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A Kent Gunn story trick opens Magi-fest for me.

Last month's January issue spotlighted three great volumes of Mike Caveney's Classic Correspondence, a Curtis Kam Live lecture, Letters of Note, Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores, and New Year's best wishes.

February 2017

Happy Valentine's Day 2017. It's becoming an annual February rite to shower love on Magi-fest, and this month is no exception. Josh, Andi, and Tim make it look easy. The latest featured Eric Mead, Ben Earl, Jamy Ian Swiss (with a bunch of new books but not the Thompson yet), Gene Anderson, two Other Brothers, two Caveneys, two Bargatzes, one and only Rob Zabrecky, a zillion dealers, and much more. Personal details below.

Also this month, a new book by Marty Kane, a really old article featuring Bill Neff, and, for the first time in a while, a card trick you can do. I enjoy doing it just for myself.

February is the ideal month for a Journey to Love, and I hope those who witnessed my "new" McGrave's Hotel drick (photo at the bottom) at Magi-fest will recognize the influence of master mind David Regal.

THE CHAMPS -- Having returned to Ohio, home of Lebron James and his Cleveland Cavs who won last year's NBA championship in an unprecedented comeback series, I congratulate uber fan Joshua Jay, especially since I had rooted against him, for the Warriors. I also congratulate Josh, Andi Gladwin, and Tim Moore for hosting yet another magnificent Magi-fest. Dollar for dollar this is the best convention value in the country, 86 years strong and rejuvenated under the current leadership, its patrons a perfect mix of experience and youth, and an annual gathering of friends like no other.

My usual apology applies: I attend this convention to socialize, not to record, hence my notes below will not mention everyone who contributed, including the big name performers, lecturers, and dealers. If you were there, you know you were a star, and I hope you remember your standing O for a long time. You deserved it,

For the 86th year, it is tempting to list 86 fine things, as I did for MAGIC Live's 25th, but I'll limit it to an Al Baker's dozen.

Opening the whole shebang was Kyle Littleton, whose baby face (that's a compliment) belied his mature, razor humor and his clever magical creations (one a three-fly routine in which one of the disks was a button). I particularly cracked up at his comparison of marriage to The Hunger Games. Kyle was a brilliant choice for an opening lecture and established that cutting edge comedy would again characterize the convention (as it did last year with David Corsaro and Harrison Greenbaum). For you Magi-fest old timers, we've come a long way from Herman's puns.

Eric Mead devoted a full 90 minutes to Three-fly, laying out his own attempts and those of others to perfect the trick that Chris Kenner had elevated to mythical status. The biggest surprise, given that I mainly know Eric for his superb close-up sleight-of-nand magic (indeed, he often tweets a photo of his apparatus for an evening's gig), was that his main work these days is mentalism.

Tony Miller's Search Engine.

The first gadget of the convention I encountered, as is often the case, was Tony Miller's, a radical index called Search Engine that allows you to produce, from one jacket pocket, any card named, with no counting.

JJ's Coin Coalition.

Although a few were missing, it's always fun to mix with Chicago friends at Magi-fest. The latest from the city was JJ's Coin Coalition, from John Jurney. This set allows you to do three-fly type routines, with silver coins changing to Japanese coins. Because the coins are magnetic and slide apart or back together, the handling is dead easy. Even I can manipulate them. Check them out at

Kent Gunn and Mike Powers confer.

It wouldn't be a successful Magi-fest if I didn't get to session with Mike Powers. One of the best things he showed me was his ending to Marlo's Traveling Card, from The Cardician (or from that chapter in Cardially Yours). I won't tip Mike's enhancement, but the original itself is a killer; check it out if you've overlooked it.

One of my favorite surprises was the lecture by Reynold Alexander, from Puerto Rico. I loved the Shoe Production (a la Paul Harris's Twilight, with a mirror), his extended Knot Off Silk routine (nods to Jeff McBride), and a nicely scripted routine about time performed with hourglass sand.

