AS MY OLD PAPPY USED TO SAY -- Back in my poker-playing days, I did the following, under fire, for money*: It was a game of five-card draw. Using cuss words (a**hole meant ace, for example), I would signal a partner what card I needed to make a great hand. Holding two aces, I would request two cards from the dealer, but secretly toss three into the discards, leaving me a card short. After the betting, I'd toss my hand face down, declaring three aces. My partner, with an ace palmed, would challenge me verbally as he would reach over, add his ace to my four cards, and turn my hand up to reveal the three aces I had claimed. It was sweet. This scam and hundreds of other far more practical scams and advantage plays are the subject of Steve Forte's wonderful Casino Game Protection/A Comprehensive Guide. Although I expected the book to be authoritative, I was unprepared for what a feast it is. I have so far concentrated on chapters involving playing cards (there are three on blackjack, one on baccarat, one on Asian games including Pai Gow poker, one on poker, and one on universal scams including marked cards; the main additional topics in the book are craps and roulette), and every page is rich with jaw-dropping new concepts. These scams and ploys aren't magic tricks, but they are as clever, as satisfying, and as tempting as magic tricks. Occasionally I had to stop reading, pull out a deck of cards, and try stuff, such as a hole card switch for blackjack. Most in magic as well as gambling consider that Steve Forte is the most knowledgeable as well as the most skilled expert in this field, but I didn't realize he would also be an excellent writer. What could have been dry reading (extreme card counting details, for example) reads like a novel. Despite legendary status, Steve is also most unassuming (contrast his writing with Scarne's!) and comes through as a really nice guy. The book is also a physical wonder, illustrated with hundreds of crisp, clear Bill Taylor photos, all in color, that you begin to truly appreciate only when you begin reading and understand how well they illuminate the text. (My only complaint is that the editors didn't pay more heed to their spell checker. There aren't a lot of errors, but there shouldn't have been any.) The book weighs a ton, and it should, not just because of the 628 large-format pages, but because of how much information it holds. The scope of this book is just plain scary, and one can only wonder at how many stories and sneaky ideas Steve Forte isn't letting us in on. As a card "expert," which many of us privately consider ourselves to be, this is stuff you should at least know, and I suspect many, as I, did not. Required--and enjoyable!--reading. $200. I purchased my copy from H&R Magic Books.
GYPSY WITCHCRAFT -- Of the new routines I have foisted on audiences in the past 10 years, two far outclass the others in terms of audience astonishment. One is a self-working trick by Robert Neale. The other is Paul Harris's "Deep Astonishment." I've literally been accused of being in league with Satan after performing it. Paul and Rodney Whitlock have a new version, "Deep Astonishment II," with the primary feature that it is vastly easier to learn. The use of a Gypsy fortune telling deck alleviates the need to use a mnemonic or a crib card, plus it gives a new handling and meaning to the effect. Also included is a new leather wallet rigged to allow you to use anyone's name rather than a word conforming to a Mac King gag as in "D.A. I." But the basic killer effect is the same: You have absolutely predicted a word or name that you could not possibly have known. Personally, I'll probably stick with an ordinary deck and the Mac King gag, but add the new wallet, but these are choices you can make once you have acquired the apparatus and the secret. Either way you do it, this is one of the strongest card tricks ever devised. $45 from your favorite dealer.
It's July and I have yet to head for the beach, but it's not for lack of beach reading. This month celebrates the superb new book on gambling scams by Steve Forte, a new magazine from Great Britain, and a fine batch of sequels: part 2 of material by Paul Harris, Steve Spill, and Barrie Richardson and part 7 of the continuing tale of everyone's favorite wizard, who (spoiler warning!) gets the hang of kissing. It is also the one-year anniversary of The Little Egypt Book of Numbers. If you don't have a copy, do yourself a favor and send H&R Magic Books an order.
