Look, sometimes you just want flames to shoot out of your hands, and the Pyro Mini Fireshooter allows you to add a little more firepower to your act. Attach it to your wrist, hide it in your palm, or place it nearby and use the included remote; the small size and USB-rechargeable battery make it incredibly versatile.
Everyone hates getting interrupted by a phone call during a busy meeting or an outing with friends. Now you can make those calls… disappear. This trick from Theory11 will teach you how to make your phone (or even a spectator’s phone) vanish into thin air with zero preparation or gimmicks.
Don’t blink as you drive along route 26 in southeastern Sussex County or you’ll miss the sign for Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville, Delaware. The theater and related buildings are in the middle of an acre of tall pine trees in a town of 544 according to the last census (an increase of 118% over the previous count). Just a few miles west of the resort town of Bethany Beach, you can almost smell the tanning lotion of the thousands of sun-worshipping vacationers who flock to Lower Slower Delaware every year.
“Many magicians have 11-12-15 minutes of a show that they use in competitions,” says co-owner Rich Bloch. “I want someone who can do a 50-minute show that entertains the audience. Some magicians have a silent act because they play to international audiences where language could be a barrier. I need someone who speaks English and who relates to the audience. Given a great magician who doesn’t create a rapport vs. a not-quite-so-talented performer who has a great connection, I’ll go with the latter.”
Dickens is a year-round magic venue that opened on June 17, 2010 in an old converted home. To say the buildings are nondescript would be an understatement, at least, from the outside. Inside is a different story. The front building holds a parlour where guests gather before and after a show for a meet and greet with the talent and see a little close-up magic. Filled with Victorian decorative items and penny-arcade machines, it’s also where Jon Stetson holds his Ladies Only Psychic Party.
Within the parlour are some fascinating decorative items. Rich found the huge sparkly chandelier in an antiques store in Stuart, Florida. It was made in Europe somewhere in the 1940s and has about 20,000 dime-sized pieces of Murano glass. Each piece had a small hole drilled in it and a piece of wire threaded through the hole that attaches it to the frame.
The six clocks were collected by the Blochs over a 30-year period from shops and collectors in the States and Europe. They were made in Paris between 1830 and 1870 by Jean-Eugene Robert Houdin, a French magician and clockmaker (from whom Eric Weiss took the name Houdini). The clocks are known as “Mystery Clocks” because they have a glass face and are mounted on transparent glass supports. How do they keep time? Ah, that’s the mystery. To Bloch’s knowledge, his is the only collection of all six models.
Behind the parlour is the original home that’s now an intimate and comfortable 60-seat theater with lights, a curtain, entrances and exits, and a sliding bookcase door at the rear of the stage. Vintage magic posters and Victorian touches of Magic Castle décor provide the interesting ambiance. Backstage is “better than most Broadway theaters,” says Bloch. “There are two separate dressing rooms, one is green, with the usual mirrors and makeup table and lights, refrigerator, steam machine for clothes, and iron. They connect to our two-story dressing room facilities and a common living room that sit on top of a scene shop.” The stage is big enough for most illusions, but the primary focus is on more intimate tricks.
Bloch is a famed labor arbitrator by profession. When not arbitrating, he performed at the Magic Castle and traveled the world doing shows for corporations, associations, and cruise ship passengers. He’s also a trick inventor. His wife, Susan, is his assistant (Miss Direction) and a professor of constitutional law at the Georgetown University Law Center. They spend the two summer months and most weekends at Bethany Beach, commuting the three hours or so from their Washington, DC home.
Rich and Sue often thought: “Gee, it would be nice if we could do something that would bring audiences to us instead of us going to them. I wanted to have a closet and dressing room that was mine,” says Rich.
Then, voila! It happened. Bloch bought a piece of land to build medical offices on and while he and a contractor friend were tearing into the two-story home, he thought, “This is the place.” He bought seats from a high school on eBay and the Dickens Parlour Theatre became a reality. Serendipitously, a four-bedroom house on the property was being rented to a bunch of roofers and they patched up all the roofs.
