Tribute to Stewart James

I have long admired the very prolific Stewart James. I was also privileged to meet this fine gentleman during one of my several "house guest" appearances at Bob Weill's Inn Event near Niagra Falls. In Allan Slaight's monumental epic, The James File, Allan included a letter I had written to him many years ago detailing one of the many performances I have presented over the years using Stewart James' Miraskill. This ingenious card effect has long been one of magic/mentalism's classic effects. My wife, April, and I had made the decision to move to Arizona from Florida in 1990. During one of our preliminary trips, we were invited to a cocktail party for Bill Bidwell, owner of the Phoenix Cardinal's NFL football team. I had no doubt that at some point during the evening I would be asked to "do something magical" for Mr. and Mrs. Bidwell. Before arriving I had opened a new deck of cards, removed the usual four black cards and then resealed the box and cellophane wrapper. When we arrived at the party, I quietly handed the hostess the new, sealed deck of playing cards so that they would be readily available if I was asked to perform during the evening. I explained that it was important that the deck be brand new. Later, when I was asked to perform I asked the hostess if she had a relatively new deck of cards around the house. She obediently returned with the prepared deck. I then proceeded to do the two phases of Miraskill which left Mr. Bidwell quite baffled, along with everyone else. To put it most humbly, they were truly blown away. This was, of course, only one of many performances of this fine effect. It has served me well over the many years following my first reading of the effect in Annemann's "Jinx."

The following is one of the variations I utilized that precluded having to remove any of the cards. Unfortunately, the cards can not be left behind as is the case with "Miraskill." But, perhaps you'll enjoy using it anyway.

What it looks like to your audience:

The performer states that he would like to attempt a very unusual demonstration of precognition. He professes that while he's not surprised that the demonstration often fails, he's totally baffled when it does work. Removing a deck of playing cards from his pocket, the performer opens the case and removes the cards. The performer then openly and meticulously shows that there are 13 cards to each suit, as he spreads the face up cards showing each suit in numerical order. Further, the performer continues, in order to prevent the participant from being unduly influenced, the backs of the cards will be used instead of the 52 different faces. Turning the deck over, the performer spreads all 52 cards, showing that the red card all have red backs and the backs of the black cards are all blue.

Turning the cards face, up, two spectators are invited to participate in the experiment. The performer places the 13 Spades in a pile in front of the spectator on his right. He does the same with the spectator to his left, placing the 13 Club cards in a pile in front of this volunteer. The next 13 cards, the Heart suit is placed on top of the face up pile to the performer's right and the remaining 13 Diamond cards are dropped on top of the pile to the performer's left. Picking up the pile to his right, the performer asks the spectator to shuffle his half deck with the faces of the cards up. Turning to his left, the performer requests the spectator to do likewise with his half of the deck. When they are satisfied that the cards they hold are well mixed, the performer asks that the two halves be riffled shuffled together, face up, first by one spectator and then by the other. There can be absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that the cards have been thoroughly mixed.

Removing a sealed envelope from his pocket, the performer places it on the table in full view of the audience. Either spectator is now asked to deal the face up deck, alternately, into two face up piles. Refreshing everyone's mind that he previously stated that the backs of the cards would be used, the performer asks one of the spectators to freely choose whether he wants the red backed cards or the blue backed cards. For example, the spectator states that he wants the blue backed cards. The performer smiles and asks the spectator to now pick up either half, turn the cards faces down...and to count the number of blue backed cards in his pile. The second spectator is asked to do the same with his half deck, but to count the number of red backed cards in his pile. When they're finished counting, the two totals are recorded by the performer on a piece of posterboard, for example, there were 16 red backed cards in one pile and 19 blue backed cards in the other.

One of the spectators is asked to open the sealed envelope and to read aloud what is written on a folded sheet of paper. He reads aloud the following: "Earlier today I had a premonition that the gentleman who chose blue would have 3 more blue backed cards than the number of red backed cards in the other half of the deck." As the prediction is being read, the performer quickly writes 19 -16 = 3 next to the information posted earlier by the performer. Your prediction was right on the money.

