Charles Thorton Jordan was born on October 1, 1888 in Berkley California, in 1919 he put out a small manuscript entitled Thirty Card Mysteries. In 1920 he went on to publish another 5 booklets with over 50 effects, and he continued to publish until 1923 when he lost his interest in magic. Jordan never performed in public and was only known to magicians mostly through his publications. In 1935 he was contacted by Theodore Annemann who wanted to publish a collection of his work. However, the series was abandoned shortly after. Jordan died in 1944 after 4 years of illness.
Now over 60 years later you can access these publications as E-Books thanks to Lybrary.com. I have just finished reading and working through Jordan’s first publication Thirty Card Mysteries, which I will review below.
I picked this book as I was interested in reading about Jordan’s work on Riffle Shuffle Chains, something which I have come across in a number of modern card effects. The book itself is split into four distinct chapters, I have made notes on all the effects but rather than just going through and describing them all, I will review the book section by section and give some thoughts as to what effects interested me and which ones may not work in today’s world. Hopefully this will give you a good overview of the book and its contents.
The book opens with a preface by Jordan, claiming no originality for the methods, just the applications (but what applications!), interestingly mentioning a Charles O. Williams of Cardiff, England for having some work on the Riffle Shuffle similar to Jordan’s. Following the preface is an introduction by non other than T. Nelson Downs, who has this to say “…numerous books have been written in recent years upon the subject of our beloved Art. But may of them have been mediocre — describing the same old tricks, in the same old manner…”. What would he make of todays magic market I wonder, but he then goes on to praise Jordan’s book as standing out from all the rest.
The Introduction to Chapter 1 is an essay entitled Trailing the Dovetail Shuffle To Its Lair (With Sidelights On One Or Two Other Shuffles). In this Jordan explains the basic principles behind Riffle Shuffle Chains to help give the reader a clear understanding of the workings to the tricks that follow.
Here would be a good place to mention that a small handful of the tricks in this book depend on the spectator or performer transforming a normal pack into a Piquet deck which is a 32 card deck with all the 2’s through 6’s removed. Now for me this may be a bit suspicious as it would require your audience to have some knowledge of Piquet, which as far as I know is not that prevelant, at least here in the UK, where getting your audience to recognise Poker hands may be a struggle! Or at least some excuse for why you are removing the low cards. I think however with a bit of thought that the methods behind these Piquet tricks are still interesting to read, and could be changed to update them and use them with alternate strategies.
The first trick in the book Close Range Mind Reading uses this ruse along with the Shuffle ideas, however I think it is used to better effect later in the chapter, without having to resort to the Piquet excuse.
Long Distance Mind Reading is an excellent trick which I’m sure I remember reading about quite a few years back, basically you mail a deck of cards to a friend with instructions to do the trick, and mail either half of the deck back to you, and you can tell them which card they picked. This falls into the category of those rare, hands-off, don’t have to be there, kind of tricks, like the Telephone tricks or even IM or E-mail or Web tricks.
The Premo is an impossible location, which while the conditions and setup are fair, the method probably looks exactly like what you are doing, having to deal all the deck into columns, and the justification for it is probably not worth the pay off. A Novel Detection is a similar location effect with a slightly better method, that may be good session material.
The Dealing Dovetail Detection and The Rolling off a Log Detection are the other stand-out items in this chapter, both similar in presentation, both involve thorough mixing of the deck from the spectators point of view, you shuffle they select a card, you shuffle some more and then proceed to find it. In Rolling off a Log, you don’t even have them put the card back, yet you can still shuffle, look through the deck and reveal the card, this uses a nice simple version of something made popular by Harry Lorayne.
The last trick in this chapter is The Full Hand which uses the natural property of a perfect riffle (or Faro) shuffle, but requires your audience members to remember four cards each, although with a bit of thought you could have them written down, or signed, or use four of a kind etc. it is the relative ease of method and presentation which could be quite intriguing, as you seemingly pull out their chosen cards from your pocket, or a container after the cards have been mixed.
Chapter 2 is entitled Tricks of an Impromptu Nature (requiring little or no skill). The chapter opens with an excellent trick, With the Mind’s Eye, by James J. Moren, of San Francisco. A spectator shuffles the deck, and selects a card, all while the performer is blindfolded, the deck is then handed to the performer who cuts and mixes the deck, then deals through and with the cards face down finds the selected card. The method may scare a few people off, but personally I can see myself doing this, the method like so many of Jordan’s tricks is direct and to the point, as is the effect itself. This is similar in method to the Bare Faced Detection also in this chapter, which is slightly more direct in presentation.
Simplicity Speller is a spelling trick which has a clever control procedure, but I would urge readers interested in this kind of effect to check out David Harkey’s Outsmart from Aha! especially if you do Memorised Deck work.
The Trio is a trick you are unlikely to be able to do, as it relies on certain qualities of the way Bicycle cards were packed back in Jordan’s days, although at the end of the book he does give you a way to do this with a different method.
Odd or Even has for me a ridiculous method for a trick that would probably never work, especially with a challenging audience. The effect of a spectator being able to tell if the packet he cut off was odd or even, is not worth the risky and inconsistent secret.
The last three tricks in this chapter are more worth while, The Escape uses two card packets and elastic bands, a selection escaping from one banded packet, to appear in the other secured packet, the method is sneaky and clever.
The Twentieth Century Puzzle is a display of mind reading where a small number of cards are chosen and then one by one named by the performer, again the method is a brilliant piece of thinking, and could possibly give you good practice for a certain move.