The Blochs and the community know each other. There are four full-time and six-eight part time employees, all locals. When a function includes food, they use a local caterer. “There’s a certain synergism,” says Bloch. “Being small makes it a warm and welcoming environment. It’s a great place to see a presentation. We love it. Actors love it. There’s an intimacy with the audience that really can’t be gained other than being physically close. It’s a distinct advantage and we do attract performers who might not otherwise see that as an inviting thing to do. They like the small, charming town, where they can relax for a fun couple of days or however long the engagement is going to last.”
There are downsides. Because it’s a small theater, there’s a limit to the amount of money he can spend to bring in acts. Bloch says, “Like all small theaters, we depend on contributions and sustenance from devoted folks. We have to constantly fundraise.”
Shows are held nightly during the summer (sometimes two or three shows in an evening, by different magicians), generally to sold-out audiences, and Thursday-Sunday the rest of the year. Magicians are usually booked for Wednesday through Tuesday performances because many vacationers are visiting on a Friday to Friday, Saturday to Saturday, or a Sunday to Sunday basis. With this booking arrangement, they can see two different magicians during their week at the beach. During the ten-week summer season, magicians are also booked for a week in Bloch’s Magic at the Beach theater in nearby Ocean City, Maryland.
Dickens also has a matinee on rainy summer days. Bloch jokes, “This is a godsend for parents and grandparents and the tickets are only $500.” Jay Read, the theater’s assistant manager, is the resident magician for the matinees and birthday parties. Bloch advertises that shows are suitable for ages three and up.
Because community participation is so vital to the theater’s success during the other 40 weeks of the year, Dickens is home to full scale dramatic and musical theatrical performances by the Bethany Area Repertory Theater (BART) and charity functions. Bloch gives “scholarships to local high school students and provides the theater at no cost to terrific institutions who are doing massive fundraising and good work for people, more than we can. We work with Contractors for a Cause, raising hundreds of thousands to build homes for sick children and parents. We also give passes to help support organizations for silent auctions and raffles.”
Bloch’s theater gives magicians a venue with an audience that’s happy to break away from the sun (or rain), boardwalk strolling, and whines of, “I’m bored.” He also provides housing and most meals. It’s the only magic venue within miles. “I don’t think there’s anything like our model,” says Bloch, “one that has a really lovely theater followed by the meet and greet in the parlour. We hope they’ve had a good experience and, when they’re in the parlour, that’s where we’re making friends and they’ll come back often.”
About 70 percent of the performers are repeat. Winter months, when magicians play Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, are booked about four to six months ahead. For magicians who want to book into Dickens, Bloch usually relies on recommendations and word-of-mouth from his existing talent pool and the industry. He does look at demo tapes (DVDs) and has auditions, though.
Ran’D Shine, well-known on the college circuit, says, “Rich is known throughout the community,” came to watch a show. Afterwards, in the parlour during the meet and greet, Cheryl Dubois, theater manager, asked Ran’D if he’d like to do close-up and then, “she gave me a date,” says Ran’D, “and I’ve been a regular ever since.” He’s seen the theater’s growth and seen it change in terms of the caliber of magicians. “It’s a wonderful place to perform.”
Besides having a home where he can perform his comic magic show whenever he wants, Bloch says the greatest part of the theater is that almost nightly someone—both locals and tourists—says, “Thank you for bringing the theater here. “
The downside is that the Blochs don’t vacation. Of course, some would consider their time when he’s performing and she’s lecturing on a Crystal cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean a lovely getaway, but they ARE working.
Judy Colbert is a Maryland-based writer and author of 100 Things to Do in Baltimore Before You Die.
You know how it goes: you’re at a carnival with your friends or family, you walk past booth with a stack of milk bottles, your kids see that huge cuddly bear, and they start screaming at you to win if for them. You pause, thinking to yourself “Yeah, I can knock those down. How hard could it be?” So you try and you try, heaving a baseball downrange, the cash in your wallet dwindling at an inversely proportional rate to the increase in bubbling rage inside you as you fail.
Here’s the thing: you’re not losing to the game. The game is probably designed to beat you.
