Good stand up effects are something that I’m always on the lookout for. If the effect “packs flat and plays big,” I’m even more interested. Mes(s)merize by German magician Stefan Olschewski certainly fits into that category. In short, it is a prediction effect. One that allows the spectators a tremendous amount of freedom in their selections. Here’s a breakdown from a spectator’s perspective.
The audience arrives to their seats to find a business card, a pen, and an envelope. They are given the instructions to concentrate on a single thought and to write it down on the business card. For example, they may be asked to write down something that makes them happy. They have complete freedom of choice; there is no force. They seal the card into the opaque envelope.
The show begins and the mentalist draws attention to a wine glass containing a black envelope as a prediction. At some point, the performer asks the audience to “send him their thoughts”… literally. He asks everyone in the audience to throw their envelopes onto the stage. A paper ball is tossed into the audience to select a random volunteer to pick up a few of the envelopes. This person narrows down her selection to one envelope in particular. It may even be signed at this point to eliminate the idea that it could possibly be switched.
The performer opens a few of the envelopes that were not selected, showing each thought inside to be different. Everything seems completely random. The selected envelope is opened and the word is read aloud; let’s say it says “Ice Cream.” The spectator now removes the prediction envelope from the wine glass. She opens it herself to read the prediction. It matches the freely selected thought! Finally, the paper ball that was tossed into the audience to select the volunteer is opened to reveal a final message: “Tonight, a beautiful lady named [insert volunteer here] will think of Ice Cream!”
The method is very clever. Similar ideas have been used before and the author provides a number of credits at the end. There is virtually no work that must be done during the performance. Most of the work comes before the show when you have to complete a relatively small setup. The only limitation is that it is best if the cards, envelopes, and writing utensils are passed out to the audience before the show begins. This will prevent the dead time that would occur if you had the audience write their thoughts during the performance. This makes it best suited for formal theatrical shows although it could certainly be used in other performing conditions.
You will also have to consider the expense of going through a large number of supplies during each show. The author provides another approach using the same basic method that eliminates the need to seal the cards in the envelopes. However, this means that when the cards are thrown, some may land face up revealing the secret information. The spectator would then select from the face down cards that remain. This isn’t necessarily weaker; it’s just a little bit different effect.
The explanations are clear and the method is sound. I was a little disappointed with the boldness of the final prediction with the crumpled ball of paper, but there are other manners of accomplishing this same thing in the literature.
Stefan provides many additional ideas for how to use the general principle for other routines: chair tests, serial number divinations, drawing duplications, etc. I am sure you will find something to suit you. If you are looking for a strong stand-up prediction effect and the effect sounds like something that would work in your performing venues, you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve already talked about how much I admire the creativity shown by Calen Morelli with his 365 Days of Magic Project. Attempting to create one new magic trick every day for a year is an insane challenge to impose on yourself , but Calen has carried it out brilliantly up to this point. As a result, I was really excited to check out his Function 9 DVDs.
A couple of weeks before I got my hands on the discs, I saw the high praise given to the DVD set by the guys from the Wizard Product Review. Here are just a few things they had to say: “Tommy Wonder level misdirection… the best DVD of the last ten years… you are my new favorite magician… I can’t imagine ANYBODY beating this DVD!”
When I saw the review, my interest in seeing the material skyrocketed even more. Are you freaking kidding me? The best DVD of the last TEN years. They think this beats Bill Malone’s On the Loose and Tommy Wonder’s Visions of Wonder? That’s A LOT of hype for a guy still in his early twenties. This I just HAD to see!
Here’s a rundown of the effects:
VGH(a+b)- This is Calen’s improvements on Paul Harris’s “Grasshopper” effect. Four Aces are displayed and a card is selected and lost in the deck. The spectator holds onto the black Aces while the performer uses the red Aces to “magnetize” the selection. Just by touching the cards to the deck, a card seems to be pulled partway out of the pack. Suddenly, this card is seen to jump visually from the deck to in between the Aces. This packet is held under the spectator’s hands. The card seems to slowly creep through their hand. Of course, the selection is found in between the black Aces they have been holding.
This is essentially a sandwich trick, but it looks like so much more. Calen follows this routine with another few phases where the card seems to visually jump back and forth between the two sets of Aces. It looks great, but I prefer the first part of the trick. The routine uses no gimmicks and may be done completely impromptu.
Pen in Bottle-The magician complains that something is bothering him inside his shoe. He takes off his shoe and dumps out a Bic pen. “Oh that’s not what was causing the problem.” With that he pulls out a full bottle of water from the shoe as well. Finally, he smacks the pen against the side of the bottle where it visually penetrates to the inside.
