Prikm Turn

HE erosion of magic, sadly mistaken by some as development, as discussed in the previous essay, occurs in other areas than the showrooms and catalogs of our dealers. Another hotbed of such devolution is the practice of so-called "practical thinking". Now, practical thinking certainly has its value, but all to often it is perverted into a negative force.

Suppose you have a trick in which you recognize several impractical elements. Its only logical that you should search for ways to eliminate or circumvent these impracticalities. Often improvement is focused on the areas of making a trick easier to do, simpler to manufacture or more manageable to transport. Unfortunately, this can quite often lead to removing certain niceties, productive details. Such details, for the sake of convenience and ease, are ftequendy deemed unimportant. After all, details often take more time and effort.

Before you know it, you've made the method more "practical", but you've paid too great a price by abandoning important details, the absence of which diminish the effect and its impact. I concede that, sometimes, the lessening of the effect may be small, even tiny; so small in fact that the effectiveness of the trick isn't noticeably depreciated—but it is nevertheless diminished.

Things, however, don't usually stop there. After your simplification, the next person comes along and "improves" the effect just a bit more, and again we may very well have been brought one step further down the ladder of effectiveness; and again, that one step down may not be terribly noticeable, but after a number of these imperceptible steps down, the degradation becomes apparent, particularly when it is compared with the original idea.

This may all sound rather theoretical, so let me give you a concrete example: Years ago the ancient flower growth trick went through a surge of popularity among Western magicians. In this trick, you will recall, a pot is filled with earth and covered with an empty cone. When the cone is lifted, a small sprout is seen to have grown. The pot is again covered, and eventually the sprout becomes a full-grown rosebush. At the conclusion of the effect, the roses are cut off and given to members of the audience.

It is unquestionably a beautiful trick. However, it is also a trick requiring much work, skill, preparation and expense. To decrease the expense, one magician now decides that artificial roses can be used in place of genuine blooms. If you simply eliminate the distribution

of the roses to the spectators, no one will know the difference. And indeed the effect may be perceived as nearly as effective.

But now another magician comes along who feels that the load that must be stolen in the cone is large and difficult to handle. So he comes up with the idea of making the rosebush lighter and more compressible by constructing one of feathers. Quantities of time and money are invested in making this feather bush look good, and since it is only seen from the stage, yes, it does look fairly realistic, and as a load it is easier to handle. The trick grows more and more practical. The bush may not be completely convincing in its appearance, but, again, it is just a slight step down the ladder.

Enter our third magician, who doesnt see the need to put in the great time and expense of his predecessor, so he makes a feather rosebush that looks like nothing on earth. By now our descent down the ladder into the trenches of erosion is well under way.

Our fourth magician finds the steal too difficult for him and decides to hide the rosebush in the cone from the start. He just doesnt show the cone empty, that's all. No great loss. This trick is really getting practical now!

In the next round of improvement, another magician recognizes that all this business with a sprouting and growing plant in the flower pot takes much too long. He just wants to hit the audience between the eyes with a flashy production; so he simply uses a cone with the feather rosebush packed in it. He lifts the cone and, bang, those fluffy flowers spring out. And voila\ Botania! Totally practical and, yes, the audience is certainly hit between the eyes—by something!

From this you can see how a truly beautiful and mystifying trick has devolved into one of the worst pretenses of magic imaginable, lifting a cone to have a gaudy feather duster expand. However, as bad a trick as it is, you can't say it isn't practical!

The worst of it is that, in the decades of this century that have passed since Botania hit the magic market, many magicians aren't even aware of the original idea, the Growth of a Rosebush, and therefore are ignorant of the beauty of the original effect and what a monstrosity Botania is in comparison. And another great trick falls on bad times!

Next, please.

Aren't we indeed lucky that the original idea for this trick was recorded during the relatively recent times of written history, and can be found described in our older texts. If this effect had been eroded away before the advent of the printing press, it might easily have vanished into obscurity, and we would only know about a weird contraption called Botania.

Practical thinking is fine and certainly important, but it should not diminish the effect, even slighdy. If we accept such erosions in the name of practicality we are denigrating magic, butchering it for our own comfort.

The importance of practicality is very often blown all out of proportion. I remember a conversation with someone who began hammering away at the importance of being practical, and I had to smile a little, since I know this person does four or five shows a year. When you are doing so few shows, many aspects of practicality become inconsequential. What does it matter, after all, if the tricks need a bit more preparation? What if there are a few more props to carry? What if it doesn't pack flat? As your shows increase in number, of course these things start to carry more weight, figuratively and literally, but when you are only doing the occasional show, then what are we really talking about here?

There is an additional benefit in this consideration for the infrequent performer. If you do only a few shows a year, this allows you to do tricks that are out of the realm of a busy professional. You have more possibilities to make your show different and special, using tricks very seldom seen—if you aren't overly concerned about the practicality of effects.

Take, for instance, the Growth of a Rosebush mentioned earlier. For a magician who performs four or six or ten shows a year, what does it matter if the preparation takes an hour. What is the cost of a few flowers? Just buy one or two fewer tricks from the dealers each year. For a busy professional this effect is much harder and more impractical to perform on a daily basis, but for an amateur it is certainly within reason.

Of course, when you can truly make a trick more practical without losing any of its virtues, by all means do so. However, if something must be sacrificed in the process, let it be you that makes the sacrifice, not your magic. Don't mistake matters of comfort for practicality!

HREE cards are chosen, noted by the audience, then lost again in the deck. One by one the selections are made to vanish from the pack and appear in several surprising places. The first card magically turns up in the performers cigarette case, where it clearly was not just moments before. The second selection repeats this feat, while this time the cigarettes in the case vanish to make room for it; and the third card, not to be outdone, turns up in the cigarette the performer is smoking.

I came up with this routine at age fifteen. (Yes, I was smoking even then.) Today I think the structure could be improved on, but with some small changes it can still be a good piece of magic. I'll first describe it pretty much as I did it in the 1960s. Then I will explain certain modifications that would make the trick better and more acceptable to modern audiences.

You will need to find a metal cigarette case, hinged to open at one end. It should have a band of elastic fixed across each compartment of the case, upper and lower, to hold the cigarettes in place (Figure 1).

Roll an Eight of Spades—one that matches the deck you will use—into a tight cylinder, face outward, making it small enough to fit into a cigarette. Since rolling a normal card this tighdy is extremely difficult, if not impossible, I first split the card, then roll only the face of it for the cigarette. When it is later produced, the back is never displayed.

Carefully loosen the tobacco in a filtered cigarette and remove it. Slip the rolled card into the emptied portion of the paper tube, then pack the end of the cigarette with tobacco again, so that it appears outwardly normal. This method of loading a card into a cigarette is fairly standard, and will most likely be familiar to you.

Slip the loaded cigarette, along with three unprepared ones, under the elastic in the top compartment of the case, marking the loaded cigarette, if necessary, so that you can quickly identify it.

You must also make a simple feke for the case. This consists of a metal flap cut to fit neatly yet loosely in the bottom compartment. This flap has a narrow lip at one end, bent up at a ninety-degree angle, which is no higher than the depth of the case bottom. At this lipped end securely attach a loop of nylon thread or transparent fishing line. The loop should measure about an inch in diameter. 2 Lightly sandpaper the line to prevent it from shining. Next glue enough cigarettes onto the top of the flap to cover it. Figure ^ 2 shows the finished flap.

Slip a King of Diamonds—again, this card must match the deck you will use—under the elastic band in the bottom compartment of the case and use a bit of wax to tack it lightly in place. Then cover the King with the cigarette flap, slipping that too under the elastic. The loop of thread should be positioned at the open (unhinged) end of the compartment, so that it lies outside the case. Place the closed case, thread loop toward you and top compartment up, on a table in the performance area.

You will also need a box of matches, which you carry in your right-side jacket pocket; and in your left-side jacket pocket have a deck of cards in its case. On top of this deck are the Two of Clubs, King of Diamonds and Eight of Spades. Finally, you must have an extra Two of Clubs (one matching the deck) in your right pocket or somewhere else where it can be easily palmed by the right hand, face to palm, as you begin the routine.

With this Two of Clubs secretly in right-hand classic palm, pick up the cigarette case and set it into your palm-up left hand, hinged end inward. As you do this, make sure that the nylon loop is folded around the outer end of the case and underneath it, out of sight. Open the case, swinging the top compartment back toward you.