At the time of writing this Corporate Performer Paul Green is putting together a booklet of tricks based upon a particular force, I am not certain of the original source, but certainly Annemann has a trick using this which Eugene Burger has published, and several modern day card tricks use it, and it was one of the favourite methods of my teacher Arthur Setterington. Here in the Jordan trick Telepathic Control, he gives a great way of getting into this from a shuffled unprepared deck, and the performer ends by being able to name the top cards of the dealt packets, as in the Annemann effect with a great little presentational throw-off.
Chapter 3 contains Feats Requiring More Or Less Manipulative Ability. The chapter starts with a three trick routine involving cards reversing, the first trick The Single Card Reverse has a selected card reversing in the deck, then in the second trick The Half Pack Reverse half of the deck is turned face up and half left face down, when spread the deck is seen to face all the same way, and for the last time in The Alternate Reverse you alternate cards face up and face down, but once again, in the end the deck has righted itself. These three tricks contain some interesting card reverse ideas, though some of the construction of the routine is, for me at least, a bit heavy going.
The next two tricks like The Escape mentioned earlier, use a deck and a rubber band, The Pack that Cuts Itself, is a visual effect where the selection is placed back into the deck, the deck tossed into the air and the pack seems to cut itself, and the selection ends up on the face of the pack.
The Impossible Journey is very similar in effect to Daryl’s Ultimate Ambition, or more precisely Jay Sankey or Justin Hanes version using the deck and an Elastic Band, again Jordan comes up with an interesting and direct method, which for me might be a bit too risky, as the dirty work happens at the time when all the heat is on the deck, and the proving method is not quite as clean as the Sankey or Hanes versions, but the method itself is worth knowing, and I am sure has a lot of other uses.
Jordan finishes this chapter with Ace effects, Our Friends the Aces starts off like an Ace Assembly with the vanish of the four aces which supposedly change into four jokers which then change back into the Aces, for me a confusing effect and method, probably best kept for magicians.
Leave it to the Aces has a chosen ace ending up next to a selected card, this has a very difficult method, although it is probably one of the most direct and clean looking ways of doing the trick, I can certainly think of easier ways to do this effect which probably isn’t that impressive to begin with.
Lastly we cannot leave this chapter without mentioning The Phantom Aces, under a pseudo monte game where the spectator has to find the black or red aces, Jordan describes a method to displace the cards, a method that would eventually become something that (amongst others) would seal his name in the history of card magic, what we now know as the Jordan Count.
In Chapter 4, the final chapter, we find Feats Requiring Previous Preparation. This is possibly the most hit and miss chapter, with 3 of the 7 effects requiring the Piquet dodge, and at least a couple requiring props or gaffs you would probably never make or use. Saying that though this chapter still contains consistantly good thinking and even if you might not be able to use some of the effects you can still read and hopefully be inspired to change them or come up with alternate methods.
For example the first trick in the chapter The Message from Mars, is similar to Telepathic Control that was mentioned earlier, again Paul Green has a great version using a mini wallet, Jordan adds some great touches to this, including how to get into it from a shuffled deck, again this touches on Piquet but I think it could work if you basically just take out clumps of cards as you execute the required procedure, then make sure it all ends up as it should and go from there, it will look as though you are really mixing the deck, if you do it in a haphazard way. Also Jordan has a great touch to cleanly show one prediction which you could modify to suit your style of dress.
Coluria uses the Piquet method in a similar way to the first trick in the book, so whilst you may not be able to do it exactly as written, you have to marvel at the method behind it, which I understand is related to the Bracelet or Gray code.
Satan’s Trance again uses the Piquet method, and another obscure method that a modern performer would have to experiment with, the trick itself however is interesting in that 4 cards are sealed into 4 envelopes and the lights turned off, when they come back on the envelopes now have names of cards on them, the cards are then revealed to be the ones in the envelopes.
The next trick Change your Mind? is similar in construction to Tamariz’s Neither Blind nor Stupid, Jordan’s method sees a more complicated setup, with a gaffed deck, which would probably need translating to modern cards, but again there are some advantages to this version in the revelation, in that it can be done from a freely scattered pile of face up and face down cards, and that it can be repeated with a half deck setup.
Spelling Any Card Called For is a rather complicated gaffed to the hilt trick that allows you to spell to any named card, for the memorisation involved, and construction of the deck I think this trick will probably never get used, I suggest readers look at other alternatives, Greys Spelling Trick in Royal Road is an excellent any deck anytime version, that allows you to spell down to two cards, one being a spectator selection, that rather than them naming, is supposedly unknown to the performer.
The Card and Number Mystery is a prediction of a card arrived at by dealing heaps and adding spots on cards, if you like this sort of thing the method for the force is clean and clever.
The last trick the Card and Bag Mystery, is a transposition between a Joker which is placed into an envelope and into a small cloth bag, and pierced by a piece of string, with a chosen card, which ends up pierced in the envelope, whilst the Joker jumps back to the deck.
In conclusion even if we take out the effects that you may not be able to do due to method restrictions (although these still make good reading), you are still left with some very clever and fooling effects, and I think what runs through Jordan’s thinking is the simplicity of his presentations, coupled with direct procedures to get the job done, and in most cases methods that are far beyond their time, and even today contain revolutionary sleights and techniques that will ensure Charles Jordan, despite his short publishing career in Magic, will be immortalised in Card Trick History.
Highly Recommended, 30 Card Mysteries is available for $8 from Lybrary.com (http://www.lybrary.com/thirty-card-mysteries-p-134.html)