Discover more from Marty's Magic Ruseletter
Monthly Update #2 (Feb 2023)
In this month's update, we talk about the Exploring Erdnase Book Club, and how comic book characters, such as Spider-Man and Mysterio, can influence how we present our magic tricks.
This is the February monthly update from Marty’s Magic Ruseletter. Yeah, I know. Today is the first day of April! Although I started writing this update weeks ago, life got in the way, and it took me a long time to finish it. As a dad of three young daughters with a full-time job, it is often challenging to find time for my hobbies.
I did plan to publish this update on the first Sunday of every month. On reflection, this doesn’t make much sense, so I’ve decided to post it on the last day of the month, whatever day that ends up being. And rather than miss the February and March updates, I’ve decided to publish them late. I’ll be publishing the March update in a few days to get me back on track. The April update will appear in your email inbox on Sunday the 30th of April, hopefully!
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I’ve also decided to share more of my magic directly on Substack because I’ve enjoyed writing on the platform over the past two months for my Exploring Erdnase Book Club. In addition, I want to reward people who go to the effort of subscribing with some exclusive content. The material published in the Ruseletter will be aimed at intermediate to advanced amateur magicians. In contrast, the articles on my blog, Marty’s Bag of Tricks, will be written predominantly for beginners (although I’m hoping all magicians will find them helpful, no matter their skill level).
I’ll still publish all of my trick tutorials on my blog because it will enable me to add helpful features to the pages not available in Substack, such as page indexes to improve navigation. Remember, you can access all the trick explanations on this secret unlisted page. In addition, I’ll still post regular articles to the blog and continue to include links to my latest posts in these monthly updates for your convenience.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent most of my free time re-reading The Expert at the Card Table for my Exploring Erdnase Book Club. We’re approximately a quarter of the way through the book. However, there’s still plenty of time to join the club and catch up.
I’ve also created a web-based version of the bible of card magic. Hopefully, this will make it easier to read this classic treatise on card manipulation and learn the sleight of hand contained within it.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed systematically reading through the book again. It has forced me to re-evaluate some rudimentary sleight-of-hand techniques. For example, the Erdnase System of Blind Shuffles describes what most magicians call a “jog shuffle”. While practising this “blind shuffle”, as Erdnase calls it, it occurred to me that it is more natural to injog a block, say three to five cards, instead of a single card. This is because running single cards during an overhand shuffle is not what a layperson usually does.
Injogging a block means you do not have to re-adjust the position of your left thumb. It can stay on the top edge of the pack for the entire length of the shuffle (as you chop off small packets into your left hand). However, if you injog a single card, you must shift your left thumb to contact the back of the top card of the right-hand packet. This shift in position telegraphs that the shuffle isn’t honest. Will anyone other than a fellow magician notice this minor detail? Probably not. However, to my eyes, at least, injogging a block increases the deceptiveness of the shuffle because it reduces any hesitation when establishing the injog. Any break in the natural rhythm of the shuffle is likely to make onlookers suspicious. A shuffle should look relaxed, haphazard and uncontrolled. This little finesse will help you achieve this end result.
Another way to disguise the formation of the injog is to run a few single cards at random points during the shuffle so that this action doesn’t look out of place when you form the injog. However, drawing off single cards will always look more controlled than chopping off small packets. This refinement has the added benefit of making it more difficult to lose control of the jog. Sometimes when performing an overhand jog shuffle, a single injogged card will rotate or accidentally slip flush with the rest of the cards. This is less likely to happen when you injog a block.
You can read my full article on the Erdnase System of Blind Shuffles at the Substack website for the Exploring Erdnase Book Club:
Another recent insight relates to Fancy Blind Cut I found in Erdnase. John Scarne famously acted as the hand double for Paul Newman in the 1973 motion picture The Sting. In a memorable scene on a train, John Scarne, standing in for Paul Newman, performed several moves from The Expert at the Card Table, including the Fancy Blind Cut I.
Although I’ve watched this scene many times, I’ve only just noticed that Scarne uses a modified handling of the cut. If you watch the video carefully, you can see that he holds the break between the upper and middle packets with the proximal phalange of his thumb (the central section of the digit between the base of the thumb and its knuckle). In the book, Erdnase creates and holds this break with the third finger and thumb of his right hand. Using this finesse from Scarne, the cut is more deceptive because the break is hidden from the long front edge of the pack as the cards are cut.
