Omnia Mea Mecum Porto; A review of Pit Hartling’s “In Order to Amaze”
by Wouldn't you like to know?
Here we are again.
Apologies for my absence. Technical difficulties arose. And by technical difficulties, I just technically stopped giving a fuck about what you all thought. I’ve been living it up in the French Riviera, setting my ass hairs on fire and huffing the fumes, reinventing shit ways to make more money, making you all buy repackaged/regurgitated shit you probably already own.
But enough about me, we’re here to talk about Pit, and his latest work of exceptional card magic, focusing solely on the topic of memorized/stacked deck magic.
I first read about Pit in Oliver Eren’s ‘Concerto’s for Pasteboards‘ (2000), an unusual but enjoyable collection of card magic from a range of German/Swiss magicians, many of whom are still not commonly known unfortunately. Pit’s single contribution was enough to get me slightly moist, leading me to search him out. Eventually, I found the Flicking Finger’s ‘The Book’ or ‘Don’t Forget to Point’ (1998) and tour DVD (2003), finding a new and refreshing change on how entertaining and enjoyable a magic DVD/book could be. Pit’s alter ego, The Heinz, became a thing to aspire to; his magnificent hairline, his captivating eyes, his breathtaking lips and the spectacular shirt and Colonel Sanders bow tie combo. The complete package.
Doctors usually advise you if an erection lasts for longer than four hours, you should seek medical attention. Luckily, I was able to tide myself over with Pit’s seminal solo book of card magic, ‘Card Fictions‘ (2003), giving us a glimpse into his extremely well-constructed card magic mixed with the often overlooked genre of the memorized deck, or stacked deck.
Following what has been the longest semi-boner maintained in the history of erections has culminated in the new standard of book with ‘In Order to Amaze‘, amassing 252 pages of solid stack work which doesn’t feel labored, tedious and oddly same-y.
Just as ‘Card College’ has become the new standard/go to for learning card magic fundamentals, as the torch passed from Erdnase to ‘Stars of Magic’, Pit’s book is the progression/evolution of what the new standard of teaching, creating and performing with a memorised deck should be.
That is not to say that those who have come before him are irrelevant/outdated or disparage the works of Simon Aronson, Juan Tamariz et al. The works of Aronson and Juan have been crucial in seeing both the intricacies and complexities of structure possible by exploring a stack as a framework, but also the organic nature and “play” that can be had by using a stack in conjunction with sleight of hand to create some amazing magic.
Where Pit’s book stands out from the previous go-to books on stack work is that almost all of the tricks are stack-independent and are able to take you back into stacked order fairly simply at the end of an effect/routine. While some may see this as ‘spoon-feeding’ the reader, it shows a meticulous, almost scientific approach to effect construction for two goals; 1) the effects don’t look or feel inherently like stack work and 2) the effects allow you to reset into whichever stack order you need, which is perfect for everyone from the hobbyist to the working professional, catering to the variety of well-known stacks as well as self-developed stacks.
Ok, this intro has dragged on way too fucking long.. let’s get to the good stuff
Catch Me If You Can
Two ‘Detective’ cards are inserted face up into a shuffled deck by a spectator after they have freely named a card. The cards are squared and then spread, showing a face down card trapped between the two ‘Detectives’; the selected card! A second deck, which has been in full view before the effect started, is opened and slowly dealt by the spectator, showing their named card sandwiched by the same two ‘Detective’ cards.
At first glance, the method may seem fairly straightforward, however it’s a beautifully direct and uncluttered effect; the mileage and impact you get out of it is well worth it. The attention to detail in how the effect is paced and staged, even for something like a sandwich effect, is fucking brilliant. Pit has also included some variations on how the effect can be handled, allowing for different conditions to be met, depending on your tastes but also allowing complete beginners to seasoned stack users to achieve the same effect.
The magician shows his ability to ‘weigh’ cards. First, the spectator cuts a packet and the magician announces the exact number cut. The spectator cuts off another packet, the performer cuts off the exact same number before they are even counted. Finally, the magician is able to predict the amount of cards cut by a spectator before they’re even touched.