As alluded above, comedy plays a big part in recent Magi-fests, and we had already enjoyed Kyle Littleton's opening lecture humor and Danny Buckner's late-night show by the time we flocked to Friday night's Bargatze Stage Spectacular. Stephen Bargatze is truly a magician's comic and proved it with a hilarious takeoff on the Tossed Out Deck and with riffs on the fact that Eric Mead's card stab had gone awry. This is the sort of killer stuff that makes Stephen and Rick Merrill so anticipated at 4F. But Stephen's best bit was the introduction of his surprise guest, his son Nate Bargatze. Nate is hitting the big time as a purely standup comic (despite scoring Friday night with a routine about growing up in a magical household). An appreciative crowd returned later for Nate's 12:15 AM-1:00 AM solo spot. Superb writing! You can sample Nate's brilliant humor on Youtube.

Has anyone had as much fun writing, illustrating, publishing, teaching from and performing from, and selling a book as Gene Anderson has with Gene Anderson The Book? Gene's late-morning lecture (it followed the annual kid show in which Magi-fest busses in a theater full of magic-hungry kids) included no newspaper magic. Rather, this expertly taught material featured Gene's Picto Transpo, his Die Box, the Nemo Jumbo Rising Cards, and the Card in Bottle. I love how much extra Gene Anderson brings to the table. Most are familiar with the classic "playing cards" harmonica gag and the egg beater mentalism device. But Gene actually played the harmonica ("Oh, Susannah"), and he sold the egg beater via pseudo-scientific gobbledegook (credit Bill Spooner). Fun stuff.

Jim Krenz's Coincidencia.

One of the delights of being in magic is running into Jim Krenz. At the Vanishing Inc. booth, Jim was demonstrating a new sympathetic cards routine using halves of jumbo cards, Despite repeated shuffles, the dang things kept synching up (and fooling me). He calls it Coincidencia and will be marketing it soon. By the way, if you are a citizen of this planet, as I assume you are, you may run into Jim yourself. He recently won a trip around the world and is taking advantage of it.

Greg Bordner tells all.

Also in the dealer room (that is, the tent!), I asked Greg Bordner if Abbott's had any new books, such as Dark Matter secrets that surprised us a few years ago. Boy, did he! The new book is Abbott's Compendium, a mammoth Sears catalog-sized soft cover that contains, to borrow from the ads, "historical documents, articles about the Get Togethers, posters, the complete performer list for not only the Get Together but the Closeup Convention as well." I also enjoyed handling a fine mirror glass. Book and glass are $40 each. Greg asked me to mention the Get Together of course, this year from August 2-5. It's the 80th.

Bone Riders.

My own purchases? From H&R Magic Books I picked up the new Lap DVD featuring lapping moves and technique from Dani DaOrtiz, Yann Frisch (his entire act and more), Lennart Green, Gene Matsuura, and others. So far so good, but I didn't purchase the ten hours it takes to watch these! By the way, H&R promises a new Trost book this spring. I am drooling. I also acquired, from Dave Hofmeister, a nifty deck of Bicycle Bone Riders playing cards as well as a "normal" Bicycle stripper deck. And from Penguin, the fascinating Little Door. Very nicely made.

Tom Craven mystifies.

For many, Magi-fest is the card magic that transpires at the large tables in the lobby, manned day and night by Tom Gagnon, Howard Hamburg, and Tom Craven. This year it was Tom Craven who fooled me badly with a squeaky clean ace assembly (it was two weeks later that I snapped to what he must have been doing) and a triple prediction. As to aces, Ben Earl's ace cutting from a mixed deck was also a thrill to behold, although my favorite of his over the weekend was the deck switch he taught in his lecture. And although another lobby favorite is Caleb Wiles, I was temporarily denied seeing his latest. Caleb was in the building, but he was off somewhere recording a two-DVD set of his best material, to come out soon from Vanishing Inc.

