By Jack Tighe
Recently, while I was engaged in one of my altogether too frequent 4am YouTube marathons, I came across this video of Chris Pratt doing a simple card trick for Will I Am and Jennifer Lawrence. My reaction was not a favourable one, at least initially. The trick seemed to take forever, the handling was dull, ugly and unsophisticated and there was no attempt at an interesting presentation. Yet, at the end, Jennifer Lawrence reacted like she’d seen real magic. What gives?
At first I was, like many magicians who saw that clip, scornful...
“Pfft. If she thought that disaster of a trick was good, she should see me do card magic. I could blow her away”
The scorn, predictably, turned to scepticism...
“Yeah, well, she’s an actress. She probably just acted amazed for the camera”
The scepticism, eventually, became confusion and exasperation...
“I don’t get it?! His sleight of hand was awful, how could she be so amazed by that?!”
Maybe we should back up a bit. Clearly, there was something in that trick that caused her to react the way she did. I thought about it for a while, stopped being such a card snob, and realised that on a fundamental level, the trick is a strong one. In order to understand why, we need to take a look at what magic really is.
To my mind magic is not, as has been frequently postulated, the experience of wonder, a simulation of supernatural occurrences or the transportation of a person to a state of childlike amazement.
Magic, simply put, is an unexpected, temporary disruption in a person’s constant processing of cause and effect. That jolt you feel when a trick hits you hard is your brain attempting to process a situation that does not appear to be causally linked to the conditions that led to that situation. It is a reflexive and unconscious response to certain external stimuli.
So how does this link back to our terrible card trick? There are two points to consider:
The procedure used to place the key and secretly locate the selection, while unsophisticated and cozy, is effective in the very important sense that Jennifer Lawrence does not believe that Chris Pratt could know the identity of the selection.
(Edit - Now I watch the clip and it's not 4am, I realise that the procedure is actually a low tech force! The AH is third from top, and the top two indifferent cards are the fours.)
The sequence used to remove the indifferent cards and hide the selection, while unsophisticated and cozy, is effective in the very important sense that Jennifer Lawrence does not believe that the selection is amongst that group of cards.
If Jennifer believes that the selected card is not amongst the group handed to Will, and she believes that Chris could not know what the selection was in the first place, when Will is left suddenly holding his own card, Jennifer is faced with a situation that does not appear to be causally linked to the conditions that created that situation. The result? a reflexive reaction of actual amazement from Jennifer. Verdict? Good Trick.
The lesson to be learned here is that you should always objectively consider the design process of a magic trick from the perspective of a layman. Don’t allow your own preferences and biases to cloud your judgement of what is and is not “good magic”. If you do, you run the risk of being totally upstaged by a handsome dude who can do a glide, and you’ll go home crying into your diagonal palm shift.
Let’s take a look at a cleaner and more efficient way to do this trick.
Start by having the deck shuffled. Take it back, glimpsing the bottom card in the process. This will be your key card. Do a quick overhand shuffle, taking the key card to the top of the deck.
“I’d like to show you a new skill I’ve been working on. It’s called shuffle tracking. I’m not that good at it yet, so I’ll only try to track one card. Will you please call stop as I run through and remember the card you see?”
Hold the deck toward the spectator in position for a riffle peek. Riffle through the cards and have them call stop and remember the card that they see. Close up the deck and lower it, retaining a break below the selection.
“It’s called shuffle tracking because I can hopefully follow your card even though I mix up the deck”
You will now place the key next to the selection in the action of performing a quick quadruple cut to the table. Start by cutting off half of the cards above your break to the table. Then cut at the break, and table these cards directly on top of the first packet. Cut a third and fourth time, ending with the whole deck on the table. These actions have secretly placed your key card immediately below the peeked selection.
“Even though I mixed the deck, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea where your card ended up. It should be one of this group”
Pick up the deck, spread through it with the faces toward yourself and cut the selection and the five cards above it to the top. Turn the deck face down into dealing grip, and spread off five cards, taking a break under the sixth. Flip the five cards face up onto the deck, retaining the break, and pick off all six cards above the break. These will consist of five faceup cards followed by the facedown selection. Place the deck aside.
“Just take a look at these five cards. If I did the tracking right, it should be here”
You will now apparently show the cards one at a time, but thanks to a genius idea of Francis Carlyle, the selection will not be seen. Holding the packet in dealing grip, take the first face up card, show it, and ask the spectator if it is their selection. When they say no, place it facedown underneath the packet. Repeat this another four times until you run out of faceup cards. Each time, the spectator will confirm that the card they see is not theirs. You have apparently shown five cards very fairly, and it has been seen that the selected card in not among the five. In reality, their selection is on top of the now facedown packet.
“It’s really not there? Damn. I was afraid this might happen. I guess I’ll have to give up shuffle tracking and revert to my ninja skills. Allow me to show you the super ninja judo death slap of glory”
Turn the packet face up and hand it to the spectator, having them hold it between their thumb and first finger as seen in the youtube clip. Ask them to concentrate on their card. To finish, sharply slap the packet in a downward motion. This will dislodge all the other cards, leaving their faceup selection staring them in the face.
Finish with an appropriately dramatic closing line...