You can read my full article on the fancy cuts from The Expert at the Card Table on the Substack website for the Exploring Erdnase Book Club (you can also watch the scene from The String featuring sleight of hand by John Scarne):
The latest book club article covers Erdnase’s various methods for nullifying the cut (see To Indicate the Location of the Cut). I also explain how some of these techniques can enhance your Spectator Cuts to the Aces routine. The next post will be on the bottom deal when I get around to finishing it. It is taking me a little longer than usual because the bottom deal is not something I do well and I’m trying to improve my execution of it.
I hope you find these card handling finesses helpful. Look out for more tips like this in future editions of the Ruseletter.
Trust Your Tingle!
SPOILER ALERT: This part of the newsletter contains Spider-Man: Far From Home spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend that you watch it before reading this section of the newsletter.
Recently, I watched Spider-Man: Far From Home for a third time with my daughters (we’re big fans of Spider-Man, Marvel Comics and the MCU1). In the film, Peter’s Aunt, May Paker, throws a banana at Peter, hitting him in the face. She then says, “So sorry. I thought you could sense that with your Peter-Tingle.” Peter replies, “Please do not start calling it my Peter-Tingle.” Later in the same scene, May says, “You should pack your suit, just in case. I have a tingle about it.” Peter replies, “Please stop saying ‘tingle,’ May.”
My girls found the scene very funny. The "Peter-Tingle" running joke is one of the best things about the film. Spidey fans will understand that this “tingle” refers to Peter Paker’s “Spider-Sense”, a precognitive ability, or sixth sense, that he uses to detect approaching danger. In combination with his superhuman reflexes, this ability allows him to dodge most attacks, including gunfire but not bananas, apparently.2 🍌
Peter Paker's extra-sensory Spider-Sense was largely ignored in the franchise's first film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, so I was pleased, as an avid comic book reader, to see it feature as a significant plot device in the second film. It is one of the webhead's most unique and interesting powers.3
After watching the movie, it occurred to me that talking about the "Peter-Tingle" joke and the character's Spider-Sense would be a fun way to frame a piece of mental magic that involved some kind of prediction or divination.
As well as helping Spider-Man avoid danger, he has been known to use his Spider-Sense to locate hidden things, such as doors or secret passageways. For this reason, a Spider-Sense-inspired presentation could also work with a trick using hidden objects, similar to a Psuedo Psychometry routine in which hidden objects are located and matched to their owners.
Thanks to the massive popularity of the MCU, more people than ever are familiar with Marvel's lineup of superheroes and supervillains—something that was once the exclusive preserve of comic-book geeks like me. This increased popularity makes superhero-inspired magic presentations more relevant than ever.
I often perform a trick called "Trust Your Gut", which might work with this type of presentation. It is my personal presentation for that old chestnut, The Twenty-One Card Trick. In it, I frame the trick as an experiment to test a person's intuition or psychic ability. I perform it with twenty-seven cards in three face-down piles to obscure the method from those who know it. In it, a spectator is asked to try and locate a thought-of card using only their sense of intuition. By combining their intuitive power with mine, we manage to eliminate all of the cards, apart from one: the participant's thought-of selection. (I'll be sharing a full write-up of my presentation on Marty's Bag of Tricks soon.)
It might even be possible to frame "Trust Your Gut" as a test for "precognitive ability"—this is the most well-known aspect of Peter Parker's Spider-Sense—by asking someone to pick a pile (A, B or C) before dealing the cards to the table. I think this idea really has legs (probably eight of them) because framing the trick as a test of a person's "sixth sense" or "precognitive powers" justifies the repetitive dealing procedure, which is, arguably, the weakest element of the method.
Next time I perform this trick, I'll start by talking about the “Peter-Tingle” joke in Spider-Man: Far From Home. I'll then tell my audience I've been fascinated by Peter Parker's precognitive “Spider-Sense” since first reading about it in The Amazing Spider-Man comics as a youngster. I like this kind of hook. I'm convinced that it will make it easier for people to buy into the premise that the trick is a way to measure “innate intuition” or some kind of “natural metacognitive ability”, helping them fully engage with the magic.
As you may be able to tell, I'm very excited about this idea! One of the biggest mistakes I see amateur magicians make is failing to be as enthusiastic about the presentation for a trick as they are for the method. A unique presentation that resonates with your magical character or performance persona is as important, if not more important, than the method you employ to make the trick work. Obviously, we need both, but from experience, the presentation side of a trick is often neglected and underdeveloped, much to the detriment of the overall performance. That’s why I think it is important to get excited about unique and engaging ways to present your magic, no matter how trivial these performance details might seem.