Now, not every carnival game is rigged, but many of them are, and have been ever since carnivals existed. Heck, the term “mark” – a word denoting the target of a conman’s scheme – comes from carnival operators literally marking the backs of potential rubes with chalk so other carnies could swindle their cash with their own rigged games. Things have changed over the years, and many states actually have regulations in place to ensure that carnival games are fair and winnable feats of skill. Even so, it’s best to remember that, like in Vegas, the house is usually going to win. Here are a few games you should probably avoid if you’re not 100% willing to part with your money:
It looks so easy – just chuck a ball into an angled bucket a few feet away. But no matter how hard you try, the ball just bounces right out. Now, some buckets may contain a spring or other bouncy material inside to keep you from winning, but honestly, they don’t even need that. All they need is basic physics.
When the carnie shows off how simple the game is, they’re usually chucking the ball into the basket from an angle, allowing them to slow the ball down with the interior wall. They’ll also leave a second ball inside the bucket to deaden the ball’s velocity. But once they hand you both balls to try for yourself, you’re already screwed. You’re likely chucking the ball in dead-on, and since there’s nothing inside to provide friction, it’s just going to bounce right out.
You’ve got an air rifle and a handful of BBs, and your goal is to shoot out every piece of a red star on a target. Beating this one already requires more skill than most carnival games. In order for carnies to maintain an edge, they’ll often provide you with smaller BBs, reduce the air pressure in the rifle, and even mess with the sights on the gun to ensure that even the best sharpshooters have a hard time with this one.
“Just get the rings on the bottlenecks,” they said. “Stand an arm’s-length away,” they said. $20 and two minutes of hollow ‘plunking’ sounds later, and you’ve got nothing to show for your efforts except for an empty wallet and a deflated ego. The ring toss is perhaps one of the most deceptive carnival games around, and it knows exactly how to get inside your head to make you part with your cash.
The carnie makes sure you stand within arms-length of the bottles to make it look as effortless as possible. You think you’re at an advantage, but you’re really not, and it’s because of those damned rings. The rings are barely wide enough to fit onto the neck of the bottle, and they’re often made of hard plastic. If you’re dropping them straight down on top of your target, you might have a chance (and carnies will often do this when showing how ‘easy’ it is), but since you’re throwing them head-on, the rings will usually bounce right off.
The fair way to set up this game is to make sure all of the balloons are fully inflated, and that the darts are nice and sharp. The carnie way is to do the exact opposite – mildly inflated balloons and dull darts ensure that you’re either going to miss, or the darts are going to bounce right off.
Throw a ball at a stack of milk bottles and watch them tumble to the ground… or not. The bottles at the bottom of the pyramid are often weighted (sometimes as much as ten pounds), and take a ton of force to even get them to move, let alone fall off the platform. This is bad on its own, but carnies will often provide you with a softball with a large cork center – meaning it’s even lighter than a normal softball. The best way to beat this one is to aim at the base of the pyramid to try to shove the bottom bottles clean off. Or maybe just walk past this one.
It’s basketball! How can anyone possibly screw this up?
Well, for one, they turn the hoop into an oval.
Yep, like the ring toss and bucket game, carnies are using your sense of depth perception and your own hubris against you. When you’re standing head on, the hoop looks perfectly normal. Walk up close, though, and you’ll notice that the hoop isn’t circular, but rather a flattened oval shape that the ball barely fits through. And to mess with your head even more, carnies will often overinflate the ball, making it bounce wildly if you even manage to get it near the hoop. It’s so unfair, even LeBron James would have a hard time making this shot.
Modern carnivals often contain arcades that include crane games and other electronic amusements. The thing about crane games (or claw machines, as some call them) is that they can often be more deceptive than their less mechanical counterparts precisely because rigging them is as easy as pushing a few buttons.
It may look like a piece of cake to grab that squishy Minion or prized iPhone in a single go, but there’s a lot more that actually goes into snagging a prize than you’d expect. Crane operators have access to an internal computer, which allows them to customize pretty much anything they want, from how often the claw grabs at full strength, to when in the process to activate the claw, to even the speed of the crane itself. Operators can effectively set win percentages, ensuring that customers will only ever win when the machine wants them to. There’s still skill involved in properly lining up the crane and knowing when to push the button, but other than that, most of what happens next is more or less out of your hands.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at magic, card tricks are a great place to start. Not only are there plenty to choose from in a robust array of difficulties, but all you need to get started is a three-dollar Bicycle deck from your local pharmacy.
But why be ordinary when you can add some real drama to your efforts with these incredible cards? Even if you don’t have the patience to put in the many, many hours it takes to become truly deft at sleight of hand, the following cards are affordable works of art that everyone can appreciate.
Here’s one for the New York lovers. Made from discarded NY Metro subway cards, this deck also pays homage to New York landmarks by working them into the face cards. The King of Hearts grips the Brooklyn Bridge, the Queen of Clubs hosts an elephant from the Bronx Zoo, and the Jack of Diamonds can tell you when to catch your train at Grand Central. Given that they’re made from MetroCards, they’re less than ideal for practicing magic, but as regular playing cards, they’re great.
Buy the Metro Deck
It’s dangerous to go alone, so take this deck with you. It’s tough to say what’s more appealing about these cards inspired by The Legend of Zelda: the Goron face cards or the Triforce, Heart Container, Rupee, and Sword that serve as the suits. Available with red, blue, or metallic gold backs. What, no green?
Buy the Legend of Zelda Deck
This gorgeous deck has three things going for it: it looks like it’s an antique you found in your grandma’s attic, it comes in either a red or blue back, and *whisper* it’s marked. The card backs have hidden marks that let you tell cards apart, seemingly by magic. Probably not the best to use for poker night, though, unless you don’t really like your friends all that much.
Buy the Vintage 1800 Bicycle Deck
They’re not flashy or tricky, but these cards do something other cards can’t: save lives. 100% of the proceeds from the charity: water deck go to fund clean water projects. charity: water has provided clean water for 7 million people in 24 countries. As their site says: “access to clean water means education, income and health – especially for women and kids.” Maybe buy two.
Buy the charity: water Deck
The cards of the Porcelain Deck from Conjuring Arts are stunning to begin with, but they also are printed with a raised ink that allows you to actually feel the designs. According to the description, the extra tactility doesn’t adversely impact handling, making these a particularly beautiful option for your cardistry habits.
Buy the Porcelain Deck
The Minim Deck from Joe Doucet plays with the question of how much information you can remove from a card while leaving it useable. Turns out, just about everything. These ultra-minimalist cards are available in either black or white, and are so sophisticated they even elevate games of Go Fish.
Buy the Minim Deck
A regular deck of playing cards is perhaps the most ubiquitous magic prop in the world. Even if you’re not into cardistry or sleight of hand, you likely have a deck or two kicking around your house somewhere. They may seem simple – it’s just pictures printed on glossy paper, right? – but a lot goes into their creation. Did you know they have an Air-Cushion Finish? Well, now you do.
Bicycle has been making cards since 1885, so they know a few things about the process. This video takes us into the factory to see how it’s all done. Pretty neat! Below find a slightly more detailed video featuring Cartamundi cards.
Even as we barrel further into the high-tech, always-online landscape of the 21st century, we continue to return to the simple pack of cards. A virtually limitless source of entertainment, playing cards can provide hours of time-wasting fun among friends or high-stakes competition on ESPN. And even as magicians find new ways to amaze their audiences, many continue to return to these thin slips of paper to devise some of the most mind-bending illusions ever seen.
Playing cards are so common in our daily lives that we don’t even really think about their evolution or the meaning behind the symbols printed on them. Thing is, that deck you found at a middle-America truck stop plastered with a cartoon mascot has thousands of years of human history behind it. Here are a few things you may not have known about one of the world’s oldest pastimes.
Like noodles, fireworks, and many other things we take for granted in modern Western society, the history of the playing card extends all the way back into ancient Chinese history. The first recorded use of playing cards that we’ve discovered is dated to around 9th century AD, in a diversion called the “leaf game”. The first recorded use of suits and numbers to designate between cards occurred in the year 1294, and the cards themselves were both the game pieces and the stakes. These “money cards” were easier to keep track of during games than paper currency, and actually had monetary value within society. Eventually, Chinese card games spread across the world thanks to international trade, with versions of the game making their way to the Middle East, Egypt, and Europe.