While this is not exactly an earth shattering effect, it should be quite baffling to the uninitiated. The working is extremely clean and the handling quite innocent and extremely fair. To begin, you'll need three (3) decks of cards. I use two blue backed Bicycle decks and one red backed deck. Discard the Ace, two, three of Hearts from the red backed deck. Replace them with the Ace, two, three of Hearts from one of the blue backed decks. You now have 13 Club cards, 13 Spades, 13 Hearts and 13 Diamond cards, each in numerical order from the King down to the Ace. A complete deck of 52 cards. Arrange the black cards, face up, 13 Clubs followed by 13 Spades. Arrange the Hearts and Diamond suits as follows, face up: 13 Diamonds followed by 13 Heart cards. Now, assemble the deck, face up in a pile, as follows: 13 Diamonds, 13 Hearts, 13 Clubs and 13 Spades. Place the cards face down in a red Bicycle case. Toss the other cards. Now all that remains to be done is to write your prediction as stated above and seal it in an envelope. You'll also need a marking pen and piece of white posterboard. You're all set to perform.

The handling is quite simple. Follow the patter and directions as previously described until you, the performer, take out the deck of cards. Remove the deck from the card case and turn the cards, face up. Slowly spread the cards from right to left, noting that the Spade suits contains the cards, Ace through the King of Spades. Continue spreading and showing the Ace through King of Clubs, the Ace through King of Hearts and finally, the Ace through King of Diamonds. Make sure that you spread the cards slowly enough so that everyone can see that there are 52 different playing cards in the deck.

Square the cards and turn the deck face down. Explain the makeup of the deck, 26 red backed cards and 26 blue backed cards. Spread the cards as before, but do it much more rapidly so that the discrepancy of the additional three blue backed cards is not noticeable. I do it by spreading the red backed cards, stop, square the red backed cards and continue spreading the blue backed cards at a faster clip. Just be casual. Everything is so clean, there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with the cards. You've slowly shown the fronts and backs of all 52 cards. Only you and I know that the backs of the Ace, two, three of hearts are blue backed instead of being red backed.

Turn the deck face up. Thumb off 13 Spade cards and place them face up in a pile to your right. Thumb off 13 Club cards and place them in a pile to your left. Thumb off the 13 face up Heart cards and place them on top of the 13 Spades. Place the remaining 13 Diamond cards on top of the Club cards. Now for the final clincher. You're going to show the cards on both sides, one more time. I didn't bother to detail this in the description because it would possibly be confusing. But since you're well along in your understanding of the handling, now is the time to explain this one last convincer as to the innocence of the deck.

Pick up the face up pile with the Ace of Hearts showing as the top card. Begin to spread the Heart cards, allowing the first three cards to more or less square themselves on the face of the 4 of Hearts, as you continue to spread to the King of Hearts. All of the Heart cards are spread except for the Ace, two, three which are sort of bunched together. Separate your hands and as you say, "the red cards have red backs." As you say this, turn over the fan of cards so the audience can see the red backs. Since the blue backed Ace, two, three are hidden behind the four of Hearts, everything looks as it should be. State that the black cards have blue backs. Spread the black Spade cards and display the backs as you say this. Square the half deck and place it on the table. Pick up the other half and repeat the display, of course, without regard for the backs which are as they should be. You now have two face up halves of the deck on the table.

As previously described, have each spectator shuffle each half of the deck with the cards face-up. It's best to demonstrate how they are to shuffle by miming the actions of an overhand shuffle. As soon as both halves have been shuffled a bit, suggest that each spectator use a riffle shuffle to ensure the cards are truly well mixed. When the cards have been well shuffled, have one of the spectators riffle shuffle the face-up halves of the deck together. Have one of the spectators now deal the face up deck, alternately, into two piles of 26 cards each.

As this is being done, introduce the sealed envelope and patter about your premonition. Finish as previously described. The effect works itself no matter what decisions are made by the spectator at the finish. He can choose either red or blue and he has a free choice of which pile to pick up. Simple, clean and it works like a charm. There will always be three more blue backed cards than red backed.

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