Written by Stephen Minch Illustrated by Kelly Lyles
Published by Hermetic Press
Reviewed by Anthony Owen
I first became acquainted with Dr. Ken Krenzel during my three month tour of the United States in 1990. As one of the attendees at the weekday lunches at the Madison Hotel off Broadway and the Saturday afternoon Reubens' restaurant mega-sessions I got to witness some of his highly impressive technical skills and later, through the pages of his 1978 book - The Card Classics of Ken Krenzel (written and published by Harry Lorayne), got to know admire his work further and added some of his handlings for classic sleights to my arsenal.
His new 210 page book reveals that the past two decades have seen a move away from technique towards (as the book title indicates) ingenuity. He has also developed a keen awareness of the elements which strengthen a close-up performance, with several of the routines taking place in the spectators' hands. In his telling 'Primordia Rerum', titled Magical Magic, he writes "Though I am a practitioner and lover of pure sleight of hand, I nevertheless believe that dexterity alone can sometimes be counterproductive to the performance of truly astonishing magic."
The opening chapter in this clearly written and illustrated book is titled 'Out of Hand' and provides 'hands-off' handlings for the Ambitious Card, Any Card at Any Number (often referred to, although not in this text, as 'The Berglas Effect'), Paul Curry's Open Prediction, a sandwich effect and a couple of card forces. Almost all of these sequences are relatively 'sleight-free' (a term he feels is more appropriate than 'self-working', which he feels - and I wholeheartedly agree - "tends to trivialize the role of the performer, focusing rather on the ease of execution.") utilising - as he does in other routines in this book - the intelligent properties of gimmicks and gaffs, an element missing completely from his earlier published work.
However, chapter two, Things Change, deals with card changes and contains several sequences which will please those who prefer to concentrate upon perfect technique rather than an audience. (People that Jon Racherbaumer refers to in his Introduction to this book, when he romantically writes about Minch's term 'Cardopia' "where cardmen aspire, inspire and perspire. It is a world of dysphoric, driven souls who seek, celebrate and sometimes create the Real Work. It is a wild arena of abstractions.") Although, having said that, I suspect that the two relatively undemanding visual face up changes of an outjogged card, as it is propelled around the edges of a face down pack, will became the most popular and performed items from this book.
The next chapter, 'Escaping Cardville', contains a batch of items with coins and 'The Million Penny Mystery', an impressive sequence with a pencil which is worthy of the careful audience management required to create a situation in which it can be performed. 'Pocket Passport' is my favourite item from this chapter - a no-gaff Copper Silver transposition in which the spectator possesses both coin when the transposition occurs.
Chapter four, 'New Tools', contains some bright ideas on Franklin V. Taylor's Peek Deck, a full deck false cut, the top cover dribble pass, a simple and effective steal from fan to bottom palm, a visual change of a spread of cards and a simple and deceptive false insertion move. Anyone searching for, or currently utilising, variants of these utilities will find something of interest here.
The final bulging chapter, 'Tall Tales and Short Cons', contains a collective of feature routines. A number of these require certain specific conditions for their performance as they require lapping, angle palms etc. My personal favourites from this chapter, which can all be performed 'standing up surrounded', are 'Cloning Queens', in which single cards are visibly split into two, 'Gravity Travelers', an ingenious handling of the "twentieth century classic" 'four cards to pocket' sequence (ref. Stars of Magic) which utilises intelligent structure to do away with the usual challenging one handed top palm and 'Fired Up' a variant on Larry Becker and Kenton Knepper's marketed 'Kolossal Killer'. I found this last item of particular interest as I have previously published a version of the effect which was developed, along with Circle members Marc Paul and Andy Stone, during the Third Opus Isle of Man Congress. (Our version can be found in The Magicians' Yearbook 1997 published by Dynamic Fx.) Fans of this effect should check out Krenzel's version in this book which has the bonus of requiring a single regular deck.
I enjoyed the ingenious thinking displayed in the magic in this book. However, the highlight for me was Krenzel's opening essay on Magical Magic, which maintained the high standard of intelligent writing featured in Hermetic Press' 1996 hits 'The Books of Wonder' and 'Card College Volume Two'. In a book packed with material that focuses upon the specific positions of props in the performer's - and spectators' - hands it is heartening to read at the outset "You are the most important ingredient in the art of making your magic magical. If you are an interesting, genuinely nice person, without hubris, who respects your audiences, then they will accept your offerings and willingly enter your magical wonderland....A mediocre musician may be technically adroit, but without 'soul' he can never capture the full beauty and spirit of the music as envisioned by its composer. Similarly, magicians who focus on dexterity and fail to develop presentational skills, especially those of spectator management, can never fully realize their potential as magical magicians."
© Anthony Owen July 2000