Rock On – Jon Racherbaumer – January 2011


Tony Slydini consults with a young Jon Racherbaumer

Some gimmicked cards have a sporadic life. They come on the scene, arouse interest for a time, and then fade from view. Such a gimmicked card is the Acrobatic Card, a card with a tensile, longitudinal half-flap that folds over from side-to-side. It is like the spring-flap constructed in the 19th century (Professor Kunard) to effect card changes. Back then they used bits of flat elastic. In Roterberg’s book, sheet rubber was used to create various self-activating cards. The first time I saw an updated version of this gimmicked card was in Genii magazine (November-1967), advertised by Joe Fenichel for a paltry $1. It was sold as a “bombshell climax of any card effect!”

“One or two cards are placed face down on the table. After the magician does a card trick, he commands the cards to jump up and reverse themselves for a spectator finish.”

When I bought the gimmicked card in 1967, I thought it had other possibilities and applications. I was corresponding with Ed Marlo at the time and I sent him my ideas. He was also working on applications. This initially resulted in a small, mimeographed manuscript that Magic Inc. sold. This later morphed into an 80-page booklet that they marketed in 1968, titled Ed Marlo on the Acrobatic Cards. This book was filled with many ideas and approaches, perhaps the best one being a version of “Card in Balloon.” Over the years, many magicians (most notable Don England) developed lots of Acro-Gaffs.

If the gaffs are well crafted, the tensile strength of the gaff holds up. But repeated use weakens the thin rubber making up the hinge and the gaffs must be replaced. The ones made by Gary Plants (CLICK HERE to see all Gary Plants items available at Stevens Magic), which are also featured in the latest Stevens’ catalogue) are well made and durable. If you are unfamiliar with this kind of gaff, I recommend buying both the Plant’s model and Marlo’s book still sold by Magic Inc.

Click Here To Purchase – Gary Plants – Acrobatic Card

Meanwhile, the first application I devised was to create an effect where a chosen card flips out and over from the middle of a ribbon-spread deck. Gene Gordon, who likewise was experimenting with the gaff when it came on the market, independently created the same idea. (I sent my handling to Marlo in a letter dated September 10, 1967.) Here it is:


Requirements: A regular deck and an Acrobatic Card with a matching back. Suppose that the face of the gaff is the JS. For the moment, remove the regular JS from the deck and place the deck face up on the table.

Set-up: With the Acrobatic Card face up, fold its flap to the right, revealing a half-card on the left. Place the “cocked” gaff, still oriented as it is, onto the face-up deck and hold it in place. Place the regular JS face up onto it.

If you table the deck face down at this point, the weight of the deck will prevent the Acrobatic Card from flipping over. Be sure to place the deck on the table with the flap to the left.

Method: Pick up the deck and you can casually Overhand Shuffle the top cards, throwing them back on top. Keep the two cards on the bottom. Perform a straight cut to maneuver the Acrobatic Card and the regular JS to the center.

Do an All Around Square or place the deck into your left hand so that the flap is to the right. In this position, the gaff acts like a short or thick card and you can easily Riffle Force the regular JS, timing your riffling to the spectator’s utterance of “stop.”

Break the deck at the force-card (JS), lifting off the upper portion in a right-hand Biddle Grip. Push over the top JS so that it is side-jogged to the right and tilt back the left-hand cards to show it to the spectator.

Pull the force-card flush and replace the right-hand portion and square up. Make sure that the cocked flap is to the right or original preset position.

Holding the deck in Biddle Grip, ribbon-spread it from left to right across a close-up pad. All of the cards will appear face down. Due to the frictive, clinging aspect of the rubber hinge of the Acrobatic Card, the face-up section of the gaff remains concealed.

Scoop up the deck and square up. Ask the spectator to name his card and then ribbon-spread the deck from left to right. After the spread is made, the Acrobatic Card slides out and flips face up. This is a surprising, animated disclosure.


This is another application to create another “spooky” effect. This requires an 18-inch silk, preferably white or yellow, that is slightly transparent. Again, you need a regular deck and an Acrobatic Card with a matching back. As in the preceding effect, suppose that the face of the gaff is the JS. For the moment, remove the regular JS from the deck and place the deck face up on the table.

Set-up: With the Acrobatic Card face up, fold its flap to the right, revealing a half-card on the left. Place the “cocked” gaff, still oriented as it is, onto the face-up deck and hold it in place. Place the regular JS face up onto it.

Method: Since the selected card is a force, use any one that fits your style. The Acrobatic Card is cocked and preset on top of the deck. Force the card and have it returned to the center of the deck. Then table the deck lengthwise under the silk so that the tensile flap is flapped toward you.

Your right hand must keep the cocked gaff in place as your left hand spreads the silk over it.

Once the deck is tabled under the silk, your palm-down left hand momentarily presses against the silk and deck as it rests on the table to keep the gaff from prematurely flipping.

