Rock On – Jon Racherbaumer – Sept 2010

“If you follow all the rules, you miss all the fun.”
Katherine Hepburn

“It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s whether I win or lose”
A Wise Guy


Spade & Archer Henchman

Before Hurricane Katerina blew into the Big Easy five years ago, blowing away in the process Harry Anderson’s “dreamy situation,” he had a French Quarter home, magic emporium (Spade & Archer), and a nightclub (Oswald’s Speakeasy). New Orleans was the ideal place for his “dream stuff” to take root; the cultural ferment was perfect. Harry likes to say that we are at our best when we play the game of life with zest and buoyancy. We may bounce pinball-like among people, places, and things, but the key is to develop and maintain “improvisational grace.” On good days, his psychic balance is curiously gyroscopic. Even on bad days, whenever he performs, he adapts, modifies, and contrives to discover advantage-play wherever it exists. In the process, he wins. More important, he makes everyone else feel like winners, as well, which is a good thing. Games with no losers are worth the two-drink minimum. Now that Harry is ensconced in Asheville, North Carolina, New Orleans or at least the parts he enlivened, seems diminished. Harry respects certain traditions and at heart he is a preservationist. He likes old radio shows, pulp fiction, vintage comic books, graphic novels, antique magic props, and other wonderful, enduring artifacts. As a performer, so much of these past traditions inform his creativity. Let me give you an example.

There is a card routine that goes by many names. Most of the time, it answers to “The Ten-Card Poker Deal.”

Harry take on this trick is a little different. For one thing, he insists this trick with the Jonah card has been largely misunderstood. Most magicians go head-to-head with spectators and make them the butt, dupe, victim, or loser! No matter what they do or how hard they try, they cannot win the game. This, Harry says, is misguided. Sure, the spectator loses the game, but the performer (perpetrator) ends up the biggest loser. Fun is traded for smart-ass dominance and Harry points to a Seinfeld bit that gets a big laugh as it makes a much larger point:

“What’s a magician? Here’s a coin! Coin’s gone! You’re a jerk. Coin’s back! You’re an idiot. Show’s over?”

The underlying truth of this bit should be obvious.

Keeping this in mind, let’s consider Harry’s approach to Ten-Card Poker. It is a game-changer because he converts an unlevel playing field into a gentle, seductive slope.

During the hectic, post-Katrina media blitz, I was huddled and talking with Linton Weeks of the Washington Post at Oswald’s one night when Harry walked over. Spotting my disheveled deck on the table, Linton asked Harry a leading question: “Can you use what you know in an actual game?

Harry seized the moment. “You play?” he asked. Without looking down at the cards, he casually scooped up a few cards and mixed them, adding: “Let’s play. We don’t need a full deck…” Then sotto voce, he added: “…nobody here does!” I knew in a flash that Jonah was out of the whale.

Harry then dashed off two rounds of the deadly Ten-Card Poker Deal with breathless insouciance. His patter was a subtle mixture of congeniality, consolation, earnestness, and advocacy. He made it seem like he was bestowing inexhaustible supplication and support to Linton. In reality, Linton was losing his ass. Nevertheless, Linton was feeling good. He was progressively gaining insight. Besides, what was happening was somehow wondrous and promising. He may not have been in control of the game’s outcome, but he was clearly in control of how he felt. It was amazing to watch his face blush with a sweet combination of giddiness and befuddlement. He quavered and stuttered, uttering nothing but out-of-control verbs.

Meanwhile Harry was delicately conciliatory, intermittently permitting Linton to compose himself between deals. After the fourth round, Linton looking everywhere (except at Harry) for answers. He stared at me. He looked longingly at others. He wanted empathy and answers.

Harry then told Linton to shuffle and deal. Then, in a honeyed voice usually heard in confessionals, Harry asked: “Do you want to win? Do you want me to win? Do you want to switch hands? It’s all up to you, buddy boy!”

Linton pounced and switched the hands.

“Who wins now?” asked Harry.

Linton, poor fellow, changed his mind three times. Then, wilting, he pointed to himself.

“That’s it. You win!” shouted Harry.

I thought the Jonah card was in Linton’s hand. Linton of course expected to lose.

The cards were turned.

Linton won.

I yelped. Harry turned to make his get-away. “That, my friends,” he said, “is how you play the game!”

P.S. A month later I ran into Linton. Even before saying hello, he asked, “Do you know how Harry did that…that…thing?”

I shook my head from side to side.

