Developing Daley: Chapter 2

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Daley Defects

WHEN I perform magic for someone I've just met, I nearly always start with Dai Vernon's "Twisting the Aces", closely followed by Dr Daley's Last Trick. For this reason, I've probably performed Daley's transposition more than any other card trick, and, as a consequence, I've developed a keen appreciation of its strengths and weaknesses. This chapter dissects Daley's trick and discusses these weaknesses, along with some simple ways to eliminate them (alterations that don't require significant changes to the method or presentation of the trick). I've identified four main weaknesses in the plot:

  • The effect is too direct;
  • The trick is poorly motivated;
  • The effect is easily missed;
  • The trick is too short.

Let's take some time to consider each of these issues in turn.

The Effect is Too Direct

When a magician describes an effect as being “direct”, this is usually positive. This is because such effects move forward in a straight line; they don't take detours and stay on the main road until they reach their destination. Al Baker's effects are good examples of this “straight-line thinking” (a term coined by the late, great Eugene Burger). However, an effect can be too direct, and I think Dr Daley's Last Trick falls into this category. The trick is a classic example of Rick Johnsson's Too-Perfect Theory in action; the transposition is so strong that it will lead some onlookers straight to the actual method.

This weakness is exacerbated when you deal the cards into a spectator's hands. I think the moment you put a face-down card into an intelligent person's hand, they will start to question the identity of the card and, worse still will be tempted to turn it over. The way to avoid this is to engage their brain with another thought, e.g., ask them a question, such as, “How heavy is that card?” This new thought acts as mental misdirection and knocks the previous one out of their mind.  As Daley did, you can also deal with this issue by simply placing the cards on the table in front of you. In this situation, a person is much less likely to turn the cards over prematurely because they have to invade your personal space to do so. (Of course, you can only take this approach if you're standing or seated at a table.) Applying these touches will improve the effect's impact, but they won't address the “too perfect” issue.

One way to handle this particular weakness is to introduce a mixing procedure. By delaying the revelation of the transposition, you raise the possibility that sophisticated sleight of hand was used to switch the cards after they were placed on the table. Such a delay needn't be long. Simply switch the position of the two “black Aces” (?) a few times (three times is usually enough). This manoeuvre makes locating the Ace of Spades more of a challenge, which strengthens the internal logic of the trick (that it is a short con like Three-Card Monte). More importantly, the mixing of the two tabled cards acts as a red herring, leading your audience away from the truth, moving the trick out of the “too perfect” category.

However, this mixing procedure does present a slight complication; it must be done one-handed as your left hand is already occupied holding the two “red Aces” (?). To make this strange behaviour a little less suspicious, I explain that I'm only going to use one hand in an attempt to prevent myself from cheating (this absurd concept usually gets a laugh). Alternatively, you can free up your left hand before the mixing procedure begins by discarding the two “red Aces” (?) to one side. You can even place them face up on the table, and most people will not notice that they're the wrong cards because everyone is focused on tracking the location of the Ace of Spades. (We'll expand on this idea later in the book, see “Big Bullet Monte”.)

I think this solution works well because it transforms Dr Daley's Last Trick into a demonstration of an impossible-to-win street scam rather than a pointless guessing game.

Suppose you don't have the luxury of a tabletop to perform on. In that case, you can use John Bannon's extremely clever blocking of the routine, which can be found on his Bullets After Dark DVD under the title “Doctored Daley”. The idea has seen print several times and can also be found in his excellent book Dear Mr. Fantasy. I recommend that you watch a performance of it on YouTube to see how John has solved this particular weakness. Although uncrossing your participant’s hands appears to be a lame joke, it provides enough misdirection, both mental and physical, to distract curious helpers and usually generates laughter. In addition, John’s clever approach reduces the likelihood of your participant questioning the identity of the two cards they hold and introduces a subtle red herring that enhances, rather than damages, the effect.

The Trick is Poorly Motivated

Like many magic tricks, “The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley” suffers from poor motivation. Why do we use four Aces when only two are involved in the action? Unless we announce ahead of time what is going to happen, our audience might wonder why we're using the red Aces at all. And if we did tell everyone what was going to happen, it would ruin the surprise element of the trick. So, no, we don't want to do that.

