Bob Wagner’s Master Notebook of Magic

by Bob Wagner
L&L Publishing, 1992
192 pages

Atmosphere. If there’s one common thread running through all the material in this book, it’s atmosphere. Rather than presenting a trick ‘straight’, Mr. Wagner tells a story to give the trick a context, and uses presentational props to bring the context to life.

My favorite example is ‘Texas Poker’, a version of the Ten-card Poker Deal. (In case you’re not familiar with the effect: no matter how many opportunities the spectator is given to win a game of poker, even to the point of selecting his or her own cards, the perfomer always wins.) The story is about ‘… how I learned to play poker Texas-style, with big cards and big stakes’, and the props consist of ten Jumbo cards, five Jumbo coins, a deed to an oil well, a six-shooter, and a dealer’s visor. Now that’s atmosphere!

The fifty-seven items in the book are divided into five categories. Fun and games, gambling has a version of the Six-card Repeat with a poker theme that ends with the five cards turning into a royal flush in Jumbo cards, complete with a $1000 bill for effect. Also included is a Jumbo Find the Lady, a Tic-tac-toe challenge in which the performer always wins, even when there’s a tie, a horse race trick with a pre-recorded prediction (based on Larry Becker’s ‘Track Record’), a game show trick (also based on a Larry Becker piece), a card stab that involves darts, 3 cup monte, in which the performer correctly guesses the cup under which a spectator placed a black ball, a psychic game of tic-tac-toe with an assistant, and a few more.

In Parlour and stage magic, we have, among others, a version of the Neff rope trick in which the rope seems to explode into two pieces, a ring and rope routine with two rings, a demonstration of various ways of tying a knot in a rope, a lovely presentation for the Chinese Sticks, a Chinese Compass routine that has to do with traffic signs, a logical presentation for the Bill in Lemon, and a lovely piece in which a silk is visibly plucked through the bottom of a closed bottle (which can be handed out).

Pocket card index miracles explains how to make two types of pocket indices invented by F. Scott Powers and several tricks that use them. The indices are easy to work with and very fast. Aside from several straightforward prediction-type tricks, we find an effect in which a named card appears in a deck of blank cards, a prediction involving a chain letter, a card-matching effect, a prediction of a card and a roulette number, and a couple more elaborate tricks. Some of these tricks use the index in very unusual and offbeat ways; there’s much food for thought in this chapter.

Dearest to my heart is the false overhand shuffle described in the card index section. It maintains the whole deck in order and looks superb. To me, that shuffle is worth the price of the book.

The Miscellaneous card magic section opens with ‘The mystery of the queen’s diamond’, which won the Best Original Presentation trophy at the 1962 PCAM convention. Here we have a detective mystery, complete with Sherlock Holmes cap, pipe and magnifying glass, a gun, Jumbo cards, a Queen of Diamonds that cries real tears, a King of Diamonds with a dagger sticking out, the queen’s vault, a scaffold with a noose and a (plywood) castle! In the story, the King is murdered and the Queen’s diamonds are stolen. A spectator picks a card to represent the culprit, and all the guests are put in the noose, but all are set free except for the culprit, who is “hanged by the neck ’til his face had turned blue” (which it does, of course), and the missing diamonds are found. What a delightful piece of theater this is!

In addition, there is a routine for Joanne the card duck, a card and silk to ballon that uses a card-in-balloon stand, the self-explanatory ‘Ssllooww motion card through handkerchief’, a four-card revelation in which the face card of the deck changes several times while inside a drinking glass, a thirteen-card revelation, a lovely trick in which the spectator, playing the part of a genie in a bottle, reads a script and finds a selected card, and several others.

The last section, Occult magic, contains several mental routines. In ‘Musical chairs’, the performer talks about dreaming about the game of the same name, but instead of seeing people run around chairs, he saw a chair run around a group of people. A miniature chair is passed from spectator to spectator until the music stops. The person holding the chair names a number, the card at that position is shown, and a prediction that had been held by a spectator is shown — the cards match. This is based on a routine by Gerald Kosky.

There’s also a Houdini seance, a good-luck-charms matching trick, a humorous question-and-answer deck routine, two routines with an ESP deck, a prediction of an ESP symbol and a random, four-digit number, a triple divination and more.

I should tell you that this book is in the author’s own handwriting, in case this bothers you. It is, however, very legible.

Some of the patter is a little flat, I find, but patter has to be rewritten to suit the performer anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Some of the humour might be considered offensive today and needs to be modernized.

All in all, Bob Wagner’s Master Notebook of Magic is not only a great book of entertaining magic, but also an excellent starting point for developing new material. I highly recommend it.

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