With your right hand, remove the loaded cigarette and place it between your lips. When I performed this in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I offered the three normal cigarettes to members of my audience. Of course, all this was managed without exposing the palmed card. Today, due to the radical change in society's view of smoking, this will not be acceptable in many situations. Given such circumstances extra cigarettes should not be placed in the top compartment. It is simply left empty.

(When I did this originally, I would briefly transfer the palmed card to back palm, allowing me to let the front of the right hand be seen empty This was done with a casual, natural gesture or action. Today this extra manipulation strikes me as unnecessary and I wouldn't use it. If you classic palm the card correcdy and block your actions to appear natural, there should be no suspicion of a hidden card, and therefore no need to disarm such a suspicion with back palming. However, I did have another idea at the time that I still think is good. Instead of palming the card as you take out the cigarettes, start with it lighdy waxed to the bottom of the cigarette case. This lets you casually show both hands in the act of handling the case and cigarettes. You can then secretly steal the card from the bottom of the case into the right hand, using the actions of a back slip, as for a color change, during some moment of misdirection.)

As you casually talk, directing attention away from your hands, load the palmed Two of Clubs into the case as you close it. You actually shoot the card from the right hand into the empty upper compartment, sliding it face up under the elastic band. Since the band is moderately tight and lies above the bottom of the case, the card can be slipped under it quite easily. With a bit of practice this loading can be done quickly, smoothly and imperceptibly as the right hand moves forward, over the case, to fold the bottom compartment inward, closing it. This action naturally turns the case over, the hinged end now resting at the outer end (Figures 3 and 4).

With the closed case still in the left hand, turn the hand palm down and lay the case onto the table, top compartment again uppermost. At the same time, place your right hand into your right-side jacket pocket and bring out the box of matches. Offer a light to the spectators, if you have given out cigarettes; then light your own and return the box of matches

Next bring the deck from your left-side jacket pocket and remove the cards from their case. With your right hand, slip the empty card case into your inner left breast pocket. Now proceed to force the Two of Clubs, King of Diamonds and Eight of Spades, each on a different

to your pocket.

spectator. The method of forcing can be any one you prefer, but it must be convincing. If there is any suspicion of a force, the forthcoming effect will be seriously undermined.

Have the three selections displayed to the audience, then returned to the deck. Using an efficient control, bring the three cards secretly to the top and palm them in the right hand. Look at one of the spectators who received a cigarette from you and ask if he needs a light. As you do this, move your right hand to your right jacket pocket for the box of matches. This gesture provides motivation for disposing of the palmed cards in the pocket. When the spectator politely points out that his cigarette is already lit, abandon the box in your pocket and bring out your empty hand.

Gesture magically over the pack and proclaim that you have made the first spectators card (the Two of Clubs) vanish. Turn the deck face up and fan it widely in your right hand, thumb on the face, fingers beneath. Hold the fan out toward the spectator and ask if she sees her card. Of course she does not, but don t let too much time elapse while she looks for it. After a few moments, simply say, "Its not there? Well, let me compensate you for your loss. Can I offer you a cigarette?"

With your left hand, pick up the cigarette case without turning it over, keeping the hinged end farthest from you. Then, with your left thumb, press the catch on the case and swing it open, revealing the

partment. j^+Lfa^

Use the right hand's fan Jm 1/ / f to gesture at the Two of Clubs, /v\Wv ^

momentarily concealing the cigarettes (Figure 5). In the same action, secretly hook the right fourth finger through the nylon loop (Figure 6); then draw the right hand back, stealing the feke from the case while hiding it beneath the fan. Use the right third and fourth fingers to clip the feke flat against the back of the fan, so that the block of cigarettes remains out of sight (Figure 7, exposed from beneath).

As you make this steal, simultaneously use your left fingers to close the case, preventing the audience from

tubing, painted white and covered with cigarette paper. These are glued permanently into place (Figure 8).

Remove the elastic bands from both sides of the cigarette case. Then string a King of Diamonds face down inside the case by attaching it closely to the hinge with a short length of thread. Slip this King inside the hollow box-flap, concealing the card. Then suck a Two of Clubs face up into the lower compartment of the case, using a bit of wax, and lower the flap over it (Figure 9). The closed end of the flap has a nylon loop attached to it, just as the earlier flap did.

Now, to produce the first selection, all you have to do is turn over the case casually as you set it on the table. When it is next opened the Two of Clubs will be seen in the upper compartment. (This production is based on an idea of George Coons, described in Bert Allerton's The Close-up Magician, 1958, p. 18.)

