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Woody Aragon is going to fool you.

September 2011

It's September already, and I am still wondering what to do for my summer vacation. Oh, well, back to school. If you are interested in math, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and so on, give the Khan Academy a look. A pretty neat way to learn stuff, especially on an iPad. For learning magic, the first great textbook of the season is reviewed below, along with a great old favorite of which I recently acquired ten copies. Or you could attend a lecture and learn something first hand. I had the rare privilege of giving a lecture this month, and my thanks to all in Chicago who attended. I hope your Halloween will be the better for it. Finally, you could just hang out at the Magic Castle and learn by osmosis, that is if you possess one of the nifty new membership cards recently mailed out. See you next month ...

MY KIND OF TOWN -- I love Chicago. When I was growing up in southern Illinois, Chicago was the epicenter of close-up magic. I made my first trip to the Chicago magic scene as a student at the University of Illinois, and in that one-day trip I met or at least witnessed Jay and Frances Marshall, Tom Palmer, and Senator Crandall. I saw Jim Ryan lecture, and I had dinner with Johnny Platt. (I wound up sleeping in the train station that night, but that's another story.) Years later I would see Marlo lecture, would dine with my family at Schulien's, and would get to know many esteemed Chicago magicians. Given my fondness for Chicago magic, not to mention my fondness for the Bears, the Cubs, and the Bulls, it was hard to say no when Michael Hall phoned recently and invited me to lecture for the Conjurors Corner Magic Club.

Conjurors Corner is an independent Chicago club that meets in Mt. Prospect on fourth Mondays under the auspices of prez Mark Doetsh. A goodly number attended my lecture and made me feel quite welcome, no mean feat given that I was lecturer number three of four in the Chicago area over a seven-day span, and two of the others included such luminaries as John Bannon and Rick Merrill. My deepest thanks to all who turned out.

For the record: With Halloween approaching, I called the lecture The Haunted Chicago Lecture, and I performed and explained the following from The Little Egypt Book of Numbers and The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts:

Nelson Enterprises sold us on the idea that ghost shows could be fun ... and lucrative!

Act I: The Close-up Set

Ranch Hand: This is a wonderful opener, especially with the addition of the Sid Fleischman prop. It’s both scary and funny and sets the tone for the entire act.

Return to Motel 666: It’s a “take no prisoners” routine that lets them know early on that this is magic on the edge.

Jack the Ripper Meets the Last Word Card Stab: Ah, the first trick on the program that introduces an element of danger.

McScary Aces: This is the first trick on the program that looks extremely magical, and it’s the first for which they will gape at your skills.

La Prévision Comique de Séance: This wacky routine with Duvivier’s deck has been one of my favorite magic tricks for the past several years.

Duffie Deep-Sixed: This is a remarkable three-card transposition that I introduced in The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. I eventually developed a spooky version of the trick and revealed it for the first time in this lecture.

The Ghost Palm: My spooky take on Paul Gertner’s spooky trick. Most audiences have never seen anything like this card trick.

Hand Job: A wonderful closer for a set of card tricks, this always gets a fine reaction. When the situation warrants, I do it with an actual candle.

Act II: The Stand-up Set

The Twilight Zone Aces: Jumbo aces help get the idea across that this is the “big” portion of the show.

The Lake Witch Project: I promise customers that I do card tricks that make people scream. This trick delivers on that promise.

A good snake trick always draws a crowd.

Trick or Treat: This basketball production finale is completely unexpected and takes me to a comfort zone.

Aftermath -- Although I enjoyed delivering the lecture, the real fun for me began after the lecture, when several of the club members shared some of their magic with me. Tom Dobrowolski has a lovely routine called Regressive Oil and Water, contained in his 47-page mss with Jeremiah Zhang called Oiater. The progression of this routine, in which it is done with fewer and fewer cards until the surprise ending, is a kick to behold. Available here. And then there was Glenn Morphew's work on the Rub-a-Dub Vanish. I had seen this before -- it's a video download from Vanishing, Inc. -- and the retention of vision aspect is just amazing, even more so in person and right under my nose. Check it out online. Glenn also demoed a deceptive alternative to an Elmsley Count and a number of complete card tricks. All fun stuff. How nice to hang out at Denny's with a few great magicians and Captain Jack Sparrow -- I kid you not.

