Unfortunate Article on Phantom of the Card Table

Inside Magic's Famous BunnyWe are loathe to ever write anything negative on the pages of InsideMagic.com.

We do not provide reviews of new effects if the review would be less than at least four stars.  We just don’t review tricks we have found to be unsatisfactory.  We don’t promote articles or videos that we believe expose or denigrate our art.  We have held this position since our start in the mid-1990s.

The reason behind this philosophy is based on the fact that as a whole, magicians are good people and their work represents a source of income and a source of pride.  We would be the last organization to interfere with those sources of positivity.

And so, why are we writing this post about the two-part series published in Genii last month and this?

The series was written by Jamy Ian Swiss on the momentous night in Brooklyn when the Phantom of the Card Table, Walter Scott performed seemingly impossible feats of card dealing whilst wearing a blindfold.

The event has been captured in books and has gone down in magic lore.  Most recently, a copy of Cardini’s version of the manuscript has been published by Conjuring Arts with notes, a preface and forward.  It is a fine production and we have been pouring over it since our purchase on the first day it was available.  Please take the time to read about the making of the new book, Phantom of the Card Table, Critical Edition.

Mr. Swiss concedes the publication itself offers the magic community something of value and is well produced.  In doing so, however, he attacks several magicians, magic historians and dealers.

We don’t mind honest criticism and we have no puppy in this battle.  But we were distraught at the vitriol used in the attacks. He questions the motivations and credentials of contributors to the effort in harsh terms and provides his “considered opinion that Joe Crist, Walter Scott and Eddie McGuire all had a lot in common.  All three were confirmed bull___t artists.”

We think the Phantom / Walter Scott story is fascinating and view the new book as a major step-forward in the study of our great art’s history.  It is just a shame that a two-issue article on the matter could not be presented on a higher, non ad-hominem, level.

There are some in our art that we like and some we like more or less.  We see no need in attacking those we like less, especially publicly.  We also realize that this post does exactly what we are against.  That explains our reluctance to write it and even greater reluctance to post it.  We mean no ill-will to Mr. Swiss or Genii.  We are devoted fans of both.  Our complaint is only with this two-part article on a subject in which we are so interested.

Meir Yedid’s Business Card Penetration Magic

Image of Meir Yedid's Business Card Penetration FrameWe received our Business Card Penetration Frame today from Meir Yedid Magic.

The premise is well known by magicians and likely performed early in their careers.

A frame is shown with a piece of clear plastic within its four corners. A card is inserted on each side of the frame so that if you looked at the props it appear as a sandwich with card, the clear plastic, and another card.

A threatening sharp stick is shown and without any hesitation, pushed through the first card, the clear plastic sheet and out through the card on the other side. The threatening stake is removed the same way it goes in or pulled through on the other side. You can show spectators that there is in fact a hole through both cards and the plastic sheet. The cards are removed from each side and now the hole is gone. The plastic sheet is intact, nary a hole to be seen. If needed, the frame can be inspected by audience members.

That’s the plot of the classic Penetration Frame and it remains the same with the Business Card Penetration Frame.

The difference is the appearance of the frame. It is smaller in dimensions than Penetration Frames we have used in the past. It works perfectly with business cards.  Playing cards would cover most of the plastic sheet, diminishing the effect. But the frame is also different in appearance from your old Penetration Frame.  It sports a metallic look, a gold metallic appearance.

It is not real gold – we checked with one of the local gold and silver merchants that occupy our building on the street-level.  He previously bought one of our fillings so he knows his stuff.  He said it is not real gold. That explains the very reasonable cost for the effect.

So the question is why would we want to buy another Penetration Frame?

We admit – and have done so under oath in one infamous family law proceeding – that we buy duplicates of tricks we own and purchase entire genres of effects that we never perform in our act. We are almost exclusively a card magician and take pride (because it would not be given to us otherwise) in never using gimmicked cards. That limits the number of tricks we can justifiably buy for tax and rational reasons.

