Note ye ed's email address:

Season's Greetings.

The Hofzinser books arrive in time for Christmas.



The family tree.

December 2013

Season's Greetings!

As I suspect many readers did, I waited until Christmas morning to unwrap a spanking new set of Hofzinser books, hence the tardiness of this issue. The books are all I hoped they would be.

A second Christmas morning treat was Jim Steinmeyer's "new" (in hardback, anyway) The Science Behind the Ghost!, his treatise on Pepper's Ghost and other things you can do with mirrors.

Rounding out this month are moves by Lance Pierce and Jerry Andrus, a utility device from Ken Allen, a new play from the folks at "The Simpsons," and everybody's favorite Christmas poem, in perhaps its weirdest reading ever.

It has been another bountiful year in magic as well as with family (including a new cast member!), and I'll close again this year with photos of my grandkids, who continue to make life fun all over again. A very Merry Christmas, or whatever holiday suits your fancy, and a Happy New Year to all.

OH WHAT FUN-- It's December 26, and some 899 magicians around the world are doing what I am today -- dipping into their marvelous two-volume study of of Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser, Non Plus Ultra, by Magic Christian. Most, I suspect, are temporarily postponing their reading of the extensively illustrated Volume I (Magic of the 19th Century, Hofzinser's biography) for the secrets of Volume II (Hofzinser's Card Artistry). Skimming through its many pages (470), I am not sure which impresses me most, Hofzinser's creativity or Magic Christian's scholarship.

The former is certainly without parallel. Was Hofzinser truly that inventive, or was he a time traveler returning to the 19th century with the most potent of 20th- and 21st-century card methods? Combined with nontrivial sleight of hand, he certainly makes extraordinary use of gaffed cards, including double facers, double backs, split indexes, the transparent card, flap cards, card boxes, card indexes, a metal tray that serves as a card index, and more.

Consider: In The Ace of Hearts - The Lonely Card, five spectators select a card from a shuffled deck. The ace of hearts is removed and one by one changes into each spectator's card, finally returning to its ace of hearts state with no funny business at all. Behind this is an amazing employment of a mental subtlety, a bottom change, split indexes, and the transparent card. Brilliant.

Or consider: Among the chapter "The Card Etudes" is an extended routine involving the Magnetic Cards, Diminishing and Growing Cards, and a Sewn Deck (19th century Electric Deck) used as a secret device. The sequence would kill today.

New kids on the block.

Or: The Thoughts allows the magi to place a card face down on the table. The spectator chooses any card from a second deck. With a three of clubs from a third deck, the original card is flipped face up. It matches the spectator's selection.

Or, amazingly: With the Wonderful Deck, several spectators select a card which all turn out to be the eight of diamonds. They then do so even more fairly, but all select the ten of spades. This is impossible, because all cards in the deck are shown to be the jack of clubs. No--they are all the king of hearts. The deck is shown to have all 52 values, placed into a pocket, and then any three named cards are produced on demand.

Or, a final example, this extended routine: In Three Thoughts, three selected cards jump from the deck in an outer breast pocket. The deck vanishes and reappears. Three more cards rise from a glass. A queen of hearts is marked by tearing off a corner. A portrait is shown of the famous dancer Pepita de Oliva. The deck is thrown at the portrait and the cards, including the torn queen, appear under the glass. The corner matches. Finally, a card is stuffed into a pistol and fired at a candle. The card takes the place of the flame. Ah, a perfect routine to go viral on YouTube.

But then there is Magic Christian's research. He not only rescued much of the material from obscurity, but from an old form of German cursive. The magic discussed was distilled from some 280 written documents, private collections, letters, and some 2700 newspaper articles. The work must have been staggering, and the results are a privilege to hold. The research continues: the author promises many questions to be answered, a description of Hofzinser's salon magic, and newly discovered information in a third, largest volume.

The present volumes are physically handsome jumbo books (Volume I was 392 pages), slipcased. The layout is admirable, with Hofzinser's witty, urbane patter in a thin left column and the trick instructions a thin column on the right. Text quoted from other sources stands out nicely against a gray background. Volume II is illustrated with vintage line drawings and a wealth of clear photos, Volume I with many portraits and reproductions of other documents. A must buy for all interested in the history of card magic. Written by Magic Christian, translated from German by Dave Shepherd, jointly published by Hermetic Press an the Conjuring Arts Research Center. $249 plus postage.

Food for thought: I notice that the lifespans of Charles Dickens and Hofzinser were rather congruent, yet I know of no awareness of Hofzinser on Dickens' part, even though he had an interest in magic. Perhaps the language barrier prevented what might have been a happy meeting for both.

GHOST STORY -- In 1999, Jim Steinmeyer printed up 150 copies of lecture notes on Pepper's Ghost, for presentation in Chicago. Being the only extensive source on the history of the illusion and on its technical requirements, it quickly became a sought after document. Fortunately, Jim has just re-issued the notes in a swell hardback edition under the original title, The Science Behind the Ghost! The volume also contains Jim's 2001 lecture notes, Discovering Invisibility, a history of how mirrors have been used to make someone or some thing vanish, or to conceal them prior to a production.

The Ghost returns in a new hardback.

Jim carefully traces the origins and evolution of Pepper's Ghost--credits were contentious--with Pepper being more its promoter than its inventor. Even more fascinating were the various arrangements of mirrors and glass and lighting to achieve the ghostly effects, leading up to such modern arrangements as (my favorite) Disney's Haunted Mansion and to a Spirit Lodge exhibit at the Vancouver World's Fair in 1986. The latter featured Holavision, a name that may have misled its viewers. The most amazing use of Pepper's Ghost that I have personally witnessed is in the Lincoln Library, in Springfield, Illinois, and it also uses Holavision. Check it out here.

