Why Cards?

In my heart, I’m a card guy. I love watching good and bad card magic, and I love doing good and bad card magic. However, I’m at a point in my life where I also understand not everyone loves card tricks. With that in mind, many card tricks can be easily converted to things that don’t use cards. Of course you lose the convenience of being able to carry one prop (pack of cards) that you can use for multiple routines.

Recently I saw a virtual show and someone did the move from Paul Curry’s A Swindle of Sorts. This move is a false shuffle where the audience sort of decides how the cards are shuffled. The show I saw they used it for a sympathic cards effect. Here’s Michael Close doing a similar effect:

That got me thinking about what else could be used that aren’t cards. I’d seen Murray Hatfield of a version with envelopes, that I think ended up with his phone number, then inside the envelopes were words that formed a sentence. then it hit me, I don’t think the objects need to have uniform backs for this to work. That opens it up to things like gift cards or money.

Hopping on the idea of money, I wanted money that’s visually different, so bills from the USA are out. That got me thinking of using currency from a variety of countries. Turns out getting money from other countries that aren’t in circulation is really easy and they’re petty cheap on Amazon:

I ended going to a local coin shop to get mine. I bought 3 sets of 10 bills, so I have enough to do a matching trick, plus an extra set. I think I may buy a pack from amazon if the trick starts to go anywhere so that I can have more variation in my bills.

Handcrafted, Gluten Free Progressive Anagrams

Yesterday we handmade a progressive anagram from five words. If you didn’t read yesterdays post, go and read it, or this won’t make a lot of sense. One thing I didn’t like was that the first YES or NO question have a 60% chance of getting “No” answer. Using the same method to make the progressive anagram, by eliminating the vowels first, but this time examining the vowels, we’ll get a better sequence.

here are the words:


I noticed that all of them have an E except for one word. If we eliminate the E first, we’ll get an 80% chance of a YES. If we get a NO, we immediately know the word. This is way better than yesterday’s layout. Here’s what today’s flowcart for the same words looks like:

E ————–> Touch
Beer, Agreement, Heat, Bowel

I’m going to eliminate another vowel, I’ll do A, as the only other vowel that’s used in the words is O, and that’s only in one word, which would give me a 75% chance of getting a NO answer. The A will give me a 50/50 chance.

progressive anagram

At this point we have two pairs of words, so we just need to find a letter that’s only in one word of each pair.

progressive anagram

While essentially the same as the progressive anagram from yesterday, this one is slightly better as the odds of getting a YES on the first letter are better and if you get a NO on the first letter you immediately know the word, which is a huge advantage. Also there’s only one word where you’ll would get two NO answers, where in yesterday’s flowchart there were two instances.

Now let’s compare this to the what a computer will come up with. I plugged the same words into a progressive anagram generator and here’s what is spit out:

progressive anagram

Essentially the computer came up with the same solution as I did today. the difference was we chose different letters for splitting the last two pairs, but that’s arbitrary. The nice thing about the computer is that it did it in one try, and in about 1 second. Knowing to do it yourself is a solid back up and you understand the process a bit more.

Handcrafted Progressive Anagrams…

With moving to virtual magic shows, I’ve been playing a lot with progressive anagrams. If you’re not sure what a progressive anagram is, the basic effect is someone is thinking of a word. You then ask if a several letters are in it and based on their “yes” or “no” answers you can determine the word. Essentially it is a flowchart that uses a process of elimination from a list of words. The flow chart and based on YES or NO answers to whether the word has a letter you will either move down the list or to the right. 

If you get a YES, you move down.
If you get a NO, you move to the right

That’s it.

Normally I use an online progressive anagram generator to create these flowcharts. For fun, I thought I’d try to figure out how to create them myself. Since I use them a lot, I’ve noticed a few things that are the basis of how I do mine. I’m going to hand make a progressive anagram.

The first thing we need is a list of words. I used an online random word generator and using 5 words. The words it gave me are:


I’m going to start by eliminating vowels, so I’ll start with the A.

Currently my flow chart looks like:

A -> Beer, Bowel, Touch
Agreement, Heat

Remember if they say YES you move down and if they say NO, you move to the right.

I’m not the biggest fan of having a 60% odds of getting a “no” answer on my first question. For the sake of simplicity to explain the easiest way I’ve found to do this, we’ll keep going with the A.

For the next question, if we will eliminate the E, so the flowchart will look like this:

progressive anagram, mentalism

Now we have two sections, each with two words we need to figure out. It’s a simple matter to figure out a letter that’s only in one of the Beer/Bowel pair or in the other set of two words. We’ll start with the Beer/Bowel. Let’s eliminate the O, and the flow chart will look like:

progressive anagram

Then we’ll find the letter that’s only in of the Agreement/Heat pair. That letter is H, so here’s the final Flowchart:

progressive anagram

And there you have it, we hand build a progressive anagram.

Small Things…

In May I started worked on a trick that was my version of Albert Goshman’s Cards Thru Newspaper. You can search for those blog posts, but it shows how the trick progressed from the original Goshman trick to what I’d now consider an original magic trick/routine.

Essentially the original trick is that four cards appear one at a time and reappear under a folded up piece of newspaper. I took out what I didn’t like, the cards and newspaper and ended up using an envelope and four polaroid pictures. The pictures disappear and reappear under the newspaper.

