Hello, My Name is...

This is my favourite approach to Jim Steinmeyer's "Nine Card Problem". I use it as an icebreaker when meeting someone new for the first time.

Effect

Someone remembers one of nine playing cards. The cards are thoroughly mixed by the participant, who uses their own name to randomise the process. Even so, your helper somehow manages to find their own selected card!

Background & Credits

This trick is based on the "Nine Card Problem" by Jim Steinmeyer; it 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

Give the cards to someone to shuffle. 

"Take the pack and give it a shuffle. From this point forward, I'm not going to touch the cards. First, you'll secretly select a playing card, and then you'll lose it. I know it makes no sense, but that's what magicians do! Then you're going to find your own selected card. In other words, you will do all the hard work, and I will have a rest!"

Ask her to select nine cards and discard the rest of the pack. Then, get her to deal three piles of three cards to the table:

"Take the nine cards and mix them up. Give them a good shuffle. Then deal them into three even piles, three cards in each pile."

Ask your participant to pick up any one of the three piles pile and peek at (and remember) the top card of the packet. Then, have her drop the other two piles on top of those in her hand (in whatever order she wishes).

"Pick up one of the piles and look at the bottom card. Remember this card. It is important that you don't forget it. Now drop your selected pile on top of one of the two remaining piles on the table in front of you. Next, pick up the unused pile, the smallest one, and drop it on top of all. You're now going to mix the card up in a strange way."

This places the selected card seventh from the top of the packet.

Instruct your helper to spell the word "HELLO", dealing one card to the table for each letter of the word, one on top of the other. Then, tell her to drop the rest of the cards on top. 

"Spell the word 'HELLO' by dealing one card from your packet to the table for each letter of the word, one card on top of the other. Then, drop the rest of the cards in your hand on top."

Then instruct her to spell the words "MY", "NAME", and "IS" in the same manner:

"Now spell the word 'MY' in the same way. M-Y. Remember to drop the cards left in your hand on top. Next, spell the word 'NAME'. N-A-M-E. Again, drop the leftover cards on top. Finally, spell 'IS' just as you did before. I-S. Drop the cards in your hand on top of the pile on the table." 

This positions the selected card second from the top of the packet.

Next, tell your participant to spell her own name, for example, "PAIGE". The name must be between two and nine letters long for the trick to work. If your helper has a long first name, get them to use a nickname instead:

"Now I want you to spell your own name by dealing cards to the table, one on top of the other. What is your name? Paige, that's a lovely name. Now deal one card to the table for each letter of your name. P-A-I-G-E. Drop the rest of the cards on top."

The selection is now second from the bottom of the packet, no matter what name is spelt. Emphases the random nature of the mixing process by saying, "Different names have different spellings. For example, my name is MARTY, which contains five letters. However, my younger sister's name is JENNIFER, which contains eight." (Of course, you should substitute these two names with ones that are more relevant to you. I think it is a good idea to include your own name because it will help you build rapport with your audience.)

Get Paige to perform the "deal or switch" mixing procedure. Paige can choose to deal the top card of the packet to the table, or she can switch the position of the top two cards and then drop them, as a pair, to the table. Paige continues dealing or switching until all the cards are in a messy pile on the table:

"Let's mix up the cards some more. We'll use something called the 'deal or switch shuffle'. This is similar to the mixing procedure that automatic shuffling machines use. You know, those machines that they use at the Blackjack tables. You can choose to deal a card to the table or switch the position of the top two cards of the packet before dropping them, as a pair, to the table. Keep dealing or switching until all the cards are on the table in a single pile."

While this mixing procedure seems random, all it does is reverse the order of the cards. Consequently, the selected card is again second from the top of the packet.

Talk Paige through a Down-Under Deal. The first card is dealt to the table, and the next is moved to the bottom of the packet. Paige keeps doing this, alternating between dealing a card to the table and putting one under the packet until only one card is left in her hand. Amazingly, this card will always be her selection. 

The successful outcome of the trick relies entirely on this Down-Under Deal. Therefore, giving your participant clear instructions on how to do it is essential. As magicians, we're familiar with odd procedures like this, but most normal people will struggle to perform a Down-Under deal, especially if they don't play cards regularly. Here's what I recommend you say:

"Do you have any idea where your card is in the packet? No, neither do I. It's a good job, I don't have to find it. That's your job! OK, I'll help you out. There's a magic technique called the 'Aussie Algorithm' that can help you find your card. Take the top card of the packet and deal it to the table. Then, take the next card, and place it under the packet in your hand."

Tap the card on the table and say, "Down, under. Down, under, down, under, down, under, down, under, down, under, down. And stop! Down under, that's why it's called the Australian Algorithm! For the first time, please name the playing card you're thinking of... The Three of Hearts? Wow, that's amazing. How did you do that!"

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

This trick works equally as well with one or multiple participants. In addition, it is an excellent trick to perform as an opener because it allows you to learn your participant's name and perform a puzzling trick at the same time.

It is important to stress the random nature of the mixing process. Don't skip this part. Tricks like the "Nine Card Problem" live or die on how well you build up the impossible nature of the location. Spend some time writing your own script for the routine. This will help you connect with your participant better and make it less likely that you'll forget the correct sequence of events.

Notes

If your participant is not a confident card handler, you can perform the Deal and Switch Shuffle for them. They shout out "deal" or "switch", and you mix the cards accordingly.

The only challenging aspect of this trick is remembering the sequence of events. First, get your helper to select a card. You then instruct them to spell the phrase "MY NAME IS...", then you get them to perform a Deal or Switch Shuffle followed by a Down-Under Deal to finish. Once you've committed this sequence to memory, the trick is a piece of cake! 🎂