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The IBM and SAM meet in St. Louis.
In case you missed it, check out June's spooky Lilly Library issue. The exhibition is ongoing.
It's July, and thanks to earlier and earlier school days, almost the end of summer. Just not right.
As to magic, I recently enjoyed six days in St. Louis with over 1300 like-minded folks at the IBM/SAM Combined Convention. I picked up a bunch of stuff in the dealer room, including the four books reviewed below: Dark Matter Secrets, Beyond Imagination, The Complete Al Leech, and Betcha! Who says book publishing is waning?
Thanks to all who said hello, and I wish I could have chatted with more of you. I particularly regret not meeting Alan Watson, who I learned later was there. Ah, well, some day down the road ...
Meanwhile, I appreciate anyone who mentioned reading this column. And as always, if you missed the convention or attended and wish to recall it, Scott Wells recorded a ton of stuff for his Magic Word podcast. I still have two days of chats to go. Thanks, Scott.
CLUB MEETING -- From what I saw of it, the IBM/SAM combined convention in St. Louis was great. Unfortunately, I saw only about half of it. There were three reasons for this. First, my recent new eyeglasses prescription just wasn't up to the task of long-distance viewing. If this had been satisfactory, the next two reasons wouldn't have been so serious. Second, almost all of the convention performances and lectures involved long-distance viewing. Virtually all of the live shows took place in a ballroom large enough to house all 1400 attendees, in the the beautiful Ferrara Theatre just across the street from the hotel, or in the majestic Peabody Opera House, a twelve-minute walk (or a short bus ride) from the hotel. By any standard, all three spaces were cavernous. Third, the A/V capability that might have provided ample viewing on various video screens sucked. The cameras were often unmanned, and the focus was set zoomed all the way out, so that the images on the screens were smaller than the distant live images. This situation improved a bit as the week dragged on, but was never first rate or universally available. Given all these problems, I simply could not see such wonderful acts as Tina Lenert or the Korean manipulators, hence will not be mentioning them below. (Note: except for my crabbing about the A/V, everything else ran smoothly, on time, etc.)
My view at the Ferrara from the Top Tier, Box Right.
But enough negativity from Mr. Four Eyes. Let's move on to what I did see ...
PERFORMANCES. Here's a short list of the best of the best ...
The 3-D kid show. The best, absolutely most enjoyable show of the convention was the kid show featuring Doug Scheer, Danny Orleans, and David Kaye (Silly Billy). For this, the trio had provided two busses full of kids who were, along with me and the large adult audience, in hysterics throughout. David Kaye's act in particular was screamingly funny.
The Fat Brothers. Christian Engblom, MIguel Angel Gea, and Dani DaOrtiz all kill individually, but it's fun to see them play off each other. Their closing multiple-method Triumph was a delight.
Th Fat Brothers Closeup Show.
Shawn Farquhar. I loved seeing Shawn's signature signed card to cased deck routine (At a Magi-fest, Mike Powers and I once followed Shawn from room to room to figure the dang thing out) along with a nifty book test featuring a blank book.
Alex Ramon. I've been following Alex's career via articles in the magazines and his podcasts (go check an especially enjoyable two-hour interview on Scott Wells' themagicword.com), but this was the first time I got to see him work extensively. With an illusion act relying on heavy collaboration with Jim Steinmeyer, Alex opened with a new "acoustic" levitation illusion that begins in full light, then closes in darkness with Alex and his assistant seemingly wrapped in neon. Great visuals! He closed the show with Jarrett's Sawing an Egg illusion. If you are familiar with this, then big applause to Alex's assistant, Megan.
Alex Ramon looked great on this stage.
Ted Kim. One of the Korean superstars, he achieved amazing transformations by projecting images onto his white props and his white outfit. The most original act of the convention.
Timothy Trust and Diamond. A German illusionist, Timothy performed the sword through cardboard box illusion made famous by Hans Moretti. I have no clue whatsoever.
Gaston entertained me well with an improv bit with a piece of rope and a longer Magicians' Anonymous sketch. He's a terrific actor.
Xavier Mortimer. Of Cirque du Soleil. He had several turns on stage, but my favorite involved his image in a mirror coming alive and behaving on its own. Although I couldn't see it perfectly live, I have found the act on YouTube and enjoyed it since. Quite spooky, including a beheading.
Mike Caveney. Mike's Coffee Break and other routines from the best books of 2013 are always a thrill to watch. (I'm sure Tina was great as well, with her Mopman routine, but I couldn't see her.)
