Discover more from Marty's Magic Ruseletter
Monthly Update #3 (March 2023)
Packet tricks, the Open Secret Paradox and the problem with upside down Aces.
Greetings, fellow magic enthusiasts. The March monthly update from Marty’s Magic Ruseletter is finally here, albeit several weeks late! Even though this update is now two months behind schedule, I’ve decided to publish it anyway, despite the delay, for the sake of continuity. I’ll also send the April and May updates in the next day or two. I’m hoping June will be the month I get back on track! Remember, miracles do sometimes happen! 😉
In this update, I’ll be talking about my love of packet tricks. There is an ongoing debate about the correct definition of the term. Some magicians insist that it relates exclusively to card tricks that use a small number of specially printed playing cards, like Emmerson and West’s “Color Monte”. Others use the term to refer to any card trick that uses a small packet of cards, even if they’re taken from a full pack, such as Dai Vernon’s “Twisting the Aces” or Dr Daley’s Last Trick. While I don’t think either camp is wrong, it is this broader definition that I prefer and will be using in this article.
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Tricks involving packets of cards, particularly specially printed ones, have a poor reputation among certain magicians. As a result, some performers are reluctant to pull out a small packet of cards from a pocket or a black plastic wallet, which is where these tricks are typically stored. However, I’ve never had a problem doing this. There are plenty of ways to justify introducing a packet of cards to an audience, especially if the cards are non-standard. For example, you can keep a “lucky poker hand” in your wallet. Or, you can remove an envelope from your pocket containing a brand new trick (sent to you from your magician friend who lives in a different country). And, if you don’t like how those little black vinyl wallets look, there are plenty of alternatives, such as the TCC Packet Wallet (pictured below). This wallet is a budget-friendly and classy option compared to the plastic ones.
You can also carry packet tricks in homemade origami or papercraft wallets, which provide a cheap and elegant way to store and protect multiple tricks (some designs also have compartments for coins, too). For example, Origami Wallet 2 or Origami Card Holder by Sweet Paper could easily be modified to store packet tricks. There are a plethora of tutorials on YouTube. However, most designs need to be modified to fit standard poker-sized playing cards (slots are usually only big enough to accommodate credit cards, which are, frustratingly, slightly smaller than a standard playing card). With a bit of experimentation and a lot of patience, it is also possible to make a switching wallet out of paper (for packet tricks that do not end clean).
Ryan Pilling, the guy behind the website Tips & Tricks for Magicians, has also generously shared a valuable technique for crafting customisable envelope sleeves for packet tricks. These envelopes can strengthen the overall theme of a trick. In some situations, they can also help disguise or improve the method. In a blog post from a couple of years ago, titled Wrap The Packet, Ryan offered step-by-step instructions on how to create these unique envelopes. Additionally, he has made a blank envelope template available for download on his website. Unfortunately, the original blog article (and the template) are temporarily unavailable as Ryan moves his old content to a new website. However, if you contact Ryan, I’m sure he’ll gladly share the details with you.
Update: Ryan, being the kind fella that he is, read this article and immediately transferred the blog post to his new website. You can now read Wrap The Packet to discover how to create these fantastic envelopes. You can also download fourteen pre-designed envelopes as well as a blank template that you can customise for your own purposes. Thanks, Ryan! Do yourself a favour, and subscribe to Ryan’s weekly newsletter.
You can see an example sleeve that Ryan created for Michael Skinner’s “Ultimate Three Card Monte” in the short video performance below:
As an amateur magician, I also find it advantageous to keep a packet trick on me at all times. Or, as the cool kids say, a packet trick is always part of my EDC! (EDC = Everyday Carry.) This gives me a quick piece of magic to perform when a person invariably requests to see something, but I don’t have time to perform a lengthy, multiple-phase routine.
