Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rediscovering the Past (and the US dates)

First off, I just wanted to announce the US dates for the tour...

I'll be in New York City, at Fantasma Magic ( on Thursday October 28th, 2010. I'll also be in Baltimore, at Denny and Lee's Magic Studio ( on Saturday October 30th, 2010. If you live in either of these cities (or a short distance from either) and you're reading this, I hope to see you there. And if you do come out, please introduce yourself  to me. Now, to the subject for this blog installment...

There's a lot of information out there... magic has been exposed in printed literature for over half a millenium (500+ years). That's a lot of magic.

Over time, there are many effects, routines, methods, and ideas that fall by the wayside. Much of this occurs due to better effects, routines, methods, and ideas taking their place. However, sometimes I think things simply fall through the cracks. Enter the following principle. It's old (though relatively new when compared to some others) and it's reasons for falling out of fashion are somewhat unclear to me. I think it has a lot of potential. I'll provide a brief introduction and history, followed by a fun application to use on your fellow magicians, as it looks like the old 21 Card Trick but it quickly changes gears. I'll be talking more about this principle during my lecture, as well as providing some other cool applications. I encourage you to play with this principle and see what you come up with. Enjoy.

The Principle

                The ‘pointer principle’ as it has become known, is the one-way principle applied to the faces of the cards. Most magicians are aware of the one-way principle for the backs of the cards, but not as many are aware that some cards are one-way on their faces. And, those that do know about this fact, often never use it. There are 22 cards in total which are ‘one-way’ cards: the Ace, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of hearts, clubs and spades, and the 7 of diamonds (24 if you include the two jokers). If you look carefully at these cards, you’ll notice that the arrangements of the pips allow for cards to be differentiated in their orientation (photo 1, 2).

                 PHOTO 1                                                                                                   PHOTO 2

The first mention of this principle in print that I’ve found thus far is in New Magical Sleights and Fakes which was first published in 1906. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that this is the earliest source for the principle. It just seems too intuitive an idea to not be older. And, given that until the mid 1800s, playing cards were all one-way faces (photo 3, 4) the concept must’ve been thought-of much earlier. Perhaps though it wasn’t until the one-way feature became disguised (in the mid 1800s) that the principle became more usable for performers, and that’s why it’s not in print earlier. Or, perhaps it really isn’t that old, and it’s one of those obvious things that just took a while to catch on.

                PHOTO 3                                                                                                     PHOTO 4

Either way, the principle first gained widespread notice when it was published in Greater Magic. Charles Jordan made use of the principle in some of his published effects, as did Annemann and Paul Curry. Hugard and Braue published uses for the principle in both Encyclopedia of Card Tricks and in Expert Card Technique. Most recently, Roberto Giobbi used the principle in one of the effects in his excellent Card College: Light. Joshua Jay also included the principle in his new Joshua Jay’s Amazing Book of Cards. The principle has seen print in magazines such as The Bat, The Linking Ring, The New Conjuror’s Magazine, and Genii. However, I feel that many applications of this principle have been underexplored, at least in print (I’ve been told that many of the past masters have played with this principle, but much of the information is in personal correspondence and not available publicly. I’ve never seen any of it myself).

In the pages that follow, I will detail some techniques and ideas incorporating and relying on the pointer principle. Pretty much all of this material will be self-working. One of the great things about this principle is that it allows very clean handling of selected cards and such a fair mixing process. These two things combine to make powerful effects which don’t require sleight of hand. In fact, in one case, you will be using your audience’s card handling abilities to make the effect work (this is usually used as a ‘magician-fooler’). I hope that these ideas may spark some of your own, and hopefully this forgotten principle will see some light again.

Okay, and here's the application, enjoy...

The 21st Century 21 Card Trick


A version of the 21 card trick that becomes much more interesting


A deck of playing cards; a table


Have the 22 pointer cards arranged facing the same way. Have these 22 cards with a block of 10 cards on top. Thus, the 22 pointer cards should be occupying positions 11 through 32 in the deck. The description assumes that you are at a table, and have two spectators—one to your left, and one to your right.


Have the spectator on your left select a card, forcing him to take one from the block of 22 pointers. Make sure the selected card is not turned end-for-end. Hand the deck to the spectator on the right, turning the deck end-for-end. Ask him to deal twenty cards into a pile in front of him.

Once he’s done, ask the spectator on your left to place his card anywhere into the packet just dealt. This puts the selected pointer the wrong direction in the packet. This packet can now be shuffled by both spectators. Because of the size of the packet, the most convenient (and therefore likely) shuffle will be an overhand shuffle. Overhand shuffles make it virtually impossible for cards to be turned end-for-end, so letting them shuffle is recommended.

Deal the twenty-one cards face-up into three rows of seven, as per the traditional 21 card trick. However, in this case all you have to do is look for the pointer card facing the opposite direction to the rest, and that is the selected card.

Ask which row the card is in, and once you’re told (and the groans have started), gather up the piles, placing the selected pile in the middle. This is where you throw a wrench in the whole operation. Offer them a chance to shuffle the packet. This cannot be done with the standard 21 card trick and so now you will have them thinking.

At this point, since you know what the selected card is, you can reveal it in any way you wish. You can continue the procedure as in the standard 21 card trick, simply revealing the card by noting where it lies in the packet after the third deal. You can steal the card out of the packet and reveal it in your pocket; you can simply read their mind and divine their card. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity and methodology.


If you go the route of deciding to continue with the dealing procedure (to torture and delight), you can regain control of the 22 pointer cards by dealing the cards in a haphazard manner. For example, when dealing out the three piles, deal them in such a way that when you pick them up, the 11 pointer cards that will be in there will end up together, on the bottom of the packet. After revealing the card, drop the twenty-one cards onto the deck, and the stack of 22 pointers will again be together, buried ten cards from the top.

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