Archive for the ‘General’ Category

NEED TO READ: ‘Magician and the Cardsharp’ shows Vernon’s dedication to sleight of hand

Monday, June 29th, 2015

There’s a reason Dai Vernon is regarded as “The Professor,” and is one of the most esteemed, legendary names in magic. Actually, there’s a myriad of reasons, from his attention to detail and dogged determination, to his willingness to share what he’d learned with deserving students.

“The Magician and the Cardsharp,” by Karl Johnson, shows another reason: His dedication to pursuing sleight of hand. As the title suggests, the book covers two people: Vernon and Allen Kennedy, a shifty gambler who dealt his trade at card tables in Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

We’ve written before about the lengths Daniel Madison went to learn the moves and skills needed to cheat against actual players. That pursuit led to Mechanic and fueled the devotion to deception behind Moves. Vernon’s path to learn many of those same moves, and apply them to magical presentations, is similar, and well documented in Johnson’s book — making it a perfect summer read.

Vernon’s hunt for Kennedy began in the ’30s, after the Great Depression had quelled America’s appetite for magic. Long known as a persistent, focused artist, he approached magic from an engineering standpoint. He was one of the first to expand the gambling lessons of S.W. Erdnase’s “Expert at the Card Table” — while other magicians relied on trick cards, gimmicks and gaffs, Vernon saw how sleight of hand could help him accomplish the same kinds of miracles, only with a more natural flow and feel. The moves of the gambler fueled him, and gave him the skill to fool Houdini.

He had to learn firsthand, however.

In order to learn more than what Erdnase could teach, Vernon sought out gambling rooms and pass himself off as a mechanic so that he could win the trust of crooked dealers and learn their techniques. Johnson does a brilliant job of telling how Vernon risked his life in order to steal the secrets of the crooked and use them for magical purposes. Bottom deals, second deals, stacks, deck replacements; he learned them all.

So when Vernon heard about Kennedy, who had allegedly mastered a deal from the center of the deck — a move that appears nowhere in Erdnase’s book — he had to hunt the secret down. Instantly understanding the value of such a move, he started a hunt to track down the creator.

And speaking of Kennedy: Johnson also details his life, and how the dealer drifted through gambling halls, learning a lot, practicing his trade and learning crucial lessons about timing. One of the most powerful lessons he learned was that there was no need to fully stack a deck, because all it took to swing a hand was one single card. That lesson stuck with Vernon, who repeated it often to anyone who would listen.

There are plenty of fantastic passages in “The Magician and the Cardsharp,” including how Houdini was affected by Vernon’s “fooling.” But the most compelling part of the book is how it demonstrates how all-encompassing the pursuit of magic can be. We can’t recommend everyone follow Vernon’s exact path, especially in these dangerous days. But Vernon’s efforts show exactly what it takes to blaze a trail.

Small videos unlock big magic: Wilber inspired by Instagram

Friday, May 1st, 2015

adamigAdam Wilber, general manager of Ellusionist, has a reputation of being one of magic’s most fearless performers. He’ll show magic to anyone at anytime. Recently, he brought his magic to the cameras of Syfy’s “Wizard Wars.”

These days, he’s performing in front of a much smaller camera in a much shorter window of time — and making an even bigger impact.

Since about February, Adam has almost daily uploaded a new video to his Instagram account. The videos range from simple card tricks to effects with coins, ropes, sponges, red Solo cups, lollipops, Peeps, Lego bricks, iPhones, balloons, anything he can get his hands on. The reaction has been tremendous, Wilber said — the videos have lit his social networks on fire.

So why put so much effort into 15 seconds of grainy video? (more…)

Never in E history: One day only, free shipping worldwide

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015


The following is an opinion by Joe Hadsall, and does not reflect the views of Ellusionist or its artists.

Free shipping worldwide? I’ve never seen anything like this.

Perhaps you’ve heard about our Free Worldwide Shipping Event? All it takes is an order of $75 that includes a shippable item. That, last I checked, is a phenomenally ridiculously good deal. Geriant Clarke has more:

I have been with Ellusionist since 2008. For six years, I’ve seen some pretty interesting stunts, promotions, events and programs. I’ve helped organize fundraising benefit auctions, done interviews with some unforgettable magicians, seen incredible, jaw-dropping magic and written everything from sales copy to contest rules.

But I have never seen free worldwide shipping. Never.  (more…)

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

Monday, April 6th, 2015

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?

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

Friday, March 27th, 2015


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:  (more…)