<IS> - Ben Earl
The book begins with a Forward by Andi Gladwin, and then an Introduction which introduces the whole notion of the book: simplicity can improve an effect. The book deconstructs and then rebuilds a classic Ace routine each time stripping away some of the complexity until you reach the ultimate goal at the end of the book, Real Ace Cutting. With that said, there’s no real need for me to describe the effect of each of these, because the large majority of them are ace productions. Keep that in mind as you read my thoughts below.
Chapter 1: Evolving with Simplicity
Thanks to Henry - The book begins by examining the Henry Christ “Fabulous Ace Routine.” This first routine is directly related to the original Christ effect and only begins to scratch the surface of eliminating the clutter and paring down to simplicity, but even from this first effect, it is very clear that Ben is working towards eliminating any “cute” reveals or meaningless spelling. The first ace is cut to with skill, the second is found by the spectator, the third happens in an unexpected way, and the final one happens with a magical change. It’s a nice workable method, and Ben does a wonderful job of explaining why he’s made the changes he has. But clearly this is just a stepping stone for what is yet to come throughout the book.
Henry in Isolation - This continues to evolve the method by returning to simpler means. This provides an even fairer distribution of the aces while giving you an identical ace production as the previous version (cut to with skill, spectator find it, unexpected, and a change.) The method used to lose the aces is very disarming even for magicians.
Instant Isolation - This uses the same losing of the aces as the previous routine, but provides an instantaneous revelation of the four aces rather than four distinct reveals. It has a great flow to it, and it feels as if the aces are coming from various parts of the deck. I wouldn't say it's a "flash production" of the aces, but rather a very fluid finding of the aces.
Henry Topped - This time Ben has stripped away the need for removing the aces and then losing them into various parts of the deck. Instead, he starts with a truly shuffled deck and is still able to find the aces in the exact way as detailed previously (cut to with skill, spectator find it, unexpected, and a change.) This is the first ace production that begins to resemble what Ben is ultimately searching for in an ace production.
Chapter 2: Technical Simplicity
The Sting Cut - This is Ben’s favorite tabled false cut because of its sheer versatility. You can produce multiple cuts with multiple styles all based on slight changes to this cut. This is an important chapter which becomes monumental in the final chapter. Don’t skip over all of the touches and various ideas to vary the cut.
The Any Card Game Control - This is a way of cerebrally proving a deck is shuffled. It isn’t done with the intention of proving a deck is shuffled, but after adding this in, the audience will be CONVINCED that the deck is truly shuffled. There are two versions taught. One keeps the entire deck in order and one keeps a stock of cards in order. Both are equally effective depending on how you need to use them. This is a wonderful, moveless touch that you can add in NOW to make a big difference.
The Real Optical Shuffle - This is a simple false overhand shuffle which feels incredibly genuine. Technically, it couldn’t be simpler, but it looks and feels as real as it gets. There are a lot of benefits to this shuffle including the fact that it is improvisational in nature allowing you to casually talk and mess around as you shuffle instead of studying the cards to make sure you count the right number of runs. This is one every performer should have in their tool belt. Seriously.
Finessed Frank Thompson Cut - This is the classic Frank Thompson cut with one small subtle shift which changes the entire rhythm and frame of mind for the cut. It is simple, but it is an effect shift.
The Bounce Cut - In my opinion, this is the best in-the-hands false cut that there is. It look casual, it’s easy to do, and it has a wonderful flow to it. This is right into my tool belt and will replace the Frank Thompson Cut for me.
Spectator Shuffle Hold Out - I would say this is one thing that Ben uses better than anyone else. It is a way to have the spectator genuinely cut and shuffle the deck while keeping your stock in tact. This is the first version taught, but there are other variations as you’ll soon see.
Half & Half Control - Similar to the previous method, but with a visual change that slowly assembles the deck into two piles rather than one, and then the spectator finally assembles the two piles into one. By itself, it’s an odd procedure, but you may be able to find a justification for the process.
Shuffled Ose Control - As the name suggests, this is a shuffle hold out with the addition of an Ose Cut. The great thing about this version is it is the first one where the cards are kept face down which feels a but more natural to me than the previous two versions. This as well as the previous two hold outs also make for a great force that the spectator performs on themself. It is a wonderful tool which shouldn’t be forgotten.