Most of the Gala Shows under Josh's and Andi's tenure have produced one standing ovation after another, and 2017 was no exception. Although Luis Otero from Columbia and Lukas from South Korea provided strong moments, the bulk of the final evening show belonged to the Magic Castle trio of Mike Caveney, Tina Lenert, and surprise headliner Rob Zabrecky. Wow. Mike (who also emceed) killed with such classics as Coffee Break and Scissors Thru Jacket. There was a nice touch as he introduced "the chicken family" who had donated the chicken that Mike produces from a spectator's jacket. Tina soloed with Mopman ("That guy lives in my basement," Mike quipped) and her Simply Magic act. And they both participated in what was a generous chunk of The Zabrecky Hour. Because of my love of spooky magic, Rob's is my favorite act working today, the act I wish I had dreamed up if I only had talent and genius (oh, yeah, and could sing and dance). Tina accompanied much of the show on harp, especially a new routine to me in which Rob sings "It Was Only a Paper Moon" and closes with Snowstorm in China. This is such an iconic act! Lovely memories, guys.

All in all a great three days. Thanks as always to anyone who chatted with me about Little Egypt Magic, my favorite real books (Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show and McGrave's Hotel), or anything else, or who showed me magic or witnessed some of my own. You were the convention. Oh, and this being Valentine's Day and because this has so far been a guy thing, a big shout out to the lady friends who were there, Maria Schwieter and Rosie Rings. Hugs to all.

THE BOOK OF NUMBERS -- Quite honestly, I almost gave Marty Kane's new book, Card ChiKANEry, a pass. After all, it contains a bunch of mathematical tricks that rely on spelling (often repeated spelling), down and under deals, and so forth. Marty himself warns the reader. But then I thought, OK, I myself have written a book that, while not really being about mathematical tricks, certainly sounds like it (The Little Egypt Book of Numbers). And in some circles I am primarily "known for" a spelling trick (same book). Plus I noted that two of my favorite creators, Peter Duffie and J.K. Hartman, not only endorse the methods but the humor and wit of the material. As does the invariably funny Steve Beam who has proudly published Marty's A-list material for decades.

Numerical analysis.

Hence, I decided to dive in, and I was amply rewarded. Dive in with me, and you will receive a bonus card trick for the effort.

There is plenty of method to the madness in how the tricks are distributed into chapters, some grouped by math principles, some by tag lines, some by excessive spelling, some by accessorized cards, some by no cards at all. Here are a few items I found compelling:

Sole Mate is likely the first trick readers will investigate because of a cool patter line on the cover blurb. It's one of several that exploit a Colm Mulcahy bottom to top principle, and it's fine. The spek is given a half dozen "popular" cards, of which he selects one at random. All other cards are then shuffled and divided into three piles. From one of the piles the spek spells first his random card and then its mate. The final card spelled is indeed the mate.

In Snow White spectators form piles based on the spelling of a selected dwarf name plus one special dwarf card. Each then mixes his pile by spelling "Snow White" and then performs an elimination deal (the book says Under Down, but I think it is Down Under) and finds his own dwarf card.

I liked the Dream Team Scheme because it uses the Free Cut principle, a favorite, and I liked naming a gambler PETE ROSE along with EINSTEIN and MAX MAVEN for the mathematician and mentalist. Favored cards are eventually discovered via a series of reverse faros.

Phone Zone is a Peter Duffie card trick you can perform over the phone; the spectator works with only 12 cards. Nice. I see various patter possibilities for instructing the spek to do the simple dealing involved.

The illustrations are charming.

I had the most fun working through Anna Graham's Magic Spells; doing so reminded me of working through the Paul Harris Art of Astonishment books. As the spek sees it, you work with 13 cards (A-K of clubs, for example) that have letters printed on their backs. As you ribbon spread the packet, the letters spell out the various situations. After first dealing NINECARDS followed by FOUR, the lettering ELEVENPLUSTWO morphs to TWELVEPLUSONE morphs to THIRTEEN CARDS. I am not quite certain what the magical effect is, but this is fascinating to behold. And it worked the first time!

Nightmare Poker may be my favorite in the book, exploiting the Bert Allerton/Henry Chirst principle (counting backward 10-9-8-7 ...) to fill a straight flush hand. (By the way, I think the photo is screwy; the face-up cards should belong to a possible straight flush.)

