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Scams & Fantasies with Cards Review

Official Review

February 12th, 2003 6:05pm
Reviewed by Brad Henderson
"I think it's a magical author's responsibility to publish not only good card tricks but better card tricks than the ones that already exist....I feel a new trick should be different from what has come before. And to the extent that it resembles any previous tricks, it should be superior to them either in plot, method, or presentation (or in more than one of those categories.)" -- Darwin Ortiz, Card Shark

And thus began Card Shark, a tremendous book chock full of wonderful, powerful and exciting magic and gambling routines. I was particularly impressed by Darwin's philosophy and was eagerly awaiting his next collection of material that lived up to his high publishing standards.

Cue entrance, stage left: Scams and Fantasies

"Any conscientious magic author has to grapple with the question of when you've changed an effect enough to justify publishing your version. This is complicated by the fact that sometimes a small change can produce a big increase in audience impact while other times a big change can result in no difference in audience impact)...

"Many books offer the worst of both worlds, trivial changes that make no difference in audience impact...

ve tried to avoid that in this book. My changes, whether large or small, all concern elements of the effect that actually matter. Of course, opinions can differ on what matters, so I've explained my reasoning in the Analysis section of each effect." -- Darwin Ortiz, Scams and Fantasies

And so the rationalizations begin. Now, don't get me wrong, there are some great tricks in this book, but this isn't the "better, different, superior" mantra from the great Card Shark. But lets look at exactly what was said, "My changes, whether large or small, all concern elements of the effect that actually matter."

Maybe, but do they all increase the audience impact as promised AND are they anything that a half way decent performer wouldn't have come up with on their own?

See, I think Darwin has pretty good common sense. Strong Magic had some good advice, but nothing that was earth shattering. Hence I think the overall luke warm response by the magic community, particularly those who are known for having engaging and insightful magical ideas.

Scams and Fantasies is a book of variations, primarily. Variations on good tricks mostly. And good variations at that. But most of the additions are changes I believe many magicians have thought of before, but didn't see value putting into print. So lets look at some examples:

Deja Vu Poker: Worth the price of the book in spite of any criticism I may levy. Magi deals 10 cards to 4 people plus himself. Each person picks out best poker hand they can create out of their cards. Cards collected. Shuffled. Redealt. Everyone gets their EXACT hand back, magi now has royal flush. This could be a KILLER.

For the record though, you can eliminate the first 2 faro shuffles and just hand out blocks of cards keeping the royal flush on the bottom. False shuffling and dealing is just as convincing as false shuffling and handing out apparently random groups, and it saves a hella lot of time. Don't know the original but a good trick all the way around.

Combination Cull - Clever. Spec chooses four of a kind. Cards lost in deck (free cut principle). Magi finds cards all on top. But basically this is no different from any other 4 card control demonstration. Different names, same story. The use of the Free Cut Principle though may open some eyes.

The Brush- Allow me to quote: "This is a minor handling variant of Daryl's Diamond Bar...what I'm presenting here is primarily a new presentation." And what is that presentation? The notion of using a gambling move as the method of moving the cards in an ace (or in this case, king) assembly. Yeah, no one's thought of that before. Bad trick? No. Bad presentation? No. "Better, superior, different"? No, no, no.

Liar's Poker: "All I've done is combine two classic effects: "'Five card mental selection' and a Jacob Daily/Eddie McQuire effect called Poker Face....Except for the climactic phase, this routine is basically John Mendoza's Routined Poker Mental." What makes it basically the same and not identical being the fact that in the Mendoza routine the spectator's card corresponds to its position from the top of the packet. In Darwin's, it is one off. I can feel the audience being impacted as we speak.

The idea of using tells as the overt method of this trick is again familiar territory and something many performers have adopted. Varying the sequences to avoid repetition is only common sense. And the ending, while providing "a" climax is not the most fitting climax as the effect shifts from the realm of pure psychology to sleight of hand craftiness. A better ending would be to have the spec read the Magi's tells and do a Fan/Stop force with the full deck.

Shark attack: Any hand called for. This is heavy work, but its clean, simple and good. A+.

Raw Deal: Specs shuffle cards. Magi deals 8 hands. Magi has royal Flush. NO DECK SWITCH! This too, is tremendous, but it has already appeared in print in Wimhurst's Jiggery Pokery. So, its a reprint and doesn't meet the CardShark criterion to the letter, but its good enough to let that pass.

