My Favorite Card Tricks: Harapan Ong

By Alex Robertson - Thursday, August 6, 2020

We asked some of magic's greatest minds to share with us their favorite card tricks. This week is the turn of Harapan Ong. You may know him from his Instagram celebrity status, or for writing our best selling book of all time, Principia. over to Harapan:


My three favourite card tricks, huh.

My top pick is an obvious one - I've always had a special place in my heart for Dai Vernon's The Trick That Cannot Be Explained. I've heard opinions from some magicians that this is just a trick you do for your magic buddies, but from my personal experience performing this for laypeople, it is incredibly strong and fooling on so many levels. In fact, I often use it to close a short impromptu performance with my friends - I might start with some simpler, conventional sleight-of-hand tricks, but end with The Trick That Cannot Be Explained to really leave them with an impenetrable mystery.

The Trick That Cannot Be Explained is profoundly different from any other card trick I do. Without exposing the inner workings of this trick, I believe that the reason why this trick is particularly difficult for audiences to reconstruct is because it tackles a very fundamental assumption that audiences make about magicians and the magic they do. In fact, if we really think about it, a lot of magic comes down to making sure audiences are making false assumptions about what we do - the more false premises and assumptions they have convinced themselves into believing, the harder it will be for them to figure out the secret. In fact, anyone trying to catch the magician out on any "funny business" will leave disappointed, because there is fundamentally nothing to catch!

Another important reason why I love this trick so much is because presentationally, it is the only trick I do where I know I have to be "present" - I cannot afford to tune out and go through the motions. I have to actively listen to my audience's responses and reactions, and my brain is always working at full speed in order to bring about an impromptu miracle. I think this makes for a more authentic, organic performance on my part, which should hopefully translate to a more enjoyable experience for the spectators.

Just one more thing: I sometimes combine this with the Birthday Book trick, which also plays very well. However, that usually happens when I feel that the context calls for a more personal, formal performance.

Shameless plug: I love this trick so much that I dedicated an entire chapter in my book, Principia, to discussing my thoughts and theories about The Trick That Cannot Be Explained. You may want to go check that out if my little post here has intrigued you.

Alright, I need two more card tricks...

A recent favourite has been The Smiling Mule by Roy Walton. I used to hate this trick because I felt the gag in the first half of the trick never felt quite right when I performed it - I felt that it detracted from the second phase of the trick, in which the named card is actually located. I tried downplaying the first phase by getting over it as soon as possible, but it still felt wrong. However, I recently discovered that the solution is rather counter-intuitive - instead of trying to downplay the first phase, I should let the first phase almost play as its own trick - once the gag is revealed (and the secret stuff is done), I just relax and milk the joke, so that my audiences will think that really is the end of the trick. Once they have settled, I refocus them and propose that I actually do find their named card. By performing it this way, I have broken the routine into two separate tricks - first, a trick culminating in a gag, and second, the magician makes good on the bet/promise. Now, I do it whenever I feel the audience is warmed up to me, and it plays very well.

Finally... hmm.

I would probably nominate The Perfect Stop Trick by Edward Marlo, which I believe is in Early Marlo (republished in Cardially Yours). The trick is simple - card is selected and lost. Spectator deals and stops anywhere - if they stop on a Six, their selection is found at the sixth position from where they stopped. By tweaking the original method slightly, this has become one of the strongest things I do for laypeople. In fact, I have included it as a feature in my own memorised deck - that's how much I love it!

In conclusion, I have chosen three of my favourite card tricks that I actually perform (somewhat) regularly when I am asked to perform. There are countless card tricks that I am fascinated by, but perhaps I appreciate them for the interesting methods and principles behind them (e.g. literally any trick that is explicitly mathematical), or the many variations that the basic plot inspires (e.g. Twisting the Aces). There are also tricks that I have come up with which I love, some of which are unpublished... but I thought nominating those might seem too egotistical. One shameless plug for my book Principia is egotistical enough for this blog post.

Oops, did I promote it twice?

Reader comments:


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:10 PM - Reply to this comment

Brilliant post, he is such a nice chap too! Just bought his book From yourselves and the way it's written is very straightforward to follow. Top job!


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:10 PM - Reply to this comment

Definitely a book worth plugging twice! Your thoughts on the Trick That Cannot Be Explained are very insightful and I will definitely test out the Smiling Mule idea, thanks Harapan!


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:20 PM - Reply to this comment

My all time favorite card trick is from the book Principia.
My 2nd favorite card trick is also from the book Principia.
Oh yeah, and my 3rd favorite card trick is from Principia as well.