Linton grinned. His was the smile of a deeply satisfied man.

Speaking of Harry Anderson’s nightclub, here are a couple of photographs:


The corner where Oswald’s Speak Easy was located in the French Quarter


This is a shot of the stage at Oswald’s, snapped after the last show before the club closed.

Also, speaking about poker demonstrations, my Irish friend, Paul Tuohy (pronounced “Too-Eee”), figured out a nice spinoff of Nick Trost’s “Court Card Conclave” to an apparently demonstration of Texas Hold ‘Em. He calls it “Tuohy’s Tantalizing Texas Hokum” and instead of demonstrating a matching-cards routine, his approach engages a spectator so that he has some “skin in the game.” This converts a novel puzzle into an entertaining bit of magic.

Requirements: This uses two arrangements of ten cards and eight cards, respectively.

Arrange these eight cards on top of the deck in this order from the top: indifferent card, AS, KC, QS, indifferent card, JS, indifferent card, AC

Arrange these ten cards in this order from the top: 10S, KS, AH, AD, QD, QC, KD, KH, JC, JD

Next, move the top card (10S) of the 12-card packet to the bottom. Then deal off cards in pairs face down, one onto another, to the table. From the top, the ten-card stack is now: JD, 10S, KH, JC, QC, KD, AD, QD, KS, AH

Place this reverse-counted packet onto the talon and you are ready to begin.

Method: Introduce the deck. Fairly shuffle, retaining the 20-card set-up on top. Hold the deck face down and say, “Let’s play a Cajun version of Texas Hold ‘Em. Assume there will be five players. Each player begins with a pair. Let’s use this mixture of cards.”

Push off the top two cards as a unit into the right hand. Show the pair and deal face down on the table. Continue by pushing over the next two cards face down into the right hand and dealing it face down onto the tabled pair.

Continue by showing other pairs one at a time and dealing them face down onto the tabled pairs. Patter along the lines as to how all players are dealt two cards face down and that these two cars are key since they are not seen by other players.

Take the top card of the dealt portion and use it to scoop up the rest of the cards. Then place the packet onto the talon.

Say, “Each player gets a pair to start.” Deal off the cards in pairs, beginning with the player to your left and dealing the fifth pair to yourself. Afterwards, the five players will have these cards:

FIRST PLAYER: Pair of Aces
SECOND PLAYER: Pair of Queens
THIRD PLAYER: Pair of Kings
FOURTH PLAYER: Pair of Jacks

You will have: KS and 10S

With the remainder of the deck in dealing position and in true Texas Hold ‘Em style, deal one card (indifferent) to the side and the next three cards face up to form the AS, KC, QS.

Ask each player to check their cards to see if they want to play.

Next, deal one card (indifferent) to the side and deal the TURN card, the JS. Again, see if everyone wants to stay in the game.

Finally, deal one card (indifferent) to the side and deal the RIVER card (AC).

The rest should be obvious.

This may seem complicated at first to wrap your head around, but try it out a few times and its simplicity will be apparent.

Here is another quick trick that I plan to add to my compilation of Clock Tricks. (Speaking of great Clock Tricks, I highly recommend “Clock-Audacious,” which is featured in the Stevens Magic Emporium catalogue.)

Jon Racherbaumer

This is a modest variation of Dave Solomon’s “Clock Speller” that incorporated John Bannon’s novel spelling ending. My motivation is to add a Technicolor blow-off and employ a face-up clock layout instead of a facedown configuration. The ultimate disclosure of the selection also comes last, after the card that numerically matches the selected hour is disclosed. Now there is no anti-climax.

Effect: A spectator thinks of an hour on an analog clock and takes that many cards and hides them. A mock clock is created by dealing cards face up into a circular clock dial. The magician turns around while the spectator looks at the face-up card that occupies the same position as his chosen hour. The clock-cards are then gathered, shuffled and placed face up onto the face-up talon.

The spectator is then asked to take the facedown deck and to spell the name of his card, one card for each letter of the value and suit. Hence, if the selection was the Queen of Diamonds, he takes one card for each letter, spelling and dealing Q-U-E-E-N and D-I-A-M-O-N-D-S. The O-F is omitted.

When he reaches the S-card, a red-back card appears. The magician tells the spectator to deal it face down in front of him. The magician next asks the spectator to name his chosen hour. Suppose he names 5 o’clock. The magician turns over the dealt cards, showing a 5-spot. Finally, he asks the spectator to turn over the red-backed card to reveal the Queen of Diamonds, the selection!