As Pit notes, counting cards can be an inherently boring situation which can weaken effects like Cards Across or ACAAN unless it’s made into a moment of tension and importance; something the audience cares about and wants to be emotionally invested in. Most effects have a similar caveat, but usually have much less effort to make the plot/conditions tangible and enticing.
The method itself is very solid and easy to follow along if you’re just getting comfortable with a stack, and the beauty of this effect is that during the ‘downtime’ of counting, this gives you a chance to ‘play’ the room and focus on your presentation; the method doesn’t need you to focus while the counting is happening. Fuck yeah.
A card is freely selected and lost into the deck while held by the spectator, and the deck is then shuffled. Using the power of deduction, the performer is able to eliminate all the cards and reveal the selection.
The method for this effect is actually one of the first practice drills I was taught when learning a stack. It’s a beautiful way to practice within a method without it looking like a method. Pit notes that this is a great example of molding the effect to your own performance style and rhythm (or learning and developing it), since the presentation of deducing the selected card can be done in a serious or lighthearted way and still play really strongly.
Another beautiful two deck routine. A spectator freely shuffles a deck and three cards are selected by different spectators. Each of the spectators then returns their card face up anywhere in the second deck held by the magician. The deck is spread to show that each of the free selections has been inserted directly next to its mate.
The method is nothing crazy or unusual, but the pacing and staging for how the cards are handled are what makes this a really beautiful and disarming routine. As a bonus, the clean up for this routine at the end of the write-up is a really devious and almost mindless looking way of returning to required cards to their stack order. Highly recommend looking into this.
Following this effect, there’s a slight tangent on discussing methods and context/cover for estimation and cutting cards in a stack to required positions, which I felt like could have been expanded. However, after finishing the book, the treatment and additional discussion in the context of specific effects made the discussion more tangible and relevant.
This is a weird one. The magician describes a figurative garden of Eden, with fruits with cards at their core (German’s are fucking weird sometimes). A spectator names the card at the ‘core’ and the magician ‘peels’ the deck layer by layer, leaving him holding the named card.
At first glance, I thought this method wasn’t going to be simple to follow and that there would be a lot of unnecessary mental gymnastics to calculate where I was and what to do next as the effect went on. I was so fucking wrong. The main write-up explains the proper approach and WHY it works, but in the comments section, Pit outlines another way which allows the performer to do the same effect following a simple rule.
Also, the cleanup/returning home for the end of this effect was just fun to do. After practicing this a few times, I would giggle to myself like a little bitch over how everything was back as it should be. I wish I could have a Pit to call my own, I would dry hump him into oblivion.
Another two card selection; the spectator and the magician each mentally selecting a card from their respective halves of the deck. The halves are then shuffled/cut, swapped and spread in front of both the spectator and the magician. The magician pushes the card he feels the spectator selected out of his spread, and the spectator does the same for what he feels could be the magician’s card. The spectator and magician both name the cards they have only thought of up to this point. The cards are turned over to show a perfect match; they have found each others thought of card!
While it may read a little long for the effect description, I really wanted to step out how amazingly fair and open this effect looks (and is). Again, the method here is actually not tedious or laborious and achieves so much mileage from the foundations of using a stack, a few subtleties and some sleights. The amount of ‘play’ you get out of this is ridiculous. The method can also be done if the deck isn’t fully in stack, so you can throw this in part way through a routine that might destroy part of your stack. Fucking brilliant.
There’s also a parlour style version of this effect on p.112 titled ‘Just Like That’ which goes through a different method/combination of subtleties and sleights, but achieves the same visual effect/outcome. We’ll get to that one soon.
From a spectator shuffled deck, two five card hands of Poker are dealt. The magician takes out his own deck and whilst shuffling it, asks the spectator to choose one of the hands. Whichever hand is chosen, the magician deals out two hands, just as the spectator did, and shows the hand he dealt to match the spectator’s selected hand! Not only that, but the hand not chosen matches the magician’s discarded hand perfectly too!
