Personally Speaking – Jan08 – Part 2

Speaking of "Snow White," there is a scene in that film where Snow White is standing beside a well explaining to a flock of doves about a wishing well. She demonstrates how it works, then we see her from the bottom of the well, right through the water. We see her face, shimmering in the surface of the water, as drops of water fall into the well and create ripples moving outward. What a memorable image! Imagine how difficult it was to create this animated scene in the good, old grunt-days prior to computer- generated animation? Disney used dozens of artists, working incredibly long hours to create that memorable sequence. Today’s cost-cutters would say, "Forget it! Cut out that ripple stuff … It doesn’t add anything to the plot. Cut to the chase. Watch the bottom line!" And it is likely in today’s goofy marketplace, some Yahoo producer would have asked Uncle Walt to down-size his plans. "Hey, Walt … you don’t need seven of those little pip-squeaks. Cut four. Snow White and the Three Dwarfs sounds perfect!" Fortunately for us, Uncle Walt was not cost-conscious. As an artist he did not care about the bottom line. He was looking over the rainbow and the rippling water, thanks to his stubborn persistence and vision, stayed in the film. Why? Because it had not been done before and because it was difficult to do. It also was not a mediocre thing to do. It was part of something (consisting of many such parts) that people would pay to see again. In short, Uncle Walt always tried to make things much better than they had to be. Now there is another phrase to burn in your brain. Make things better than they have to be.

People also pay to see Copperfield, Burton, and Siegfried & Roy again and again. David Copperfield gets hammered as much as he is praised. He is satirized, parodied, and envied by magicians. Yet compare him to the illusionists who have done their copycat turns on the recent magic specials. Even the most average magician now realizes how well Copperfield does "his thing." Don’t misunderstand me. This does not mean that the other performers are inferior, mediocre, or bad. It simply demonstrates that Copperfield is a perfectionist who is always experimenting, evolving, and making things better than they have to be. Following Henning’s lead, he has done things that had not been done before; he created what might be called the "D.C. Motif" and he is its undisputed star. Siegfried & Roy, in the glitzy, epic, Vegas venue, did basically the same thing. Aspiring wannabees should deeply understand this. In the Warholian world of 15-minute celebrities, fame is not only frustratingly fleeting, it is laughably forgettable. When average, overachieving performers appear on television these days, it is ultimately a disappearing act – permanent, relatively painless, and unlamented. For magicians, present and future, who master the secret of achievement, television remains a magical medium where ordinary people watch, marvel, and enjoy again and again real artists and their artistry.


Alex Elmsley, now being deservedly celebrated for his brilliant tricks and ideas,came up with a capital idea to apparently vanish a card placed with other known cards.His strategy was to show three cards – say, Jokers – and secretly steal one. Another card – say, the Queen of Hearts – was shown and switched for the stolen Joker. Then this Joker, still assumed to be the Queen of Hearts, was added back to the Jokers. Now the three Jokers are cleanly shown and the Queen of Hearts is completely missing. That’s the strategy. He and others have applied this strategy to many tricks.

Darwin Ortiz recently applied the same strategy. In his recent Cardshark (1996) is a routine called "The Psychotronic Card" (p. 14) which is really a jazzed-up combination of "Point Of Departure" and the "Mystery Card" with the added feature that a "mystery card" is isolated in a deck before the primary effect begins and later turns out to be the signed selection. This is another time-dislocation effect, and Ortiz correctly admits that his version had many antecedents. He did, however, omit "Last-Minute Departure" (Kabbala – December, 1971) from his list of antecedents. It also uses an unloading/switching technique similar to the Ellis-James Unloading Move, predating it by a year. Much later, I isolated an "unknown" card (which could be called a "mystery card") in an effect called "Guardian Angel" published in Magic magazine (December, 1992). It used four Queens and was ancestrally linked to Brother John Hamman’s "The Signed Card." It was, ergo, a time-dislocation effect. It would take considerable space to compare all the related methods, including ones cited by Ortiz. Suffice to say that tracking the evolution of any combinatorial trick is not easy, rarely satisfying, and of moot value.

These days I appreciate a minimalist approach when he comes to structuring and presenting tricks. Working with an ordinary, borrowed deck has great allure. If an effect requires a red and blue deck and the signing of a selection, it begins to feel too complicated. Granted: Tricks should be foolproof and fooling, but not that fooling. Playing to the gallery often results in ignoring the audience below.


This is a one-deck, any-time-any-place card trick inspired by all the precursors of this ilk. If anything, it is convenient because if someone hands you a deck, you are ready to go. The results, if you can believe the responses of lay people, are quite satisfying.

