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.
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?
Back to blog homepage
Similar posts on the blog: