the spectator unscrews to open it), and the magician never touches the boxes. Following the description of these three methods there comes one of the greatest punchlines I have ever read in a magic book. I will not spoil it for you.
Some of the routines in The Books of Wonder have been in print before. All have been updated and rewritten. In fact, one of the fascinating aspects of the books is that Tommy examines some of his earlier creations through the eyes of a more experienced and mature performer.
If they only contained the aforementioned routines, The Books of Wonder would be great, but as I mentioned earlier, woven between the tricks are wonderful essays. They will make you think, they will challenge you, they may even upset you (Tommy does not mince words). But if you study and apply the information in them you will be a better magician. In the introduction to Volume Two, Eugene Burger compares these books to Our Magic, and I think he's right. The Books of Wonder are the Our Magic of the late twentieth century. Purchase and study them. (Where have I read that before?) These books are going to generate a lot of conversation. They will be discussed as books of tricks and as books of theory. But I know what they really are. Tommy Wonder has written a love song, and, like all great love songs, The Books of Wonder are classics and will be around for a long, long time.
So, what did Mr. Elmsley send me? The package contained a 52 page manual, a few small cards, and a disk containing some of the best computer tricks I've ever seen. If you have an IBM compatible computer running Windows 3.1 (or later) you are going to fool the hell out of your friends and co-workers.
Here's some nuts and bolts stuff first. The program installed without a hitch. Mr. Elmsley also has considerately included an uninstall program if the time comes when you wish to remove "Mouse Magic" from your computer. Password security is provided, and there is a nifty feature which keeps anyone from copying the program from your computer and using it on their machine.
"Mouse Magic" contains seven tricks. All are really good, and all of them would completely baffle you if you didn't know the methods. Here's some of my favorites:
A spectator removes any object that he or she may have on their person. This object is shown to the mouse. A picture of the object appears on the computer screen. Here's another effect: A card is chosen and returned to the pack. The pack is sprung at the computer screen and a picture of the chosen card appears on the screen. Or how about this: A spectator counts up his loose change. The magician (that's you) starts a counter on the screen. It runs and stops at the appropriate number.
Here are two more effects that I think are absolutely killer. A spectator chooses some items from a list on the screen (the list includes colors, precious stones, etc.). When all the choices have been made the computer gives the subject a horoscope reading and then divines the spectator's birthday. (And many times can also tell whether the spectator is male or female.) I've saved the best one for last. The spectator cuts off a packet of about a dozen cards from somewhere in the pack. He remembers the bottom card of this packet. He then shuffles the packet thoroughly. He now enters the names of the cards into the computer. Immediately the computer dictates a procedure for the spectator to follow. Upon following the instructions the spectator's card turns up. The magician does not touch the cards, nor does he touch the PC.
If I sound enthusiastic about these tricks, I am. The methods are ingenious and are beyond reconstruction. Certain aspects of the tricks can be customized to suit your individual preferences. And most important of all (at least to me), these tricks are not self-working. If you want to perform them you are going to have to practice, and I think that's terrific.
Thank you Mr. Elmsley. You made my day.
This is a fine utility item. Greg Wilson (no not that one - the other Greg Wilson) has constructed a business card wallet which allows you to perform tricks which utilize the "Out to Lunch" principle. No longer will you face the sneers and derision of the CEO's of the Fortune 500 companies when you whip out your rubberbanded stack of business cards. Greg provides you with a very nicely made leather wallet, one side of which is gaffed. I have used one for a while and have encountered no problems whatsoever.
Greg also provides a 72 page booklet with routines for the wallet. My favorites are Paul Harris' strange routine with a driver's license, Roy Johnson's instant Magic Square routine, and Dan Harlan's hilarious trick with a stick figure. (Dan has gone quietly mad over this prop, and has published some excellent routines for it. Check out recent issues of Genii and The Minotaur.)
Not much more I can say. This is one of those "Why didn't I think of that?" kind of props. It's well made, it works great, and it makes you look like a classier act. I recommend it.
(By the way. The video reviewer for one of the other magazines recently took Greg to task for not changing his name to avoid confusion with the other Greg Wilson. What he didn't know is that Greg had already changed his name. His real name is Dai Vernon.)
