The Ambitious Card is not a trick that is well-suited for a presentation beyond, "Hey, check this out." This is true of most multi-phase tricks where the same thing happens over and over and the strength of the trick comes from the impossibility of the repetition. That's just the nature of those sorts of tricks. The only variation I've seen that successfully feels like something other than the card rising to the top over and over is my friend Andrew's trick, Beck and Card which is in the JAMM #3.
That's not to say there aren't other good presentations. In the past I've enjoyed performing David Regal's version where you have someone draw a dog on the card and the card comes to the top when it's called. It's cute and fun. But It's more like a "skin" put on top of the standard Ambitious Card trick to make it a little more entertaining. It's not the type of presentation that turns the experience into something different.
Earlier this year, Detective Chris, sent me a card routine he had put together that included a couple ambitious phases. The routine started with him removing the Queen of Diamonds and saying that this will represent his ex-wife. The "ex-wife" repeatedly comes to the top of the deck before going to his pocket and then his wallet. It's a presentation that lends itself to some potential humor (or lends itself to you coming off as insecure misogynist, which, as a magician, you probably are).
It wasn't really my type of routine for a couple reasons. The first is that it's eight phases. The second is that I prefer presentations that aren't overtly representational. A lot of magicians love this type of thing. Think Eugene Burger or Robert Neale. And even though Chris' routine didn't have the formal story structure you might see with those two magicians, I think whenever you set up a magic prop as representing something else (e.g., "The Queen of Diamonds represents my ex-wife.") you are essentially telling a story about something other than the here and now. And, as I've said before, in my experience, the strongest tricks are the ones where the narrative of the story is in the present-tense. The audience isn't hearing a story, they're witnessing one unfold.
I was inspired by Chris' routine and in writing him about some tweaks I would make to it, a presentation evolved that I thought some other people might really like. It's not something I've performed, and I probably won't because it's not 100% my style. I think it's about 65% my style. But I think some people will find 65% my style to be something that's right up their alley. And, while I've written it up as a sort of R-rated routine, you could tone it down and come up with something more family friendly and it would work as a nice little showpiece.
It's still a multi-phase routine, but it's not the same thing happening over and over, as in a standard ambitious card. And there is still an element of a card representing a person, but in a more indirect way. Instead of a trick that starts out being about your ex-wife (or girlfriend, or boyfriend, or whatever) it turns into that as it progresses. So the card isn't used as a representation of your ex-wife, but it becomes a manifestation of her, and her energy, as the trick goes along.
That Bitch-Ass Tart
I will describe the routine and method at the same time. I haven't worked out the finer details of the method because, as I mentioned, I haven't performed this myself. But if it's something that appeals to you, it would be relatively easy to figure out those details.
The idea behind this presentation is that it's meant to evolve out of another trick that you're performing for people. You'll see what I mean. It's meant to feel unplanned. The extent to which the audience believes it's unplanned isn't that important.
So, let's say you're showing your audience every trick from Expert at the Card Table. You've just shown them, "The Invisible Flight." Then, as is customary after showing people a trick from Erdnase, you gently wake them from their slumber, and then you go into "The Travelling Card."
"Ladies and Gentlemen: I am constantly importuned by some of the most curious and least discerning of my auditors to explain the manner by which the results in certain tricks are achieved," you say to the audience, in Erdnase's stilted prose.
You have a card selected and signed without looking at it.
[Here you force the Queen of Diamonds.]
When it's handed back to you, you notice what card it is for the first time and it sort of breaks your concentration.
"Oh... uhm... actually... let's use a different card for this. If that's okay."
You put the Queen into the middle of the deck.
"It doesn't really matter what the card is, as long as you sign it."
You toss the top card on the table and gesture that they should take it and sign it.
They pick it up and find it's the Queen. The card they just saw you put in the middle of the deck.