In my personal experience, I have found that performing card tricks with a few cards helps the audience concentrate on the magical effect, or effects, taking place. In addition, packet tricks, which use only four or five cards, can also appear more astonishing. Cameron Francis, one of the top creators of packet tricks, shares my viewpoint, as the following quote, taken from The Magic Café, illustrates:
“I love packet tricks. I think doing loads of magic with just a few cards is one of the most magical things you can do. Even a lay person realizes, with just a small packet of cards, you've got nowhere to hide.”1
I’ll leave it there before this update becomes a lengthy essay defending the packet trick, although I might consider publishing that article soon!
The Open Secret Paradox
One of my favourite packet tricks is “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” from the Dai Vernon Book of Magic. I’ve invented so many variations of this simple yet fascinating trick that I’ve literally got enough to fill a book on the topic! So that’s what I’m doing. I’m writing a magic book called Developing Daley that, when finished, will contain over fifty different variations of this classic card magic plot. Yes, over fifty!
The book will explore several approaches to the impossible transposition of the red and black Aces and will also discuss ways in which the effect can be strengthened through the use of additional props, odd-backed playing cards, blank-faced playing cards and kicker transformations. I’m also including information on the history of the trick, popular handlings of the plot, and multiple variations that add extra moments of magic to the proceedings.
I’ve decided to publish the book online as I write it to keep me motivated. This approach was inspired by the New York Times Bestseller Show Your Work by Austin Kleon—a fantastic read for all magicians, professional and amateur alike, who are uncomfortable with the self-promotion required to make money out of magic. (Much of the book’s content is relevant to magicians, and I’ll most likely blog about it in more detail at some point.)
There were a few things in the book that stood out to me. Firstly, Austin discusses the benefits of being an amateur. This resonated with me because I always approach the creation of new magic with fellow amateur magicians in mind. I particularly liked this thought from the book:
“Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries.”2
This is the approach I’m taking with my blog, Marty’s Bag of Tricks, and this Ruseletter. Yes, they’re both less than perfect, but at least they exist, and I’m showing my work!
“It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.”3
Austin also emphatically states that if your work cannot be found online, it might as well not exist. This presents a challenge for magicians like myself, who want to share their original magic tricks with other performers, but don’t want to make secrets available to all and sundry via a simple Google search. I call this the Open Secret Paradox, and it is something that everyone who publishes magic online needs to think about:
How do you openly share magical secrets on the Internet but also protect them from unwanted exposure?
This paradox is related to the Streisand Effect. This refers to the phenomenon where trying to conceal, remove, or censor information leads to wider dissemination.4 This psychological reaction is known as reactance and occurs when people feel that their freedoms are threatened or restricted. In the case of a magic trick, once the audience realises that something is being hidden from them, they become more motivated to uncover and share the secret. A prime example of the Streisand Effect is David Copperfield’s famous attempt to protect his signature stage illusion, “Flying,” from imitation. Despite his team’s efforts to patent the method and protect it from copycats, the technique, invented by John Gaughan, ultimately became public knowledge and is now accessible to anyone on Wikipedia. However, it has been reported that David Copperfield didn’t want the illusion to be recorded with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and that Gaughan filed it against his wishes. Incidentally, the patent, US5354238A, includes some beautiful technical drawings of the rig used by Copperfield and is worth studying, especially if you are interested in stage illusions.
As a publisher of magic on the Internet, I already use an aggressive robots.txt file to block much of my blog’s content from search engines like Google and Bing. Unfortunately, this reduces “organic traffic”—visits generated by keyword search and not influenced by paid advertisements—which may well prevent some amateur magicians from discovering and enjoying my content. A paywall is another obvious solution, but I’m not that concerned about making money out of my hobby—at least not at the moment, while I have a day job that I still enjoy. But if I block all of my content, then none of the people who want to read it will be able to find it!
