Chosen Cards Across

Effect: Here is another example of a venerable classic given an ingenious touch. Spectators count out two groups often cards. The first ten are wrapped in a handkerchief and held by a member of the audience. Three cards are freely selected and added to the second packet of ten, which is then held by another spectator. Without touching the cards, the performer causes the three selections to travel from the one packet to the other. The spectators themselves confirm that the second packet now contains only ten cards—the selections are gone—and that the wrapped packet holds thirteen: the original ten cards and the three selections! The performer seems to have no contact with the wrapped packet where the cards appear, and no duplicate cards are used. In fact, the selections may be signed by the spectators.

Method: We may owe the Cards Across plot as we know it to Robert-Houdin, who, in the description of his "Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" in 1868 (ref. The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, pp. 207-210), wrote that this was his modification of an older trick that gave it "an entirely new effect". Within the subsequent two decades other magicians enhanced the simple plot of passing anonymous cards from packet to packet by making those cards either mental or physical selections.

Mr. Elmsley's method for accomplishing the effect is typically subtle. It has fooled many well-posted magicians. Indeed, Dai Vernon thought highly enough of it to include this trick in many of his lectures. Since its publication almost four decades ago, the stratagem invented by Mr. Elmsley has been used by other fine magicians in fashioning their own versions of Cards Across. Here, then, is the original Elmsley method.

With the right hand, palm three cards from the deck and hand the balance to someone, asking that he count ten cards from it onto your extended left palm. Here Mr. Elmsley uses the old tip of occupying the palming hand by grasping the left wrist from below as the counting is done. When the ten cards have been counted, ask if the spectator can loan you a clean handkerchief. If he has one, take it. However, it seems that few men these days carry a handkerchief, clean or otherwise. Therefore, keep one of your own convenient, should he not have one. Whatever the situation, your question, his response and the resultant actions provide ample opportunity for you to add the three palmed cards to the packet in your left hand.

Suggest that you might check the spectator's count to assure that there is no error. False count the packet of thirteen cards as ten. This can be done with a buckle count, a block push-off or by simply taking the last three cards as one on the count of ten. (The false count can be omitted, but Mr. Elmsley believes that, if this is done, for the sake of consistency and courteousness there then should be no second counting of the next packet to be formed.)

Give the packet to the spectator and ask that he wrap it securely in the handkerchief.

Hand the remainder of the pack to a second person and ask that he count out ten more cards onto your left palm. When he has done this, check his count also, taking the opportunity as you count to catch a left fourth-finger break under the third card from the top. (If you have decided to eliminate the check counts of both packets, the break can be formed by pinky counting or by casually spreading over the top few cards.)

Request that he shuffle what is left of the deck and then set it facedown on the table. As he mixes the cards, comment on his thoroughness. Then, while attention is thus drawn naturally to his actions, with your right hand, palm the top three cards of the packet.

With the deck on the table, explain that you wish three persons to take one card each. Reach out with the right hand and ribbon spread the pack, bringing the hand away three cards lighter.

Once the selections have been removed from the spread, have them signed on the faces if you wish, then cut the packet in your left hand and have the three selections placed in the center. As they are collected, obtain a break beneath them. Replace the top cards onto the packet, burying the selections, and ask someone to hold out his hand, palm-up. Cut off all the cards above the break and lay them on his palm. Follow these with the balance of the packet. This cuts the cards, transporting the selections to the bottom of the packet. Instruct him to guard the cards well. At this point, your hands should be seen empty.

You now go through the motions of making the three selections pass invisibly from packet to packet. Use any bits of by-play that suit you. Then ask the spectator with the second packet to count his cards into a face-down pile on the table. Where he thinks he has thirteen, he finds ten; and in his counting he unwittingly brings the selections to the top of the packet. (Note how the unpleasant consequences of any misunderstanding are neatly avoided: if the spectator should begin dealing the cards face-up instead of face-down, you can correct him before the selections are reached and any harm is done.)

So, ten cards are found and the three selections seem to have vanished under impossible conditions, immediately turn to the first spectator and ask that he count his cards onto the table. While everyone watches him unwrap the packet and count it, casually pick up the packet just counted, get a break beneath its top three cards {the selections) and palm them into the right hand. Drop the rest of the packet onto the spread deck.

When the spectator counts the cards he has so diligently protected, he discovers thirteen. Everything that has occurred so far has been designed to convince the audience that the deed has already been done. They are thrown off balance with the realization that the cards have already crossed, and critical attention is relaxed. It is at this moment of powerful misdirection that you complete the deception. Reach out your right hand and sweep the thirteen-card packet off the table and into your left hand. As you do this, add the palmed selections to the group.

Cut the packet to center the selections. Then turn it face-up and run through the cards as you ask each person which card he chose. Of course, if the cards were signed, this won't be necessary. Pull the three cards one by one from the packet and toss them face-up onto the table. The one remaining clue to the method is then destroyed by dropping the balance of the packet face-down onto the deck.

One last, perhaps obvious note: rather than cutting the packet openly, you can, if you wish, execute a turnover pass to center the selections.

Cards Across has been found an astonishing and entertaining trick by audiences for well over a century. The refinement of having specific selections, rather than unknown cards, travel across complicates the effect slightly; but the increase in mystery more than warrants the embellishment. In Mr. Elmsley's construction, every sleight is thoroughly cloaked by a fabric of misdirection. The psychology he has built into the presentation is equally cunning, and will outwit the most astute.

May 17, 1952

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