The Professional: Good Solid Poker/Bridge Demo. A different handling of two Wimhurst ideas. Not substantially different enough to measure up to the "different, better, superior" bar, but as the others are in limited release I think it is great that this routine will have more accessibility.

God of the Gamblers: Super intense, over drive center deal demo. This too is one of the better, push it to the limit, dealing demos. Card is selected. Cards shuffled. You "center deal" all of the red cards, leaving only one red amongst the blacks, their card. Cards are gathered and reshuffled. Now you deal out each suit in ORDER. Powerful, but is it too over the top? Personally I think a talented performer could put over the Vernon Center Deal demo more powerfully than this flash and trash style of routine. Nevertheless, if a "balls to the wall" approach is your thing, you'll be in heaven.

No Way Out/Pocket Money/Smart Money: Ok, something got lost in the translation. Darwin swears these routines are powerful for him, but they read like losers. Now, I'll be the first person to admit that sometimes, many times, things play better than they read; but I'm under the impression that some details of the script have been omitted.

No Way Out is a presentation for a card location and I can see how it could be humorous. Most of Darwin's Analysis are nothing more than common sense, but I think we needed some real insight in this case because the way to make this play is anything but obvious.

Both Smart and Pocket money suffer from this weird, "I guess I told you so," kind of feel. Two cards are selected, signed, and the deck placed in its case. Magi cleanly removes two cards from pockets. The performer claims them to be the 2 cards selected. "Either you've seen the most amazing demonstration of sleight of hand, or I'm bluffing through my teeth." He then asks if anyone wants to call his bluff. (After replacing the cards in his pockets.) And then concludes by saying, "I see how I'm dealing with smart gamblers who know when someone is not bluffing." Cards revealed. Ta Da?

What? This is a lesson in how to take the powerful cards to pocket effect and make it so convoluted and confusing that it comes off as more of a bad knock knock joke.

Last Laugh - Handling for Walton's Smiling Mule. Allows you to do trick without looking through cards face up.

Remote Control - Card at any Number. Uneventful. Again, anyone who has ever used a memorized deck has thought of this. Wait until Tamariz tips his methods.

Zen Master - A solid Feature routine, basically an elaboration of the Lazy Man's Card trick, but so decked out to warrant inclusion based on the Card Shark criterion.

Quick and the Dead - A fun presentation for Harry in your Pocket. This could be a great stand up item.

Cannibal Holocaust - There are more interesting routines out there (Eddy or Sanvert to name just two). Kings eat cards. Cards reappear between kings. Darwin has issues with magicians reproducing eaten cards from odd places. Wants everything to be consistent. But why reproduce them at all? Isn't card cannibalism interesting enough on its own merit? I think so.

The New Back Off - Small packet All backs routine with the convincer of having a real double backer to hand out. This is nice. You might want to check out the Steve Beam or Lovell/Henderson handlings for good non-gaffed versions. Ok, maybe I'm a bit biased there.

Ace in the Pocket - This could pack a MAJOR wallop. Very similar to Jennings' in the Palm of your Hand, without the softer emotional hook. This one will be overlooked by most. Don't. Learn it.

Ambitious Card - The Philosophy: Most Ambitious Card routines lack focus. Cards jump everywhere. Life is filled with suffering. (Ok, I added the last part.) Darwin's Focus: Convince audience of "two simple, precise, impossible claims," that he can make a card jump from the center to the top; and that this happens at the moment he flicks his wrist.

Which of course explains the monkey in the middle climax where the card appears in between two cards, in effect jumping 2nd from top? (To be read ala Dr. Evil) Right.....

Ok, so he's a hypocrite. I can accept that. But what about the routine? Ambitious card sequence, totally uninspired. Lot's of guys have traveled these paths. BUT the handling for Monkey in the Middle is the Best I've EVER seen. It will make you want to open the drawer and find that little envelope again. (There is one anecdote in this routine - the internet discussion - that reveals a very funny, clever side to Darwin. I wish more of his writing revealed aspects of his personality like this one does.)

Oil and Water - Contains his underspread cull handling which may open up some doors for card men. A minor complaint though, this cull is referred to throughout the book, but the trick in which it is taught is one of the last. Didn't care for that.

