Think Little

JAMM #7 was running a little long, so I excised this opening tangent for one of the effects. It's something I think is valuable even without the trick it was attached to.

There was a trick I learned as a kid and it went like this: You would spread a deck of cards between your hands. There would be a joker face-up a quarter of the way from the top and another joker face-up a quarter of the way from the bottom. You would ask your spectator to slide out any three cards from between the two jokers. Those cards would be set on the table face down. You then tell them that the deck is in a special configuration. You turn the deck over and spread it on the table and show them that all the cards between the two jokers are red. “But before this trick,” you say, “I put three black cards in with the red cards.” You then have them turn over the cards they pulled out and they find that they've removed the only three black cards amongst the red cards.

The method, if it’s not immediately obvious, is that the deck is set up with all the black cards together, a face-up joker on the top and the bottom of the face-down black cards, then half the red card above the top joker, and half the red cards below the bottom joker.

You have them choose three cards from between the jokers. They, of course, get three black cards. Then you do any sort of pass near the middle of the deck and now the setup of the deck is the opposite of what it was. So you can reveal they chose the only black cards out of a grouping of red cards.

It may not seem like much of a trick. It may seem like one of the first tricks anyone came up with after the invention of the pass, and it probably was. But while it may seem obvious, it always got a pretty good reaction when I performed it.

[Edit: I've been informed this is Roy Walton's effect, Pass at Red, which was in MAGIC magazine in May, 1992. So, far from being "one of the first tricks anyone came up with after the invention of the pass," it was actually created right around when I was performing it. (I must have learned it from MAGIC, or from someone who did.) I certainly wasn't intending to minimize the effect by saying it feels like an obvious outgrowth of the move. For Roy Walton to be able to come up with an effect that feels so elemental, yet no one thought of for 100s of years, is pretty amazing.]

One time, when I was in my teens,  I performed the trick for my cousin and he came up to me a half hour later and said, “You just cut the deck.” He'd worked it out in his head. I did that response we all do when we’re busted. You just repeat what they say but do so in a way that implies it’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard while you stall for time. “I cut the deck?! Pssht… I you wouldn’t notice me cutting the deck? That’s hilarious.”

“I didn’t know to look for it. I think you just cut the deck,” he said.

I then went into my second phase of being busted. That phase where I acknowledge the method they suggest might work, but that only an idiot wouldn't see through it immediately. “I mean I guess you could do it that way… but… I mean…[sigh]... I just can’t see anybody being fooled by that. You would be fooled by that?”

From there I went into the third phase where I act like they’re doing me a favor by suggesting such a ridiculous method. “Actually, I’m glad you brought that up. I never would have thought someone would think that’s how it’s done. Next time I’ll have to make it clear I’m not cutting the deck.”

Then, I had a rare moment of magical bravery for myself at that age and I offered to show the trick to him again. So I set up the cards, had him choose three and I did this all very slowly. Then I said, super condescendingly, “I’m just going to turn over the cards. I’m not cutting the deck, am I? Did I cut the deck?” And, of course, as I’m saying this I am cutting the deck by means of a turnover pass.

I spread the deck on the table and he said, “Hmmm… okay… then I don’t know how you did it.”


Now, he knew exactly what I did, but I was able to get away with it because his concept of a “cut” (one hand moving and swinging around the other hand, or two hands moving together) was something that took place in a space much bigger than a pass takes place in. So when he didn’t see me occupying the space required to cut the deck he assumed the deck wasn’t cut. It’s not that the method was cleverer than he could imagine, it’s just that the move was littler than he could imagine.

This is probably stating the obvious, but a lot of magic is just the execution of something in a smaller amount of space than the spectator imagines it takes. A thumb writer, for example, fools people because their concept of writing requires moving the full hand while holding a sizable writing implement.

I've found it helpful, when working on a method, to think dimensionally.  That is, instead of the question, "How do I get them to not think I just did X?" I'll pose the question, "How do I do X in a smaller amount of space (or smaller amount of time) than they believe it can be done in? So even if they do come up with X for a method, they'll be forced to dismiss it."

There’s another move in magic that is nothing more or less than a “littler” execution of an action a spectator would assume is done in a much bigger way. And the following two ideas rely solely on this one move...

What "little" move am I talking about? All will be revealed this Sunday night for JAMM subscribers.