At first reading this, I had a little sense of dread in my stomach; Alas, a bullshit complicated method. But as I read on, the simple and easy logic behind it smacks you right in the face and tells you to sit the fuck down and enjoy what you’re about to learn. Pit uses the stack positions rather than identities in the stack to illustrate the method, again relying on the fact that this method is not stack-specific, which makes it almost like child’s play if you know your stack. How you achieve the effect is exceptionally devious; Charles Jordan is enviously spinning in his grave.
The magician puts down a prediction card, a card is freely chosen and they’re placed aside together. This is repeated another two times with two different spectator’s and selections. The predictions and chosen cards are gathered up and shown to be perfect mates. The method is nothing crazy or unusual for the Gemini Twin’s style plot, but the progression of free selections and being in position throughout the effect is very well thought out and practical. There’s also a small discussion regarding Truth VS Artistic truth in your presentations which is well worth reading and taking note on.
The Poker Formulas
Any Poker Hand called for with any stack. I honestly called bullshit on this when I first read it because I thought it would involve me having to deconstruct the entire stack and re-order everything to achieve a few different poker hands. Woop de-fucking-doo
I wasn’t even close to how deep the rabbit hole goes…
The beauty of this is that Pit presents the method in plain sight as part of the effect; the performer brings out some pieces of paper with numbers and letters written cryptically across them. A poker hand and number of players is requested from the audience. The performer then proceeds to deal the hands out, with the desired player getting the requested hand.
Pit, Martin Eisle and the exceptionally tall and fucking amazing Denis Behr have provided us with something that gives every possible poker hand AND number of hands called for within a stack, be it Mnemonica or the Aronson stack. Better yet, if you plug in your own stack, it will do the calculations and spit out the same possibilities of poker hands/number of hands called for. This is an amazing effort from them to not only share this effect, but also the time and effort for the calculations and the tool that has made this possible. Fuck yeah.
Just Like That
Shortest description/method in the book, but still a great go-to. The spectator and magician each mentally select a card and take a random card from the pack and put it in their pocket, sight unseen. Both name their thought of cards, with the spectator’s thought of card in the magician’s pocket and the magician’s thought of card in the spectator’s pocket.
The method for this is fairly straightforward, but solid and practical if you’re comfortable with a stack. This type of presentation reminds me of an effect from ‘Redivider‘ by Phil Goldstein, but a much cleaner effect and better outcome.
Pit/Denis’ approach to locating and controlling any four of a kind in a stack. This idea was previously described in Denis’ first book, ‘Handcrafted Card Magic vol. 1’. I highly recommend both of Denis’ books for serious card magic enthusiasts and not just because I’m deathly scared that Denis will crush me in his gigantic Germanic mitts.
I didn’t really think that this needed to be explained as a “new” idea or approach. Every person I’ve spoken to while learning new stacks has given me the advice to do just this method as a training drill to get familiar with the stack. It’s not amazingly revolutionary, but it is extremely practical and smart in how the principle is laid out and usable in terms of an effect. Using a stack, there will always be an element of jazzing/improvisation depending on the possibilities of cards required and how you get them into play. I’m not going to spoil it here, but it’s a good example of being able to think on the fly to achieve an outcome, but if the outcome achieved is regularly needed/used, it will become almost instinctual and help in making your handling of the cards much more natural.
The following seven items use the Quartets principle
Top of the Heaps
Using the Quartets concept, a four of a kind is named and four piles are nonchalantly placed on the table. The top cards of each packet can be revealed to be the chosen four of a kind, or used in the Jennings Revelation, a riffle cull demonstration or any other effects which require control over the four of a kind. Nothing revolutionary for the effect itself, but it shows the practicality and versatility of the concept and approach for a number of different effects/methods in getting cards in the right positions with the least amount of actions. There’s also a small discussion on magic gestures and causality which is brilliantly articulated. While you might not do this trick, don’t skip over these pages. You’ll regret it.
