Double Impossible

I hope to give this self-working card trick a go; it combines a spelling location effect with an impressive prediction. Although the write-up is lengthy, the trick itself is relatively easy to perform once you understand the principle at work; I recommend you read the instructions with a pack of cards in hand.


Someone shuffles the pack, and the magician removes a "prediction card", which is placed face down, sight unseen, on the table. Next, two people pick a "random card" from the pack using a freely selected number from one to ten. The first card is left in the pack, and the second is placed face up on top of the magician's prediction card.

The first participant freely cuts the pack to randomise the position of his card. Next, he spells the word "IMPOSSIBLE", dealing one card to the table for each letter. This leaves him holding a single card, which turns out to be his selected card—amazing! The magician then turns the prediction card face up—it's the mate of the second participant's selection!

Background & Credits

This trick is based on "Out On Location" by Roy Walton from My Best Self-Working Card Tricks by Karl Fulves. The original trick relies on a simple yet cunning mathematical principle that enables you to control a randomly selected card to the fifteenth position from the top of the pack while also forcing a known card on a second participant (the original fifteenth card from the face of the pack). First, both participants are asked to pick a number from one to ten. Then, these numbers are used to select two "random cards" from the remainder of the pack.

Most of the time, the trick works like a charm. However, if the sum of the two numbers equals fifteen, the trick will not work; both participants will receive the same force card. Far from feeling magical, this outcome exposes the mathematical nature of the deception.

To fix this problem, I've added a simple procedure that prevents both participants from getting the same card. This minor modification eliminates the possibility of anything going wrong, no matter what two numbers are chosen. In addition, I've changed the method to force the eleventh card from the pack's face rather than the fifteenth to speed things up (less dealing is needed). Finally, my handling avoids making any written predictions, and by spelling to a card, I've removed the need for one of the predictions to take the form of a number. I believe this better disguises the mathematical nature of the method and allows me to perform the trick more often, even when I don't have a pen and some paper at hand.

Requirements & Preparation

A regular pack of playing cards, which need not be complete, and a reasonable amount of table space (because you need to form several small piles during the effect). In fact, you can perform "Double Impossible" with a borrowed pack, even if it is in terrible condition.

The trick is impromptu, so no advanced preparation is required. 

Method & Presentation

For the purposes of explanation, we'll assume that you're performing for a man called Harry and his wife, Bess. First, hand the pack to Harry and instruct him to give the cards a thorough shuffle. Next, give the cards to Bess and ask her to do the same.

Take back the pack and run through it, remembering the value and suit of the card that lies eleventh from the face of the pack; this is your force card. Remove this card's mate as your "prediction" and place it face down on the table.

Note: If the mate is in front of the force card in the pack, you must replace it with another card so that the force card remains eleventh from the face of the pack. An easy way to do this is to up-jog the mate and any indifferent card behind the force card in the pack. Then, strip out both cards and act as if you're having difficulty choosing between the two. Next, slide the pair onto the pack's face, remove the face card (the mate) and place it face down on the table. This subtlety displaces one card, leaving the force card in the correct position in the pack.

Situation Check: Your force card, e.g., the King of Hearts, is eleventh from the face of the pack. The mate of your force card (in this case, the King of Diamonds) is face down on the table.

Ask Harry to choose any number from one to ten, e.g., five. Next, deal a pile of face-down cards equal to his selected number in front of him, ostensibly so that he doesn't forget his number (let's call this pile A). Next, turn the pack face up and ask Bess to name any number from one to ten, e.g., seven. Then, deal a face-up pile of cards equal to her chosen number in front of her (pile B).

Keeping the pack face up, deal the same number of cards as there are in Harry's pile into a separate face-up pile between the two existing piles. In this case, you would deal five cards to the table (we'll call this pile C). Have him remember the value and suit of the card that falls at his number. Continue dealing cards to the pile until you've dealt a total of ten cards. Then, pick up pile C and drop it on top of the cards in your hand.