You then continue with the handling as described above, stealing out the box-flap under cover of the fanned deck. This leaves the King of Diamonds exposed in the case—and in this manner you have neady eliminated the need to load the first card.

As I've mentioned already, given the less lenient attitudes toward smoking held by today's public, presenting cigarettes to members of the audience is a generosity best abandoned. The loss of this by-play, though, does affect jq a later point in our handling for now there is no excuse for the hand to go to your pocket to drop off the three cards it has palmed from the deck. How, then, do you effect their disappearance from the pack?

Here is my solution. For this handling, after uncasing the deck, place the empty case in your left-side jacket pocket. Then force the three cards and have them noted.

Fan the deck face up and have each spectator insert his card face down into the fan. The first selection (the Two of Clubs) should be placed roughly thirteen cards from the face. The second selection (the King of

You will notice with this updated version that, in addition to the elimination of the card load to the cigarette case, the one-by-one vanish of the selections from the deck is made more visible for the enure audience, and is therefore more effective. With these alterations in place, I think this routine can still be a very effective piece of magic for todays audiences.

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¡^■■■Hf OMETIMES, when a performer gets me involved—really involved—in his per-formance, it is not important to me if I understand the method of the trick. Let me tell you something I saw a few years ago.

It was in Nashville. At the time I was touring with my lecture, and during those few weeks on the road the best magic I witnessed was done by Allen Okawa from Hawaii. The trick he performed was the torn-and-restored cigarette paper. As far as the method went, there was nothing special: just the Nate Leipzig routine (but without the repetition that features the sucker explanation). So the method didn't fool me at all—but what a great performance! It was exciting, very clear, full of suspense. I could almost feel the paper tear. Never have I seen anyone perform the effect so well. And the great thing was that, the moment the paper was shown to be restored, it was restored}. The pieces just melted together! That, at any rate, was how it felt to me. It was real magic.

I think Aliens performance was proof that, when the performer himself really believes in the effect, and if he gets the spectators involved emotionally, the feeling of magic is infectious. Before the restoration I was already emotionally involved, because the action was so dramatic. And when the paper was restored, I believed it emotionally. It was pure magic!

Then I turned around—and behind me was a bunch of guys playing with their decks of cards. They practiced their double lifts, their passes, their palms, even as they watched Allen perform. However, the thing that was most annoying was that they looked at each other wondering why I was so thrilled. I could see them thinking, "There wasn't a new move there, was there? Why is Tommy Wonder so excited? This is all old stuff."

I think that, for some, knowing the method for an effect becomes an obstacle for getting emotionally involved, which means that they cant possibly experience the magical effect. I must admit that getting emotionally involved with the performances of most magicians is impossible, simply because they never try to get you involved on an emotional level—all they do is perform the trick. But magicians like Allen Okawa, they get to you, they play with you, they do get you emotionally involved.

The normal audience, we hope, is not aware of the methods we use, or whether they are new or special or clever. Normal spectators don't have a technical knowledge that prevents them from becoming emotionally involved. But it is otherwise when one works for magicians. One often hears the complaint that they watch for the moves, the methods, the techniques; and they dont react like the average person. To an extent this might be true. However, excepting those who are totally obsessed with technique, I find most magicians are still fairly normal, and they can enjoy magic in the same way a lay person does.

There is one rule, though: When your technique is not completely hidden, magicians may recognize the methods used. When this happens, they are distracted from the effect and fail to experience it as normal spectators would.

When you do your magic properly, though, conveying no information concerning the method to the audience, then magicians, since they are not forcefully confronted by the method, will enjoy the effect like everyone else.

Imperfect magic does not work well for magicians. For the public it might be acceptable, because certain signals pertaining to method are not recognized as such. I honestly believe that, if your magic is more successful for lay people than for magicians, deep down inside there is something wrong. Somewhere information about the method is escaping from your presentation. Once an audience of magicians gets even a small piece of information about the method, they are easily distracted from the effect.

A performer who fully succeeds with a lay audience will also succeed with an audience of magicians. The reverse, of course, is not necessarily true.

For me there is nothing more beautiful than becoming emotionally involved in a performance. It makes no difference if a trick is old or new. It is still exciting! It is truly great!

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