A deck of cards is introduced as a ‘test’ to see how lucky or unlucky a spectator is. Any value is named and the spectator is handed the deck and asked to deal through the deck, one at a time, and stop at their chosen selection; the earlier the selected value shows up, the luckier they are. The spectator deals through the entire deck, with the last four cards in their hand being their named value. Again, method-wise, it’s not impossible to formulate how this is achievable, but the tongue-in cheek presentation and simplicity of effect is what makes this a great lesson in working your audience. There’s also Denis Behr’s ‘Plop replacement’ from his books to get you back in stack. Pit also has some discussion regarding mental snapshots, emotional hooks as well as being aware of being mindful of what your audience feels and thinks when performing an effect with this kind of ‘German’ humour, affirming the gargantuan size of Pit’s nuts are equal to his consideration and respect for his audience.
The exact opposite of the above effect (Pit notes he usually performs them in tandem to undo the bad ‘joojoo’); a spectator is asked to name a four of a kind to prove how lucky they can be. Four cards are touched by a spectator and outjogged from the spread, which are shown to be the named four of a kind. There’s plenty of different methods to achieve the ‘Spectator finds the Aces’ effect, but the method Pit describes is a practical and direct approach which gets a lot of mileage out of it. The juxtaposition of the two premises and key focal points in the effects is discussed, with Pit making some great points, such as where misdirection works well and where it can work to your detriment and where putting emphasis on certain parts of the performance, like the free choice from a spread, can dramatize and have a bigger impact on your audience.
The spectator names a four of a kind (the 10’s for example) and the performer spreads through the pack, turning over and outjogging four cards throughout the pack he is adamant are the 10’s; the audience instead sees random face up indifferent cards. The deck is squared and re-spread, with the indifferent face up cards changing to the 10’s. The deck is then re-spread in the hands, showing the 10’s have changed back to their indifferent cards as they’re turned face down and left outjogged. Just before the performer moves onto the next effect, he cheekily shows the four outjogged cards have changed again to the 10’s.
I went into this effect thinking it would be a really contrived method
with reversals and weird finicky sleights; it is so far from that, it’s ridiculous. For the straightforward moves and method, you get a shitload of mileage and the cards change in extremely fair conditions three fucking times right under their noses. If you like this, see Tamariz’ version (‘All of a Kind’, p94, Mnemonica). There’s also another David Jade handling referenced in the September 2010 issue of Genii magazine. Go forth and spread shit majestically.
An interesting marriage of cutting to a named four of a kind and Anneman’s ‘Nightmare Effect’; Four cards are placed sight unseen into the performer’s pocket. A four of a kind is named. The performer proceeds to cut to each card from the four of a kind, one at a time, the last being placed on the spectator’s hand before it changes into an indifferent card. The deck is spread, showing the four of a kind was never there to begin with and is finally removed from the performer’s pocket.. the cards which were put aside before the effect started.
I read this and instantly fell in love with the presentation/effect structure. For something so simplistic in approach and method, you are doing some fucking awe-inspiring things here. The presentation alone can be re-appropriated to so many effects, and Pit goes on to point out the importance and relevance of prologues and callbacks, with a certain turn of phrase or situation being foreshadowed before it comes back to brain-fuck you, like an episode of Westworld on steroids chugging Red Bull.
My favourite part was the phrase about ‘calmly’ doing part of the method; Part of my life goal is now to confuse the absolute fuck out of everyone by telling them to vigorously do a sleight, because fuck calmness. Danke sehr, Pitty-Poo!
The classic ‘Stop-me-at-any-time-before-I-run-out-of-cards-you-chuckle-fuck’ effect, but also a little taste of ’51 faces North/Open Prediction’ style effect but done with a four of a kind. A four of a kind is named, the performer proceeds to deal cards face up until a spectator tells him to stop, where the card stopped on is dealt face down. This is repeated twice more with two other spectators, with the final stopping point being dealt by a spectator themselves; the named four of a kind is shown as the cards dealt face down.