The routine itself: Small packet oil and water, followed by full deck separation and remix (ala Bannon). This is ok, but again neither better, superior, nor different.

And we have a cards across, a triumph, a wild card and a couple of more. I read them, but except for the Fred Kap's work revealed in the Wild Card effect, nothing was outstanding one way or another.

I would like to point out that sometimes a presentation and a trick go so well together, that it is a revelation when an artist revels their pairing to you. Darwin has a routine that goes along with the amazing story, "An Appointment in Samara." If the routine and the story were lovers, they would never be able to spoon, lay awake all night complaining of hair in the face and body parts having fallen asleep. Its awkward at best.

Wait until Max Maven releases his routine featuring the Samara tale. You will be enlightened.

Essay debating the use of Flourishes: This was one of the most fair, balanced discussions on this topic I have read. If you care about this subject, you need to read this.

So, do you think I hated it? Not at all. The material is strong. If you don't know the originals you will think you've unearthed a gold mine. You might also think Darwin a genius for having created these routines. But he didn't. Just remember that.

Darwin's variations and analysis? Mostly common sense. Nothing I really disagree with, but no head slapping, "Why didn't I think of that" revelations. His treatise on the use of 10 as the number for a cards across effect, while true, is a good example of stating what should be the obvious.

BUT, you know, common sense, sadly, isn't always so common. And in magic, it's often a valuable commodity. Darwin produced a good book. I just turned a very critical eye to his work. Sadly, it doesn't measure up to the publishing philosophy espoused in Card Shark, but let's face it, how many magical author's have even tried to set the bar that high for themselves.

Deja Vu Poker is worth the price of the book. The gambling material is strong, and the tricks will find their way into many people's repertoire. As a card trick book, it delivers solid material. As a contribution to the world of magic, well that's going a bit too far.

Personally, my initial reaction was to give it 2 stars since a lot of the material was familar to me. But some of that material was Darwin's or one of Darwin's students/friends and was in obscure sources. For someone who hasn't seen any of these ideas before, they'd easily give it 5. So, lets compromise. 3 1/2 stars with special mention to Deja Vu poker, and Raw Deal.

Product info for Scams & Fantasies with Cards

Author: Ortiz, Darwin
Average Rating:  (2)
Retail Price: $45.00
Buy Now
Manufacturer's Description:

Darwin is one of the world's leading sleight-of-hand performers with cards. He's also the author of some of the most important magic books in recent years: Cardshark, At the Card Table, The Annotated Erdnase and Strong Magic.

Scams & Fantasies with Cards is destined to take its place alongside these others as a modern classic. In this new, hardbound 235-page book he reveals thirty of his finest card creations yet. Highlights include:

  • Great new work with a memorized stack. Not just mental effects, but commercial and mind-blowing effects accomplished with your favorite memorized stack.

  • Darwin considers The Zen Master one of the most powerful effects he has ever created.

  • The Color of Money pushes the classic "Follow the Leader" to a new level of impossibility and impact.

  • If you never liked Oil and Water, Ultimate Oil and Water will make you a believer. A show-stopping effect that earns standing ovations.

  • In Impossible Conditions, cards turn over while in a spectator's hands, cards transform while in a spectator's pocket, and cards travel to your pockets under the closest scrutiny.

  • Totally original presentations ranging from the humorous to the suspenseful to the dramatic and poetic.

Darwin has also created some of the world's strongest gambling routines and in Scams & Fantasies he shares some of his best yet. Imagine allowing the spectators to thoroughly shuffle the deck, then immediately dealing yourself a royal flush (Raw Deal), or producing any poker hand requested (Shark Attack), or dealing out four pat poker hands (Déjà vu Poker), or four perfect bridge hands (The Professional). For the more formal occasion, there is God of Gamblers, a demonstration of false dealing that takes the concept into the stratosphere.

Throughout, Darwin provides psychological insights, presentational angles, performing tips and suggestions based on his extensive experience performing these effects for real audiences. The plots, presentations, methods and handlings are all designed for maximum audience impact. Impossible effects, entertaining presentations, rock-solid construction and performing wisdom combine to produce a must-have book for all lovers of great card magic.

Scams & Fantasies concludes with a new essay on magic theory that shows once more why Darwin Ortiz is the most thought-provoking writer in magic.

Hardbound, 235 pages, 135 high-quality line drawings by Tony Dunn.

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