We are usually restricted to bricks of Bee Jumbo Index decks and books on card magic written by John Bannon, Juan Tamariz, John Luka and the Stars of Magic series. So why have we purchased more gimmicked coins than we could ever need?  Considering we don’t even do Nickels to Dimes anymore or Scotch and Soda, that’s a question psychologists have found puzzling and others who care about bank balances, infuriating.

But this effect is different and will likely join our regular routine – the same routine, word-for-word, since 1974 – because it looks pretty, gets our business card and the spectator’s business card into play as souvenirs, and requires no difficult moves. If you have been doing magic for more than a decade, you know the moves. Now you need something that looks beautiful with which to perform those moves.

In our Twitter feed, @insidemagic, we have been repeatedly referencing Meir Yedid’s weekly mailing. If you are not a subscriber, you should be. He has new magic that won’t be found in other stores. Many are gems like the Business Card Penetration Frame. Along with the effects offered are great write-ups and suggestions for handling that you will not find elsewhere.

Some considerations: Even though the frame is not really gold, it looks like gold. But under close inspection there are some minor flaws in the coating – at least on the one we received. The flaws will be invisible to even close-up audiences but we thought we would note it. The trick itself works well and feels very durable. Despite being an effect most magicians know and have seen, in all of our time at the Magic Castle’s amateur rooms, we have not seen it performed. For a lay audience, this will come across as a unique effect. Finally, the wooden stake that comes with the frame is sharp. Be careful reaching into the envelope containing the frame or at least don’t be as grabby and careless as we can be.  Although the blood stain we caused at the tip of the stake gives it a certain something.

Even with the minor finishing flaws, we give the trick a Five out of Five for construction, inspiration and real-world use. Plus, the price cannot be beat.

Remember that Inside Magic accepts no payment for our reviews. If we review a trick, it is because we bought it and like it. If we bought it and didn’t like it, we won’t review it. There is enough negativity in the world and we’d like our Art to be a safe zone for innovators and businesses.

Beyond Snake Oil – Magicians and Physicians

Image of Magician Performing a TrickClose-up Magician and Lecturer in Medical Ethics and Law, Daniel Sokol’s article “Medicine as Performance: What Can Magicians Teach Doctors?” got us thinking — a rare experience for us during these quarantine days.

We normally read the prestigious Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine for the pictures but the title of this article from 2008 stood out.

Our brain is hardwired to immediately focus on certain key words, such a “Magic,” “Magician(s),” “Card Tricks,” and “Magic Magicians doing Card Tricks.”  We know there are surgeries and/or medical therapies that would release us from this focus anomaly but we have found it a pleasant enough brain defect and so we choose to live with it.  We are very thankful that those are the words to which we are immediately attracted and not something more untoward or socially unacceptable.

We have a friend who focuses like a laser on the word “______,” and the phrase “_____ on ______, _____.”  Our friend’s life is not relaxing and pleasant like ours and reading just about anything posted on the worldwide web becomes a struggle for attention.  We haven’t identified the actual words or phrase here in an effort to retain our family-friendly certification.  But a good cryptographer — good meaning “talented in his or her field of cryptology” and not in a moral sense — could decipher the blank lines above to figure it out.

But back to the Royal Society of Medicine’s article’s point, magicians can and do intentionally distract their audience to accomplish what appears to be magic.

The article references Darwin Ortiz advice on the best practices for magicians, “Always say the same thing at the same point in each trick you do.”  So when advising patients on diagnosis and treatment, there would likely be different non-verbal signs given by the physician.

The article is fascinating and well worth your review.

You can read Mr. Sokol’s article here: Sokol D. K. (2008). Medicine as performance: what can magicians teach doctors? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 101(9), 443–446. https://doi.org/10.1258/jrsm.2008.080133

Abbott’s Magic Get-Together is On – with Restrictions

Lance Burton the True Master Magician Performs in Happier TimesMaster Magician Lance Burton will be joined by the incredible Mac King, Jeff Hobson and Kevin James at this year’s Abbott’s Magic Get-Together.