Coincidentally, theory11 recently released a fantastic deck of Spider-Man Playing Cards inspired by Marvel Studios' Spider-Man Trilogy. The Ace of Spades even features the motto "TRUST YOUR TINGLE" inside the pip!
The tuck case design for the Spider-Man cards does a fantastic job of reflecting the signature colours and design of the web-slinger’s iconic red and blue costume. This is one of the best card box designs I’ve seen from a theory11 release. The seal is also a lot of fun.
The Ace of Spades features three different versions of Spider-Man from the Marvel multiverse, along with the motto “TRUST YOUR TINGLE”, making these cards a perfect prop for a Spider-Man-themed card trick.
The Magic of Mysterio
Watching Spider-Man: Far From Home also got me thinking about how magicians, illusionists and magical characters are depicted on screen. As a performer, I believe that it is important to consider how magic is represented in different forms of mass media—such as comic books, television shows and motion pictures—because this influences how people perceive magic and magicians in a more general sense.
Studying fictional magical, mystical and supernatural characters can also provide inspiration when developing scripts for your magic or a compelling performance character/persona. To this end, I’ve written a short article on my blog about Mysterio from Spider-Man: Far From Home and how the character might influence the way you present your magic to an audience. Strickly speaking, Mysterio has no magical powers, but he is usually depicted as a special effects expert who uses technology to produce sophisticated holographic illusions.
Learn Double Impossible
For the rest of the year, I will try and publish several exclusive articles for Ruseletter readers every month. Unfortunately, I haven’t written anything new in February or March, so here’s a link to the first Hidden Gems column from January. In it, I share a fantastic self-working card trick called “Out on Location” by legendary Scottish magician Roy Walton and prolific magic author Karl Fulves.
I also share a variation of the trick, published on my blog, called “Double Impossible”. I use this simple self-working card trick all the time. Don’t be put off by the lengthy explanation. The trick is very easy to learn and perform.
I’ll be returning to the topic of superheroes and magic regularly because it deserves deeper exploration. In particular, I plan to take a detailed look at Jon Armstrong’s “Superhero Theory”, which states that a magician, much like a superhero, should be defined by the limitations of their powers and not demonstrate a random hodge-podge of magical effects.
From this point forward, I plan to publish one or two weekly articles via the Ruseletter. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll find a more regular publishing schedule that works for me. For now, I’ll publish each article when it is finished. This will cause the schedule to be a little unpredictable to begin with. You will receive an email notification when these articles are published. If you don’t want to get these messages, switch them off for each column on the Manage your subscription page in Substack. The last thing I want to do is spam your inbox, so please feel free to update your subscription preferences if you think you’re getting too many emails from me.
You can also read the articles on the web instead of inside your email client. I’ve created a separate page for each column to make navigating the Substack website easier (see the Regular Columns page).
P.S. There are a ton of great magic trick tutorials hidden away on YouTube (as well as all the dodgy ones filmed by inexperienced youngsters). This secret link will take you to a card trick tutorial created by a well-known creator and magician who is also a big Spider-Man fan. He also has an inetersting theory that relates to Spider-Man and the performance of magic. More on that in a future Ruseletter.
MCU stands for Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU is an extemely popular media franchise (owned by Disney) and shared universe centered around a long-running series of superhero films produced by Marvel Studios.
Before I get corrected by Spider-Man aficionados, I do understand that there is a good and logical reason why Peter Parker was unable to detect the banana thrown at him. It has been demonstrated many times in the comics that his Spider-Sense is not activated by friends and family that pose no real danger to him.
There is a long-standing debate in the comic book community about Peter Paker’s Spider-Sense and whether it is superhuman or supernatural in nature. In the original The Amazing Spider-Man comics, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Paker is given the proportionate abilities of a spider. Some comic book fans think that this means that his Spider-Sense is an enhancement of the sensory abilities of a spider and that it is not precognitive in nature. Others argue that his Spider-Sense is connected to a mystical, cosmic force called the Web of Life and Destiny. Recently, it has been revealed that Peter Parker is one of several “Spider Totems” chosen to play a unique and important role in the Marvel multiverse, which supports the idea that this power is mystical in origin. So the truth of his “Peter-Tingle”, like many things from comic book lore, is more complex than it first appears.