Why John Scarne, expert card worker, removed sleight of hand for 150 routines

April 6th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

John Scarne is legend for his skill with a deck of cards.

In his heyday, he was called the greatest card manipulator of all time, and renowned as “The World’s Foremost Gambling Authority.” His hands appeared in place of Paul Newman’s in 1973’s “The Sting,” for which he was also a technical advisor. He consulted with U.S. Army bases around the world, warning soldiers about sleight of hand scams and dice cheats. His routine Scarne’s Aces remains an inspirational mystery to card workers. The plot is nothing short of a holy grail: Cut to the aces in a borrowed, shuffled deck; no prep, no setup, no stooge, only skill. Some say Scarne took his secret to the grave as others such as Bill Malone worked out their own methods.

So why did he write a book with nothing but self-working card tricks?

Our last post about the math behind shuffling got us thinking about the math tricks, the self-workers, where a magician just has to run through a set of instructions. No sleight of hand is used, just logic, misdirection and presentation. In 1950 Scarne published “Scarne on Card Tricks,” a compendium of self-workers adapted from presentations by Harlan Tarbell, Dai Vernon, Blackstone, Cardini and more. There’s more than 150 self-working tricks in this book, and none of them use any form of advanced sleight of hand.

Why would Scarne be interested in any of that? And why would anyone who was inspired by Scarne’s skill give any amount of serious thought to that philosophy?

Simple: Scarne was a magician.

“Five years ago, I decided that the card trick enthusiasts deserved a better grade of card tricks than they had been accustomed to performing. On the whole, the tricks performed by the non-sleight of hand card enthusiasts at that time were so simple that the secret was easily discovered by the person or persons they were intended to mystify.”

As mentioned above, he put out the call to other magicians for routines, but the routines he got still used some sleight of hand. So Scarne reworked them to replace it. Replacing moves with new formulas, dodges, subtleties, ruses, psychology, misdirection and feints, he re-created those submissions into routines that still produced the intended effect.

In case that last paragraph didn’t floor you, here’s the recap: A master manipulator reworked more than 150 tricks to be performed without sleight of hand.

The book is filled with advanced deception techniques and subterfuge. There’s no passes, but there are some deadly peeks. There are no sideslips, but there is a great use of salt. And it’s filled with Scarne’s thoughts, wisdom and plans for misdirection. Incredible stuff here.

We don’t hear much scorn or disdain from our customers anymore about self-workers, and that makes us smile. It takes a different kind of skill to successfully perform a self-worker, after all.

Do you have it?

FOUR POINTS: Math behind shuffling reveals important lessons for card workers

March 31st, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

Usually when magicians think about shuffling, anything random is FAR from our minds. We’re about CONTROL. We don’t need any random chaos, we just want things to look chaotic. When we shuffle, we can keep a card or a packet of cards right where we want them. Heck, we can keep the whole deck in the same order, if we want to.

Mathematicians are clearly not interested in our version of control.

They are much more fascinated by what’s going on with every shuffle, where every card is going and the mathematical principles that govern it — or how to best ensure that cards are sufficiently randomized. Part of that math is discussed in two videos on Numberphile’s YouTube channel, a channel dedicated to videos about numbers.

In two videos (posted below) featuring mathematicians Persi Diaconis, of Stanford University, and Federico Ardila, of San Francisco State University, the mechanics of shuffling are explained in fascinating detail. The two break down what makes a shuffle random, and how a perfect shuffle ends up in its original order. Once you get past how mind-blowing this information is, you can put it to good use. Mainly these four points: Read more

Power in your pocket: Get the most magic out of your smartphone

March 27th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General

 

One of our favorite things to see on Instagram are pictures you share with us of what’s in your pockets. A lot of you are fantastic Instagrammers, and you take intricately arranged, beautifully composed shots of objects important enough for you to carry daily.

We always see playing cards in them — your favorite deck is important to you, obviously. We also see card clips, wallets, keys, pencils, knives, bottle openers and magic props. Each one of those things has an obvious magical purpose. But there’s one object we see appearing in your shots that we bet you’re not using to its full potential for your magic: Your cellphone.

These aren’t vintage bricks or monotone flip phones we’re seeing — far from it. They are the latest flagship devices. Y’all love your iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5 or whatever device you chose. You considered it carefully and picked it proudly, because you knew it would be right there in your pocket to meet the specific needs you have.

But are you using your phone to its fullest magic potential? We’re gambling that you aren’t.

Magic apps such as the incredible City Prediction go a long way, of course. But we’re also talking about so much more. That smartphone is a personal computer, capable of holding a tremendous amount of data and apps that can help you pursue the art of magic. Here’s a few ideas:  Read more

FOUR POINTS: Flames dying? Rekindle your fire for magic

March 24th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

fire

It happens to us all. No matter how much we love magic, our batteries wear down and we find ourselves in a funk. Not a get-stuck-in-your-head uptown kind of funk, but a bored-beyond-belief blue funk.

How does that happen? Especially with this beautiful secret art?

Magic is magic, but humans are humans. We’re gonna get bored. The flames die down. Though we eventually mature and realize that while the glowing coals and embers of a fire are a lot more valuable and functional than all those pretty dancing flames, seeing the flames disappear still disheartens us.