Abbott’s owner, Greg Bordner, announced the good news in today’s Sturgis Journal.

But given the uncertainties in this time of a pandemic, nothing is certain.

“Probably the best quote you can put in the paper is, ‘we’re proceeding cautiously,’” Mr. Bordner said. “That’s how we’re approaching this and we’ll stay optimistic that we can go ahead and have the Get-Together this year.”

A big feature of the Get-Together are the big shows in the Colon High School gym but due to health and safety concerns, the seats available will be half of what they were in pre-pandemic times.

“It’s a different show every night, of course, but it’s the same people in the audience every night,” he said. “Where we used to sell tickets to any, some or all of the four different shows, this year we’re selling the tickets in four-night (packages).”

The price for the four nights is $300.  Considering the line-up, this looks to be a real deal.

“The shows will be of serious quality and they always have been, but nobody is working right now, so we have a great lineup of headline magicians that are dying to perform,” Mr. Bordner said.

Check out the full line-up at the Get-Together site here.

 

Virgil the Magician – An Unexpected Treat

Virgil and Julie ImageWe discovered, quite unexpectedly, a literal metric ton of information about Virgil the Magician and his partner, the Sweet Heart of Magic, Julie.

Our discovery started like all our internet discoveries.  We were looking for coins to add to our collection — we have a fondness for Silver Dollars minted by the Carson City Mint.  They’re not magic coins and we usually look for the lowest grade, soft coins, for ease in manipulation and difficulty in discerning the difference between coins vanished on one side of the close-up mat and reappeared on the other.  But that’s just us.

So, we’re looking for coins on eBay and finding nothing.  eBay’s algorithm directs us to thing it believes we will like based on our search for coins around the 1900s.  That leads to gift or challenge coins given by performers or military members to one another or to audiences as a memento.  One of those coins happened to be a rather distorted version of a token for the Virgil show.

That lead us to searching Virgil and we hit a divided road in an internet constructed wood: we could chase Virgil the poet or Virgil the magician.  We chose the latter.  As far as we know Virgil the poet was great at writing in dactylic hexameter about the sacking of Troy and visiting Italy.

We saw no mention of him performing even rudimentary magic tricks although we did stumble upon an abstract for a paper about the use of magic in his poetry.   (See, Rand, E. K. “Virgil the Magician.” The Classical Journal, vol. 26, no. 1, 1930, pp. 37–48. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3290464. Accessed 29 Mar. 2021).  His magic seemed to be restricted to sorcery and the ability to predict the future according to the author’s abstract.

We saw no mention of coin routines, Cups-N-Balls or Color-Changing Hanks.  There was a slight mention of what we thought might have been an ancient method of performing Hyrum the Haunted Hank but it turns out we were reading it incorrectly.

But back to Virgil the magician and his assistant, Julie, the Sweetheart of Magic.  We wanted to know more, especially after reading about his world-tours and notes by his contemporaries that he was of the old school of our Art.

He was born in 1900 and passed away in 1989.  While performing one of his early shows, he invited a young lady to the stage to assist in an effect and injured her in the process.

We searched and searched for more information about the trick causing the injury and the extent of the injuries.   Nonetheless, Virgil felt so badly about the injured woman that he visited her often.  They fell in love and she became his life-long partner, the Sweetheart of Magic, Julie.

We were hooked.  We had to know more.

 

Their posters proclaimed the world-wide acclaim received for their marvelous and astounding shows consisting of a full magic show and then a memory act by Julie and a Spirit Cabinet.

Spirit Cabinets are our secret obsession.  We have been in them as a volunteer and watched them as committee members and audience attendees.  We can’t get enough of them.  If you hint you’ll be doing a Spirit Cabinet, we’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.