It’s been five months since I started working on it, and really, it should have progressed further, it’s been slow going, mostly because of laziness on my part and not putting in as much work on it as I should be. I’ve been doing it as “preshow” for some virtual shows, but really I should be out at virtual open mics doing it and working it in.

polaroid magic trick

I did recently make a change. I’ve been using this trick in pre-recorded virtual shows lately and a problem the trick had was the problems is that the Polaroid pictures are soo glossy, that they are hard to see on camera. They reflect too much light, and you can’t see them clearly. I took some brochure paper and printed the Polaroid pictures onto that paper. It’s a semi-gloss paper, so while it’s shiny, it doesn’t reflect nearly as much as the actual Polaroid picture.

The row on the left are the real Polaroids and the right are the copies. When they are side by side you can see the copies are a little less vibrant than the originals. However without a side by side comparison, you really can’t tell.

Keep working on your magic, even if you’ve been doing a trick for years and it’s a polished routine. There’s usually still improvements that can be made. Sometimes these are small improvements that no one will really notice, but these little things add up!

Genii Magazine!

When I started out performing magic as a kid, I never thought I would really become a magic creator. I loved performing and loved performing new things I’d read in books. As time progressed I went from creating original patter to then going for original routines and methods.

While I currently write for Vanish Magazine, recently I’ve been in Genii’s Magicana column twice. The first time was for a trick I created and now as part of a trick that I helped work on.

It’s a fun trick called Vampire Cat that uses a deck of cards. There’s a group of us that get together and have little magic jams where we work ideas and brainstorm. This came out of that.

Check out the October 2020 issue of Genii!!!

Torn & Restored (not a) Card

I love it when I’m working on something and things happen quickly. The connections between problems and solutions are quickly found. What started not too long ago with me and a couple of friends ripping up playing cards, quickly became a solid method. Then in my quest to make it play a little bit bigger, I think I hit on something to make it bigger, but also a presentation hook!

torn and restored card

I was looking for some of the Phoenix Parlour Cards that I have around here somewhere, and a stack of postcards I send out as “thank you cards” caught my eye. I took one and gimmicked it for the torn and restored card, and it worked!

The cool thing about using postcards is that they are bigger than the Phoenix Parlour Cards, and they are really easy to gimmick (much easier than playing cards). Also if this is something that I’ll be doing in the show, they are cheap and easy to get.

This brings me to something that my friend Robert Baxt always tells me, which is, “can you do it with anything other than playing cards?“. He’s right. I’m a card guy in my heart, but he’s 100% correct, it’s almost always better with something other than playing cards. Also by moving things away from playing cards, you free up a slot in your show to use playing cards. I know freeing up a space for a card trick is not Robert’s intention, but is also means one less space for a card trick!

Making the T&R Card Play Bigger…

The last couple of days I’ve written about the torn and restored card that I’m working on. Now that I have the technical end pretty much worked out, the next step is figuring out how to make it work in a show. Right now with virtual shows, it’s easy because I can hold it close to the camera. Once “socially distant” shows are more common, I’ll need to make it bigger than just a playing card.

The original version that Harry Anderson did used a card that was bigger than a jumbo card. Yesterday I made a gimmicked card using a jumbo deck and while it’s visible, the way the current jumbo cards are made, they are too hard to make to be practical for use in every show. That got me thinking about the Phoenix Parlour Decks. These are between a standard deck and a jumbo deck. Being slightly better is a huge advantage for visibility.

While I’d love to be able to do the gimmicked cards in jumbo size, the availability of the old stock jumbo bicycle cards makes this something that would have a limited life. Ideally when I create, whatever I use will still be in production, so I can at least stock up on them.

Torn & Restored…

In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote about a torn and restored card I was playing with based on a method by Harry Anderson. I think Harry’s method is really clever, and his full routine takes the trick from a simple torn and restored card to an amazing finish!

Here’s me trying out my version for some magicians the other night:

What’s neat about the tweak I made to the Anderson version is that you are actually tearing up their card, but the restored card you give back is the original card! It would make a fun magic dealers ad:

  • No Duplicate Names
  • No Double Writing
  • You Actually Tear Up Their Card
  • The Card Can Be Given Away
  • Self Contained Gimmicked Card
  • No Latex Flaps
  • No Elastic
  • No Invisible Thread

I’m having a lot of fun with this torn and restored card. I wonder how it will play once we get back to live, in person shows.

The Future Is Sometimes in the Past

Over the weekend I met up with a couple of other magicians and we were jamming and talking about some interesting torn card ideas. Then an idea for a torn and restored card hit me. The particular method allows the card to be signed on the front and back and the signature to be seen while it’s being torn.

This is an interesting development for a torn and restored card. It’s built on a torn and card that’s 35+ years old that Harry Anderson did on the Johnny Carson show. The main difference is Harry’s method only allowed the card to be signed on the face, where the method I’m playing with allows the card to be signed on both sides and the gimmick is a bit more self contained than Harry’s was, but mine is also a bigger pain in the butt to make.

One of the keys to creativity is having base knowledge to pull from. Being well read in magic, or well watched in a more modern context of magic videos is very helpful. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to take Harry’s method a step forward. I always tell people that the hard part is designing a card that goes from zero to sixty miles per hour (what Harry did), the easy part is getting that car to go from sixty to one hundred miles per hour (what I did). Learn all you can, even tricks and/or methods you don’t think you’ll ever use. It gives you more knowledge to pull from when trying to solve problems.

Stuff I’d Never Do…

One of the fun things about making short pre-recorded videos for events is that I get to play around with things that I’d never do in my show. Here’s a clip of a trick from one of those videos:

What I really enjoy about making videos like this is getting to play a lot more. When you can try something 20 times, it allows you to take risks you’d never take in a live show.

Go out and play!