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Magi-fest 2020.

Return to our Christmas December 2019 issue to consider Sean Yang's Three-way mirror and the passing of card genius Simon Aronson.

January 2020

The 89th edition of Magi-fest is in the books, and it was a great chapter. For me it was all about Chris Capehart, a crowded dealer room, and hanging out with friends. I'm glad I attended via a last-minute room opportunity. Thanks, Evan. See further details below.

I'll also discuss the repackaged works of Jose Carroll, 52 Lovers Through the Looking Glass, and a personal birthday with more relevancy to magic than I expected. We'll close with a look at the Magic Castle House Rues circa 1967. Interesting.

An unavoidable sad note: it was while I was typing these notes that the news of Kobe Bryant's death intruded. I loved his career and the man, and I wept often on January 26, every time a different basketball icon would be interviewed, or when I saw the teams that played that night take 24-second shot clock violations or 8-second half-court violations, in honor of Kobe's two Lakers numbers. Very moving, guys.

Wishing all the best to you for 2020!

HAIL, COLUMBUS -- I have used that title before, but this time Columbus itself was the dominant take away from the recent Magi-fest, the 89th in an incredible series. Given that Josh and Andi moved the event back downtown to the Renaissance, and given that Maleficent and I arrived a day early, we were able to walk to and enjoy the nearby Columbus Museum of Art. Beginning last August and running through March 15 is a fabulous exhibition, "A Mile and a Half of Lines: The Art of James Thurber." I am a huge fan of the New Yorker humorist and cartoonist, and it was thrilling to stand among some of his most famous artwork. "All right, have it your way. You heard a seal bark." By the way, a companion book of the same name exists, 254 large pages, compiled by Michael J. Rosen. My son sent me a copy last Father's Day. Thanks, Urchin!

Just another cartoon character.

Book by the same name.

Elsewhere among the extensive collections was a room of Lego art, featuring a lengthy recreation of the city of Columbus in Lego bricks. Too bad I didn't have the grandkids with me.

Partial view of Columbus in plastic.

Oh, yeah, there was also a magic convention in town!

Someone asked me what was the best thing about this year's Magi-fest, and the answer was easy: Chris Capehart. It's a Magi-fest morning tradition for a guest kid show performer to entertain two busloads or more of local children, and no one has done it better than Chris. He had them screaming hysterically as they tried to catch him out, the prizes for doing so ranging from $100 to a Nintendo Switch. The kids never had a chance.

Chris Capehart at the table.

But Chris didn't stop there. Throughout the rest of the convention he worked closeup at the tables (on one occasion dealing deftly with a pain-in-the-ass teenager), and I last saw him working on late Saturday night.

A personal note. I make lists: favorite forces, favorite controls, favorite bluffs, favorite poker tricks, etc., and I turn to them every few months or sometimes years to refresh my knowledge. Alas, one my favorite forces was simply listed as Chris Capehart Force, and I couldn't remember what it was. Even though embarrassed, I asked Chris a bout it, and he kindly filled me in. Now that I remember, I see why it made the list. It's easy, and, as Chris says, "It fools magicians."

What else?

I crabbed a bit about last year's seating. This year it was much better and designed for a thousand plus. I would still prefer another set of video screens at about halfway back, but that is for personal issues.

In general, the Renaissance was a more comfortable fit with plenty of space for sessioning, either at the tables on the convention floor or among the spread of tables in the bar area. Yes, $28 for valet parking was pricey, but it was most convenient, and the valet guys were super nice.

Indoor shopping! The dealer room drew hoards. First, it was a warm room, not a cold tent. Second, scheduling left plenty of time for browsing. Third, the merchandise was tempting. I've rarely seen so many new products.

Richard Hatch attends an enviable stock of books.

Most of the new books were at Vanishing, Inc. or at H&R Magic Books. (Or whatever Richard and Charlie call themselves. They certainly show up with a booth at a lot of conventions for a "retired" duo.) There were not-yet-officially-marketed books from Ben Hart and Morgan and West. I coveted Ramon Rioboo's Second Thoughts, Tom Gagnon's Gagnon Unfiltered, Pepe Carroll's 52 Lovers Through the Looking Glass, Carlos Vaquera's Illusioneer, and Miguel Gomez's The Joy of Magic. Nick Diffate had a new paperback called Funny at the Genii booth, and Charlie Randall told me that Trost Volume 8 is well under way. (Plus we all returned home to learn that the Steve Forte books are soon available, for $300!)