They bring together the excitement of Spiritualism and the origins of the modern escape act — I believe.  The Kellar Rope Tie was kept top secret and allegedly derived from Kellar’s work with the Davenport Brothers — Spiritualists who were securely tied to wooden benches in a cabinet.  The doors to the cabinet would close and instantly — faster than a Metamorphosis transfer — hellz would be apopin.  Things flying, music playing, slates getting written on and then instantly the doors would open to show the bothers securely tied as they were left at the start of the hullabaloo.

We learned the Kellar Rope-Tie as a young man and realized it was not that easy to pull off secretly and consistently.

So we sought more information about Virgil and Julie, the Sweetheart of Magic.  They travelled with an enormous amount of equipment.  According to Genii’s MagicPedia, they went from 10 tons of props, drapes, curtains to 33 tons in 1957 when they travelled the world from New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, England and Ireland.  Whoo!  That is some travelling.  They continued to tour in the Americas through 1978.

We were fortunate enough to find a video of Virgil and Julie, the Sweetheart of Magic performing the Spirit Cabinet on the old television show, The Gary More Show in the 1960s.  We have embedded it above to show a truly professional couple perform amazing feats under incredible test conditions.  They truly were of the old and fondly missed school of magic.

We love going down the rabbit hole and find that if we are in a hardware store, a carpet center, Costco or even a bicycle shop, our mind — small as it is — activates its Magic Obsession Gene and we will search out magic of some kind.  Tricks we could create, tricks we know, and objects we just know are worth buying to bring back to the shop and develop into the next miracle.

Whilst on the web, we do the same thing and can spend hours tracking down minute and sometimes conflicting. details about our art.  (For example, there is a debate whether Virgil appeared on Ed Sullivan.  Some web authors say he did — and there is even a brochure with images that were allegedly taken during the performance — but we have read other authors like David Charvet, author of a Virgil biography with help from Julie, the Sweetheart of Magic, who claim he did not perform the Sullivan show because he was concerned stage-hands would learn his secrets during rehearsal.   (*See, Magic Cafe at https://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?topic=98821).  If, in fact, he did not perform on the show, that demonstrated incredible devotion to his craft — at the time, The Ed Sullivan Show was must-see television for all America and the launching pad for The Beatles in the U.S.

Our interest is only piqued.  We will continue to search and learn about this man we so fortunately uncovered in our search for soft, silver dollars minted in a factory that came and went during the silver strike days in Nevada.

Some Times Call for Silence

We haven’t written in a while.

We have shared with so many in our wonderful magic community the passing of leaders and friends and role models and inspirations.

The passing of Bev Bergeron, his wife and Mark Wilson hit us so hard. These are people were knew and loved in TV (in the case of Mark Wilson) and live at the Diamond Horseshoe Review at Disney World and our first magic convention in Winter Park, Florida.

All were devoted to entertainment and encouraged our arts their entire lives. All will be missed for such a long time.

We are so blessed to have met and been encouraged by them. Truly a gift. May their memories be a blessing.

Inside Magic Review: Bob White’s Torn and Restored Tissue

Bob White’s Torn and Restored Tissue DVD deserves a place in your magic collection.

Chances are every magician reading this esteemed news source is familiar with the Torn and Restored Tissue and has undoubtedly performed it often.  It may have even been the first trick you learned. So why would you want to purchase a DVD from 2015 that features just one effect and that effect being one you already know and have performed?

Because it is a fantastic DVD and will stir joy in your 2020 scarred heart.

Mr. White provides a fantastically detailed preparation portion of the DVD.  He is detailed and shares his decades of experience with the effect.  He gets all the way down to the ply of napkins to use, the color of those napkins (it depends on whether you are performing close-up or parlor), and the grain patterns to detect.