This is certainly a weird effect that is probably better suited for the street than your next corporate walk around gig. I believe this is one of the routines whic caused David Penn and Craig Petty to rave about Calen’s misdirection techniques. I should point out, however, that while this will certainly work in the real world and your spectator’s will surely be impressed, this is NOT Tommy Wonder level misdirection. In fact, Tommy Wonder talks against using this type of “look over here” misdirection. I’m not trying to take away from the effect (which is cool in the right environment), I just don’t think you will be as impressed with this particular aspect of the routine as they were.
Transport- You borrow a spectator’s cell phone and she holds on to yours. A rubber band is wrapped around her phone. It can be seen from all sides. With a snap of your fingers, the rubber band instantly vanishes from around her phone. When she looks down at your phone in her hand, she sees a rubber band now surrounding it. This is another simple effect for the audience to follow. The method is simple as well although you will have to make up a gimmick for it to work.
Suspended- This is really weird effect. One rubber band is held stretched between your hands with a second rubber band hanging on top of it. Suddenly, the top strand of the stretched band turns invisible so that the other band is left suspended. The strand comes back and all may be examined.
I’ve heard a couple of people complain that the effect happens a little too quickly. I’m not going to disagree. By the time the spectator’s realize the impossibility of what’s going on, the band is restored. However, I do like how this effect gives us a peek into how Calen’s mind works. He looks around the world and tries to discover what magical things could happen. He then works at bringing those moments into a practical routine. So, while I won’t be performing this exact trick, I really appreciated hearing about how the effect was inspired.
Loaded(1.0)- This is similar to the classic card under glass effect that seems to be in the repertoire of nearly every bar magician. Calen has adapted the plot to work on the streets. First a selection jumps beneath his shoe. Then, for the kicker, the entire deck appears beneath his shoe. This is another effect that will find favor among younger magicians who typically perform in casual situations for friends or classmates. The misdirection for the load is strong so this should be an easy one to add to your arsenal.
Loaded(2.0)- I really liked this effect. A card is selected and visually vanishes. The magician takes off his cap and reveals a card inside. The card is removed and shown to be the selection. For the big finish, the rest of the deck vanishes leaving on the selected card. The deck is shown to have reappeared in the hat. There’s a sort of bonus effect that comes out of nowhere (and has nothing really to do with the trick) where sunglasses “magically” appear on the magician’s face. It’s a cool moment, but it certainly won’t fit everyone’s performing persona. I particularly liked Calen’s load of the deck into the hat. The handling flows smoothly and one move puts you way far ahead of the audience.
Friction- This looks really good and totally fooled me when I first saw the performance video. In effect, a dollar bill is folded into eighths and a bill is wrapped inside of it. A paper clip is placed on the bill to lock the rubberband into place. Amazingly, the rubber band penetrates the bill a few times and everything is left with the spectator to examine. You can see how good this looks at about the 0:58 minute mark on the video above.
Suger Free- The performer introduces a blister pack of gum. With a flick, one of the pieces instantly vanishes and appears between the magician’s teeth. You can check this out on the demo as well. It looks incredible. It’s the perfect kind of “casual” effect that can build your reputation in social situations. There is some arts and crafts time required to make the trick work, but it’s nothing too difficult to create.
Transit- A rubber band is wrapped tightly around the performer’s index finger. With a shake, the band appears around his middle finger. It continues jumping from finger to finger in a visual manner. Finally, it jumps to the thumb of his other hand. The spectator takes off the band and, of course, everything may be examined. I was actually pretty surprised to see this effect included on the Function 9 DVDs since it is available as a one-trick download for $17 over at Theory 11. I guess that’s just a bonus.
As off beat as some of the effects sound, you will probably be surprised to hear that most of them are fairly practical if you are willing to carry around a few simple gimmicks. Not all of the tricks are are things that you would use in professional situations (popping piece of gum into your mouth, pulling a water bottle from your shoe, etc), but they are great tricks for casual “impromptu” situations.
The teaching is clear. The quality of the performance footage is also very good. Each routine is shown multiple times. You’ll see Calen perform the effect on the streets and then see it done in the studio. After he explains the routine, separate close up shots taken from multiple angles give you one more chance to see the moves in action. This is very similar to the old “Super Practice Sessions” from the L&L tapes. It is a nice feature.
One negative is that the explanation sections really seem to drag. For example, the first 35 minutes of the first disc are dedicated entirely to this opening trick. So, while Calen teaches everything perfectly clearly, he should have been much more succinct. This is an issue throughout the DVD set. It’s not a huge weakness since it’s better to be too clear rather than not clear enough. However, it does take some of the fun out of watching the explanations.
Overall, I was very impressed with the DVDs. Calen is a creative thinker and a good teacher. The Wizard Product Review did go a little overboard with their excitement about these discs, but that shouldn’t take away from the quality of this material. If the effects appeal to you, I do not think you will be disappointed.
John Bannon is a living legend and has contributed a number of neo-classic routines to the art of magic. He has a distinct style for creating that many performers are drawn to. There are many reasons, not the least of which are that his material is usually easy to do, always well constructed, and always powerful for a lay audience. Because of this, I was really excited to check out his latest DVD, Bullet Party produced by Big Blind Media.
