Delicate Balance

Effect: A deck is shuffled and spread face-down on the table. Then, while the performer turns his back on the proceedings, someone is invited to remove any card, hide it, then carefully square the pack so that no clue can be gained from it.

The performer then takes up the deck, carefully weighs it on his hand, then announces that the card removed was red. The spectator brings out the card and checks it. It is red.

The card is returned to the pack and the procedure is repeated; and again the performer divines the color of the hidden card. The spectator may even take the deck behind his back, remove a card at random, then hand the pack to the performer. Still he succeeds in naming the color. He can even don a blindfold, and yet somehow he can perceive the colors of the hidden cards.

It is obvious that marked cards or a stacked deck could not help in these circumstances; yet time after time the performer identifies the color of the removed card, to the bewilderment of all.

Method: The feat of divining the colors of cards is a challenge that magicians have returned to many times over the years, and a number of ingenious solutions have been devised. It is an effect that is signally unimpressive the first time it is done. It must be repeated at least four or five times before an audience will begin to consider that something other than luck is operative.

Prearranged decks and marked backs are too obvious to be considered, as they will be the first things suspected by an audience. But more subtle marking methods, usually tactile, have been successfully employed, as have crimps and well-concealed glimpses. The drawback to these methods is that the card being divined is handled by the performer. The strength of the method about to be explained is that the performer doesn't touch the target card. He doesn't even see it or where it came from the pack. He just weighs the deck on his hand and immediately knows the color of the missing card. Because of these attributes, this may be the best and most impressive version of the effect yet devised.

The method, when first explained, may strike one as impractical; but I assure you it is far from it. The secret is a color-segregated deck and one edge-marked card. Please try this. Divide your deck into black cards and reds. Edge mark the bottom card of the red group and place this packet onto the black cards. The edge-marked card now visibly divides the red and black sections. In performance you must make the edge mark fairly subtle, as you do not want it perceived by your audience. Mark only one long edge, and use a short nail scrape or small nick: something that stands out clearly to your eye, but will go unnoticed by anyone not looking for it.

If you now remove a card from either half of the pack, that half will be one card thinner than its counterpart, and this can be perceived by visually comparing the portions above and below the marked card. Without having tried it, it sounds fanciful that one can distinguish a difference in thickness of one card. That is why you must get a deck and confirm this for yourself.

First remove a card from the red half of the pack. If you now look at the edge of the deck you will see that the half above the edge-marked card looks slightly thinner than the half beneath it.

Replace the red card on top and remove a black card from the bottom half. Check the edge of the pack again. Because the edge-marked card is part of the red section, the eye excludes it from the banks on either side. Therefore, when a black card is missing, the two banks look equal in thickness, as the marked card is dead center.

If you have had some experience with estimation or faro shuffles, you will see the differences in thickness immediately. If you have never tried this kind of thing, you may have to experiment a bit to acquire the visual judgment necessary to discriminate between the relative thicknesses of the sections. The only way to learn this is to practice with a friend, who will patiently hide cards from you while you scrutinize the edge of the pack. The knack of successfully judging the thickness of the halves is not difficult to acquire, assuming one possesses good eyesight.

To present this feat, overhand shuffle the deck casually, while preserving the red and black separation. A red-black shuffle such as Laurie Ireland's will serve well here: shuffle off roughly twenty cards and, as you approach the edge-marked card near center, begin to run cards singly until you have passed the marked card; then shuffle off the balance of the pack. Repeat this shuffle to bring the red bank back to the top (unless you can keep the position of the banks straight in your mind). Then ribbon spread the pack face down on the table, and explain your assistant's role to him: That, when you have turned your back, he is to remove any card from the spread and place it in a pocket or somewhere out of sight. He is then to square the deck neatly on the table, leaving no clue to where the card was extracted.

When he has done this, turn around, pick up the pack and, as you square it, sight the edge mark and determine which bank has grown thinner. Do this quickly, without obviously staring at the side of the pack. Then let the cards settle face-down on your open palm and seem to weigh the deck. With some modest showmanship announce the color of the missing card and have it brought forth for verification.

Return the card to the top of the deck if it is red, or to the bottom if it is black, spread the deck and repeat the trick. You may let the spectator take the deck behind his back and remove a card, if you can trust him to do so without accidentally or maliciously disarranging the pack. As mentioned above, you can also perform this feat blindfolded, peering down your nose to glimpse the side of the deck.

The best has yet to be revealed. If by chance the deck is returned to you with the edge-marked card missing—and you have tali en the wise precaution of memorizing said card—you can name its color, suit and value. Upon accomplishing this, abstain from looking as amazed as your audience arid retire gracefully.

Having broached the subject of color divination, it is only natural that we continue with two diminutive versions of Out of This World. Both bear the distinctive Elmsley stamp.

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