Deep Slug Control - This is my favorite of all the shuffle holdouts because I feel it is the most natural. The deck is collected into one face down pile. The pro is that your stock is still intact, the con is that the stock is in a new position. For many routines throughout the book, this is actually the perfect sequence to get you into the routine. I love this.
Chapter 3: Versatile Simplicity
Blinded by the Hand - This is perhaps the simplest ace production in the book. The deck is shuffled, and the aces are produced immediately very quickly and in an entertaining fashion. This is perhaps too simple for what I look for in an ace production, but this shows how even the simplest of moves can make an entertaining moment. It’s a bit too trivial for my preferences though.
Wide Awake Scream - This is one of the most traditionally “magical” ace productions in the book. Aces are lost into the deck then one ace is found in the performer’s left pocket, one ace is found in the performer’s right pocket, one ace is found in the spectator’s hand, and the entire deck vanishes leaving the final ace. This is probably the best choreographed routine of this type that I’ve seen. If you like routines where the deck vanishes at the end, this has some great touches and time delays that allow the ditch to go completely unseen.
The Back Room Demo - This is so very simple. Simplicity to its very core. But it looks like the most impressive demonstration of card control. The simplicity allows for some improvisation which goes a long way in making this appear genuine. It isn’t magical in any sense—it looks like expert gambling skills.
Clean Cutter - This variation offers something truly unique. As you cut the cards, you can name the card that will be right beside the ace—and you’re right every time. It is still simple to do and very effective. This first version uses a table to place the aces onto. The next version changes that.
Clean Cutter 2 - This puts the entire routine above into the performer’s hands. One of the biggest benefits to this routine is that the aces are left faced and out jogged in the position they were located in. This allows the audience to very visually see that all of the aces came from totally different parts of the deck—this ruse is very effective.
Flow Productions - These are two productions which produce all four aces naturally in a flowing sequence. The Four-Packet Flow happens as you cut the cards into four piles on the table. The Pure Flow happens as you cut the cards into a single pile on the table. Neither one is meant to be studied by the spectator, but the casualness of the productions will definitely come as a surprise.
Chapter 4: Classic Simplicity
Stem Cell - This is an interesting section which explores how presentation can completely change the perceived effect. This is a simple production of four aces that happens with four random cards changing into the aces. However, one presentation makes it seem like an exposé on why you shouldn’t play three card monte (Stem Cell Monte.) One is on the difference between skill and magic (Stem Cell Magician vs. Gambler.) And one is an exposé on sleight of hand. All three presentations use the exact same method. This allows you to take this performance into any direction based on your audience in the moment.
The Resourceful Professional - This routine demonstrates shuffle location, false dealing, stacking, card mucking, shuffle tracking, and four-of-a-kind producing. It’s very simple but truly entertain as you give them a peek behind the curtain. It’s fascinating because there’s a mix of doing what you’re really saying and doing something hidden, so the audiences will really feel like you are an expert with sleight of hand.
No-Motion Four Aces - This is an ungimmicked ace assembly which is so very clean. Ben has stripped away all of the flourishy, unnecessary moves and left a very simple ace assembly which will come across incredibly magical or as an incredible demonstration of sleight of hand depending on how you’d like to frame it. This is perhaps the best ace assembly out there not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it.
Chapter 5: Real Ace Cutting
This is the final chapter which sums up the book; it is an essay on how to really cut to four aces from a shuffled deck. This doesn’t necessarily build on anything else in the book, but it also builds on everything in the book. This is the culmination of everything Ben has worked for. Ultimately, this is a frame of mind—a frame of mind to give you freedom and to make your ace cutting feel real and unplanned and unrehearsed (because it is.) This concept can also be injected into just about any magic trick you perform if you’re willing to put in the work. This is the most difficult piece in the book. Not because of the sleights, but because of the emotion. Nail this, and you will have the most powerful ace cutting routine in existence. Guaranteed.
This is a rare book where I can’t award any one routine a WTP Award* because every routine and move builds on the previous, and they are all part of an exploration of finding simplicity, because that is where true magic lies.
*The Worth The Price Award, or WTP Award for short, is a new system I will have in place when reviewing products. Look out for the WTP Award(s) to know which routine(s) or principle(s) is my favorite.