Paul Cummins – Phone Home

Paul Cummins

Hereís a routine Iíve been using now for about six months. I admit Iíve used it mostly for magicians and it has left them baffled; the few laymen Iíve performed it for had no clue whatsoever and everyone Iíve performed it for were surprised to be holding their selection at the end of the routine! I hope you are able to use it

Phone Home
By Paul W. Cummins
© 1999

For some years I have been looking for an easy to do, easy to remember, baffling card routine that may be performed over the telephone. I specifically wanted to give the impression to the person that Iíd called that they had choices to make during the routine that would seem to prevent my having any control over the outcome of the process. And, importantly, I didnít want the person Iíd called to be able to reconstruct the routine by following the steps again after weíd completed the phone call.

Jim Swain demonstrated a routine to me after having seen Jon Racherbaumer perform Marloís “Nouveau 21-Card Trick” (from Marlo Without Tears, Racherbaumer, p. 146) at the 1997 Magic On The Beach magic convention in south Florida. Jimís version of Marloís routine could be done over the phone successfully, and he added an important, appealing, step to it, but the effect could be reproduced after the phone call if the spectator could remember the proper steps to take. Jimís routine led me to develop the following. Since the patter used in the routine is extremely important, this description will be unusually patter-heavy.

Telephone a spectator and, after making the appropriate amenities, ask if theyíd like to see a card trick. If they do, and only if they do, ask them to round up any deck of cards. When they have done so, ask them to shuffle the deck and create three face down piles of seven cards apiece. Have them place the remainder of the deck aside.

It is important to give specific and simple instructions! Say, “Pick up one of the piles and hold it in your hand as if you were going to deal the cards. Is the pile in your right hand or your left hand?” Assume the spectator answers that the pile is in their left hand. Say, “Then with your right hand, lift off a portion of the pile and turn your right palm toward yourself so you can look at the card youíve cut to. Remember that card! Okay, place the cards in your right hand onto one of the piles on the table.”

Continue your instructions, “Now place the remaining cards in your left hand onto the OTHER pile on the table. Pick up that OTHER pile and place it onto the pile that contains your card.” The spectator will do so.

Youíll now execute Swainís excellent addition to Marloís routine. This is the first time that the spectator will be given some choices that apparently take all control away from the magician. Say, “Pick up the pile on the table and hold it like you were going to deal again. Cut a little packet off the top and place it onto the table a bit to your left. Now cut another packet and place it to the right of the pile on the table. Finally, place the remaining cards to the right of the piles on the table.” Students will recognize these actions as the first part of the Ose False Cut. Since the spectator is executing the false cut for you, some time misdirection is helpful. Say, “If I were there in the room with you, I might be able to eyeball all the cuts you made and estimate the location of your card. But since I am not there, I can have absolutely no idea how many cards you cut when you chose your card, nor how many cards you cut into the piles that are on the table in front of you, do you agree?” The spectator will have no option but to agree. “Okay,” you say, “place the pile on your left onto the middle pile. Now place that whole pile onto the pile on your right, and pick up the entire packet.”

“Please pretend that Iím sitting across from you and deal me the top card face down. Deal the next card to yourself, and one to me, another to yourself, and keep dealing until you are out of cards.” The spectator will indicate when they are done. You will now give another instruction that allows the spectator a choice. Say, “Pick up either pile, yours or mine, it doesnít matter which one, and spread it faces toward you between your hands ñ like you were playing a game of Gin rummy or Bridge.” By virtue of the mechanics of Marloís selection procedure, the selection is the fourth card from the top of the pile in front of the spectator. The spectator may pick up either packet; you will learn which packet was selected in a moment without having to ask.

When the spectator indicates that they have spread out the cards, say, “All right, Iím getting the sense that you can see your card, is that not correct?” If the spectator had chosen their own pile, they will respond positively, in which case you say, “Yes, I thought so.” This will in itself surprise the spectator! If they had chosen the pile they dealt for you, then they will respond negatively, in which case you say, “Right, thatís NOT correct.” This is an old gag that allows you to capitalize on the ambiguity of the first patter line in this paragraph. Most importantly, this whole sequence allows you to determine which packet the spectator had chosen. If the spectator does not see their card, they chose your packet; if the do see their card, then they chose their own packet.

So, if the spectator can see their card in the packet they hold, have them place the other packet aside with the deck proper. Also, have them close the fan of cards and hold the packet face down in their left hand. If they do not see their card, have them place the packet they hold aside ñ and have them pick up the other tabled packet.