This method is really beautiful but will probably be looked over by people who aren’t comfortable performing some of the sleights involved; that being said, it’s a damn good effect and is worth the extra effort involved. There’s also some really beautiful handling and tips on how to progress through the deck, which benefits you from a method and presentation standpoint to keep things suspenseful, but also not happening at the wrong time. Pit notes that this is a good follow up to ‘Murphy’s Law’ earlier in the book, to “cure” the spectator of their bad luck. Good shit
The Right Kind of Wrong
Two decks are brought out, a spectator selects one and also names a four of a kind. The deck is then cut by the spectator into four piles. Everyone hopes the top cards of the piles are the four of a kind, but they’re just random cards. The performer then opens the second deck and deals down to the position denoted by the random card on top of each of the piles, finding the named four of a kind.
Reading this effect, I had a strong sense of Deja-vu; I felt like I’d seen this premise or something very reminiscent of it at some point. Going back through notebooks, I found a mention of an effect I’d seen Vincent Hedan perform during a session in Paris. In Vincent’s infinite humility, kindness and grace, he gave me the below summary of his effect and it’s lineage:
Pit’s effect is a bit different from mine, as is his method, and his achieved routine is still great. I’m convinced it was definitely a creation independent from mine.
Here is the brief history of my version:
In July 2006, Arnaud Chevrier published (on a French private forum) an idea with Mnemonica where the magician would cut to 4 kings with a series of swing cuts. Upon revealing the 4 produced cards, people realise the cards are not kings; the magician missed.
The values of the “mistake” cards are then used to count down the rest of the deck, finding the 4 kings in this way. The next day, I adapted the effect to my own stack. I later came up with the idea of letting the spectator do the faulty production of 4 cards.
My thinking was: if I produce 4 cards that are wrong but whose values lead to the 4 cards I wanted in the first place, people will think I made the first mistake on purpose, whereas if the 4 wrong cards are produced by the spectator, apparently at random, nobody will suspect that he made a mistake on purpose, or that I forced him to make a mistake that would actually help me.
I should also point out that Pit’s effect allows the performer to produce any named four of a kind and his presentation uses 2 decks. In Chevrier’s version and my adaptation, you use only one deck but you can only produce kings, jacks or aces. Research is still in process to find ways to produce other four of a kind.
As Vincent pointed out, the effects and their staging are different, but the premise at a very high level is very similar; the spectator cuts to four values which is then used to find a four of a kind which is either pre-determined (Pit’s) or comes as a surprise (Arnaud/Vincent’s). How each of the effects are achieved and the variety of choice/options is definitely something worth looking into if you’re interested.
For Pit’s version, I like that it can be a freely named four of a kind and the spectator can shuffle a deck, but feel like the introduction of the second deck to the premise adds too much fat to a premise that’s already fairly lean and haphazard. That being said, this can play very strongly as an indirect effect/performer makes the situation right.
I’ve also found there’s an unpublished effect by Jack Parker & Tomas Blomberg circa mid-2005 which follows the same premise of a spectator cutting to four spots in the deck, with the random indifferent cards finding the Aces then the Kings. Completely different method and approach, but still a beautiful effect. Jag tackar, Tomas!
The last four effects in the book stand out as they do require you use Mnemonica only; Pit makes a point to note that stack-dependent magic can sometimes be complete and utter shit because of the inherent problem of the stack fragmenting the possibilities in exchange for a known order. That being said, there are always exceptions to this utter-shit rule, these four effects are prime examples
Fairy Tale Poker
An eight handed round of poker is dealt by a spectator, while they also choose throughout the game how things will pan out e.g. draw, discards. Even though some amazingly strong hands are dealt, some matching the spectator’s own choices along the way, the performer still wins with the best hand.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really feel like this was an amazing effect for the amount of choice and changes possible. If anything, this felt like an effect that fell into the trap of what I mentioned at the start of this review; stack effects which look and feel like stack effects, great for academic discussion but not wholly amazing. I can see the justification of this being a clean, hands-off poker deal with open ended free choices to boot, but it just didn’t grab me. The verbal stratagems are nice, but not overly complex. I see this playing a lot stronger as a pseudo-gambling routine about ringing in a cold deck etc.
