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Packet Trick Paradise: Gone Catfishing
Learn a fun, four-card packet trick with a suprise comedy ending.
Welcome to Packet Trick Paradise, a regular column about card tricks using a small group of playing cards.
Magicians have been performing magic with small packets of cards since the time of Hofzinser. However, it wasn’t until the packet trick craze of the early 1970s that this genre of magic became a popular sub-genre of card magic. The innovative ideas of Larry West, Nick Trost, Phil Goldstein (Max Maven) and Magic Ronnay, among others, ushered in a “golden age” of packet trick magic that lasted well into the 1980s.
Some of my favourite packet tricks include Dai Vernon’s “Twisting the Aces”, “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley”, and “The Four Card Trick” by Alex Elmsley. The latter, first published in 1959, is one of the most important historical packet tricks because it introduced the Ghost Count, also known as the Elmsley Count, to the magical fraternity. The Elmsley Count is the basis of many modern packet tricks.
Many magicians look disparagingly upon packet tricks (and the little black vinyl wallets they’re often stored in). The main criticism is that if you remove a packet of cards from your pocket, then people are more likely to believe that you’re using specially-printed “tricks cards”. I’m not sure that this is entirely true. Still, this issue can be easily resolved by putting the cards into your pack and removing them before performing the trick (sometimes, this requires a little creative thinking when you need to conceal the front or back of one or more cards). Other packet tricks that use Jokers, blank-faced playing cards or specially-printed designs can be removed from a pocket, wallet or envelope without guilt. After all, why would you store these odd cards in a pack of regular playing cards?
More recently, and partly in response to this criticism, the Fractal Card Magic movement1, spearheaded by Chicago lawyer and magician John Bannon, has promoted packet tricks that “end clean” and can be fully examined. These are my favourite kind.
In each edition of Packet Trick Paradise, I’ll be including a link to an exclusive packet trick. The first trick I’m sharing is a very easy four-card packet trick called “Gone Catfishing”.2 In it, a male spectator uses numerology to randomly select one of four Queens as a blind date. But, unfortunately, when he looks at the card, it is a King, not a Queen—he’s been catfished!
The trick is very easy to perform. All that is required is a single Elmsley Count, and the random “numerology” sequence used to select one of the Queens is self-working. It is based on the work of John Guastaferro and Jim Steinmeyer. I hope you have as much fun performing this trick as I do.
Fractal Card Magic is rooted in a packet trick series released by FUN Inc. and John Bannon in 2008. The first “fractal” packet trick released was “The Royal Scam”. You can watch a video performance of it on the FUN Incorporated YouTube channel.
The term “catfish” has interesting origins. A “catfish”, if you don’t already know, is someone who is lying about their true identity by creating a fake online persona. It is also the title of a hit MTV show hosted by Nev Schulman, in which Nev and a co-host travel across America exposing so-called “catfish” for who they really are. While actual catfish, as in the aquatic animal, have been around for aeons, the term, as it is used today, has only been in regular use since 2010.
In the 2010 documentary Catfish, Nev falls in love with an attractive young woman called Megan. However, she doesn’t exist. Instead, Megan is an online persona created by a woman named Angela. At the end of the documentary, Angela’s husband, Vince, sits on the porch of their house and attempts to justify his wife’s actions by relaying a story of how, when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the inactivity of the fish led their flesh to become mushy and tasteless. However, fishermen discovered that they could keep the cod active by putting catfish into the tanks and, consequently, could ensure the quality of the fish on arrival in Asia. He goes on to describe his wife Angela as a catfish:
“And there are those people who are catfish in life, and they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish because we’d be droll, boring, and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”
The title of the subsequent documentary was taken from this piece of dialogue, and it’s where the term “to catfish” or “catfishing” originates.
Vince doesn’t mention where he heard this story. However, it appears to have its origins in the writings of evangelical preacher Chuck Swindoll. Ironically, like the online profiles of modern-day catfish, this story might also be fake. There is no evidence that cod were ever shipped along with catfish to Asia, meaning that the story is likely apocryphal! Even so, Vince used the story to paint an incredibly evocative image, and thanks to the documentary and TV show, the term has permanently entered the lexicon of popular culture.