Continue your patter, “Obviously, we are eliminating cards. Deal the top card to me again, the next to yourself, and continue just like before. Let me know when youíre done.” At the conclusion of this deal, the selection will again be the fourth card from the top of the packet they have dealt to themselves. You need to direct them to pick up this packet, but you should use one of the following patter lines to emphasize that the choice is their choice and not yours.

  • If the spectator initially chose packet they dealt to themselves then say, “I donít know which pile you chose the last time, but this time pick up the same pile. So if you chose your own pile last time, pick up that pile now.”

  • If the spectator initially chose the packet they had dealt to you, then say, “I donít know which pile you chose the last time, but this time pick up the other pile. So, if you chose my pile last time, pick up your own pile now.”

Have the spectator place the other pile aside. This is the point at which your spectatorís retrograde analysis of the routine will fail if they decide to try to reconstruct the trick after you are off the phone. You had given them their choice of packets earlier. Now, although you are not giving them a choice of packets per se, your instruction is based on a choice they made earlier ñ a choice with an outcome that you have no apparent means of knowing. Actually, of course, you are directing them to choose the packet that contains their chosen card and to discard the packet that does not.

Continue, “Okay, one more time. Deal the top card to me, the next to yourself, like weíve been doing. Let me know when youíre done.” Here comes another red herring. Say, “Again, I donít know which of the piles you chose before, but this time I sense that you must use the pile that is in front of you. Pick that pile up and discard the pile you dealt to me.” In the spectatorís mind, this direct instruction cannot possibly be based on the spectatorís previous choices because the spectator believes that their previous choices are unknown to the performer! More smoke for the retrograde analysis.

The final red herring: “You may have two or three cards. If you have three, then discard any one card of the three. Okay, are you down to two cards?” The spectator, of course, only has two cards, but this patter supports the theme that you do not have any knowledge of their previous choices because you have allowed for the possibility that they might have three cards ñ the exact amount of cards in the packet they dealt to you in this round. Also, when you ask them to “discard any of the three,” they will think to themselves later, “what if I had had three cards and I discarded the selection?”

To finish say, “Take the top card into your right hand and give me a moment.” Pause briefly, then say, “You cut to a card and remembered it, you cut the deck onto the table into piles whose number I could not know, you made your own choices about which packets to discard. Place the card in your left hand aside. I believe you are now holding the card you cut to moments ago, take a look.” The spectator will follow your instructions and be left with the very card they had chosen. Given your recap of events in the above patter line, the spectator has no option but to be surprised to find that they are staring at their selection! And, as discussed above, retrograde analysis will only frustrate their attempts to discover how you led them, apparently through all of their own decisions, to the very card they had initially selected.

References, Credits, Comments

… The only portion of Marloís “Nouveau 21-Card Trick” that is used in the above effect is a simplified version of the cutting/placement procedure from the Third Phase of the Marlo article in Racherbaumerís Marlo Without Tears, found on page 148.

… Racherbaumer also cites Marloís “The 21-Card Trick Streamlined” from The Cardician, by Ed Marlo, on page 134. He also mentions that David Solomon, Steve Draun, and Jon himself have work on Marloís routine, but he didnít reference them. Steve Draunís “Twenty-One Again” may be found in Secrets Draun From Underground, by Richard Kaufman, on page 128.

… See also Marloís “21 Plus Subtlety” from Racherbaumerís Kabbala, Volume 1, Number 7, page 57; Chuck Smithís “Imaginary Card Trick” from his lecture notes What If; Chris Kennerís “You Must Be 21 To Enter” from his Totally Out of Control, on page 145; and Doug Connís “Impossible 21 Card Trick” from the soon-to-be-published, Tricks of my Trade, The Magic of Doug Conn, by Paul Cummins.

… Jay Oseís great false cut, “Oseís Cut,” was first published in Harry Lorayneís Close Up Card Magic, on page 93.

I canít let this column go with mentioning a few things: my new web site,, has been created and is being administrated by GeMiNiís own Pat Hennessy and heís done a wonderful job for me. Thanks Pat (and Doris!). For reasons he already knows, a big thanks to Joe Stevens too.

Should you visit the website, youíll see that I have just released an instructional video on coin magic, Up In Smoke, The Underhanded Coin Magic of Paul Cummins. Iím nervously pleased to say that the reaction to the video so far has been wonderful and that sales are brisk. As usual, GeMiNite members receive a $5.00 discount off the retail price of the video (much like the FASDIU lecture notes), and you may contact me here, at [email protected], or via the web site to order. If you order through the web site, please be sure to send me a separate email letting me know that you are on GMN so that Iím sure to apply the discount.

Finally, if you try out “Phone Home,” let me know how it goes for you!


Paul W. Cummins