Robert can fool you with your own phone.

Among the hardware dealers, I spent the most time at Robert Ramirez's booth. Robert's Expert Phone Technique is a download of four stunning tricks you can do with iPhones. He had a gaffed ace assembly that killed, and a closeup version of Jim Steinmeyer's Card to Liquor Bottle. I am still thrilled that Robert came to Bloomington in September with his game show.

Can George flip that cube into that box?.

At the Patrick G. Redford booth, George Tait introduced a charming new system based on a deck of 52 photographs. Each photo relates to a distinct playing card value, a relationship you may or may not wish to share with your audience. You can perform sensational tricks with the deck alone, such as George's trick Haystack, or you can perform magic or mental effects with the addition of expansion packs. George was doing it all.

Wickedly gaffed beer coasters.

One of the Asian dealers had beer coasters that facilitated Coin Through Glass, a la Copenetro, and ring or cup on string. Clever mechanics!

Magic shows. There was, of course, plenty of magic. A few performances that made it into my note pad:

Best opening emcee line: "We ask you to please NOT turn off your cell phones. This is just live theater. We wouldn't want you to miss an important call."

Avner the Eccentric sort of looks and moves like Charlie Frye might if he got older and grew a beard. A full show of silent clown bits, magic, and juggling. My two favorite bits: Avner rolled his eyes around so that all you could see was the whites, and he devoured a lot of napkins, a la Tom Mullica.

Ryan Plunkett, from Chicago's Magic Lounge, performed eye-popping card magic, my favorites being an instantaneous Collectors routine and another where five shuffled cards (A-5) rearranged themselves whenever the ace was placed on top. A clue to how he did it is that he is half the team, along with Michael Feldman, who wrote A New Angle, Magic Inc.'s bestselling book on magic with a stripper deck.

Wolfgang Moser performed his Signature Any Drink Called For.

Dani DaOrtiz is up there with guys like Bill Malone, who fool and entertain better than anyone. I think I recognized Triple Intuition among his chaotic offerings.

Although I had recently seen this at Genii, it was fun to again see Hector Mancha perform Any Card to Mouth While Playing Harmonica.

Karl Hein, up against that back wall, draws a crowd.

Karl Hein drew consistently large crowds with his late-night bar magic stint, at a bar specially erected for him on the main convention floor.

Guest of Honor David Williamson got great laughs (and shocked a few) by directing, Joanie Spina-like, a thirteen-year-old doing a card trick. New meaning to the School of Hard Knocks. Later, on the gala, David's sponge ball routine resulted in a kid hitting his dad in the face with a cream pie.

Olmedini works the room.

Olmedini's lecture and performance was, as expected from his Genii cover story, inspirational. This blind NYC subway magician produced a lot of feather flowers and a dove on loan from Eli Martin. Olmedini also worked the floor, with impromptu Linking Rings and rope magic.

Morgan & West photographed in 2014. Or later? These guys are time travelers!.

And so it went, with other fine performances by Arden James, Morgan & West, Ben Hart, Marco Zoppi & Rolanda, plus interviews and lectures by still more.

As for any convention, the best part is seeing friends, and the venue layout, scheduling, and multitude of fine magicians made that possible. Magi-fest is one of my favorite conventions, even though I would like it better in the spring! Best of luck to Josh and Andi s they usher in the 90th.

THE REIGN IN SPAIN -- One of the secretly prized books in my collection is 52 Lovers, Volume 1, by FISM-winning Spanish magician Jose Carroll. Here are some of the most dramatic, visual card tricks I have encountered: a color change of a card trapped in a drinking glass, an Ambitious Card whose corner is torn off, Follow the Leader with a red glove on one hand and a black on the other, a signed card that becomes a page in a spiral bound notebok, and the Glass Wall, a four-card assembly in which the cards penetrate a sheet of tracing paper instead of a newspaper. It was published in 1988, in the serviceable Editorial Frakson format. I no longher recall how I obtained my used copy. It was distributed by Jeff Busby, and my copy was once owned by John Moehring. I never acquired Volume 2.

Dramatic Spanish card magic.