Repeat the same procedure with Bess, but use her number instead. When you get to the card that falls at her number, drop it on top of your face-down prediction card. For the sake of consistency, continue dealing cards until you have removed a total of ten from the pack (let's call this pile C again). This pile should contain nine cards (one has been placed on top of the prediction card).

Instead of picking up the dealt pile as before, drop all the cards remaining in your hand on top of pile C.

Important: If the sum of the two numbers selected by your participants equals eleven, then the first participant will get the force card (the one initially at position eleven from the face of the pack). If you continue to follow the instructions above, both participants will receive the same card—we don't want that to happen. To avoid this situation, drop the first selection on top of your prediction card, and ask the second participant to remember the card that falls at her number. In other words, reverse the selection processes (participant #1 gets the prediction card and participant #2 remembers the card that falls on her number). The pack is reassembled in the same way in either case.

Situation Check: In our example, there are seven face-up cards in front of Bess (B). Next to this pile is a large face-up pile comprising most of the pack (D). And in front of Harry is a pile of five face-down cards (A). So on your far left is pile B, to the right is pile D, and next to this is pile A.

Next, pick up the smaller face-up pile belonging to Bess (B) and drop it on top of the larger face-up pile (D). Next, pick up this pile and turn it face down. Finally, pick up the remaining face-down pile (A) in front of Harry and drop it on top of the cards in your hand. The pack has now been reassembled.

Situation Check: The force card—that is to say, the card selected "at random" by Bess—is face up on top of your prediction card. The card belonging to Harry is either tenth or eleventh from the top of the pack. (Remembering how to reassemble the pack is the most challenging part of the trick.)

Hand the pack to Harry and walk him through Jay Ose's Triple False Cut. First, have him cut approximately one-third of the pack to the table (pile 1). Next, ask him to cut another third to the table (pile 2), indicating with one of your fingers that he should place the cards to the right of the first pile (your left if you're sitting opposite him). Finally, get him to put the remaining third (pile 3) to the right of the two piles already on the table. Ask Harry to "stack up the cards" as you point to piles 1, 2 and 3 in order; this ensures that the pack is re-assembled in the correct order while maintaining an air of casualness. (The worst thing you could do in this situation is to give exact instructions on how to reassemble the piles, as this would indicate that the order was important and cast a shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of the triple cut).

Instruct Harry to deal one card from the top of the pack for each letter in the word "IMPOSSIBLE". The ten cards should be dealt into a single face-up pile. If the last card dealt is the selection, stop dealing and draw attention to the fact that the card on top of the pile is the first participant's randomly selected card. However, if the last card dealt is not the selection, instruct your participant to turn the "next card" over to reveal his selection face up on top of the pack.

Now turn to Bess and pick up her selected card and the face-down prediction. Raise both cards to chest height and slowly revolve the prediction card so everyone can see its face. Your prediction is correct! A double impossibility has taken place!

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

If you want to keep the named numbers unknown, get your participants to do the dealing while your back is turned. Personally, I don't think this adds much to the overall effect and really only serves to complicate the selection process. I also prefer handling the selection and return of the cards to the pack to ensure that nothing goes wrong

Any ten-letter word or phrase can be used to locate the first participant's card. For example, "HOCUS POCUS", "MUMBO JUMBO", or "FIND MY CARD" are all excellent alternatives to the word "IMPOSSIBLE". If the first participant's selection spells in ten or eleven letters, e.g. Ace of Clubs or Two or Hearts, you can also locate it by dealing one card for each letter of its name.


Asking the participant to deal the cards face up when spelling "IMPOSSIBLE" means that you don't have to worry whether the selected card is tenth or eleventh from the top of the pack; either way, your participant will always manage to locate the correct card.

In our example, the card would be tenth from the top because the combined total of the two selected numbers is less than fifteen (5 + 7 = 12). The first selection will always lie eleventh from the top of the pack when the total is fifteen or greater.