Devano Style Rising Cards from Douglas-Wayne Illusioneering
The Rising Cards effect using a Devano deck is a classic piece of magic, and is a staple in the acts of many professional magicians. (It was one of the highlights of Albert Goshman's close-up set.) The deck offered by Douglas-Wayne Illusioneering is a very nicely made prop. The block of cards which contains the sliding mechanism is only 15 cards thick, so the deck can be handled very freely. Pins are used to engage the chosen card, and this method is much more reliable than using some type of sticky adhesive. It took a little while to "break in" the sliding mechanism and to get used to the "feel" of making the cards rise, but after that things were a piece of cake.
If you are looking for a nicely manufactured effect which has stood the test of time, the D-W I Devano deck is well worth your consideration.
Cabaret Calculus Virus Card
Cigarette Through Chip by Mark Leveridge
British magic dealer Mark Leveridge sent along three new items, two of them suitable for close-up performances, one designed for a stand-up show.
Actually, the name "Cabaret Calculus" describes the performance conditions perfectly. This mental routine would play well for an audience up to about 75 people. (For a larger group you would need to make up larger versions of the props.) This routine is based on the well-known "Matrix" number force. What Mark has come up with is a way to avoid the rather contrived procedure of marking out the numbers which lie on the same row and column as the chosen numbers; and in doing so has added an air of fairness to the procedure. Mark has also added a very commercial bit of business concerning the revelation of the predicted number. The price may seem a bit on the high side, but the props are well made, and Mark provides you with extra number squares so you can force different numbers. This is worth checking out.
"Virus Card" is sort of a Wild Card type routine, but using the entire deck. A deck of cards is shown on both sides. There is one blank-faced card in the deck. This is referred to as the virus card. Three cards are removed from the deck and are placed against the virus card. They turn blank-faced. As a climax, the entire deck becomes blank-faced.
Only average card handling ability is required, At the end of the routine much of deck is ungaffed so with proper management you could probably leave the spectators with the impression that they had examined the deck.
"Cigarette through Chip" is an intriguing item. The effect is the same as the classic Cigarette through Quarter, but with a couple of interesting additions. When the cigarette is halfway through the poker chip the chip turned so the spectators can see both sides. And then, after the cigarette is pushed all the way through the chip, the chip can be immediately handed out for examination. There is no switch.
Obviously, there is a trade-off involved here. Instead of performing a penetration effect with an apparently borrowed object, you are using an object which none of the spectators have ever seen before, and which must be explained away by patter. On the other hand, the fact that you begin and end so cleanly is a definite plus. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of laymen are familiar with the Cigarette through Quarter gaff. This may just be the perfect trick to spring on the wise ones. I liked this a lot. It will require some practice in order to become comfortable with the necessary handling, but the trick is not particularly difficult. If your budget will only allow one purchase from Mr. Leveridge, this is the one I'd go for.
The title pretty much says it all. This video teaches very simple bar bets and "gotchas" that will enable you to con your friends out of a drink or whatever else they might be foolish enough to wager. I assume that the target audience for this tape is laymen, for the material taught should already be familiar to anyone who has been in magic for any length of time. (And apparently Mr. Greene does not have access to the real work, since none of the assisting spectators ever get hit in the head with a rock.)
The video is well produced and the performances and explanations are clear. If you have a layman friend who is interested in this type of thing then this tape might be a nice gift, but if you're a regular MAGIC reader then the columns by Bob Farmer and Martin Gardner have already given you more than you need to know.
This is a grown up version of the plastic Chinese Vase that we all had as kids. The Williams' vase is very pretty thing, standing about a foot tall, made of solid brass, and hand decorated. The routine follows the traditional plot: a rope is placed in the vase. The vase is turned upside down, the rope doesn't fall out. The props are inverted again and the vase swings from the rope. This is continued ad infinitum. As a kicker, a long stemmed rose is placed into the vase. The rose lifts the vase off the table.
Because of the construction of the vase there is no need to load or steal the necessary gaff. The use of the rose is a clever idea, and it uses an entirely different method to cause the vase to become suspended. "The Genii Vase" is a nicely made prop and is worth checking out.
Good Stuff from DMS
I attended Joe Stevens' Dessert Magic Seminar in April. Here's some of the good stuff I saw.
John Cornelius had two new items. The first is "The Perfect Pocket Trick." John has taken the classic slum trick "Nickels to Dimes" and has constructed a very clever routine around it. You are provided with a small squeeze type coin purse. You dump out some nickels and some dimes. The spectator is given a choice of either. Assume he chooses the dimes. The dimes are put into the purse, the nickels are arranged in a stack. You wave the purse over the nickels and they immediately turn into the dimes. The nickels are found inside the purse. At the end everything is examinable.
