ACAAB: Any Card At Any Birthday by Boris Wild
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 2011)
Boris Wild, the creator of the popular marked deck, provides a thoroughly written one-trick volume with his version of the Any Card At Any Number plot. So as to be accurate in his advertising, he actually names it "Any Card At Any Birthday," since in order to narrow the available numbers for selection, he uses the date of a spectator's birthday; that is, if the birthday is April 14, the number 14 is used. However, for the perfectionist, Mr. Wild also offers a variant that allows any number from one to 52 to be used; upon studying Mr. Wild's thinking, methodology, and presentation, I agree with him that the birthday strategy probably delivers a better result.
To be clear, I can do no better justice to Mr. Wild's approach than to reprint an abbreviated version of his advertised and accurately stated description of the routine:
A prediction deck is introduced before anything starts and remains in the card case until the end. The first spectator freely names any number: his birthday or a number from 1 to 52. A second spectator freely names any playing card from a deck of 52. A third spectator takes the prediction deck out of the case and counts down to the named number by turning the cards face up one by one. The freely named card is in the position of the freely named number.
This is the effect as the audience sees it. There is a great deal of subtle thinking behind the method—a different approach than many of the more commonly seen methods currently in use—and draws from a multitude of inspirational sources, notably including Ted Lesley, Martin Joyal, and David Forrest, duly credited by the author.
The ACAAN plot—what came to be known in some quarters as the "Berglas Effect," thanks to David Berglas's legend-building abilities with the miracle aspects of the plot—has become as much a fascination to magicians as the Any Card Called For effect achieved by the "Hooker Rising Cards." Whether the audience shares this fascination is another question altogether; the Stewart James "51 Faces North" plot (aka the Curry "Open Prediction") is another trick in this category that qualifies for what Charlie Miller labeled an "intrigue trick," tricks that are often fascinating to magicians but may be of substantially less interest to laymen.
There is no doubt that the ACAAN plot is a purely intellectual one. The magic occurs entirely in the spectator's mind, and the impact depends largely on how well the audience understands the implications of the plot, and the nature of its impossibility; only if all of these issues are addressed will the audience be suitably impressed with the outcome. Hence although method does matter, even the best method, used in a banal, straightforward demonstration, will have very little impact—an unarguable frustration to many performers who experiment with the plot. Ultimately the result has little to do with the trick and everything to do with the magician, the presentation, and the performance.
My own opinion is that the plot holds little inherent appeal, and hence in my experience it ends up a poor one in most performers' hands. But to dismiss the plot as non-commercial is foolish as well; witness its phenomenal use by Berglas and Tamariz, to name two giants, and by younger professionals like Asi Wind.
With these caveats in mind, Mr. Wild's routine is well worth considering, with the important caveat that his staging of the trick—the use of three spectators, the use of another deck with a prediction card, and so forth—are all significant requirements, which in the end render the method essentially one designed particularly for use on platform or stage, rather than for close-up performance. It's not that some particular sleight must be concealed that cannot be concealed close-up; it has more to do with the staging, the management of the props, the overall choreography. And this is not necessarily a flaw, since the plot can be challenging to perform effectively for a large audience, and the plus side of Mr. Wild's approach is that he has created a version particularly designed for these conditions.
I confess that I think there are simpler and more direct methods that are equally effective if not perhaps even more so than Mr. Wild's. But unlike many versions I've seen that depart from the essential plot in significantly damaging ways, Mr. Wild has hued to the demands of the premise, and has delivered a useable method that he has undoubtedly refined over extensive professional performance—and that is far more than can be said for most attempts at a solution to the ACAAN plot. This then amounts to a worthy entry into the field.