One of the earliest forms of what we know as the modern playing card originated from Egypt, and featured four distinct suits: polo-sticks, coins, swords, and cups. Polo, however, was an uncommon sport among Europeans, and when the deck found its way to Southern European territories, the polo-club was interpreted as a baton (like a police officer’s nightstick). The baton, along with the other three suits, became common in Italy and Spain, while Germany experimented with different suits, including shields, acorns, and leaves. Eventually, the French version of the deck developed in the 18th century, with its hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades, becoming the worldwide standard.
So, there are many interpretations for what the symbols on a standard deck of cards actually means. One possible way to look at them is as a direct representation of a standard Gregorian calendar, along with all the ways it divides up time, seasons, and even individual days. The two colors – red and black – represent night and day. The four suits represent each of the four seasons. Twelve court cards represent twelve months in a year; throw in the ace, and you’ve got the thirteen lunar cycles. 52 cards equals 52 weeks, and add up all the numbers in a deck along with a joker, and you’ve got 365 days in a year. It all may be a coincidence, but it’s a hell of a coincidence, no?
While playing cards have been around for thousands of years, no one company has stuck around making them that long. That said, the United States Playing Card Company remains the longest-running, still existing manufacturer of cards. Founded in 1867 as a printing company, it eventually transitioned into making playing cards in 1881 (beating card and video game maker Nintendo to the punch by about eight years), and is currently responsible for some of the most notable brands in the world, including Bicycle, Hoyle, Bee, and more.
When German forces captured Allied soldiers, they’d often confiscate whatever contraband they had and shipped them off to POW camps. On the surface, a deck of cards looks like an innocent way for prisoners to pass the time (and keep their minds occupied on thoughts other than escaping). These cards, however, offered more than just a game of poker: there were secret maps hidden between each card’s two thin strips of glued paper, detailing escape routes for soldiers to take once they escaped their prison camps.
American and British forces worked with the United States Playing Card company to devise a way to hide hidden maps inside a deck of cards. The solution? Print one piece of a map on the inside of each card and glue the halves together with a solvent that vanished when submerged in water. Once all the map pieces are revealed, simply put them in order on a grid and you’ve got secret intel that wouldn’t be made public until decades after the war ended.
The Nine of Diamonds seems as normal as any other card in the deck, but the more superstitious players often refer to it as the Curse of Scotland. There are a couple of theories how this seemingly benign card got its name, and both of them are soaked in blood. The first takes place on the eve of the Battle of Culloden, where the Duke of Cumberland supposedly wrote down an ‘order of no quarter’ (aka ‘take no prisoners’) against the Jacobite insurrectionists on a Nine of Diamonds card. The second involves the the Glencoe Massacre; the coat of arms of Sir John Dalrymple, the Earl who ordered the massacre, is very similar to the card in question. However this card got its name, the term is often used when someone’s having an unlucky night at the card table, or when generally bad things are happening to Scotland as a whole.
Modern playing cards are often covered in a variety of ornate designs (like Bicycle’s famous two-wheeling angel), photos, famous paintings, and even advertisements. They weren’t always so fancy though – up until the mid 19th century, most playing cards were completely blank on one side.
For casual players, this wasn’t a huge deal, as many people would often use them to write notes for themselves or others. For gamblers, though, cards could be easily marked to give less-trustworthy players (read: filthy cheaters) an unfair edge. Playing card manufacturers started putting designs on the backs of cards (along with rounding out the edges) to help prevent cheating. What began as a competitive necessity has since blossomed into a whole industry, where every gift shop, cartoon character, TV show, and brand likely has their own themed deck of playing cards.
The Joker actually wasn’t a part of the standard deck of playing cards until it was introduced around the time of the American Revolution. It was developed for the game Euchre as a third trump card, beating out the two original trump cards in the game, and its name is thought to be derived from ‘juker,’ an alternative name for the game. The joker wouldn’t become the wild card we know it as until 1875, with the earliest reference to a variant of poker.