[To accomplish this I would either use a top change and bury the indifferent card leaving the Queen on the top of the deck. Or I'd secretly reverse the top card, place the Queen on top face-up. Double turnover, and slide the indifferent card (apparently the Queen) into the middle.]
You see they've got the Queen again.
"Goddammit," you say, resignedly. Your shoulders slump. "Sorry. This is not what I wanted to be dealing with here today. I really just wanted to show you how great the tricks in the 'bible of card magic' are. But... ok... how do I explain this... This is all due to my ex-wife."
You don't need an ex-wife to do this presentation. You can be 14. It will still be good.
"So... it's our first date. I, being a bit of a loser, decide to show her a magic trick. I thought I was being romantic or something so I said, 'Sweetie, if you stay with me, I'll always be your... King of Hearts.' And I made the King of Hearts appear from mid-air. And then she took the deck from me and pulled a card out and said, 'And I'll always be your Queen of Diamonds.' That should have been a sign. I mean, like, seriously bitch? Diamonds and hearts aren't even the same family. You didn't pick the queen of hearts? For real? It turned out to be sort of apropos given how good she was at spending my money, and then taking half of it in the divorce. And, since there isn't a Queen of Sucking Your Friend's Dicks While You're Out of Town, it probably was the most appropriate."
"At first it was cute. She'd call me her king of hearts, and I'd call her my queen of diamonds. It was sweet. But then when things went south between us, that whole pet-name thing became disgusting to me. And just seeing a queen of diamonds would haunt me because it would remind me of her. Usually I would take the card out of the deck because not only was the association too painful, but it also seemed like the card was somehow drawn to me. It would always show up in my hand during card games, and pop up when I was showing someone a trick. Obviously it must be something I'm doing subconsciously in the way I'm handling the cards or whatever. The card's not possessed. My rational mind knows that. But it feels like the card is hounding me and mocking me, like she did. Whatever I do to get the card away from me... it's always, just... right there."
[During that last sentence you can do any standard ambitious card sequence. "Whatever I do to get the card away from me," bury the card in the deck, "it's always, just," take the top card off the deck, "right there," turn the card over. Don't do this in a "ta-dah!' way. Just in an exasperated, "see what I mean?" way.]
"But... let's move on," you say and take the card and put it in your pocket.
"I've moved on in my life and we're going to move on with the trick. Please, take any card you want."
You ribbon spread the cards on the table or spread them between your hands and the Queen is back, staring at you, face-up in the middle of the face-down deck.
"The hell?" you say. Reach into your pocket where the Queen was and pull out the pocket showing it empty.
[You have a couple options here. The queen is placed face up on top of the deck. You want to do the thing where you seemingly pick it up in the palm of your hand, but actually you deposit a face-down card on top of it to hide that it's there. You can either side-steal out a card into your right hand and deposit it on top in the motion of taking the queen and then go to your pocket with nothing. Or you can do an Erdnase color change, but instead of using it as a color change you're miming the actions of taking the card and putting it in your pocket. Either way the card is now face-up, second from the top in the face-down deck. Then give it a cut, pass, or overhand shuffle to centralize it before spreading the deck for the selection.]
You take the card out of the deck, uncap the marker and start X'ing out the Queen's face. You cross out the spectator's name too. "I don't even like having your name associated with the card. Say... what's the worst thing you can call a woman?"
After a moment your spectator suggests something. "Fat-ass cum dumpster?"
"Perfect," you say, and write it on the card.
You make some disparaging remarks to the card and then tear it into four pieces and set it aside.
You take a deep breath and let it out. "Ahhhh... that felt good. Where were we? Oh yes... say stop as I run my thumb along the edge of the deck."
The spectator stops you at a card... it's that goddamn queen again!
Slowly, almost fearfully, you reach your hand across the table for the pieces of card you ripped up earlier. You turn them over, and they're four pieces of the King of Hearts—your card.
"Oh, Jesus...," you say.