Jessica Reed. Jessica showed off her new auctioneering chops at the banquet, raising some money for Joanie Spina. A nice new skill from one of the Reed girls (and by the way, they qualified for FISM).
Two Girls from Switzerland. This was one of the contest acts, featuring feather flowers and costume changes. I've never been a fan of feather flowers, but the quick change sequences were magical, and I greatly enjoyed the act.
Richard Hatch. In an impromptu performance in the dealer room, Richard performed Nankin Tamasudare that dramatizes his illustrated book, Taro-San the Fisherman and the Weeping Willow Tree. As I believe Richard did, I first encountered this art form in a Martin Lewis lecture.
Richard Hatch conjures patterns in space.
LECTURES. Despite my optical constraints, some information made it through ...
Henry Evans. Henry concocts wonderful gaffed card routines, but this year he blew me away with his work on The Trick that Cannot Be Explained. I shall have to acquire his DVDs.
Christian Engblom. It was nice to see his Cooler deck switch done properly.
Dani DaOrtiz. I do own Utopia already, and Dani's work this week will send me back to study it. His apparent chaos is a joy to behold, and to listen to. Much of Dani's deception is audio, so I didn't have to see it to admire it. Without explaining it, Dani closed with his Triple Intuition. A masterpiece!
David Stone. I had never before seen anyone explain the sword swallowing stunt with a long balloon. David's method for subsequently restoring the balloon was hilarious.
Martin Eisle. I enjoyed Martin's one-hand Matrix with coins and his two-hand Matrix with dice.
Shawn Farquhar. As part of his Omni Deck explanation, Shawn taught a killer invisible deck switch.
PRODUCTS. It was a fun dealer room. I think I purchased more at this convention than at any in recent memory. (This is not a list of the only great items at the convention, just those that I bought.)
H&R Books on display.
Dark Matter Secrets. This is a new book from Abbott's and wins my vote (and that of others) as the surprise hit of the convention. This is a whopper of a book, of the same size and heft of the old Abbott's catalogs, and it's jammed full of Halloween tricks and routines. From Alien Intruder to Zombie, this book contains nearly 150 titled spooky items, including mentalism, illusions (complete plans), talking skulls and rapping hands, seances, rope ties, fortune telling, haunted cabinets and houses, living and dead tests, and spooky ventriloquism(!). 412 pages, softbound, large format. The best bit: it's only $25! The cheesy old drawings will make you want to throw a scary party. More details below.
The boys of Magic, Inc.
Beyond Imagination. By Norman Gilbreath, from H&R Books. Norman's own pet routines with his famous principle, along with other mysteries. 350 pages, hardback, plus CD. More details below.
The Complete Al Leech. From Magic, Inc. I grew up on the Al Leech books from Magic, Inc., and it's nice to see them compiled into a handsome hardback, edited by Danny Rudnick. This is one of four important books coming from this legendary Chicago shop this summer. 262 pages, hardback. More details below.
Books from Chicago, summer 2014.
Betcha! How to Win Free Drinks for Life. By Simon Lovell, from Magic, Inc. These are great! I'll tease you with one. 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 = 555. Add one straight line to make the sum correct. And no, it's not a slash across the equal sign to make it read "not equal." 170 pages, softbound. Simon teaches devilish secrets on how to win your money back. More details below.
Unbalance. From Kreis. This is a balancing toothpick. The toothpick balances precariously on a deck of cards until a spectator knocks it off, and then it will balance no more, until you want it to. It's a strange magical power, but nevertheless diabolical construction and only $16.
Mr. Poo Poo. Okay, full disclosure. This is a paddle trick with which you produce a small pile of poop. Hey, you get what you pay for: only $5. (You can see it here, complete with sound effects.)
Royalistic. By Juan Tamariz, from Meir Yedid. A nice royal flush packet trick that Meir fooled me with. $25. But if you don't have it, you should really pick up the Zarrow book from Meir, as he is down to his last few copies. It is fabulous and the last word on the Zarrow shuffle.
Closeup pads. I picked up two nice ones, one from Pattrick's Magical Surfaces, the other from Trevor Duffy.
But wait, there's more: Some other fine stuff was there that I did not purchase (yet). Richard Kaufman's new audio CDs of Michael Skinner are now available. Losander had a great thumb tie. Kreis was selling and demonstrating the Tenyo ribbon on ring discussed here previously. And Joe Stevens sold out of his new floating bill.