His performance evidences years of perfecting the routine.  We are not ashamed to admit that he fooled us at one point.  We love being fooled so there is no shame but we get ashamed easily so we thought we would clarify that point.

He takes time to talk and show viewers the incredibly well thought out movements and patter that works so well and seems so fresh.  He admits that he has been performing the effect since he was 19 and at the time of the filming, he was 65.

The last portion of the DVD is Mr. White performing the effect live before a real audience.  The reaction is great and the performance is as smooth as butter (warm).

If you do the effect, get this DVD.  If you have never done the effect because you think it is too simple or too well-known, get this DVD.  If you want to see how a professional treats a classic of our art to make a wonderful closing piece, get this DVD.  Basically, get this DVD and enjoy the wonderful feeling of your heart filling with peace and joy.

Inside Magic Rating: Five out of Five!  Our Highest.

Inside Magic Review: The Imp Bottle

Advertisement for Imp BottleEditor’s note: With the pandemic causing dramatic changes in our Art, we thought we would republish some of our reviews from a while back.  Here is one from September 19th, 1907.  Inside Magic was just a pamphlet then and published in limited quantities (and qualities). 

The hottest trick on the market is the new Imp Bottle effect.  It is the rave of all the magicians in the know that we know.  It has received oodles of praise in the magic press and greats such as Houdini, Kellar and Thurston have testified to its endearing qualities and profound affect on audiences.  Just how good is it?  Inside Magic’s review follows but the skinny is that it is the genuine article, the cat’s meow and how.

Effect: You show a cute little vase made from a high quality wood and finished with a brilliant sheen.  It stands erect on the table or in the magi’s hand.  You explain that this bottle contains an “imp” that can be mischievous at times if not assuaged with praise.  If the imp is pleased, he will allow the vase to lie down with its top touching the table.  If, however, the imp feels frightened or insulted, he will refuse to allow the bottle to be set in such a configuration.

You demonstrate what you have explained by praising the imp and comforting it with soothing talk.  You then set the vase on its side and it remains in that position until you take it back up.

You now ask one of your many spectators to hold the vase and try to set it on its side.  Despite the volunteer’s kind words and good intentions, the imp in the bottle refuses to recline.  The vase remains standing straight up.  It is quite a mystery.

Review: We received the effect from a magic supply house for the purposes of this review but that shouldn’t bias our assessment.  We have to give it back when we are done with it.

This one is a real fooler.  The effect as described above is exactly what your audience sees.  You can play up the story of the “imp” with gusto and ad libs aplenty because the effect is almost a self-working one.  When we performed this for an audience recently, we gave a story about how the imp was entrapped in the bottle by a mean sorcerer who was jealous of the imp and his charming ways.  Perhaps the story went on too long because the audience dwindled to a single member and we presume he remained only because we set the imp bottle in his hand as we provided our patter.  Nonetheless, he was suitably impressed when he found that despite his kind words and magic flourishes provided by his free hand, he could not make the imp comply with his instructions.  No matter what he tried, the bottle would not remain on its side.

We felt badly for those in the audience that left before this pay-off because it was a real hum-dinger!

In the future, we will limit the time allotted for our story about the imp to no more than five minutes.  We started losing audience members around the ten minute mark and so five minutes ought to provide just the right amount of backstory to build up the astounding final effect.

If you are a close-up magician, this is a trick you should have in your waist coat or vest pocket no matter the situation.  It is the perfect combination of “easy to do” and “great to see.”

For those of us who do stage shows, it may be possible to build this into a very large bottle with a real imp but we haven’t worked out the plans for such an illusion.

Inside Magic Rating: Five Out of Five!

Practicing Magic in the Dark (Times)

Inside Magic's Famous BunnyWe mentioned on our magic oriented Twitter channel that the pandemic lockdown is both benefiting our practice of magic and seriously hurting our enjoyment of the Art.

