Spell the Magic Words

Well done, you've found a hidden trick! I hope you have fun performing it.

This is a three-person version of the "Nine Card Problem" that I accidentally invented while developing "Duck and Deal Discovery". It uses a funny "magic words" presentation that is particularly suited to small children but will also work for most adults, too. It makes use of the ancient magic word "ABRACADABRA". This gives you lots of opportunities to weave interesting facts about this mystical word into your presentation.

The magic word ABRACADABRA in the form of a triangle. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

These instructions assume you know the method for the "Nine Card Problem". I recommend reading and learning my handling of the trick called "Elaborative Encoding" and "Duck and Deal Discovery" before attempting to learn "Spell the Magic Words".


Three people remove nine random cards from the pack. First, they each select and remember a card. Then, all three packets are mixed using an unusual spelling procedure; the name of the chosen card is spelt out by each participant, and one card is dealt to the table for each letter of the card's name.

The three piles are combined and mixed. 

The first selected card is found by performing a "Duck and Deal" elimination. The next card is discovered by spelling the ancient magic word "ABRACADABRA", dealing one card to the table for each letter of the word; the top card of the pile is turned over, and it's the second spectator's card!

The cards are mixed once more. This time, the most powerful magic word of all is used to locate the third and final card; the word "PLEASE" is spelt out, and one card is dealt to the table for each letter of the word. Finally, the top card of the pile is flipped face up—the third selected playing card has been found!

Background & Credits

This trick is a three-person version of the "Nine Card Problem" by Jim Steinmeyer, which was first published in MAGIC Magazine (May 1993, pg 56). The "Nine Card Problem" was later reprinted in Jim's book Impuzzibilities in 2002.

The underlying principle is related to the trick "Remote Control", also created by Jim Steinmeyer and published in The New Invocation (No. 43) in February 1988. While "Remote Control" requires eighteen cards, not Nine, it uses a very similar method.

A much earlier application of the same principle can be found in Abbott's Anthology of Card Magic Volume Three, compiled by Gordon Miller. It is used in a trick using the whole pack called "Miracle Mix-Up" by Jack Yates (page 58). Initially, Jack sold the trick as a manuscript in 1953.

The "Deal or Switch" mixing procedure was devised by Paul Curry and first published as part of a trick of his called "A Swindle Of Sorts" in his book Paul Curry Presents, which was first published in 1974.

Dealing the cards into three piles to make the selection is a Bob Farmer idea.

Requirements & Preparation

A regular pack of playing cards.

Method & Presentation

Ask someone to shuffle the cards, then deal three piles of nine cards to the table. Instruct three people to pick up one of the nine-card piles and shuffle it thoroughly.

Next, get all three participants to deal three piles to the table, three cards in each pile. Tell them to pick up one of the piles and peek at the top card. This is their "secret card" that they must remember.

Instruct your participants to pick up one of the other two piles and drop it on top of the cards they're holding. Then, finally, tell them to pick up the remaining three-card pile and drop it on top of all. While this process feels random, the three selected cards will always end up third from the bottom, or seventh from the top, of each packet.

Now guide all three of your helpers through a "Deal or Switch" shuffle. The easiest way to do this is to perform the shuffle with each participant, one person at a time. For example, if your participant says "deal", simply deal the top card to the table. If, however, they shout "switch", spread over the top two cards of the packet and switch their position before dropping them, as a pair, to the table. Continue dealing or switching in this way until all nine cards are in a messy pile on the table. While this shuffle appears to genuinely mix up the cards, all it does is reverse their order. 

Once all three piles have been mixed in this way, the three selections will be third from the top of each pile.

Next, get each person to spell the name of their selected card; tell them to deal one card to the table for each letter of the word. Remember, they should drop any remaining cards on top of the pile after each card is spelt. (If you need more details on this process, please see the write-up for "Elaborative Encoding".)

Once your three participants have done this, the three selections will be the fifth card from the top (or bottom) on their respective piles.

Combine the piles in the following way. Take the cards from your second participant first. Drop the third participant's pile on top of this pile. Finally, drop the first participant's cards on top of all. 

Situation Check: You hold a twenty-seven-card packet. The first selection is fifth from the top, the third selection is fourteenth from the top, and the second selection is twenty-third from the top of the packet. 

Perform a Deal or Switch shuffle on the twenty-seven cards, the sloppier the better. This mixing procedure will only reverse the cards. The three selected cards will still occupy the fifth, fourteenth and twenty-third positions from the top of the pile.

Turn to your first participant and say, "To find your selected card, we're going to use a mystical ritual called the Duck and Deal!"

To produce the first selected card, perform a "Duck and Deal" (Under-Down Deal). The last card left in your hand will always be the first person's selection. Drop the selected card in front of participant number one.

Turn to participant number two, and say, "To find your card, we're going to use one of the oldest magic words in the world. Does anyone know what this word might be? That's right, it's ABRACADABRA!" 

"The word was used as a charm to protect against bad luck, evil and illness. It was used as a reductive spell, which means it was written on a piece of papyrus multiple times, the final letter of the word missing on each line until the word was reduced to a single 'A'. The idea behind reductive spells is that making the word shorter would make pain or illness gradually diminish.

It was also used as an incantation and is often found inscribed on ancient talismans and silver amulets."

"Serenus Sammonicus, a Roman academic, was the first person to write about the word's mysterious powers. He believed that it had the ability to cure an acute fever! Nowadays, we use it to find playing cards!"

Spell "ABRACADABRA", dealing eleven cards to the table. Then, turn the top card of the packet face up to reveal the second selection! Put the selection in front of participant number two.

Pick up the eleven cards on the table and drop them on top of the cards in your hand. Perform a final Deal or Switch shuffle to reverse the order of the cards in the packet.

Turn to participant number three and say, "However, there is one magic word that is far more powerful than ABRACADABRA. Do you know what it is? No, it's not Alakazam. It's PLEASE. The most powerful magic word of all!"

Spell the word "PLEASE", dealing six cards to the table. Turn the top card of the packet face up—it is the third and final selection. Finish your performance by saying, "Please really is the magic word!"

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

This is a very entertaining triple-location effect with a lot of room for comedy. However, you must have something interesting to say when you perform the multiple Deal or Switch shuffles and the three revelations, which all rely on a significant amount of dealing.


This trick uses twenty-seven cards. This makes it very convenient to perform a version of the "Twenty-Seven Card Trick", also known as "Gergonne's Pile Problem", with the same set of cards after you have finished performing "Spell the Magic Words" (or preceding the trick, if you prefer).

"Gergonne's Pile Problem" is an old mathematical effect, dating back to at least the Seventeenth Century. The trick was popularised and developed by Joseph-Diez Gergonne, a famous French mathematician, and is, in essence, a better version of that old chestnut the "Twenty-One Card Trick". I'll be sharing my presentation and handling of this trick in a future article on this blog.