MAGNIFICO -- Under the unassuming title A Book in English, Spanish magician and Tamariz student/colleague Woody Aragon delivers a blockbuster debut magic book. This 376-page opus, largely devoted to the upper echelon of card magic's mathematical subtleties, is a worthy companion to Tamariz's Mnemonica and the best of Simon Aronson. If this makes the book sound too esoteric, don't worry; it isn't. You get to perform the first two tricks in the book on yourself, and they work whether you know how you did them or not. I had to laugh out loud as each surprised me with a climax I didn't see coming. It just wasn't possible.

A few of the tricks require a Faro shuffle. As this technique isn't in my arsenal, I am most disappointed at not being able to perform such numbers as Woody's "The Human Scale," in which the magician apparently has the ability to gauge the quantity of a bunch of cards by weighing them. Check the September 5th entry in Woody's blog for a YouTube performance of the routine, in which Woody gets nine minutes of solid laughs with it. As with his mentor, Juan Tamariz, devious mathematical principles underly commercial, comedic performance pieces.

Woody's Anti-Faro.

Of course, many effects avoid math altogether. A chapter of sleights highlights "The Separagon," a utility approach to accomplishing what Lennart Green's "Angle Separation" does, with several uses. A chapter on special cards includes several that I want to do. "Do Not Get Confused" is a take-off on a Nick Trost effect in which cards flip over at will and then all turn blank. "Clockwork Woody" is a Clock effect in which all the cards are blank. "The Psychic Deck" is an amazing study in what you can do with a deck of shuffled YES-NO cards.

At the opposite extreme, a chapter on "The Permanent Deck Principle" analyzes a deck that retains its order no matter how many times it is shuffled, taking us into intellectual deep weeds. The standout use for this is an effect called "Postcards," in which you predict the order of a stack of postcards no matter how many times the specs shuffle it.

In between are a host of goodies. My favorite routine in the book, and one that fooled me at the outset, is "How to Find Your Other Half," in which the specs create an astonishing coincidence with cards ripped up and shuffled in their own hands. Woody should have sold this to Copperfield, and it would kill on television. "Si Fry" allows the spec to remove a random number (say 10) of cards from a shuffled deck, and the magi divines each card. "Bored of Shuffling" is an improvement to Simon Aronson's "Shuffle Bored." "Psychic Poker" allows the spec to deal poker hands off the top or bottom of a shuffled deck. The magi then divines the winner, the contents of each hand, the position of one of the cards, and so on. "Blessed Poker" is a fine ten-card poker deal routine, and I would definitely combine it with "Winner's Intuition," which allows you to determine which poker hand is the winner of hands fairly shuffled and secreted in separate card boxes. Dang, there is just so much good material here. (Minor rant: In this book, as it was in the recently reviewed Square from Patrick G. Redford, it was a "given" that Mel Gibson is Bret Maverick. No, no, no. That movie was just a blip on the legend. James Garner is Bret Maverick!)

Woody weighs the cards.

Rounding out the magic is an interview with Woody and a selection of essays. All are novel and insightful, and I particularly enjoyed the essay on the structure of magic. Others will be praising this book, and someone is going to fool you badly with this material if you don't get to it first. This is what is so frustrating about a book such as this. That is, just how much other killer material is out there that we don't know about, in Spanish, in Japanese, in French, etc.? Ah, what a nice field of study magic is.

Hardback, 376 pages, a lavish production, $49.95, from your favorite dealer. Foreword by Juan Tamariz. I got mine from H&R Magic Books.