We have had time to read, practice, watch videos, shop and practice.  We practice a lot.  We now have dealing seconds down better than we have ever hoped.  We can push-off and strike the deal in alternating deals.  We can one-hand deal seconds from the bottom of the deck.  We can palm just about anything and are even trying to master a Matrix routine by following the videos of Shoot Ogawa san. (@shootogawa)  Don’t get us wrong.  We are no where close to his mastery.  His level of mastery and our level of mastery are like a brick layer and a fine sculptor.  We just want to get to the point where we can not make noise, show things and not hit our hands as we cross positions.  Ogawa san is at the level where the magic takes place and there is no explanation for how things could possibly be accomplished.

We’ve read through The Expert at the Card Table and watched the Ackerman videos taking us through the sleights a couple of times now.  As with our first encounter with the bible of card magic, we skip certain effects that we see as beyond our abilities but work on the ones that are just barely beyond what we think we can master.  We are currently working with the Mexican Turn-Over.  Once we get that down, life will be good.

But will it be good?  We have no audience for whom to perform.  It is worse than an empty theater.  Our poor family is trapped into watching us endlessly dealing seconds, attempting bottom deals and responding to our questions, “How did that look?”

The Magic Castle was our favorite location because it allowed us to meet and mingle with the true pros in our Art, see great shows and to perform downstairs in the amateur rooms.  Sometimes the rooms would get packed, sometimes there would be only a few folks.  But at least it was an audience.

We have thought of Zoom shows and admire those who have taken to this publication method.  We watch the acts (usually a single effect) and see inspired and accomplished performers as well as performers on their way up — still in need of additional practice but really making a great effort.

When all of this over and we have a chance to reflect on what positives we can take from the experience, we know it will be the time we would not have normally had to practice and learn as well as our immense appreciation for real live audiences.

This isn’t news but it does qualify as current events.

Magicians and Influenza — 1918 and Now

Chicago Board of Health 1918One of the many inconveniences of the current state of disease and our reaction to disease seems minimal compared with the devastating impact of the pandemic.  But for those of us who perform for our income or even for enjoyment, the lack of access to a real-live audience is tough.  It is not tough enough to seek opportunities to violate good public safety guidelines, but it is tough enough to make us miss the days of performing downstairs at the Magic Castle.  We can imagine it is even worse for those of our profession who depend on appearance fees and meal allowances for their work at the greatest platform for our art we know.

We looked back at the way performers handled the lockdowns in the 1918 Spanish Flu.  We should have guessed that John Cox would have covered Houdini’s involvement with the flu on his wonderful website, Wild About Harry.  Link here.

Houdini actually contracted the flu but apparently was of sufficient strength or granted sufficient protection to survive the flu in 1918.  Interestingly, that flu attacked those who were young, healthy and strong.  It forced the immune system – usually stronger in young – to cause the immune system to over-react and kill the infected.  John quotes information from a David Ben book that points out Houdini was at the time of the flu “middle aged” and thus part of a population that was actually safer from the flu.

We checked the medical journals reviewing entertainment’s response to the flu.

In an article titled “Lessons Learned from the 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota,” in the journal Public Health Reports in 2007.  To save you the reading of the entire report, it is documented that the closing of theaters in November of 1918 was show to reduce the number of cases.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported that when the closure of theaters was announced, patrons rushed to the venues for one last show, “Downtown theaters were packed last night with patrons who took advantage of their last chance to see a performance until the ban is lifted.” (“Influenza Lid Clamped Tight All Over City,” Minneapolis Tribune 1918 Oct 13).

There is a great summary of how show people handled the sudden closing of the theaters at Circus Talk.  Contracts were cancelled “left and right” and so performers were tossed from the hotels and boarding houses where they were staying.  Some looked for theaters that either were not affected by the shut-down or simply ignored the law and thus risked criminal sanctions.  In those towns without laws or regulations, performers received poor reviews and small audiences.

We have much to learn from the past but the lessons are hard to abide.