Coming soon: The two more books from Magic, Inc. this summer are McCombical/The Wit and Wisdom of Billy McComb and The Grandson of Simon Says. I look forward to both. Meir Yedid is working on a book of the magic of Lennart Green. And way down the road, Richard Kaufman is doing a book on the magic of Dani DaOrtiz. Let's apply the screws to hurry that one up!
MAGIC. The real magic at a convention is that done after hours, close-up, one on one. I did not see a tight cluster of young hip card workers at this convention, or anyone doing much magic after hours. This is one of the several areas to which this convention did not stack up to the last combined convention at Louisville. Therefore, I really appreciate those who did take the time to show me their latest. Thanks to Marc McGuire from Paris for showing me his color changing deck, to Eugene Burger for showing me a bill switch he credits all the way back to Bob McAllister, and to Michael Close for showing me an Inversion-type card trick whose patter will not make it into MUM. Perhaps the best trick was one that I only heard about, a Gordon Bean trick that he showed at a recent Thirty-one Faces North, called 27. Love to have seen Gordon do it.
FACILITIES. As I suggested above, this convention did not stack up to Louisville, and mainly because the Galt at Louisville had that magnificent bridge between its twin towers. That was the best gathering place I've seen at any convention ever. At this current convention, the bar was nice for after-hours socializing but not roomy enough for 1400 registrants. Still, a very nice hotel, fine rooms, friendly staff, pricey food but there were plenty of reasonable restaurants nearby, chilly ballroom, great free parking, not great lack of free internet but came prepared, and excellent banquet food. (Speaking of the banquet, wasn't there entertainment at the last one? It's cruel to make us gather just to hear presidential citations.)
Not bad for banquet food.
SUMMING UP. To sum up, I wish I could have seen more. The theaters were lovely, but I was too far away. But I attend conventions for the camaraderie, not the formal shows, and of this I had little to want. It's always great to see old friends and to make new ones. (I even attended a great birthday party that made me feel, as George Gobel did, when he said, "Did you ever feel the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?") Everyone seemed to be having a fine time, from folks I didn't know to guys like Lance and Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger who came to help with the kids (there was a new seven-to-twelve age group along with the teen group). Next year, I hope to return to the privately run conventions, with Magi-fest, MAGIC Live!, and Genii: The Conjurer's Convention. I hope to see you there. (I'll be the guy with the binoculars.)
Meanwhile, all best wishes to Shawn Farquhar and Ice McDonald for a great year.
THE DARK SIDE OF ABBOTT'S -- For over eighty years, Abbott's has published a lot of downright spooky magic, either in book form, magazine form, workshop plans, or instructions. About eight years ago the staff began compiling, updating, re-illustrating, and politically correcting this wealth of dark material, and the final product is impressive. Of the nearly 150 items that make up Dark Matter Secrets, there are over twenty full-scale illusions (including the Buzz Saw Illusion, Catch a Ghost, Girl Without a Middle, Headless Woman, Tom Palmer's Satan's Seat, and Seeing Through a Girl); over half a dozen small spooky chambers (Sefalaljia and its cousins), half a dozen levitations/animations involving silks, candles, and a playing card; plenty of straight mentalism and fortune-telling; a dozen or so seances and spirit cabinet routines(including the Thurston Spirit Cabinet, a black-art chamber); and numerous parlor magic items (try Magic Mirror that vanishes body parts in your reflection, a Rising Broom, a brilliant Rising Cards Close-up, a Snake Basket, a Zombie). Some illusions are elaborate and a challenge to build, others satisfyingly simple, such as Sorcar's Flying Carpet, which might give Jim Steinmeyer's Broadway carpet a run for its money. Many are authored by the Abbott's staff, while others are the practical, baffling offspring of a familiar cast: Eddie Joseph, Stewart James, U.F. Grant, Loring Campbell, Ormond McGill, and Eddie Clever, to mention a few. Wonderful stuff, and I dare you to flip through its pages and not plan your next Halloween party. 412 pages, a scant $25.
Every night is Halloween at Abbott's.
ORDER IN THE COURT -- Any book that begins with an argument favoring the Leibniz calculus notation over Newton's is not going to be your ordinary book of card magic. In Beyond Imagination, the new hardback from H&R Books, Norman Gilbreath quickly moves on to his own notation for representing the distribution of playing cards under various shuffling situations, a nice tool for proving his famous principle. If all this sounds daunting, don't worry (at least not too much): the arcane notation quickly drops away as Norman moves onto various interesting magic tricks that make up complete acts.