Poor motivation is usually a sign that the internal logic of the trick is faulty. I touched on this weakness above when I mentioned a way to improve the internal logic of Daley's trick by mixing the position of the two black Aces before the reveal. Doing this makes locating the Ace of Spades more challenging, thus better justifying the somewhat silly question (“Where is the Ace of Spades?”). This approach improves the presentation but still doesn't help explain why the two red Aces are being used.

We can justify why we're only using the black Aces by further developing this “Chase the Ace” presentation. Simply explain that you're using two Aces, to begin with, to make the game “easier to play.” After all, your volunteer has never played this game before, so using all four Aces would be unfair—problem solved! 

We've justified the use of all four Aces and managed not to spoil the surprise ending. You could even develop a second phase to Daley's Last Trick, which involved all four Aces to add credence to this premise (something we'll look at later in this book).

The Effect is Easily Missed

It is very easy for a person to forget which Aces are on the table and which are still in your hand, especially if you're working for an audience that isn't particularly attentive (or under the influence of alcohol). No effect will be perceived if this happens, and the trick will fail to impress your audience.

Therefore, it is imperative that we find a way to emphasise the relative location of the Aces before the transposition takes place. This must be done subtly. Otherwise, people might wonder, quite rightly, why you’re pointing out the obvious and anticipate the outcome of the trick. Such a realisation would make the trick a lot less magical and make it easier to reverse engineer the method. So, how do we make the magic clear without spoiling the surprise ending?

The simplest way to do this is to introduce some kind of visual reminder; a black casino chip would work well. Give the chip to a member of your audience and instruct him to place it on top of the card he believes to be the Ace of Spades. The idea here is that the black chip acts as a subtle memory cue that the black Aces are on the table. This prop also makes the trick more compelling because the cash value of a black chip is one hundred dollars, a big bet by most people's standards!

You can also use verbal memory cues to help your audience remember which Aces are where. For example, if there is a chair nearby, try dealing the two “black Aces” (?)  to the chair and get a member of your audience to sit on the cards. Tell them that “the black cards are under your bottom.” As you deliver this line, emphasise the alliteration (the repetition of the “b” sound in “black” and “bottom”). This repetitive sound helps clarify the relative location of the Aces. Using a chair in this way is a fun way to stage the trick as the situation has built-in humour and makes the transposition much more impossible. The only reservation I have with this idea is that we might be back in too-perfect territory.

Another solution is to use different cards that are easier to remember. Bill Duncan has an excellent idea along these lines in his book Tubthumping, which involves presenting Dr Daley's Last Trick as a demonstration of hand mucking. I think this is an excellent idea because not only does it add clarity, it also justifies the use of four cards. In addition, this significantly improves the internal logic of the trick. (This pseudo hand mucking presentation is explored in Chapter Eleven.)

The Trick is Too Short

When performed as a stand-alone trick, the effect is almost over before it has begun. In some situations, this is desirable, but not always. Because the trick ends so quickly, it feels unfinished; the transposition of the red and black Aces is so strong that most audiences will want to see more magic. So, how can we lengthen the effect without tarnishing its purity?

There are two possible solutions to this problem:

  1. Develop a short card act that includes Dr Daley's Last Trick. For example, begin by performing a bare-handed four Ace production, such as Cliff Green's “Phoenix Aces” or Lee Asher's “Thunderbird” production. Follow this with Dai Vernon's “Twisting the Aces”, and finish your act with a performance of Dr Daley's Last Trick.
  2. Modify the trick so that it has multiple phases. “Weighted Aces” by Gregory Wilson and John Carney's “Sanverted” are good examples of this approach.

I've developed several short close-up sets around the Doctor's trick, similar to the one I've outlined above. More often than not, I use Dr Daley's Last Trick as my closer because the transposition never fails to garner a great reaction. However, it also works well as an opener because it establishes that you're only using four cards (this often makes any subsequent magic you perform much more impressive in the eyes of your audience). The magic also happens fast, and the trick leaves a lasting impression, all good attributes for an opening effect. I've also developed several multi-phase approaches to the plot, which you'll find spread throughout the later chapters, alongside more detailed and robust presentational strategies.

Now that we've discussed some general fixes, let's look at a few of the standard handlings, including Daley’s method for the transposition.

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