WHO'S GOT THE KNIFE? -- Back when I was amassing my doomed-to-extinction VHS library, two of my favorites were the Steve Spill Video Scrap Book and Steve's Hokum & Hype. The good news is that the best of these videos is now available on dvd, a wild weird journey through Steve's hairdos, fashion choices, and especially his outrageous comedy routines from 1980-1990. I first became a fan of Steve Spill when he and Bob Sheets ran the Brook Farm Inn of Magic, and later, via these videos, I coveted many of his routines, including Burnt Bunny, Blood from Stone, Smashed 'N Restored Bottle, Eye-Popper, Hand Is Quicker Than the Eye, his Himber Ring and Bullet Catch routines, plus his great Mindreading Goose. The bad news, though you should not regard it as such, is that these have been and still are performance tapes, not teaching tapes, and Steve is not giving you permission to appropriate his routines. I asked Steve about that once, and he felt the tapes should be viewed as you would view the taped performances of any comic. (My favorite these days on dvd is Eddie Izzard.) But there is still much to learn from this dvd. A terrific addition since the VHS version is a voiceover commentary by Steve (optional) that goes deep into how and why he created the routines, what his influences were, and why he would no longer use a roach clip in his Bill in Lemon trick. He does explain his haunted Broken Mirror, and he announces that the Mindreading Goose will be available, goose and all, from Bob Kohler. Also on the dvd is a documentary on the making of Magicopolis. (The phrase "Who's Got the Knife?" is from Steve's Bill in Lemon routine, which I recall is taught on one of Doc Eason's dvds. Sometimes confusion is magic.) $29.95 from your favorite dealer.
SECOND ACT -- Fans of Barrie Richardson's Theater of the Mind should be equally thrilled with Theater of the Mind Act Two. Richardson is a disgustingly original thinker and creator of delightful presentations, and Stephen Minch has done his usual superb job in editing and publishing. Of the many items I enjoyed, I particularly fancied "Another World" (a new handling of the Daley Switch is applied to "Out of This World"), "Lazy Magician's Memorized Deck" (a quick way to know the position of any red card), "Untouched" (possibly the best solution for "Card At Any Number"), "Letting Go" (a dramatic motivational piece with a teacup), and "Final Ecstasy" (an exceedingly direct mind reading routine, suggested by Aronson's "Simon-Eyes"). $47 plus shipping from Hermetic Press.
BRIT LIT 1 -- Volume 6 of the enormously popular Harry Potter series is at hand, and all my friends and relatives who have read it like this one very much. (I agree.) I won't discuss the ending so as not to create a spoiler, but my "take" on the ending is that things are not as they seem. So far I am the only one who has reached that conclusion, but I nevertheless look forward to Volume 7 with even more eagerness than usual. Meanwhile, we have Movie 4 to look forward to later in the year. P.S.: J.K. Rowling has a gorgeous and magical web site at www.jkrowling.com.
BRIT LIT 2 -- I've had the pleasure of reading the first two issues of the new British magazine, Magicseen. Although the writing exhibits a youthful enthusiasm that makes it not quite Shakespeare, the layouts are stunning and the subject matter (mostly the British magic scene) makes it refreshingly different from what I am used to, with articles so far on Paul Zenon, Noel Britten, Etienne Pradier, David Beglas, Derren Brown, Ali Cook and Pete Firman, Syd Selby and Fanny, and Freaky Magic, among others. I look forward to more. Check the mag out at www.magicseen.co.uk.
*Okay, it was in junior high school, we were playing for pennies, and it was understood that we were all cheating. You had to return the money only when caught. My television hero in those days was James Garner as Maverick, and I learned the scam from a book supposedly by Maverick on poker. Two other favorites from that era were Irwin Steig's Poker for Fun and Profit and Common Sense in Poker, dated but still fine references if you can find them.
For Paul Harris's "Deep Astonishment II" and Steve Spill's 10 Years of Steve Spill 1980-1990, dealers should contact Murphy's Magic Supplies on the web at www.murphysmagicsupplies.com or by phone at (800) 853-7403.
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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