Now you can remove your right hand from under the silk and position it, palm down, to the right of the tabled deck. Both hand press down, keeping the silk taut immediately above the deck. This further keeps the gaff from being activated. These coordinated actions take only a few seconds.

By relaxing the tautness of the silk, the Acrobatic Card will spookily begin to turn to a perpendicular position just before it flips face up. Sometimes it is necessary to pull the taut silk toward the spectator to help the gaff flip face up.

The semi-opaque silk blurs any hinge-lines in the gaff. It is not necessary to whisk away the silk to show the face-up selection. Just reach underneath and place the gaff face down onto the deck. Then put everything away or perform another effect.

I performed this effect for Slydini in 1968 and he assumed it was thread-work. He also said, rightfully so, that he thought the effect could be done impromptu. Nobody present at this session doubted him.


I think it was Orson Welles who called photographs or freeze-frames of cinematic film “frozen slivers of time.” This is a nice way to put it because when we look at a photograph, we like to speculate about what was happening at the instant the photograph was taken…especially if the photograph was not posed.


Herb Zarrow, Bill Malong and Jon Racherbaumer at FFFF.

The above photo was snapped at the FFFF Gathering when Bill Malone was the guest of honor. You will note that seated at the table with Malone are Herb Zarrow, Bill Walsh, and Mike Power’s wife. Bill was in the middle of a trick and had moments earlier had made some satiric and humorous remarks about Randy Wakeman. In the spirit of “silly mischief,” I decided to interrupt his performance. I pranced into view, holding my cell-phone, and was saying (to Bill): “Randy Wakeman wants to talk to you!” Take a close look at the expression on Bill’s face. (Although it cannot be seen in the photo, the pinky break Bill was retaining in the deck was “lost.”)

The next photograph was snapped at the convention Joe Stevens and Roger Crabtree held in Grapevine, Texas. These conventions were the precursors to the Desert Seminars. I think this one occurred in 1975? I was invited to lecture. When I accepted the invitation I assumed it was going to be a small, intimate gathering of amateurs. When I arrived in Texas, I discovered that the convention was intimate, but the only amateur there was me! The morning I lectured, in the audience were Dai Vernon, Joe Cossari, Ricky Jay, Larry Jennings, Roger Klause, John Cornelius, Steve Freeman, Scotty York, Pressley Guitar, and others. I was petrified.

When the Professor ambled into the room, I nervously asked him to be my onstage assistant and he graciously accepted.


“Now, Professor, I assume you remembered your card?”

Although I remained petrified throughout the lecture, the Professor was very helpful and supportive, although I’m sure none of the tricks fooled him. Talk about “trial by fire.” Nevertheless, I ended up with a photograph showing me performing for the Professor when I was half the age I’m now.


I was raised in a western suburb of Chicago, Illinois in a town called Elmhurst. This was also Harlan Tarbell’s hometown, although I did not discover this until I was 10 years old. (It is also Allan Ackerman’s hometown. I was a schoolmate of Allan’s brother, Jerry.) It was also Terry Kiser’s hometown and we grew up together. Our mothers were actresses in the community theater. Terry later became an actor on Broadway and in films, working on the “Doctors” (soap opera), various television commercials, and most memorable in the film, “Weekend With Bernie.” Terry played the dead guy, Bernie.

When we were about 9 years old, Terry showed me my first magic trick…which fooled me badly. He held a nickel under a handkerchief and dropped it into a glass of water. When he whisked away the hank, the nickel had disappeared! Worse, he repeated the trick and refused to explain how he did it. It was a “defining moment” that altered the course of my life.

Me and Terry Kiser.

Since I mentioned Mike Powers earlier, here is a “finesse” regarding one of Mike’s interesting ways to force a card.


Suppose that your force-card is the KH. Place it on the bottom of the deck.

Retain a right thumb break above the bottom card as you hold the deck in Biddle Grip. Swing Cut a small packet into your left hand and then slowly peel cards one at a time onto this packet as you ask the spectator to say “stop” at any point.

When the stop-point is reached, move your right hand to the left to momentarily cover the deck as your left thumb very slowly and fairly peels the next card. The bottom card below the thumb break is secretly loaded onto the left-hand packet. Retain a left pinky break below it. This is done as the peeled card is being slowly and deliberately peeled to a side-jogged condition on top of the left-hand packet.

So far, everything looks copacetic. Say, “You stopped me on this card.”

Table the right-hand portion and turn over the top card of this portion as you add, “Had we gone one card further, your selection would have been this card!”

Redirect attention to the side-jogged card. As you apparently turn it face up, your right fingers also enter the break as you flip the top two cards sideways to the left. As the card(s), they will coalesce and drop flush and face up onto the deck.

The beguiling detail about Mike’s peel-and-load maneuver is that the peeled card is clearly a single card that is side-jogged. The turnover handling just described can be credited to Ken Krenzel.

Try it.

Note: Powers’ handling was described on The Second Deal Website.

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to me:
e-mail: [email protected]