Counting Cards

Gosh it’s been disappointing month for me and video.

See, one of the things I wanted to talk about this month of magic was the way in which magical tricks and routines are often extremely elaborate sequences of small, familiar, repeatable techniques. This is the root of the show Fool Us! by Penn and Teller, because when you get down to it, magicians who have been practicing magic for a century or more between them are going to have a lot of experience with the building blocks of magic, and magicians are going to work with those pieces. There really are only so many ways you can mess with perception, after all, and it is hypothetically possible to know most of them.

Imagine then, what it is that you get to be one of the people known for the inventing of one of these techniques.

This unassumingly seemingly-British fellow is one Alex Elmsley, who was so good at magic, he’s actually Scottish. Elmsley was a computer programmer, mathematician and in his opinion ‘amateur’ card trick magician, which is a hell of a thing to call yourself when you’re also known as inventing a technique that gets used almost everywhere now.

The technique involves manipulating a small number of cards in a way that leaves people assuming they know the position or number of them. This technique can make a hand of three cards look like a hand of four cards, or a hand of four cards look like three – and it scales up and down. It’s a fantastically clever effect, and you can use it in a dizzying number of tricks – sometimes it’s the whole of an effect, sometimes it’s just a moment.

Elmsley called it the ‘ghost shuffle’ but nowadays, it’s known as the Elmsley Count, which is one of those examples of massive significance attached to a name.

Anyway, what I wanted to do was share a link here to a video of Elmsley’s work on Youtube, the Tahoe sessions, which is a two hour sequence of him doing tricks, but then demonstrating them, and it’s great and educational and fun. I watched it one night a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. When I went to get the link to share here, though, turns out I’d been watching a pirated version, and it was unavailable on Youtube any more, even for money!

He’s charming, he’s funny, and he was exceptional at simple, subtle, clever magic tricks that nonetheless looked brain-meltingly difficult.