At first you might wonder if $20 isn't a little high for what is basically the "Nickels to Dimes" trick, but in talking with John I learned that there was an enormous amount of R&D involved in producing props that worked correctly. This is a dandy little trick and is worth your consideration.
John's other new item is a new and improved version of "Pen through Anything." Since I couldn't get one to play with, I'll hold off my review of it till next time.
G Sparks has a cute trick called "Spark's Bullet Catch 22" which was inspired by John Carney's "The Thirteenth Victim." The magician displays a 32 caliber bullet which he heats with a match. There is a loud bang and the magician's head jerks back. He is now holding an empty shell. Grinning, he shows he has caught the slug between his teeth.
This is a simple trick to do, and could easily be incorporated into other routines. Obviously, since the premise of the trick involves doing something mind-bogglingly stupid, you should be sure not to perform it in front of impressionable audiences (such as children, and people who live in tiny shacks in Montana.)
If you have an interest in doing magic with jumbo playing cards then you should check out John Novak's enormous reference book Jumbo Card Magic. John discusses over 445 jumbo card effects and also gives information on how to make your own gaffed jumbo cards. There was some grumbling around DMS that there were secrets of marketed items revealed in this book, but I think that unless you owned the item in question there is not enough information given to allow you to reconstruct the handling. The production values are spartan (even by my standards), but there is a ton of information here.
Finally, Dick Stoner gave me a set of his "Las Vegas Glasses." This is a great comedy prop, first described by Karrell Fox in Comedy ala Card. (This trick is marketed with Karrell's permission.) The effect is that a card is selected and lost in the pack. The cards are spread on the table. The magician dons a pair of glasses which he says will enable him to find the card. He looks over the spread, but names the wrong card. He does this again. When the magician looks up, the spectators see that two jumbo pips of the card are on the lenses of the glasses.
As I said, this is a great gag. The price may seem a bit high, but the glasses are well made and should hold up under the rigors of regular use. If you want to know what the glasses look like, check out the April issue of Genii. On page 436 there is a picture of Alain Choquette, Luis de Matos, and Princess Stephanie of Monaco sitting at a café table. On the table is a pair of these glasses. (Unfortunately, since I haven't seen the Champions of Magic special, I don't know which of the three did the trick.)
The Books of Wonder by Tommy Wonder and Stephen Minch. Two Volumes, over 600 total pages. 7 x 10. Hardbound, gold stamped on front and spine, printed art endsheets and dustwrapper. Price per volume $45 plus $4 p&h (overseas add $16). From Hermetic Press, 1500 S.W. Trenton St., Seattle, WA 98106-2468
Mouse Magic by Alex Elmsley. $40 postpaid (personal checks OK). From Alex Elmsley, 6 Smith Terrace, London SW3 4DL, England
The Stockholder by Greg Wilson. $40 postpaid (overseas add $10). From The Secret Source, 64 Seafare, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
Devano Style Rising Cards. $45 plus $3 p&h. From Douglas-Wayne Illusioneering, P.O. Box 421, Macomb, IL 61455
Cabaret Calculus, $40. Virus Card, $30. Cigarette Through Chip, $30. All by Mark Leveridge. From Mark Leveridge Magic, 29 Wrefords Close, Exeter, Devon EX4 5AY, England
Outrageous Bets You Always Win by John Greene. $19.95 plus $4.50 p&h ($6.50 for Canada/Mexico, $12.50 overseas). VHS only. From Diligent Publishing Company, 5132 S.E. Flavel Drive, Portland, OR 97206
The Genii Vase by Dick Williams. $75 plus $9.50 p&h. From U.S. Toy Magic, 2008 W. 103rd Terrace, Leawood, KS 66206
The Perfect Pocket Trick by John Cornelius. $20 plus $3 p&h. From John Cornelius, 430 Elmwood, San Antonio, TX 78212
Spark's Bullet Catch 22 by G Sparks. $22 postpaid. From A Lightning Enterprise, 330 Lincoln Ave., San Jose, CA 95126
Jumbo Card Magic by John Novak. Spiral bound, 8 ^ x 11, 314 pages. $39.50 plus $8 p&h. From John Novak, 3051 W. 112th Street, Cleveland, OH 44111
Las Vegas Glasses by Karrell Fox. $20. From Stoner's Funstores, 712 S. Harrison Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802
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