The Piano Card Trick is an old classic, yet it is seldom seen performed these days. Nate Leipzig, Dai Vernon, Francis Carlyle and John Mulholland are just a few of the professionals who recognized the power of this simple trick and used it often. Its first appearance in print was in the August 1902 issue of Ellis Stanyon's Magic. Its creator is unfortunately nameless. It has been reprinted many times over the years, but little further thought has been given it. In the late 50s and early 60s there was a small flurry of re-examination in Ibidem, mainly by Ed Mario, but with assists by Tom Ransom, Martin Gardner and Anthony Gugliotta. Then, once again, silence. Terry Lagerould has taken a new look at this fine old effect; and to it he has added some clever and entertaining presentational points, a bit of finesse which covers a possible weak point in the original handling and a novel "kicker" that nicely caps the transposition of the card.
The only preparation necessary is to secretly set four of a kind on top of the pack. Terry uses Queens.
He presents the trick as one taught to him by Liberace. This immediately sparks interest. As the introduction is made the cards may be casually shuffled, retaining the Queens on top. A spectator on your right is asked to assist in the trick by lightly resting his two hands palm-down on the table, fingers outstretched but slightly curled, rather as if he were playing the piano.
You proceed to place pairs of cards between the spectator's fingers, starting with the space between the left fourth and third fingers (that nearest you) and working forward toward the right third and fourth fingers. The top pair of cards from the deck (two Queens) is put between the left fourth and third fingers. The next pair (the third and fourth Queens) goes between the left third and second fingers. The third pair of cards goes between the left second and first fingers, the fourth pair between the left forefinger and thumb, the fifth pair between the right thumb and forefinger, etc., until you reach the space between the right third and fourth fingers. A pair is not placed there, but rather a single card is slid under the tip of the right fourth finger. The state of affairs is pictured in Figure 1.
While these fifteen cards are being placed between the helper's fingers several subtle things are being done:
1) The cards are handled as openly and fairly as is possible so that there can be no doubt that the number of cards represented is the number genuinely used. However, the faces of the cards are never shown during this display and placement process; or, for that matter, until the very last moment of the effect.
2) The faces of the pairs of cards are positioned toward the performer and away from the audience. That is why a spectator on your extreme right is used; so that the faces of the Queens will not be seen prematurely. (Of course, a spectator on your extreme left may also be used. The adjustments in handling will become obvious when the effect is comprehended.)
3) As the cards are placed between the fingers, each pair is called an "even pair of notes." After all, this is Liberace's trick. Yes, an "even pair" is redundant; but the idea of even and odd is very important to the effect. It is constantly emphasized. The last, single, card that is placed beneath the right fourth finger is called an "odd flat note." That is obviously why it goes flat onto the table.
4) There is a much less obvious reason for placing this last card flat, face-down, on the table. This card will be the "odd" card that will seemingly travel from packet to packet in a few moments. While, in the original handling of the trick, no one card was specified as the card that traveled across, it was impossible not to imply that the one single card was the one that made the trip. The problem was, it obviously did not change piles. By placing this card flat beneath the spectator's fourth finger, no one can get a glimpse of its face, a possible later argument is neatly avoided. This little touch, based on performing experience, has not to our knowledge been mentioned in print before.
When the fifteen cards have all been placed between the fingers, the balance of the pack is put aside. Now cleanly remove the first pair of cards (Queens) from between the spectator's left fourth and third fingers, separate the cards and place them face-down and widely apart on the table. Treat the next pair of Queens likewise, placing one on each of the tabled Queens. Proceed to split each of the remaining five pairs similarly, working forward toward the single card under the right fourth finger. Once more, as each pair is removed and split you call it an "even pair of notes." And when all seven pairs have been split into the two packets you call the packets "two piles of even notes."
Finally, remove the single card from beneath the spectator's right fourth finger and ask which pile he wishes the "odd flat note" to go on. Do as he instructs.
Now comes the swindle that you have been setting up all along. Claim that you will cause the flat odd note to travel from the one pile to the other. If you work through to this point with cards in hand you will discover that both piles consist of an odd number of cards before the last card is added. This last card makes its pile even. But the constant emphasis on
even pairs throughout the presentation makes the spectators think the opposite is the case. This is one of those blatant bits of manipulative psychology that never fails; and it is the basis of the Piano Card Trick.
At this point you have two face-down piles of cards on the table, each with a pair of Queens on its face. You now make some magical gesture to indicate that the odd card is flying from the one packet to the other. Pick up the packet upon which you dropped the "odd" card and count it into two piles as follows: deal off the top card into the right hand. Place it onto the table as the left hand simultaneously deals the next card from the packet to the left of the first card. Call out, "An even pair of notes..." Repeat this dealing procedure with the next two cards, saying, "...an even pair of notes..." And continue with the final two pairs similarly. Notice that you do not at any time refer to the number of cards or pairs of cards — only to their even quantity. At the finish of this deal you have secretly brought the Queens to the top of the two new packets. And you have proven that the odd card is no longer with them.
Pick up the untouched pile and deal it into two more packets just as you did the first. You call each pair dealt "an even pair of notes," until only a single last card is left. Snap it to prove its singularity and drop it on the rightmost of the two newly formed packets as you drive home the point with, "And the odd flat note has flown across!"
You have completed an impressive transposition of a card. A Queen is now lying quietly atop each of the four piles. Allow the major effect to register. Then say, "As you know, Liberace has performed before the crowned heads of Europe...and wherever he plays, all the Queens love him." With this, turn up the four Queens atop each of the piles and finish. Their appearance is a definite applause cue that can't be ignored.
There is a double-entendre of questionable taste inherent in the punch line above. It may be played up or left dormant at the discretion of the performer.
On the page, this effect may read poorly or seem transparent. It is neither in performance. It packs a surprising wallop. And it yields so much effect for so little work.
Here are a few more presentational ploys Terry uses to build this effect into a major piece of entertainment. When he begins the presentation he places a small squeeker from a toy on the table. He also has a miniature toy piano. Into this little plastic piano he has mounted a Joy Buzzer (that perennial wind-up practical joke of S.S. Adams). He has attached the Buzzer under the piano so it will buzz loudly when he presses down on the piano. Terry uses these items as follows. Whenever an even pair of notes is mentioned he hits the squeeker. Whenever the odd flat note comes into play he hits the little piano and gets an awful raucous noise. This silly bit of business is not only very entertaining, it further emphasizes the even/odd psychology upon which the whole effect depends.
Two other thoughts occur here. First, the squeeker and piano-buzzer might be given to a second spectator to operate on cue to your words and actions. This further strengthens their misdirective role while it provides lots of room for comedy byplay. Depending upon the spectator's timing on hitting the noise-makers or missing his cues, a lot of fun can be had.
Secondly, an alternative punch line could be provided by using the four Fours rather than the Queens. As the Fours are revealed on each packet at the end the accompanying line would be, "This is one number that Liberace always performed fo(u)rtissimo\"
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