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:30 PM - Reply to this comment

Principia is the best magic book of this time and a new reference for me to develop my skills ?? thanks Harapan ????????


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:30 PM - Reply to this comment

My all time favorite card trick is from the book Principia.
My 2nd favorite card trick is also from the book Principia.
Oh yeah, and my 3rd favorite card trick is from Principia as well.


Friday, 07 August 2020 13:55 PM - Reply to this comment

I too share passionate interest with old classic magicians many people have looked up too. So the fact that Harapan has listed effects with twists and classic plots as these are most magical. This interest is evident in responses on his social media, so it I clear Harapan knows clearly the works of plots and routines. I personally love Dai Vernons work and the Trick That Cannot be Explained is a wonderful choice and further evidence that Harapan knows the killer effects!


Friday, 07 August 2020 14:26 PM - Reply to this comment

The smiling mule is such a good trick. The gag is so good and the laughing provides all the misdirection in the world to get everything done. And any trick where you can get the deck in the spectators hand is always golden. Thank you for sharing!


Friday, 07 August 2020 14:53 PM - Reply to this comment

Wait, you like the trick that cannot be explained better than a 6th version of twisting the aces? I don’t believe it.
But seriously, love the book, thanks for all the great magic!


Friday, 07 August 2020 15:55 PM - Reply to this comment

I personally love the trick that cannot be explained and utilize a DMZ Elite deck to help make my miracle possible. Ultimately, I love a good card trick. The versatility they allow seems limitless. From great effects provided decades ago by Dai Vernon to the excellent material in Principia, a deck of cards still lends itself to be an invaluable asset.


Friday, 07 August 2020 16:49 PM - Reply to this comment

Three tricks listed and three different variations of explanations, this is what I really love about the content Harapan puts out!

The vibe I get from this article is similar to what I felt when reading Principia, though not in the same order. The breakdown of The Trick That Cannot Be Explained details how important theory is in the field of magic. Describing how The Smiling Mule was adapted to fit his own style can be interpolated (or interpreted...) into the idea that if a trick is great in its own respect but doesn't "feel right" to you, you can always tweak it! And The Perfect Stop Trick is just a great trick to be noted (which he also mentions he modified!).

Amazing response to the "favorite card tricks" prompt @harapan, now I'm going to go lookup a performance of The Smiling Mule to see what it's all about!


Friday, 07 August 2020 17:30 PM - Reply to this comment

I think the Smiling Mule is a good trick to start with as it can break the ice between the performer and the spectator by doing the first phase. in addition, the second phase when he named card is actually located will give a good reaction.

My favorite card tricks are the ones that doesn't need the whole deck to do because it is easy to setup and perform and it shows a good reaction by the audience. Principia book is full of these types of tricks such as "Michalivator,Tiny transpo, Triumph in the trash, Remix in the rubbish" and much more, that's why I would recommend it to anyone even beginners.

I also like tricks where timing, misdirection, audience control, character and presentation is involved, a good example of these tricks can be found in Synergy by Michael Vincent.

Thank you for sharing this.


Friday, 07 August 2020 21:25 PM - Reply to this comment

Fairly new to magic, so I love these posts to learn about great tricks. Principia is definitely on my list to buy, but I want slow down a bit on new stuff. Don't want to just lay tricks and books on a shelf and catch dust and overlook them. So I hope there get many reprints ;)


Friday, 07 August 2020 21:55 PM - Reply to this comment

Harapan and Principia are just sooooo good


Friday, 07 August 2020 22:53 PM - Reply to this comment

Nice post about your favorite tricks Harapan. I'm also big fan of the Trick that cannot be explained and the smiling mule. But what I really like about this post is that Harapan really do an analysis to why he loves the effects rather than simply select three tricks and just saying these are the ones I like. I think the aproach he used is very interesting because it makes us think about the effects and to those who don't know them, it arises the curiosity!


Friday, 07 August 2020 23:24 PM - Reply to this comment

it cannot be explained how cool Harapan ia


Saturday, 08 August 2020 07:48 AM - Reply to this comment

You are the best Harapan Ong. You are now my harapan setinggi gunung. Oh wait, that's a song lol. Anyway, thank you for the sharing. I hope the best for you. I hope we can meet in the future. Malaysia and Singapore tidak jauh sangat hahaha. But I live in Labuan (near Sabah) it's actually far if you drive a car. I want to give you this flower??. Please accept it. It smell good! I hope you like it lol. ??

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