I personally favour magic tricks that minimise gimmicks and sleight of hand. That’s not to say I never do a double lift, but those things often rely on exploiting people who are paying attention and need to be done in a particular pace. You know who are great at getting distracted? Kids.
The magic tricks I tend to use (and the one I’ve used the most) are almost all just math puzzles in disguise. One of my favourite tricks I’ve already made a shirt about, but there are a bunch of other ones that look like you’re containing a fantastically complicated amount of information, or somehow demonstrating a physical mastery of an unnatural skill when really, well, it’s just a trick.
When I wrote about Ricky Jay and the centre deal, I said that it kind of stood to reason that whether or not what he did was ‘really’ a centre deal was inherently ambiguous. After all, merely looking like a centre deal in a perfectly convincing way is a meaningless distinction at that point and only important to the top tier magicians who know what techniques can and can’t be translated into one another. Richard Turner can probably do a proper centre deal but, to put it lightly, Richard Turner’s methods are really not as transferrable as his ‘hard work really works’ policy suggests.
The result is that a lot of really good magic tricks are byproducts of nerdy math stuff:
This trick comes from Martin Gardener, seeming patron saint of the pocket protector’d sort, and I really should get some of his books some day. But this is not the trick of Parker’s I’m most interested in showing off. This is just the first one I learned and have very little practice doing. It’s a great trick because you don’t even need to be good at shuffling. You just hand the deck to someone, get them to set up the 27 cards they want, and shuffle them up then you execute the trick and look like a wizard.
What I do want to bring attention to, though, is this work by Parker, a much more recent trick which is kind of a methodological holy grail. Any card, any place is – well, it’s card control in the purest sense; in order to do it, you need to be able to find any card, and then you need to position it however you want.
Again, Richard Turner can do this and all it takes is an eidetic memory and skin so sensitive he can feel hair move on your arm from across the bloody room. But in this case, Parker is doing this where the only real mechanical skill required is perfect faro shuffles. Now, let’s not kid ourselves, faro shuffles are not ‘easy.’ Part of the strength of the riffle shuffle is it’s really easy for random noise to get involved, and the faro shuffle looks like the riffle shuffle if you can do it quickly and consistently.
But the rest of what you’re doing? It’s all math baybee, it’s just a method that honestly looks fantastically clean. You ask someone ‘hey, what card you want in what position?’ they give you an answer, you shuffle the deck like six times and then show them the card in that position.
I find this kind of effect positively beautiful just because of how clean it is. You can do it as your intro too, where you lead with opening a fresh deck, do this while it’s in a clean state, and then chain into other tricks, where now your deck can be shuffled up and treated weird and your audience has seen the deck get out of the shrink wrap.
Math is cool and doing cool math is cool.