Set-up: Remove any card that spells with 13 letters (omitting the “of”). Suppose you remove the QD. You also need a blue-backed deck. Remove the matching blue-backed QD from this deck and then place the red-backed QD at the face.

Method: Introduce the blue deck and casually spread the cards without exposing the red-backed card on the bottom. Shuffle the deck, keeping the red QD on the bottom.

Push over the top twelve cards of the facedown deck and have the spectator shuffle them. Meanwhile table the talon face up. Ask the spectator to choose an hour from one to twelve and to take that many cards from his packet and place them in his pocket. Suppose he has chosen 5 o’clock and has placed five cards in his pocket. Turn around when he does this so that you cannot see him count off the cards.

While your back is still turned, ask him to place the balance of his packet (7 cards) face up onto the tabled face-up deck.

Turn to face the spectator and pick up the face-up deck and deal cards face up to form the clock dial. Begin the deal at 12 o’clock and then deal the next card counter-clockwise, dealing 11, 10, 9, and so on. As Simon Aronson has suggested, deal the mock-clock without calling out the hours.

When the mock-clock has been formed, clearly point out how the “hours” are enumerated. Since the cards are face up, you will see the position of the red-backed QD, which gives you the number of the chosen hour (5).

You will still be holding the face-up deck after you have dealt the clock-cards. Ask the spectator to note at the card at his hour. Meanwhile casually spread through the talon and locate a card of the same numerical value as the spectator’s chosen hour. Cull this card, a Five, to the face of the talon and then table the talon face down.

Mix all of the tabled clock-cards while they are still on the table. Then gather them and Overhand Shuffle them face up. Finally, fan them so that the spectator can see the faces. You will be looking at the backs and can easily locate the position of the red-backed QD.

Close the spread and retain a left pinky break under the red-backed QD. Lower the packet and casually break at the break, maneuvering the red-backed QD to the bottom. Place this packet face down onto the tabled talon.

Situation Check: The red-backed QD is now 12th from the top of the talon. The 5-spot is on the bottom (face).

Say, “Let’s give the cards are few cuts for good measure.” Here Double Undercut the bottom 5-spot to the top and then hand the talon to the spectator.

Ask the spectator to spell the name of his card one card for each letter, excluding the word “of” and ending on the S-letter of the chosen suit. Ask him to spell out the letters aloud. He will of course spell Q-U-E-E-N-D-I-A-M-O-N-D-S. When he reaches the S-card, the red-backed card will appear.

Tell the spectator to deal it face down in front of him and then ask him to name his chosen hour. He will name 5 o’clock. Say, “That’s odd…and I don’t mean that the number five is odd…” 1Turn the dealt cards face up, showing the 5-spot, adding: “I mean that it’s odd that this card matches your chosen hour!”

Finally, tell the spectator to turn over the red-backed card to reveal the Queen of Diamonds.

-May 25, 2010

Here is one of those preliminary essays that few magicians read and discuss. It is interjected here on the off chance some will actually read it…?


As far as I know, nobody has written a detailed paper about exactly how sleight-of-hand terminology was developed or evolved. Give a classic book such as Hugard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique to a beginner and he will immediately feel inadequate. Not only are the terms foreign, the mechanics necessary to master are daunting. I bought the book when I was 14 and put it aside for 10 years.

Terms routinely used by cardmen are the convenient shorthand they use when discussing particular handgrips, choreographed movements, and the spatial relations between hands and cards. Technical books like Expert at the Card Table and Expert Card Technique are widely imitated models of exposition because they take into account the necessity of describing and explaining complex, coordinated sets of actions involving hands and cards in three-dimensional space and as they occur in real time. In the process, other tangential aspects such as angles of visibility, timing, psychology, and patter are included, as well. Our best books are larded with details and cannot be glossed over or superficially read. (Jay Marshall used to tell insomniacs to read Marlo books late at night.)

The trouble is our shorthand often consists of too many words. Marlo, for example, preferred to write, “left little finger” (three words) instead of “pinky” (one word). He liked to write, “hold the deck from above and by the ends” (nine words) instead of “use a Biddle Grip” (four words). If you write in a stream-of-consciousness style where phrase after phrase follow each other, you get lost in the details.

In a futile attempt to be more precise I once considered using terms like “pronate” and “supinate” to describe conditions. “Pronate” means “to put or hold a hand with the palm turned down. “Suppinate” means, “put or hold a hand with the palm turned upward. Explainers could then write “pronate your right hand” instead of “turn your right hand palm down.” This reduces the prose by two words.