Until I find a better way of sharing secrets online, I’ve decided to publish Developing Daley using Google Sites because it allows me to make the book freely available to those with the correct link and still hide it from most search engines (interestingly, most free website builders don’t allow you to do this). This means it is easy for people who subscribe to the Ruseletter to read the book and learn the tricks. However, it is more difficult for laypeople to find the content by searching the web for keywords related to a trick that they’ve just seen someone perform for them. As a bonus, Google Sites provides a simple left-hand navigation menu, and the pages are also responsive to different screen sizes. This should mean that you can also read the book on devices with smaller screens, such as smartphones.
I’ll be updating the text of Developing Daley most weeks. As a result, it will change without prior notice and may occasionally include errors, typos, and other mistakes. If you spot any inaccuracies or have suggestions on how I can improve the book, please feel free to reach out to me by using the online contact form on my blog. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated!
Upside Down Aces
Lately, I’ve been trying to create smooth transitions between the different packet tricks in my working repertoire. I prefer to perform three tricks together in a set because it allows me to use the three-act structure—a tried and tested theatrical principle. It is also easier to remember a trio of tricks rather than try and remember three separate routines. This method was used by the famous American magician Mike Skinner to remember a large amount of material. It is rumoured that he once performed twenty-eight consecutive shows at the Magic Castle without repeating a single trick! However, finding three packet tricks that can be performed with the same set of cards can be challenging.
When performing a packet trick, I also try to structure each routine so that it results in a clean finish and all the cards can be inspected. Alternatively, I like to provide a natural way to reset the cards in front of an audience so I can put them away as quickly as possible and be ready for my next performance.
In one set I’m working on, Four Jokers transform into the four Aces one at a time (a trick called “Pristine Print”). Then, I use the four Aces to perform a personal rendition of Dai Vernon’s “Twisting the Aces” called “Logical Twist”. Then, I perform a short Card to Pocket effect to demonstrate how a professional card mechanic can invisibly steal cards to gain an unfair advantage at the card table. This last phase also resets the routine.
The final effect of the whole routine involves handing the four Aces to a spectator to hold. The Ace of Hearts disappears from the packet and reappears in the breast pocket of my jacket. As I remove the card, I say, “Look. I’ve stolen your Heart!” which provides a comical and memorable ending to the card set.
However, I’ve been having difficulty ensuring that the Ace of Hearts is upside down when I remove it from my pocket. The card’s orientation is important because, after slowly revolving the card to face my audience, I want the central heart pip on the card to appear the right way up. To achieve this, the Ace of Hearts must be upside down when it faces you. If it isn’t, the impact of the final effect is diminished.
After spending considerable time figuring out how to properly handle the twisting sequence to ensure the card’s correct orientation, I discovered a much simpler solution. It’s far easier to keep the Ace of Hearts oriented the right way throughout the entire routine and then rotate it 180 degrees as you remove it from your pocket (using the right top edge of your pocket as a pivot point). This will turn the Ace of Hearts upside down (from your perspective). Then, as you gradually rotate the card towards your audience, it will return to its correct orientation. This provides an aesthetically pleasing final image, which also happens to be an applause cue. This experience is proof that, in most cases, the simplest solution is the best.
Packet Trick Paradise
If you enjoy packet tricks as much as I do, I recommend that you read my regular column called Packet Trick Paradise. In the first article, I share a trick called “Gone Catfishing”, based on an easy card trick by John Guastaferro, which, in turn, is based on a trick by Jim Steinmeyer. The trick is easy to perform, only requiring a single Elsmley Count, and can be performed with a regular pack of playing cards.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this late March update. Expect a lot more articles on packet tricks in the future.
Cameron Francis, “Best packet trick of all time”, The Magic Café, https://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?topic=379044&forum=201&start=80.
Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, (New York: 2014), 15.
Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, (New York: 2014), 23.
The Streisand Effect is named after American singer and actress Barbra Streisand. In 2003, she made a failed attempt to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her cliff-top residence in Malibu, California. The photo was taken to document California’s coastal erosion. Unfortunately, her actions inadvertently drew greater attention to the photograph!