[Okay, for this part the King of Hearts needs to be on top of the pack. When I say I didn't work out the fine details of the effect, that's one of the ones I'm talking about. You'll have to figure out how to keep that card there during the earlier parts of the trick, or how to get it there when you need it.
After you've de-faced the Queen (rest it on the top of the deck while you draw, so you have an excuse for having the deck in your hands) you're going to do a top-change, but with a minor variation that I've found goes over well in similar contexts.
So the card is in the right hand, in top-change position. By that I mean it's held between your thumb on the back and fingers on the front. At this point, however, it's not held horizontally, it's held facing your spectators. Then you tilt it back towards yourself so you can see the face too. And you'll speak to the card (as if speaking to your ex). "You sick bitch. They got it right. You're just a fat-ass cum dumpster."
Now you'll look up and make an aside to your audience. "Well, to be fair, she actually had a pretty smoking hot body. That's probably what kept me around so long." During this aside you will execute a standard top change. The card is now held facing the floor.
Twirl the card so it is now facing you and again say something to it. "But whatever. Your personality had a fat ass, you ho-bag." You then rip the card into quarters. Try to keep the face to yourself, but if a bit of it flashes it's not the end of the world as they're both court cards.
By having a continuity of action (talking shit to the card) that happens before and after the top change it really locks in the idea that it's the same card. I've done this phase in a separate context and the reactions are very strong when the card returns whole.
You rub your eyes with the heels of your palms. "Gahhhh! Again, I'm sorry, this isn't what I wanted to be doing here today. This is the same feeling I had when trying to distance myself from her before."
Take a beat and compose yourself.
"You know what? Screw it. The only way forward in my real life was to make peace with the situation. So that's what we'll do. It's fine. This card is fine. She's fine. Everything is just fine. I can't let it ruin my life or ruin my time here with you."
You put the card back in the deck and shuffle up the cards. You spread the cards to have one picked by the spectator.
"Let me guess...," you say, somewhat defeatedly.
But no, the spectator didn't pick the queen. You look at the card. It's the four clubs.
"Huh... well, what do you know...maybe it's over. I guess there's a first time for everything."
You flinch. "Oh no," you say. "Oh no, no, no, no, no." You flip the deck face up and spread it on the table. The Queen is nowhere to be found.
"Don't tell me...," you say and reach for your wallet.
You open it up. "My cash is gone! Goddammit, all my credit cards are gone!" With two fingers you reach into your wallet and remove the signed Queen, holding it lightly from one corner. "You bitch!" you say, and toss it away and run out of the room flailing and sobbing like a genuine pantywaist.
Moments later a gunshot is heard from the other room. Your problems are over.
Or, for a less dramatic ending you can remove the card, huffing and puffing with anger. Then be like, "Ah... I can't stay mad at you." Toss the card on the table. "Gotta go, guys. I'm in the mood for a little sex with the ex, if you feel me. Yes, she's an absolute cretin, but you gotta see that ass," you say and run out of the room for your booty-call.
[So this final phase is obviously just a card to wallet effect. The handling will vary depending on whether you're sitting or standing and the type of wallet you're using. You'll put the card back in the deck and shuffle controlling it to the top or bottom. You can then palm it off or lap it. Again, this will all depend on your situation. Keep in mind there's a good moment of misdirection where the spectator is turning over their genuine selection that you may want to take advantage of.]
There you go. After writing it up, I'm more pleased with the whole thing than I thought I was and I'm definitely going to try it out. If nothing else, I hope it serves as an example of a routine taking place in the present tense. It's not a story or a joke illustrated with cards, and it's not a re-enactment of something that happened once at a bar or around a poker table. It's something unfolding in real time that has some meaning. This is not a subtle difference that audiences aren't aware of. It's a much more engaging experience for the spectator, and it has nothing to do with them believing what's happening is real. They know it's fiction either way. But that's what makes this style of magic so strong. People are used to hearing, reading or watching fiction, they're not used to being in a fictional experience as it happens. (More on this next week when we talk about the Romantic Adventure performance style.)