(In the manner of many contemporaries)
Now that the “festive season” (copyright) is approaching, it behoves us all to prepare ourselves in some way to contribute to the gaiety of the Christmas house-party. A clever conjurer is welcome anywhere, and those of us whose powers of entertainment are limited to the setting of booby-traps or the arranging of apple-pie beds must view with envy the much greater tribute of laughter and applause which is the lot of the prestidigitator with some natural gift for legerdemain. Fortunately there are a few simple conjuring tricks which are within the reach of us all. With practice even the clumsiest of us can obtain sufficient dexterity in the art of illusion to puzzle the most observant of our fellow-guests. The few simple tricks which I am about to explain, if studied diligently for a few days before Christmas, will make a genuine addition to the gaiety of any gathering, and the amateur prestidigitator (if I may use that word again) will find that he is amply repaying the hospitality of his host and hostess by his contribution to the general festivity.
So much by way of introduction. It is a difficult style of writing to keep up, particularly when the number of synonyms for “conjuring” is so strictly limited. Let me now get to the tricks. I call the first
HOLDING THE LEMON
For this trick you want a lemon and a pack of ordinary playing-cards. Cutting the lemon in two, you hand half to one member of your audience and half to another, asking them to hold the halves up in full view of the company. Then, taking the pack of cards in your own hands, you offer it to a third member of the party, requesting him to select a card and examine it carefully. When he has done this he puts it back in the pack, and you seize this opportunity to look hurriedly at the face of it, discovering (let us say) that it is the five of spades. Once more you shuffle the pack; and then, going through the cards one by one, you will have no difficulty in locating the five of spades, which you will hold up to the company with the words “I think this is your card, sir”–whereupon the audience will testify by its surprise and appreciation that you have guessed correctly.
It will be noticed that, strictly speaking, the lemon is not a necessary adjunct of this trick; but the employment of it certainly adds an air of mystery to the initial stages of the illusion, and this air of mystery is, after all, the chief stock-in-trade of the successful conjurer.
For my next trick, which I call
THE ILLUSORY EGG
and which is most complicated, you require a sponge, two tablecloths, a handful of nuts, a rabbit, five yards of coloured ribbon, a top-hat with a hole in it, a hard-boiled egg, two florins and a gentleman’s watch. Having obtained all these things, which may take some time, you put the two tablecloths aside and separate the other articles into two heaps, the rabbit, the top-hat, the hard-boiled egg, and the handful of nuts being in one heap, and the ribbon, the sponge, the gentleman’s watch and the two florins in the other. This being done, you cover each heap with a tablecloth, so that none of the objects beneath is in any way visible. Then you invite any gentleman in the audience to think of a number. Let us suppose he thinks of 38. In that case you ask any lady in the audience to think of an odd number, and she suggests (shall we say?) 29. Then, asking the company to watch you carefully, you–you–
To tell the truth, I have forgotten just what it is you do do, but I know that it is a very good trick, and never fails to create laughter and bewilderment. It is distinctly an illusion worth trying, and, if you begin it in the manner I have described, quite possibly some way of finishing it up will occur to you on the spur of the moment. By multiplying the two numbers together and passing the hard-boiled egg through the sponge and then taking the … or is it the–Anyway, I’m certain you have to have a piece of elastic up the sleeve … and I know one of the florins has to–No, it’s no good, I can’t remember it.
But mention of the two numbers reminds me of a trick which I haven’t forgotten. It is a thought-reading illusion, and always creates the maximum of wonderment amongst the audience. It is called
THE THREE QUESTIONS
As before, you ask a gentleman in the company to write down a number on a piece of paper, and a lady to write down another number. These numbers they show to the other guests. You then inform the company that you will ask any one of them three questions, and by the way they are answered you will guess what the product of the two numbers is. (For instance, if the numbers were 13 and 17, then 13 multiplied by 17 is–let’s see, thirteen sevens are–thirteen sevens–seven threes are twenty-one, seven times one is–well, look here, let’s suppose the numbers are 10 and 17. Then the product is 170, and 170 is the number you have got to guess.)
Well, the company selects a lady to answer your questions, and the first thing you ask her is: “When was Magna Charta signed?” Probably she says that she doesn’t know. Then you say, “What is the capital of Persia?” She answers Timbuctoo, or Omar Khayyam, according to how well informed she is. Then comes your last question: “What makes lightning?” She is practically certain to say, “Oh, the thunder.” Then you tell her that the two numbers multiplied together come to 170.
How is this remarkable trick performed? It is quite simple. The two people whom you asked to think of the numbers are confederates, and you arranged with them beforehand that they should write down 10 and 17. Of course it would be a much better trick if they weren’t confederates; but in that case I don’t quite know how you would do it.
I shall end up this interesting and instructive article with a rather more difficult illusion. For the tricks I have already explained it was sufficient that the amateur prestidigitator (I shall only say this once more) should know how it was done; for my last trick he will also require a certain aptitude for legerdemain in order to do it. But a week’s quiet practice at home will give him all the skill that is necessary.
THE MYSTERIOUS PUDDING
is one of the oldest and most popular illusions. You begin by borrowing a gold watch from one of your audience. Having removed the works, you wrap the empty case up in a handkerchief and hand it back to him, asking him to put it in his waistcoat pocket. The works you place in an ordinary pudding basin and proceed to pound up with a hammer. Having reduced them to powder, you cover the basin with another handkerchief, which you borrow from a member of the company, and announce that you are about to make a plum-pudding. Cutting a small hole in the top of the handkerchief, you drop a lighted match through the aperture; whereupon the handkerchief flares up. When the flames have died down you exhibit the basin, wherein (to the surprise of all) is to be seen an excellent Christmas pudding, which you may ask your audience to sample. At the same time you tell the owner of the watch that if he feels in his pockets he will find his property restored to him intact; and to his amazement he discovers that the works in some mysterious way have got back into his watch, and that the handkerchief in which it was wrapped up has gone!
Now for the explanation of this ingenious illusion. The secret of it is that you have a second basin, with a pudding in it, concealed in the palm of your right hand. At the critical moment, when the handkerchief flares up, you take advantage of the excitement produced to substitute the one basin for the other. The watch from which you extract the works is not the borrowed one, but one which you have had concealed between the third and fourth fingers of the left hand. You show the empty case of this watch to the company, before wrapping the watch in the handkerchief and handing it back to its owner. Meanwhile with the aid of a little wax you have attached an invisible hair to the handkerchief, the other end of it being fastened to the palm of your left hand. With a little practice it is not difficult to withdraw the handkerchief, by a series of trifling jerks, from, the pocket of your fellow-guest to its resting place between the first and second finger of your left hand.
One word more. I am afraid that the borrowed handkerchief to which you applied the match really did get burnt, and you will probably have to offer the owner one of your own instead. That is the only weak spot in one of the most baffling tricks ever practised by the amateur prestidigitator (to use the word for the last time). It will make a fitting climax to your evening’s entertainment–an entertainment which will ensure you another warm invitation next year when the “festive season” (copyright) comes upon us once again.