Whether you’re a hobbyist or avocate who enjoys all that magic has to offer, or you’re a professional using your sleight of hand to feed your family, dealing with doldrums is critical. Your ability to impress and amaze depends directly on your ability to get excited about your art.

So how do you get the fire burning again? It depends on how the flames died:

MAKE A PLAN

Review your list of goals or plans. Are they still fresh? Do they point to a location that … wait, what? You don’t even have a plan?! No wonder you’re bored. Magic is a pursuit, and you should never stop pursuing. We’re fueled by a quest to learn and to perfect. So this is the time to plan a new destination. Whether it’s learning a new sleight or planning to land a regular gig at that choice location downtown, your plan is a map that keeps you focused on your destination. And if you’re focused on a goal, you never have a reason to be bored.

BACK TO BASICS

Maybe you’ve followed your plan and don’t like where you landed. Maybe you’re tired of traveling. Perfectly understandable. In this case, what would help is reconnecting with what turned you to the art in general. Maybe it was watching videos of crowd reactions, maybe it was the first routine you learned. Rediscover your discovery — reacquaint yourself with what you love about magic, and that will help get the flames dancing again.

PASS IT ON

It’s one thing to share magic with spectators — great reactions fuel us better than any gasoline, after all. But it’s another to share magic with other magicians. The shared brotherhood of magicians sharing nuances of their art can be addictive. Our own jam sessions between members of Team E are incredibly productive — the shared collaboration produces beautiful results. You can experience the same thing. Find a regular group to jam with. Or if you have a group already, figure out a way to shake things up.

TAKE A BREAK

Maybe you really do need a break. Maybe you’ve been burning too brightly for too long. So let the fire cool down. There’s no problem taking a break from magic. Recharge and don’t feel guilty about it. Your skills won’t leave you, and there will be plenty of new things to discover when you come back. Take your time; we’ll be here.

 

FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to joe@ellusionist.com.

FOUR POINTS: Make your cards last longer when packing daily

March 17th, 2015 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under Four Points

cards

Yeah, yeah, our Australian friends and Southern Hemisphere members have already been enjoying warmer months, and sick of summer already. But for us on the higher end of the equator, we’re getting ready to spend more time outdoors. That means more opportunities for get-togethers, meet-ups, festivals and other cool events.

And for us, that means more chances for magic.

Preparing for performances is one thing, but most of our customers LIVE magic. We’re thinking about it all the time, dreaming up schemes, working out sleights or practicing our moves. That means we have cards on us at all times. And that means we’re using them more.

This is part of the reason that we go through cards like crazy. Because the best cards for magic are made of paper, that means we all recognize that a deck will eventually get worn out, and ready to be used as a Wreck deck. But there are ways to keep your decks alive for longer as they become critical-carry items like your keys, wallet, cellphone and Sharpie:

WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS

We’ve written about the biggest deck dangers before: These are your new red flags. Watch for them religiously, which shouldn’t be any problem for a magician who is training to be more observant and controlling of their environment. Just remember that if someone spills an iced coffee on your deck, it’s your fault.

CHOOSE POCKETS CAREFULLY

If you wear cargo pants with pockets that can double as sleeping bags, this is not a problem for you. But anyone who wears regular to skinny-fit pants may have issues here. If the pockets are big enough, then a deck can share space with a cellphone, no problem. While change isn’t a problem for cards, keys can dig into the side of the box, so don’t mix those. If the rear pockets are your only option, then be aware that the curve of your seat can permanently bend things — look at your wallet if you don’t believe us.

And if you’re a woman, the clothing world is conspiring against your magical ambitions. We think it’s absolutely nuts for jeans to not have pockets, and share any frustrations you may have. If you carry a purse, we recommend using one of the smaller, separate pockets for your cards, instead of sloshing around the main area. We’re pretty sure that’s what Hermione would do.

PRO TIP: GET A CLIP

Clips do more than look outstanding and show you are serious about cards — they protect those cards while they are in your pocket. They also protect something else: The box. Experiends card carriers know that many times the deck outlasts the thing that holds it.

MONITOR TEMPERATURES

This isn’t a life or death thing, because the worst that can happen from going back and forth between hot and cold areas is a little bit of a click-bend. Still, that jacks with handling, so if you know you’ll be performing, take some extra steps to prevent the back-and-forth. But for casual use, this will annoy only perfectionists. For the most part, this is good practice, because it acclimates us to the different states of our cards and how our fingers should compensate.

BONUS POINT: CRAM THAT CASE

Remember that each deck comes with 56 cards, and two of those you likely set aside or throw away. We’ve made a habit of putting a double-backer in most of our our custom playing cards, and the Black Kings have an Angle Z gaff card. It won’t hurt to cram in a few extra cards on a regular basis. Whether it’s a gaff card or presigned card, it’s real easy to leave those in the box, leaving you free to work with a full deck anywhere. And if a chance to perform pops up, you already have a card or two ready for some next-level magic. In fact, practice taking the rest of the deck out smoothly while leaving those cards behind in the box — no one will ever suspect there are cards left in it (or if someone does spot ‘em, just say they are the jokers).

FOUR POINTS is a regular feature that celebrates magicians’ favorite number by highlighting four critical bits of importance, awesomeness or otherwise. Send your suggestions to joe@ellusionist.com.