A MERCENARY MOMENT -- It's no secret to readers of this sheet that The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts is a great resource for scary Halloween-oriented magic. What is not quite so well known is that The Little Egypt Book of Numbers is similarly packed with magic from the dark side. Given the book's charter as a compendium of killer bar magic, it should be noted that some of that bar magic first saw the light of day (or, more correctly, the dark of night) in October at my favorite Little Egypt bar.

To quote from "The Numbers Game" in The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts, "'October 31, 1926'" is a three-card discovery with a commercial 'Haunted Deck.' 'Eight-Card Brainwave Goes to Paris' is a nice hand chopper routine invoking the French Revolution. 'Horrors, the Halloween Card on Belly Button Ring' may be one of the most talked about Card to Impossible Location routines you will ever do, enhanced by a plot involving Hollywood horror movies. The title tells the story. It's sexy as well as mysterious, and you will have fun working on and performing it. '221B Baker Street,' which I always called 'From the Case Book of Sherlock Holmes' before morphing it into a numeric title, is a nice mystery that is a staple of my ghost show repertoire... And 'Cheaper by the Dozen,' which I present in ghost show situations under the title 'Rotten to the Core,' is a Card to Apple routine involving a worm and a Super Soaker water gun. Presented as a Halloween 'bobbing for apples' trick, it started as a four-phase Tom Mullica routine that I condensed and simplified into a one-phase routine."

Favorites reprised in The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts first appeared in Book of Numbers, including 'Motel 666,' '60-Second Card Reading,' and the scariest trick in the book, 'The Lake Witch Project' (under the title 'Double, Double, Toil and Trouble').

Finding a card impaled on Tinker Bell's navel ring.

Of course, there is also an ample supply of magic for the 364 days of the year that aren't Halloween, material that, to quote David Regal's Genii review, includes "creative routines that are bewildering, shocking, astounding, and/or humorous." There is a Card to Fly routine that will get you kissed, a shocking new ending to a fabulous Peter Duffie routine that I often use to close an act, and "The World's Most Obscene 21-Card Trick," arguably the most-performed trick in the book, that lives up to (or down to) its title.

Ah, you say, you are a long-time reader and have heard all this before, so why bring it up again? And the answer is: For the first time since the book's publication, I have a few copies of my own to dispense. (Specifically, ten copies.) I usually advise you to procure the books from the publisher, H&R Magic Books, and still do (Marshall Petersen will shoot them and other fine volumes to you lickety-split), but ten of you can make Maleficent happy if you order from me. Send $35 via check or money order to Steve Bryant, 1639 Sycamore Court, Bloomington IN 47401, and I'll send your copy Priority Mail postpaid in the U.S. Please indicate if you would like the copy signed. Either way you order, Book of Numbers can significantly add to your Halloween fun. (P.S. The sequel, Book of Ghosts, is almost out of print. Order now from H&R or risk being subjected to Ebay prices.)

From the trick "Love Potion Number 9":

"You say the magician gets kissed every time he does this trick? I love it!"

Complete reviews are available in The Bookstore.

MAGIC CASTLE CARD TRICK -- One of the disadvantages of living in the Midwest is that you do not get to hang out at the Magic Castle. Nevertheless, membership also has its advantages, one being the online access to Who's Hoo, Fitzgerald's delightful interview chat show. The latest installment features Chipper Lowell and Dana Daniels and was great fun to watch.

Chipper Lowell and Dana Daniels costar on Who's Hoo.

Midwest living also isolates us from the politics that necessarily attend the Castle, but it's nice to notice, even from afar, that things seem to be improving. Neil Patrick Harris, who must be the best multi-tasker around, is kicking ass as prez and getting things done. One indication to arrive in the mail recently is the new membership card, featuring the long-promised five percent discount on food, beverages, and gifts. The new card came handsomely packaged and is a card any magi would be proud to carry. Yea, Neil.

The new Magic Castle membership card arrives in style.

OK, that's Bret on the left, Bart on the right.

Halloween is coming. Do you know where your copy of The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts is?

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 frequently journeys to and performs 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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