I've done a version of this trick for years and didn't realize it had appeared in print in Scarne on Card Tricks. The print version also makes very clever use of a joker. Recently, while watching how casually Dani DaAOrtiz dealt out some cards, it struck me that Dani's dealing is the perfect lead-in to the trick. Let's call this Countdown. Begin with a deck of 52 cards, no jokers. Shuffle the deck (I suggest overhand throughout) and spread it for a selection. Spek holds onto his card as you shuffle some more and then casually toss three cards onto the table in a pile. Shuffle another chop or so and toss two more cards onto the pile. Another shuffle and drop three more. As you shuffle some more, ask the spectator to drop his card onto the pile. This places his card ninth from the bottom, just where you want it for the Allerton/Christ revelation. Continue shuffling and dropping small groups of cards until the deck is exhausted. The spectator's card is seemingly lost deep in a shuffled deck. That's it! The math takes it from here.

(For those unfamiliar with the trick: Announce, "I'm going to form four piles, counting backward from ten." Do so, stopping if the value of the card agrees with the value of your count. For example, if you say, "Ten, nine, eight ..." and the third card is an eight, stop counting and begin a new pile. (Face cards count as ten.) If you go all the way to ace (one) and find no matches, place a face-down card onto that pile. At the finish, some cards atop the four piles will be face up. Total their values, and this will tell you where the spectator's card lies. For example, if the face-up cards total 15, the chosen card will lie 15 cards down in the deck. Amazing.)

Given my long familiarity with the above version of the trick, I was especially impressed with what Marty did with it in Nightmare Poker.

Deep in the bound Volume 3 of Steve Beam's The Trap Door (page XXV) is a startling photo. The likes of Gene Matsuura, Charlie Randall, Sandy Marshall, Bill Kalush, Max Maven, Stephen Minch, and over 20 other respectable magicians are all giving the camera man (Mr. Beam) a one-finger salute. If you would like to achieve the same response, Marty supplies two very funny routines in Cursed by an Evil Spell and Finger Flinger. No cards required. The routines first saw print in Semi-Automatic Card Tricks Volume VIII.

Card ChiKANEry is a handsomely produced 224-page glossy hardback of 66 tricks, illustrated with entertaining vintage art and photos. I was a bit taken aback at first by the stylistic decision to use all numerals ("Deal 1 card here ...") but quickly acclimated and found it useful; the book is otherwise carefully edited and looks great. A bargain at $35, and you can obtain it directly from the author at

But what if you are incorrigibly opposed to such methods and want to "get even" with those who use them? I suggest John Bannon's Chronic, from High Caliber. It looks like a clock trick, it looks like an anti-faro trick, but it isn't. It's a Simon Aronson ruse masquerading as math. There are many rooms in the house of magic.

TAKE UP MAGIC! HAVE POWER OVER WOMEN. -- Last month's photo of Bill Neff with a bevy of beauties led me on a search for an elusive magazine issue, the February 1958 issue of Gent. A sort of Playboy wannabee, Gent promised "An approach to relaxation," and that month featured a four-page photo spread of Bill Neff and friends titled "How to Trick Her Into It." Amazingly, I found it right away and made my first eBay purchase. (To give the magazine some worldly credit, the issue also contains a short short story by William Goldman.) The spare text accompanying the photos claimed that Neff had received an "Oscar" on "The Tonight Show" proclaiming him The World's Greatest Illusionist and that from the photos "Neff shows the influence any Gent can have over women."

My first eBay purchase!

I'll be up in just a moment.

Elsewhere in the magazine the artwork reminded me of that of Pat Lyons in Ibidem. Perhaps the style was general to the late fifties, or perhaps P. Howard Lyons was a Gent subscriber and his tastes rubbed off. Or perhaps I am just whistling in the wind. (Ibidem illustration is from the Fulves reprint.)

Fifties artwork.



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Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you received lots of kisses, chocolate or otherwise.



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Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He used to frequently 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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