One of the pleasures of my visits to the Magic Castle has been encounters with Norman. He is apt to have a little briefcase with him from which he can produce the cards or whatever needed to perform, say, Act number 34. I did not realize, during those encounters, how seriously Norman took what constitutes an act. That is made clear in this new book, in which he lays out his essentials for an act: it should have an engaging premise, there should then be increased interest, and finally a sense of completion. Throughout the book, Norman designs acts that meet these criteria.
A modern classic.
As might be expected of anyone familiar with the Gilbreath Principle, there are tricks in which shuffled decks produce inexplicable coincidences, with values matching, colors matching, multi-colored backs matching, and so on. But it isn't all material with regular playing cards. There are also routines with Chinatown Dollars, colored magnets (Bob Wagner had suggested Color Magnets as a gag title to vary off of Norman's seminal Magnetic Colors, and Norman rose to the challenge), magic wands, envelopes containing halves of credit cards, Mike Powers' Diminishing Returns deck, a special Tarot deck, cards that turn blank and then reprint, a dollar bill, and so on.
Because I had always envisioned Norman as a serious mathematician and card genius, I had forgotten how funny and apt his patter can be. For example, when a selected card (let's say the six of clubs) turns up next to its mate, the six of spades, and they are the only cards that match in the spread, Norman announces that he has found the selection by this means, the six of clubs. "You may wonder, why isn't it the six of spades?" he says. "I've seen all this before. It's the six of clubs." I find this both funny and amazing.
Altogether this 350-page hardback will be a unique addition to your library, full of self-working and baffling tricks, interesting theory, groundbreaking math, plus a CD with even more tricks that you can do on your computer. $55.
BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL -- Along with English lit and chemistry and rudimentary French, a large part of my high school education came from Al Leech, via those marvelous little books from Magic, Inc. The titles are still magical to me: Don't Look Now, For Card Men Only, The Hot Card Tricks, Manipulating with Leech, Card Man Stuff, Handbook of Card Sleights, Cardmanship, Super Card Man Stuff, and Al Leech's Legacy. To this day I perform Mr. Leech's Ace Sandwich as the final phase of my favorite Sandwich trick. And many of you probably do Chicago Opener or Red Hot Mama, which first appeared here.
A journalist writes card man stuff.
The good news is that all the above texts have been incorporated into a new hardback from Magic, Inc., The Complete Al Leech. Edited by Danny Rudnick with a foreword by Roberto Giobbi, the tricks have been shuffled from their original order into chapters of like effects or subjects. Photos have been added to supplement the Schmidt-like original drawings, and Danny Rudnick has added contemporary comments. (I am told that minor errors have also been corrected.) A nifty index ties all the tricks back to their original titles, and a second index cites all the names and book titles that appear.
What can I say? I have always loved the Al Leech material and look forward to some quiet time to revisit it in this handsome new edition. Mr. Leech, welcome to my main library room. You've been tucked away with the paperbacks for too long. From Magic, Inc. 262 pages. $49.95.
GOTCHA -- Simon Lovell's Betcha/How to Win Free Drinks for Life is a slick, sweet softcover that should be a huge seller for Magic, Inc. It's a lovely gift for yourself or for some dark, fiendish friend who might take its diabolical secrets to heart. This is for the bad boys who not only want to learn some cool bar bets, but to actually win them at bars and get away with it.
A questionable goal, but great methods.
Simon teaches how to find the mark, how to befriend the mark, how to execute the hook, line, and sink, and how to exploit the cool off, to smooth the feathers of the poor sap you've just taken. The bets themselves are great fun and most new to me. Some are knowledge bets, many are physical (hitting a $20 with darts, extracting beer from a bottle, tearing a napkin into three pieces, tying a cigarette into a knot), many are with cards (the game of 31 will take some practice), several of my favorites are with math. I mentioned one above in the IBM/SAM review. Ready for the secret? Naaaah. That wouldn't be true to Simon's code. You must buy me that drink first. I know -- we can go double or nothing. How about I + XI = X. Make that work without adding any lines, straight or curved. I suggest that you just buy the book and save yourself the grief. 170 pages, beautifully done with photos and great cartoons of Simon, only $25 from Magic, Inc.
Stuff you don't want to explain to your wife.
Lucas Mackenzie is almost here!
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