Alas, the promising Jose Pepe Carroll (stage name of José Franco Arsenio Larraz) died in 2004 at the age of only 46. Fortunately, Carroll's friends and colleagues at Paginas Magic Books have decided to keep this exceptional magic alive by repackaging the original books along with additional materials as 52 Lovers Through the Looking Glass. The whopping oversized 288-page hardback that resulted is a treasure, both for its original magic content and for its physical presence. The layout and design by Gabriela Goldadler are the most elegant and original I have seen in a book of card tricks. Similar kudos to translator Andrea Stojilkov, editors John Lovick and Juanma Gonzalez, and illustrator Luis H. Trueba.

I loved the reflected fonts.

As to what is inside ...

There is a foreword by Laura Aviles.

There are farewell pieces by Juan Tamariz, Amilkar, and Camilo Vazquez.

There are 19 essays (55 pp) that Carroll submitted to The Madrid Magic School Circular, under various combinations of his real and stage names. These are especially honest appraisals, reminding me a little of Pete Biro essays. I particularly enjoyed "FISM Brussels 1979," Carroll's first FISM, and his three-part "Seven Travelers, Four Cities, One Magic." In those he recorded his 1982 travels with Juan Tamariz and his wife, Juan Anton, and Anton Lopez visited NYC, Las Vegas, and Hollywood to enjoy both the magic and the Muggle attractions. (The math of the titles confused me; I'd have called it Five Travelers, Three Cities.) It was fun to compare Carroll's views with my own of the same period.

There is the original Prologue to Volume 1 by Juan Tamariz.

There is Carroll's essay "Conflicts" on how to enhance your magic (12 pp).

There is all the lovely magic from Volumes 1 and 2, 21 titled items in all. In addition to the dramatic tricks mentioned above, I would cite:

Flying Aces -- Sort of McDonald's Aces but a progressive aces routine.

Impossible color change.

Nine-Card Monte -- My favorite in the book to perform, essentially a nine-card version of Wild Card. I modified it somewhat and published it under the name Satan's Monte, in such places as The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts.

Triumph with Fans -- Like the title says. Note that Carroll occasionally credits Paul Harris.

Suit Appearance -- The production of all cards of a chosen sut, with a surprise ending. Inspired by Ricky Jay.

Triple Tacker -- Card on the Wall with three signed cards, one thumbtack.

There are three Unpublished Routines. These include Poosha D'Poosha (a color changing silk trick), The FISM-winning Act: His Magic Touch (Carroll's 1988 FisM winner for card magic, the Hague. Teaser: a pull attached to some cards and a stripper deck are involved), and Gaylord Ravenal The Dice-Stacking Routine.

There is a brief section (3 pp) called Humor, some one-liners that Carroll used. Even with translation and the passage of time, I find it hard to grasp that these were ever funny. I can imagine editor John Lovick squirming as he dealt with them. Unless perhaps erhaps he wanted the Pickup Lines for Handsome Jack.

All in all this is a gorgeous repackaging of Jose Carroll's legacy with material that could make your reputation. Hardback, 288 pp, 8.75 by 12.5 in, plenty of line drawings, $70 from your favorite dealer.

AND MANY MORE -- Although I am reluctant to post the actual number, I will note that I passed an epochal birthday this month, on January 8, same birthday as Elvis's. At least the number is still just two digits. (And I will confess to having lived in parts of nine decades!) It is customary among some of my even older friends to perform a magic show on said birthday, so I obliged at a small family gathering. Rather than perform something out of the past, I chose two that I had been working on. The first was Square Deal, by Simon Aronson, from his terrific book Art Decko. (From a casually shuffled deck, spek cuts off about half. From the remainder, you deal a four by four matrix of cards and use them to give a comedic card reading. You then announce that the spek's favorite number is, say, 24, and that is how many cards she cut off to start. And then note that the four by four matrix is a magic square, all options adding to 24!) The second was Marlo's Perfect Stop Trick, but done with the Patrick G. Redford Photographic deck. The photo cards made it utterly charming and even more deceptive.

Irene, Dante, and Dracula.

The gifts weren't bad either. Maleficent gave me the Pepe Carroll book discussed above, and daughter Vixen gave me, among other things, a flash drive with newspaper images of headlines on my birthdays and Magic Castle stories over the years. Note the fetching image of Irene from that resource. Thanks, guys.


House Rules, 1967.




Arrivederci, Kobe Bryant.



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