Sunday, March 27, 2005

Profile: The Wizard of Or: Jerry Andrus

It must have been a decade now that I was privileged to visit Jerry Andrus at his home, the "Castle of Chaos," in Albany, Oregon. His extremely funky, packed house looked ordinary enough from the outside, but once you stepped in it was like going behind the curtain of Oz's wizard. Only a lot more down home. Having lived there virtually his whole life, there was a quirky place for everything: a vacuum cleaner in the ceiling, a room full of half-finished illusions and, my favorite, an Apple computer with saxophone keys jerry-rigged to it so that common shift-letter combinations could be pushed with a single depression. This special Apple was set atop apparatus beneath which was a treadmill. Combined with a tape recorder that he had arranged to be hands-free, Andrus could exercise while he transcribed his magnum opus, named Scribulations if I remember correctly. As we toured the house young booking agent I was with said more than once, "You're a wonderful man." It was clear no woman lived there and Andrus explained that it was a very rare and beautiful thing for two people really to get along. It is not surprising that such a man, not just a magician but the most prolific and creative deviser of optical illusions in recent history, was so free and easy with the truth: that, too, is a rare thing. I will never forget the off-the-cuff way he told us how he was alerted, as a youngster, to the pervasiveness of illusions. The genesis was geographic. "Everyone said that the United States was the greatest country. I believed them. Then they said Oregon was the greatest state. Okay. But when they started in on Albany being the greatest city in this state, a bell went off. I knew that wasn't true, and backtracked to begin questioning all the other statements I had been fed." (Okay, it's been a decade so this isn't an exact quote, but you get the gist.) Andrus explained to that the Castle was in disrepair. Usually, when you walked into his house, an electric eye rang notice across the way, at his brother's. We visited his brother and creativity apparently ran in the family. We were treated to spectacular fractal-like displays, on a VCR, of colorful shapes. It turned out they were made by filming dishwashing liquid at an oblique angle. Then Andrus's brother was off to a birthday party, as a friend of his was turning 100 that day. Back in the Castle he showed me the work on his color change, in which the hand is shown empty both before and after the card changes, and kindly gave me permission to publish instructions to make his amazing three-dimensional "parabox" (a tower that seems suddenly to flip positions as you watch it with one eye) in my co-authored What is Sex? (review) Just another day in the life of the Wizard of OR.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Gravity Drop

This is a sleight based on the coin roll or steeplechase which I showed to Andreis Suarez (the only other person I know who currently can do it), who showed it to Japanese magician Shoot Ogawa, who gave it this name. In the usual version of the coin roll, the coin (usually a fifty-cent piece) is moved, or rolled, knuckle to knuckle across the back of the performer's fingers in a loosely closed fist. My version, which I independently discovered, but which I later somewhere read was the original and accidental impetus for the coin roll proper, looks easier but is actually more difficult. In the gravity roll the fingers are spaced just the right distance apart so that they don't have to move; rather, the hand just tilts toward the floor and the coin literally rolls all the way to the little finger, which is placed higher up to catch it. The move takes considerable practice. I remember as a twelve year old practicing the coin roll with my hand over the edge of the Empire State Building--not a good idea. So why would anyone want to do something in a way that is more difficult but looks easier? Because this sleight, especially when combined with the original finger-moving coin roll, can be used as a feint or pass: the right hand tilts and the left hand, appearing to catch the coin, tilts downward at the wrist and moves away as the performer follows it. (The tilting touch was taught by Dutch magician Fred Kaps.) The coin can then be made to vanish by traditional crumbling or, what I like to do, slapped against left hip and produced at the right one. Apparently the original coin roll was pieced together by Alan Shaw (one of the two great classical coin magicians after T. Nelson Downs) after, during his show, a coin accidentally fell across his fingers. The gravity roll is a sort of accident on purpose. By the way, I showed this move to Dai Vernon in Waltham, Massachusetts at the Lion's Club in the early eighties. He was drinking a beer.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Longitudinal Snap Double Lift

My favorite double lift is Dai Vernon's push-off double lift. As "The Professor" said, a playing card is not a brick, and should be handled accordingly. Properly done this double lift seems virtually impossible, because the pressure of the thumb on the top card would tend to spread it if it were more than one card. Of course, the second finger beneath, keeping pace with the pushing thumb, creates the illusion. When the card is turned over and displayed on top of the pack, it should be done delicately, with just the tips of the right fingers guiding the side of the card and allowing it to fall--again for the sake of naturalness. Holding the card tightly here is a giveaway. The snap double lift has been in the books for a long time but only latitudinally. My innovation is to snap the double card the long way. Not only is this more natural and powerful (and louder), but it seems to be definitive proof that there is only one card. It definitely takes practice, but it is well worth it. There are two main tricks to keeping the cards aligned in a longitudinal snap double lift. First, the right hand (if you're right handed) first and second fingers strongly grip the back of the card revealed with the snap, which is beveled, or bent, toward the magician because of the pressure; this helps with the alignment. Finally, and this is crucial, the move can't be used with a brand new or too new deck: the cards are too slick. While this limits the usefulness of the move, it makes it all the more powerful when a borrowed deck contains the slight stickiness from use necessary for the move. Most borrowed decks, unless they are completely dog-eared, are perfect for the longitudinal double lift. I get a break under the top two cards and push off as per the Vernon double lift. This double lift also works great for sucker effects. For example, have a card selected and control to the top. Riffle the cards and boast, "I will now make your card come to the top." Do the snap double lift, dramatically displaying the wrong card. Replace with disappointment on top of the pack. You are now set to push off the correct card. Rub it, blow on it, or, if you know the flourish, spin it to reveal the correct card.

Newbie Note: A flourish is magician's talk for a juggling-like card or coin move that looks cool but isn't itself magic. Card fans and the steeplechase (making a coin roll over the backs of your knuckles) are flourishes. While fun, flourishes can detract from creating the effect of magic because they show the performer has skill. If the performer doesn't seem to have too much dexterity, then her tricks seem more magical.

Magical Reality Check: If you mentally force a card through a riffle peek, bring it to the top and say, "I will try to make the card you are thinking of come to the top," then dramatically reveal the wrong card via the Longitudinal Snap Double Lift, after which you shrug and change it into the right one, you have a mind-blowing card trick. It is very powerful because the magician, after failing to do the impossible (finding AND controlling a thought of card), then must seemingly resort to real magic--changing the wrong card into the thought of one. I will provide my method for this at a later date.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

New Patter for Out of this World

Paul Curry's Out of this World is a classic of card magic. The effect is that a spectator correctly divines the colors of cards without looking at them. The version I do is Harry Lorraine's impromptu version. I use a subtlety Phil Goldstein (Max Maven) showed me as a teenager which (except for one false overhand shuffle) completely eliminates the need for sleight of hand. My contribution to the trick is to present it as "an experiment": after the first part of the trick, in which the magician pulls cards out of the shuffled pack and asks the spectator to figure out if each card is red or black, he admits that, since he (or she) saw the cards, he may have subtly transmitted a message by nonverbal communication. Thus, in the second half of the trick, he lets the spectator himself divide the cards into two piles, red and black. This second part of the trick is presented as the "double blind" part of the trick: since the magician doesn't see the cards, he can't convey his knowledge of their color, even nonverbally. What's nice about this patter, apart from being scientifically authentic, is that it provides a rationale for the switching of the colors of the card piles in the middle of the pack.

Newbie note: "patter" refers to the schtick or talk of a magician while he does his tricks.

Magical reality check: it has long been known that the best way to protect a magic secret, short of taking it to the grave, is to publish it. So this one won't be going to anyone's grave.