In total, there are 14 items on the two-disc set. I won’t go over them all, but I will list my favorites.
Bullet Party- This is my favorite effect from the set. John mentions that it’s his current favorite trick as well. Take a look at the video demo.
John started with Alex Elmsley’s famous “Four Card Trick”, but worked out a way to allow each of the cards to change during the course of the routine. It’s easy to do and ends completely clean. This is the pinnacle of what John calls “Fractal Card Magic.”
One other point: even though everything is examinable in the end, you will have to assemble the necessary cards for the effect. This is a small task, but the producers (Big Blind Media) have gone to the trouble of including these cards in the package. This will allow you to start the “Bullet Party” right away.
Final Verdict- This is John’s final version of his famous “Directed Verdict” (Spectator Cuts the Aces) routine from his book Smoke and Mirrors. As mentioned on the DVD, there are a million versions of this kind of thing, but this handling has a lot going for it. It’s easy to do, the spectator has a free cut each time, and the cards may be turned over by the spectator at the end. This is already in the repertoire of many performing magicians. I have no doubt that this DVD will place it into the arsenal of many more.
Riverboat Poker- This is your typical poker demonstration with a few interesting wrinkles that may interest you. For one, the performer actually shows the audience how cards may be stacked using a formula. This is similar to the classic Vernon handling of the plot. The magician offers to repeat the demonstration a little differently.
One round of cards are dealt to five players. After each round, the spectators eliminate one hand out of the four. This makes the number of cards dealt each round smaller, seemingly making it harder to stack the deck. The spectators end up with at least three Aces. Of course, the magician finishes with a Royal Flush.
This is a poker demo that is dead easy to do. In fact, you don’t even have to remember the formula used. John introduces an instruction sheet as part of his presentation. If you want to look like a card sharp without putting in any real work, this may suit you quite well.
Poker Pairadox Redux- This is another poker themed effect for the non-card sharp. A packet of high cards are introduced and the performer explains the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em, namely that each player begins with two cards. A really good hand, he goes on to explain, is therefore a pair. The cards are dealt through in twos but none of them are seen to match up.
After a little magic by the spectator, however, each and every card is magically matched with its mate. I like the idea that John uses a poker presentation for a trick where neither your nor your audience have to know anything about the game. It’s super easy-to-do and instantly resets.
Big Fat Bluff Aces- This is a nice looking Ace Assembly that is best used when proceeded by a traditional Assembly. (John includes one on the disc). I’ve always been a big fan of the idea of a Bluff Assembly. The basic idea is that the Aces are shown to vanish very cleanly from each packet. When the “leader” packet is turned face up, the audience expects to see the Aces. Instead, the magician reveals the four Kings. The Aces instantly “backfire” to their original positions. This is a great solution to the plot that provides a lot of clear magic for very little cost. Classic Bannon.
Wicked- This is a variation of Paul Harris’s “Grasshopper” effect coupled with a transposition. I particularly liked the first phase where John uses a Jack Parker count to get way ahead of the audience. Unlike some of the other packet tricks on the project, this trick uses cards you can pull from a regular deck.
Mega ‘Wave- This is the other “star” item from the DVD set. John has taken Stephen Tucker’s “Omega” routine (which is, in turn, a version of John’s own “Twisted Sisters”) and turned it on its head. Two packets of cards are introduced. The performer offers a demonstration of sleight of hand. One of the Queens in the first packet is named. Invisibly, it turns face down. “But remember, that was just sleight of hand,” the performer says.
“But if your named Queen was turned over in the other packet, that would be magic.” He picks up the cards and spreads to show that the named Queen is reversed in this packet as well. “Then again, how do you know that I didn’t just turn this one over as well? I knew you might think that… so I made sure to take this Queen out of a different deck.” The card is revealed to have an odd back. “And it’s a good thing you named the Queen you did, because it wouldn’t have worked with any of the others.” The rest of the cards in the packet are shown to be Jokers.
Finally, attention is directed to the original face down card from the first packet. The card is turned over to reveal one last message. Even better, it could reveal the magician’s contact details. This would make a nice souvenir for your spectator.
There is definitely a lot going on in this trick. If you choose to perform it, you will have to ensure that your audience can understand all that is taking place. It won’t suit everyone’s taste, but you have to admit that the working is very clever. John gets very far ahead of the audience for very little work, a staple of his creative style.
Bannon’s last DVD Bullets After Dark was a blockbuster release. I really enjoyed every single effect. I cannot say the same for these discs as a few of the items left me wanting more. That being said, this is still an outstanding offering. When you consider that “Bullet Party” and “Mega ‘Wave” could have easily sold for $20+ each with the included cards, I think you’ll find this DVD set a steal at only $40. I can’t imagine any card man being disappointed. Pick this up soon.