Terms like “inner,” “outer,” “upper,” and “lower” are often confusing. So is “top” and “bottom.” Everything depends on the position of the deck. If the deck is held perpendicular to a horizontal plane, I use “upper” and “lower” when referring to the two ends of the deck. If the deck is held horizontally, then “inner” and “outer” is used to refer to the ends.

I use “top” and “bottom” when referring to a facedown deck. If the deck is face up, the “top” is called the “face” and the bottom refers to the “back.”

This avoids confusion when the deck is face up and an explainer says, “Place the other card on top.” Does he mean the topside of the face-up deck or the “top” of the deck that is not currently face down and is now at the bottom?

Let me stop here and ask, “Do you now know which end is up?”

At this point let me interrupt one essay and open up another avenue of inquiry:


Much has been written about the nature of (magical) effects and several theorists have made lists of categories under which we can further list the effects we assume fit a given category. Most magicians list 9:

1.Production – The magician produces something from nothing-a rabbit from an empty hat, a fan of cards from thin air, a shower of coins from an empty bucket, or the magician themselves, appearing in a puff of smoke on an empty stage. All of these effects are productions.

2.Disappearance – The magician makes something disappear-a coin, a cage of doves, milk from a newspaper, an assistant from a cabinet, or even the Statue of Liberty. A disappearance, being the reverse of a production, may use a similar technique, only in reverse.

3.Transformation – The magician transforms something from one state into another-a silk handkerchief changes color, a lady turns into a tiger, an indifferent card changes to the spectator’s chosen card. A transformation can be seen as a combination of a disappearance and a production.

4.Restoration – The magician destroys an object, then restores it back to its original state-a rope is cut, a newspaper is torn, a woman is sawn in half, a borrowed watch is smashed to pieces-then they are all restored to their original state.

5.Teleportation – The magician causes something to move from one place to another-a borrowed ring is found inside a ball of wool, a canary inside a light bulb, an assistant from a cabinet to the back of the theatre. When two objects exchange places, it is called a transposition: a simultaneous, double teleportation.

6.Escapology -The magician (an assistant may participate, but the magician himself is by far the most common) is placed in a restraining device (i.e. handcuffs or a straitjacket) and/or a death trap, and escapes to safety. Famous examples include being put in a straitjacket and into an overflowing tank of water, and being tied up and placed in a car being sent through a car crusher.

7.Levitation – The magician defies gravity, either by making something float in the air, or with the aid of another object (suspension)-a silver ball floats around a cloth, an assistant floats in mid-air, another is suspended from a broom, a scarf dances in a sealed bottle, the magician hovers a few inches off the floor. There are many popular ways to create this illusion of the magician himself being levitated, such as the Balducci levitation, the King Rising, and the Andruzzi levitations.

8.Penetration -The magician makes a solid object pass through another-a set of steel rings link and unlink, a candle penetrates an arm, swords pass through an assistant in a basket, a saltshaker penetrates the table-top, a man walks through a mirror. Sometimes referred to as solid-through-solid.

9.Prediction – The magician predicts the choice of a spectator, or the outcome of an event under seemingly impossible circumstances-a newspaper headline is predicted, the total amount of loose change in the spectator’s pocket, a picture drawn on a slate. Prediction forms the basis for most ‘pick-a-card’ tricks, where a random card is chosen, then revealed to be known by the performer.

Given this list, my question is this: “Under what categories do we place the Chinese Sticks?”
The Chinese Sticks, as we know, is an odd hybrid because the spectator’s interpretation of the trick changes during performance. In the beginning, he speculates that what he sees is done with a single cord that runs through both sticks at their inner ends.

Later, this speculation is put to rest because the audience sees that there is no cord connecting the sticks. This leads to a couple of interpretations:

(1)The magician has made a section of the existing cord magically invisible. It exists but no one can see it.
(2)The magician is magically shortening and lengthening the cords in each stick. This would fit into category (3): Transformation. He is transforming the length (size) of the cords.

I would add a 10th category: Animation – The magician is to magically animate an object so that it moves in various ways without visible means. For example, he apparently makes a ball roll across the floor by psychokinetic (mental) powers. Also, the “Haunted Deck” is another example.

Answers, anyone? If so, please forward them to:
[email protected]

If this sort of stuff interests you, may I suggest checking out my website?