Spell By The Numbers

Effect: Someone shuffles the pack. Then, while the performer turns his back, the spectator cuts off a small group of cards and quietly counts them. When he has finished, he remembers this number and puts the packet somewhere out of sight.

The performer turns back to him, takes up the balance of the deck and, while looking away, begins showing him cards. The spectator is asked to remember the card that falls at his number. Now the hidden packet is returned to the deck and the cards are given one quick shuffle. The spectator is asked to name the card he mentally selected. The performer spells the name, dealing one card from the top of the deck for each letter—and the selection appears as the last card of the spell.

Method: Spelling tricks seem for the most part to have fallen out of favor with magicians. There was a period, though, in the first half of this century, when such magical spelling-bees held a great attraction for magicians and, perhaps to a lesser extent, for their audiences. Nevertheless, some entertaining and astonishing spelling effects have been devised over the years. And, if it is true that among the general population the ability to spell is becoming less and less common, one would think that such tricks would gain an added fascination with the spectacle of seeing someone successfully spell such words as hearts and diamonds.

This effect of Mr. Ehnsley's is a variant approach to a spelling trick by Edward Mario that appeared in the August 1955 issue of The New Phoenix (No. 329, p. 126). The principle on which Mr. Mario based his trick—one he called "the automatic placement"—has roots that burrow down over two hundred years into magical history. The starting point is a mathematical card location that can be found in the literature of the late 1700s, Over the years this principle has reappeared in various guises. The most pertinent to our topic begin with Eddie Joseph's "Who Knows the Card?" (Eddie's Dumbfounders with Cards, 1950, pp. 4-5) and continue to advance with Rufus Steele's

"They Tell You Nothing", "You Tell Them Everything" and (with Robert Parrish) "Tell and Spell" (Steele's Last Word on Cards, 1952, pp. 3236), Then we turn to Gerald Kosky's "No-clue Card Miracle" (an instruction sheet marketed in late 1953 by Joe Berg, reprinted in The Magic of Gerald Koslcy, 1975, p. 28) and Edward G, Brown's "Two Pile Trick" (Hall's Card Magic of Edward G. Brown, pp. 74-80, published in 1973, though this trick was worked out in 1947). All this work preceded Edward Mario's writings on the subject in The New Phoenix, which three years later he recast in his Faro Notes (1958, pp. 47-49). Gerald Kosky's trick features virtually the same handling of the mathematical placement explained by Mr. Mario. However, this chronology cannot verify sources of inspiration for these developers, as none thought to mention previous sources and it is reasonable to assume parallel invention in some if not all of these cases. While there is more to say about the history of the automatic placement, I have digressed from our main subject, and it is time to return to Mr. Ehnsley's trick.

In the New Phoenix article cited above, Mr. Mario suggested six applications for the automatic placement procedure, one of which was a spelling effect. This sort of material holds particular fascination for Mr. Elmsley, so he began experimenting. In doing so he devised a method for simplifying the handling of this spelling trick. He merely positioned the selection twenty-first from the bottom of the pack, rather than twenty-seventh, before shuffling. Here are complete details:

Have the cards shuffled. Then turn away while the spectator cuts off a small packet: no more than a third of the deck. Ask him to count the cards he has removed, to remember that number, then to place the packet out of sight.

Turn back to him and pick up the balance of the deck. Explain that you will show him cards from the pack while you look away. He is to remember the card that lies at his number. It is obvious that you can know neither the number nor the card he notes. Lift cards from the deck, one by one, and display their faces to him, taking each under the last, thus maintaining their original order. Count the cards aloud as you take them, to eliminate confusion. When you have shown twenty cards, stop.

Turn to him and ask if he has a card in mind. He will have. Drop the undealt portion of the pack onto the twenty dealt cards. Then have the spectator hand you the cards he has been hiding. Drop the deck onto these. Thanks to the automatic placement principle, the thought-of card now rests twenty-first from the bottom of the pack. (The formula here is: x + 1 = position of selection from the face of the pack, where x = the number of cards displayed.)

Give the deck one out-faro shuffle. This places the card twelfth from the top. Without further manipulation you can produce any card, save four, by spelling its name. This system of spelling is old and well-known to magicians. Here is a brief explanation for those unfamiliar with it.

If the word of is included in the name of the card, all cards spell with ten to fifteen letters. By eliminating of or the final s of the suit, names can be shortened. This dodge makes it possible to spell forty-eight of the card names in a deck and end on either the eleventh or the twelfth card. (If you end on the eleventh card, the next card is turned up to reveal the selection.) Here are a few examples: queen of hearts—"Q-U-E-E-N and the suit, H-E-A-R-T-S": four of spades—'"F-O-U-R O-F S-P-A-D-E-S"; seven of diamonds—"It is a diamond, D-I-A-M-O-N-D, and a seven, S-E-V-E-N."

The four exceptions that cannot be spelled with eleven or twelve cards are the ace, two, six and ten of clubs. These all spell with ten letters. Should one of these four be chosen, several courses may be taken to correct matters. Here are three possible solutions:

1) After you have performed the faro shuffle, set the deck down between the spectator and yourself. Ask him to name his card. If it is one of the forty-eight that can be spelled with eleven or twelve cards—and most often it will be—pick up the deck and spell the name. However, on those few occasions when one of the short spelling cards is named, give the deck a brisk, decisive tabled slip cut, burying the top card. Repeat the name of the card to yourself when you do this, and act as If this cut is of great importance. Then pick up the pack and spell the name.

2) As you spell the name, double deal two cards as one somewhere along the line. If the pace of the dealing is normal, the two cards needn't be perfectly aligned when dealt for the subterfuge to be deceptive. An unbroken rhythm is the real secret.

3) In place of the card name, use some other word or words, containing eleven or twelve letters, for the spelling. This could be your name, or the spectator's, or some magic word.

The dealing and spelling can be done by the spectator (unless, of course, double dealing is required). However, Mr. Elmsley thinks it best that the performer do the spelling himself. This eliminates the need to explain the necessary procedure to the spectator, thus accelerating the action while diminishing any awkwardness that might be inherent in some of the special spelling conditions.

This is a remarkable mystery. The cards are obviously not prearranged, there seems no way you can know the identity or the position of the mental selection, and the only manipulation of the cards by you is one quick shuffle. Yet the card is somehow correctly positioned to turn up at the end of its name. One performance will convince you of the power this effect wields.

In the next trick Mr. Elmsley tackles the problem of devising a method for spelling to two mental selections.

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