"It's all done with mirrors" is the public explanation of everything that can't be explained by "it went up his sleeve," and the second half of the book tips just how true that is in some cases. The most impressive is of course The Million Dollar Mystery, adequately covered here and covered at much greater detail in the recently reviewed Caveney book, detailing how Caveney and Steinmeyer brought the illusion to life. Newest to me in the second half of the book was Ragtime Magic, in which four men show four empty boxes atop a table and eventually produce a lady from each. As with many things Jim Steinmeyer's books have revealed to me over the years, I wouldn't have had a clue.

A fine book in Steinmeyer's usual clean clear prose with many illustrations that convey the sometimes extraordinary lengths magicians will go to to fool the eye. Hardback, 190 pages, $65 from Hahne (

GIFTS FROM CHRISTMAS PAST -- One of the true delights in life is to uncover some forgotten treasure from your own childhood. It is literally like time travel. Such was my good fortune back in '06. My siblings and I were going through my mother's things after she had passed away, when one of them asked, "What's this?" Protected all these years in its own felt carrying case was none other than a Ken Allen Tricky Tray, a gorgeous black lucite tray useful for switching in, say, a sizable bill in a Bank Night routine. I was astute enough to have purchased the larger size tray ("winner of the Award of Merit") at a professional 7 by 12 inches (it was $6.50 while its smaller cousin was $4.50), and it would work perfectly today in any Bank Night routine, such as John Archer's.

The perfect Bank Night utility.

This note sent me back to Ken Allen's Catalog of Modern Magic, and what a delight that was. Ken sold fabulous tricks made of plastic (Jumping Gems, The Pin-Up Paddle, On the Square, Frame Fantastique) along with such personal favorites as Chinatown Quarter, Scoop, and Robot Coins in Glass. All were illustrated (by Dick Briefer and Ed Mishell) with sexy cartoons of buxom ladies, the perfect lure to my teenage magical desires. The only ads that affected me more were Richard Himber's in Genii.

The perfect Bank Night utility.

WE THREE KINGS -- Picture this: In your left hand you hold a deck of cards, with, say, a two of clubs on its face. Your right hand is empty. Wave the right over the left, and the face card changes to a king of hearts. Another wave and it changes to a king of spades. A third wave and it changes to a king of diamonds. Your hands are very loose and natural throughout, and you start and end clean.

Lance Pierce teaches three color changes in one.

OK, the cards do not have to be kings--that example was just for my Christmas theme--but this is a beautiful triple color change from Lance Pierce. It's called Triple Change, and it's available from Dan and Dave for a measly $4.95 as an instant download. I think you'll have fun rehearsing this.

WE FOUR ACES -- One of my favorite moves to practice over the years is Jerry Andrus's Injogto (Injog Turn Over). In this move, four face-up aces are placed outjogged in separate places in a face-down fanned deck. The deck is closed and the aces pushed home. With no cuts are shuffles, the aces now appear face down on top of the deck. The problem was, I never had a reason to show the top and bottom cards of the deck (which do not change places after the move). Jerry's patter nicely covers this, which I finally learned about nine minutes into his delightful performance, at the Magic Castle at age 80, here. (I like the laugh that indicates the audience was fooled.) The move itself is described in Andrus Card Control, 1976.

The spectator inserts the cards herself.

WHY DID THE BANANA GO OUT WITH THE PRUNE?* -- Laughs abound in the new play, The Banana Tree, written by Homer Simpson and performed this month at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Indiana. Well, not exactly by Homer Simpson. The play was written by Dan Castellaneta and his wife, Deb Lacusta. Dan is the voice of Homer Simpson, among other credits: he is a four-time Emmy winner for his work as Homer, Krusty, Grandpa, and others, and he is also Consulting Producer and Writer for the show. Deb is a multi-talented writer and actress whose writing credits also include multiple episodes of "The Simpsons."

Expanding the role of women in Las Vegas.

The plot follows a convenience store clerk who dreams of being the first African-American female magician in Las Vegas, her lot beset with robberies, a kidnapping, romance, and various other hijinks, some of which are dictated by a telepathic banana tree. The convenience store in the production I attended came fully stocked, and you could buy anything in the store before the play or during intermission. Scene changes took place in the dark while a lit trio of banana trees told jokes. (You had to be there!) There was some nice parlor magic (I liked an illusion-scale twist to the Passe Passe Peanut Butter and Jelly) and some funny riffs on Vegas-style magic. All in all a most amusing evening of live theater. Watch for a production near you.

WE KNOW WHAT YOU'VE BEEN THINKING -- As readers know, Scott Wells has recently been filling the podcast void left when Dodd Vickers ceased posting. One of his recent podcast sequences was from this year's MINDvention in Las Vegas. While there, Scott had the strange notion to have the attendees read the classic "A Visit from St. Nicholas" or "The Night Before Christmas," and I found the results surprisingly moving.

The readers are, in order, Paul Draper, Jeff McBride, Stan Allen, Bob Cassidy, Paul Vigil, Kerry Pollock, Lupe Nielsen, Banachek, Chad Long, and Docc Hilford. And just in case you think these bad boys (and girl) of mystery theater have gone soft, Scott also provides the outtakes. Check out this and other recent podcasts at Scott Wells' The Magic Word or find them, as I do, on iTunes.

We'll close with the poem itself, still held, despite controversy, to have been written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823. Log on and read it along with a gang of mind readers and their associates.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

At Christmas once again, we indulge in a family visit ...

One grandkid likes to hike, the other likes her new brother.

Peace on earth, good will to men.

*Answer: Because he couldn't find a date.

Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.

Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He used to journey to and perform magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.

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