Because the Joker is a relatively recent innovation in the playing card world, there’s no standard design like there is for most of the other cards in a typical deck. As such, many card makers will often use the joker card to display their own special (often trademarked) artwork, giving each deck a unique flair beyond the card backs and faces. In fact, Jokers can vary so wildly between decks that many people actually see Joker cards as collector’s items, with the largest collection belonging to Donato de Santis of Italy, who owns over 8250 different Joker cards in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs.
Ever wonder why the Ace of Spades gets singled out with large, fancy designs while the rest of the suits (separate from the unique Joker) look like normal cards? It all stems back to the stamp duty, originally brought to England back during the 17th century. The stamp duty was a special marking that was required on all official documents, like invoices, deeds, and correspondence. In 1711, Queen Anne of England imposed a stamp duty on all manufactured playing cards.
In the early days, a single card – usually the Ace of Spades – was marked with an actual stamp. The design eventually morphed from stamps to prints, and in 1828, an elaborate design known as “Old Frizzle” was the standard way to note that the duty had been paid. Decades passed and the laws were made more lenient, allowing manufacturers to use whatever design they liked as long as the tax was paid, though many continued to incorporate grand artwork for the Ace of Spades. Many of these designs were even trademarked to prevent other card companies from stealing their designs. The stamp duty was discontinued in the 1960s, but many companies around the world continue to use the Ace of Spades to showcase stunning art alongside copyright and manufacturing information.
Standard decks of cards have had four suits for hundreds of years, but that hasn’t stopped more adventurous types from trying to experiment with the number and kinds of cards in a deck. One of the earliest widely-produced decks with additional suits was created by Hiram Jones called International Playing Cards, which included red crosses and black bullets in addition to the hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades found in a French deck. Decks have experimented with five, six, and even eight suits. The 8 Suits Playing Card deck adds red Moons, black Stars, red four-leaf Clovers, and black Tears, while the Toss Double Deluxe Deck contains blue Castles and Shields, gold Crosses and Oracles, five (!!!) Jokers, and two Null cards, all in addition to the original set of 52 cards. It really needs to be seen to be believed.
Delhi-based “psychological illusionist” Karan Singh has some advice for anyone with an interest in learning magic: try it for two years before you ask anyone to teach you anything. As he told the Hindustan Times, magic takes a lot of time and effort to learn well, so the right move is to do your homework before deciding if you want to pursue it seriously. He suggests three specific tricks that every budding magician should master before seeking out a magical mentor, but also emphasizes that tracking down their secrets is part of the journey.
Singh also says that it’s helpful to learn kinds of magic that you don’t necessarily plan on performing, to broaden your understanding of what you bring to the world of magic. “Making things disappear is something that’s never excited me, but I learned that,” he explains in the video. “But I don’t regret it in any way, because it’s something that I learned. I learned that’s not where I belong. I learned that my kind of magic has to be away from all of that.”
This one is a bit controversial. To showcase the Xperia XZ Premium’s ability to record video in super slow motion, Sony filmed The Chelsea Joker performing some tricks. Hey, shocker, turns out filming magicians in super slow-mo is a great way to learn how they ply their craft. Which is both cool and not.
On the one hand, the methods being revealed in the commercial are readily available in books, online, and nearly every beginner’s box of magic tricks. On the other hand, none of that really changes that fact that the average viewer likely didn’t know how any of this was done.
On the other hand (hey, it’s magic, we’re allowed to have three hands), knowing how the snap change is done doesn’t make it any less impressive. In fact, it’s maybe more impressive when you see the sleight of hand taking place.
What do you think? Is the commercial cool or kind of a jerk move from Sony and The Chelsea Joker?
Sometimes it’s tough to find the motivation to follow through with things, even when you enjoy them. You don’t email your college roommate enough, you haven’t been to the park in who knows how long, and the closest you’ve come to traveling is watching Game of Thrones. Hidden Agenda won’t help you with any of that, but it perhaps may help you keep up with your magical studies. Each page has a date on it; some days you’ll get a trick, other days you’ll get something to ponder, like what is “magic,” anyway? The orderly nature helps you stay motivated to keep learning, every day.