A card is selected, the performer offering to make an amazing poker hand by cutting four random packets from the deck to make up the rest of the hand, a straight flush! The performer offers to repeat the challenge with another selected card, the Ace of Spades. The four cards of the straight flush hand visually change into the remainder of a Royal Flush in spades.
The inherent value in this effect is that the bi-product of the method allows you to build and do the next phase which is a much stronger effect and not some bullshit kicker ending. I personally love these kinds of moments and get a semi-boner whenever I find them published. The method can be adapted to Aronson (as Pit outlines) but works more succinctly with Mnemonica. The method is nothing out of the ordinary, but the effect achieved is simplistic and straight forward.
Poker Night at the Improv
Another goddamn poker deal.. it’s like a stacked deck nightmare directed by Ed Marlo & M Night Shyamalan with 600 alternate endings. I’m just kidding, I really enjoyed this. It’s a selected card trick, hidden inside a poker themed revelation routine. The context is really what sells it; while the performer tries to have the spectator forget his selection, he proceeds to find better and better poker hands, ending up with the spectator making choices for the final few cards to make up a Royal flush, leaving him with one leftover card, his selection.
The reason why I like this more than the previous poker deal effect is that it doesn’t FEEL like a poker deal/stacked deck routine. This has more of a multiple selection/Sam the Bellhop flavor to it, going through and revealing the different hands in poker before getting to the final selected card. Just for the revelation sequence alone, this is a great routine, but the drive behind the routine becomes a mix of comedy in trying to have the spectator forget his selection while revealing poker hands as you go, bringing everything cleanly together as you end. Bad ass.
Game of Chance
Another interesting routine possible with the Tamariz stack, reminiscent of Vernon’s ‘The Third Color‘. The performer offers a game where the spectator and performer have to guess on the color of whatever the third card dealt will be, red or black. The spectator continues to lose regardless of what color they choose. A second spectator is brought into the mix, with the remainder of the deck being dealt to the performer and the two spectators to compete with who will get their chosen color. The performer gets a mix of red/black cards, while the spectators are dealt all cards of the color they didn’t bet on!
This has element’s of the Vernon effect with a flavor of Stewart James’ ‘Miraskill‘ and Paul Curry’s ‘Out of This World‘, but with a really interesting method that would make Elmsley cream in his pantaloons. While the effect is not inherent to a stacked deck, it can be easily worked into from Mnemonica and also back home to Mnemonica quite easily once you’re done. This is a lot of fun to try out and see if you like it; not a miracle but still pretty enjoyable
So, that’s it.
I really thoroughly enjoyed reading/reviewing this book. The content, the layout, the time and effort that went into it really sets the bar as to what a magic book in general should be like to read and enjoy, let alone a book on something as complex as stack work.
So, why does this all matter?
I’ve seen numerous lectures and sessions with some of the most amazing material done with a normal deck of cards, everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, almost frothing at the mouth waiting for the explanation and the moment they find out it’s a stacked deck, that interest and excitement is gone; that magic and sense of wonder in people’s eyes just disappears. I’m not sure what does it; the idea that it’s too hard to learn a stack, or the method is too complicated, but it shows that the majority of magicians who don’t already use a stack are disregarding a plethora of insane possibilities all because it falls into the ‘too hard’ basket, which is bullshit.
Pit’s book is a perfect example of what can be achieved with a stacked deck, regardless of how technically or mentally capable you are. The content is easily accessible by any level of reader, from the complete beginner to stack work all the way up to the die-hard, live and die by the stack performers.
Is it worth it?
Of course. I would bet both my nuts and the sack that you will enjoy this book if you want to push yourself away from the standard bullshit magicians do. Even if you don’t end up performing some of the material from this book, the lessons learned for the structure, the analysis and approach warrant your full attention and understanding.
‘In Order to Amaze’ is available directly from Pit Hartling, signed or unsigned, for €61, shipped anywhere in the world.
Now, excuse me while I go and rub out the world’s longest stacked deck induced boner and huff myself silly on ass-hair fumes,