The next time someone hands you a deck, spread the cards face down and ask someone to point to a card. Remove the selection and place it face down on the table without showing it. Say, "That, believe it or not, is a Phantom Time-Traveler. We will get back to him in a moment."

Spread the deck face up and quickly remove the Queens. Hold the deck face down and place the Queens face up on top. Show the Queens and Atfus-out one of them. Briefly: Hold the deck face up in your left hand and spread the Queens. Close the spread and lift the squared Queens in a right-hand Biddle Grip. Hold them directly above the deck, close enough to engage the back end of the top card of the deck with your right thumb. Add it underneath the packet and retain a thumb break between it and the deck.

Peel the top Queen onto the deck with your left thumb and slide it to a side-jogged position for half its width. Hold the remaining four cards in your right hand, but momentarily place it against the Queen to display it. The next move unloads the Queen in a subtle way. Strictly speaking, it remains on the deck, but will be covered by the facedown card now at the bottom of the right-hand packet. From the audience’s view, the action appears to be a logical, side-squaring action.

Move your right hand to the left until the side-jogged Queen coalesces to the left and the right-hand packet is aligned with the deck. Your left thumb acts as backstop as the left side of the Queen and the right-hand packet jam against it. The entire action is justified as a side-squaring maneuver.

When the cards jam against your left thumb, release the bottom (facedown) card by relaxing your right thumb, then immediately move the right-hand packet back to its starting position to the right. It should look like you slide the peeled Queen under the other face-up Queens. Now peel and duck the next two Queens fairly, simulating the same action.

Place the three Queens face up on the table to your right. Flip the deck face up and obtain a left pinky break above the bottom two cards. Hold the deck from above and by the ends with your right hand and transfer the break to your right thumb at the back end. You are set to perform a variant of the Ellis-James Unloading Move.

Swing Cut about half the deck into your left hand, then begin to peel cards from the right-hand section onto the left-hand section. Ask the spectator to stop the action when he sees a card he likes. Suppose he stops you on the Ace of Hearts (AH), which should end up on the face of the left-hand section. Push it to a side-jogged position with your left thumb, then use the right-hand section to flip it face down and out jogged.

Move the right-hand section directly over the left-hand section, then release the two cards being held by your right thumb. Once they have dropped, immediately turn your left hand palm down to ostensibly show the face of the outjogged AH. Keep your left hand palm down and push the AH flush with its section, using your left forefinger.

Turn your left hand palm up and thumb off the facedown card (Queen) onto the face-up Queen-packet on the table. Immediately place the right-hand section onto the left-hand section and square-up. Hold the deck face up and direct attention to the previously tabled Phantom-Traveler card. Say, "I want to Phantom Traveler to remain in full view among the rest of the cards."

Pick up the facedown Phantom-Traveler and openly insert it into the center of the deck, but slide it to the right and into a side-jogged position. Say, "This should be safe enough …" Ribbon-spread the deck from left to right. The inserted card remains hidden under the spread and the selection is revealed. The audience thinks that it is the same card. (This is the ribbon-spread hideout by Charles Nyquist.) Continue: "You could have chosen any of those other cards. … Keep your eye on the Phantom Time-Traveler." You are now ahead of the game.

Pick up the Queen-packet and hold it in your left hand. The audience thinks that the facedown card on top is the selection. Obtain a break under the top two cards, then perform a Slip Cut to the break to place the facedown Queen second from the face. Flip the packet face down and say, "Let’s go back in time now. (pause) That didn’t feel too badly, did it? To prove that we just went back in time, let me show that we are back to the beginning, to a time prior to you selecting a card."

Perform an Elmsley Count to ostensibly show four facedown cards. The reversed selection is missing. Get a break above the bottom (reversed) Queen and grasp the inner right side of the top three Queen with your palm-down right hand. The next action (by Paul Harris) spreads the Queens with the backs toward the audience while "righting" the reversed Queen. Raise both hands simultaneously upwards as your right hand rotates so that your palm is toward your body. Spread the three Queens in the process. Your left hand merely moves upwards and adds its reversed card to the bottom of the right-hand Queens. The audience will see the backs of four cards. The fifth card (selection) is missing. Square the cards and hold them face up. If you want to tease magicians, perform a quick Elmsley Count, then deal the Queens one at a time to the table.

Say, "This means that your card has not been selected yet and must be in the deck. Do you see it?" Permit the spectator to scrutinize the face-up spread for a few seconds, then continue: "… Unless your card went back too far in time and is now the Phantom Time-Traveler?" Have the spectator remove and disclose the facedown selection to cap the effect.