Cryptical Envelopment: Five Gentle Frauds for the Close-Up Performer by John Hostler

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2012)

IN 2009, John Hostler published an e-book entitled The Rauschenberg Effect which was not available for purchase. Rather, applicants could attempt to answer a couple of pertinent questions on his website and in return the author would determine if said applicant was a suitable candidate to receive the publication for free. This apparently offended some folks and while I missed the controversy at the time, it makes me laugh now and seems a delightful little bit of publishing provocateurship.

This time around Mr. Hostler has conformed to a more conventional approach and has released this new e-book containing five card routines for the rather remarkable price of a mere $10. The price is all the more reasonable when I tell you that this is not only the cheapest and smallest of the three booklets about card magic I happen to be reviewing this month (albeit an utterly random sampling), but that it is also by far my favorite.

The first piece, "New Speedway Boogie," is a version of the Kickback Assembly. The basic method here relies on one duplicate card (which happens to have been my own preferred method when I worked on this plot many moons ago) and there is plenty of mileage achieved with that tool combined with some fairly standard and simple handling along with sound thinking and management. There's nothing particularly wrong with this piece but it is my least favorite of the collection, largely because I disagree with the author's stated theoretical preference for the kickback plot to the straightforward classic assembly. I believe such kickbacks, reversals, and other plot change-ups are inordinately appealing to magicians because so many become bored by familiarity with the traditional. However, I think such surprise endings, while they will of course garner a response from laymen, actually undermine the magical aesthetic of a more traditional approach in many if not most cases; the layman (and magician) responding more to the surprise than the mystery.

(This is different however than adding an additional kicker following the conventional conclusion, a valid feature of much of Derek Dingle's work; the kind of kickback endings we are discussing here happen in lieu of completing the conventional plot.)

In the traditional assembly (card or coin, I might add), there are only three effects, not four, and thus the "rule of three" provides added strength (albeit this also applies in the kickback construction). And if you look at the original "Slow Motion Assembly," created by Dai Vernon, you will see that the construction is theatrically and magically sound. The first two transpositions look essentially the same, accomplished by similar means, while the final trans-position steps up the clarity and mystery, and the method changes as well, cancelling the methodological theories of the viewer. This is beautiful magic and sound theory (and also precisely the structure and genius of the vanish sequence in Vernon's routine for the Cups and Balls), and you waste this at your peril; the kickback substitution is more surprising but far less narratively and theatrically satisfying. The same is true of "Matrix," in which the kick-back ending wastes the perfect methodological setup of Al Schneider's original approach, which proves, in the final transposition, the purity and cleanliness and mystery of the previous stages.

Still, there's nothing wrong with the author's handling per se, and your mileage may differ. Moving on, "Bertha" is an excellent approach to the "Phil/Oscar/Fred" plot, in which the spectator cleanly thinks of a card, and the entire deck is clean at the climax after revealing the accurate pre-diction of the name written on the back of the thought-of selection. There are many good methods for this plot but Mr. Hostler has certainly added to the short list of excel-lent ones.

"Alligator" is a sleight-free routine based on Stewart James's "Miraskill" methodology, which provides a simple and logical presentation that allows the magician to demonstrate three aspects of psychic phenomena, namely precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance. The plot and script lend great clarity to the procedure and is a highlight of this self-working piece.

"Estimated Profit" is another self-worker based on Simon Aronson's well-established "Shuffle-Bored" reduced to an extremely direct and commercial presentation and procedure. This routine also comes with an excellent presentation which serves to both engage the audience's interest and to justify the otherwise potentially contrived procedures indeed among the key purposes of presentation in the first place (in addition to clarifying and heightening the effect, and expressing an artist's character and personal point of view. But I digress.). Although there are many variations of this trick in print, this one stands out for me for its simple clarity of plot and effect, along with the handling.

Despite the quality of the other routines as well as the interesting variety of styles, method, and effect, the final routine, "Cryptical Envelopment" is clearly the standout. This uses some sophisticated methodology to achieve the following direct and mystifying effect: The spectator is asked to look over the faces of a pack of cards and think of any one. The magician then divines the name of this thought-of card. The magician then explains that in fact the spectator did not randomly think of a card, but rather, the magician implanted a memory of a particular card which in fact was never present in the deck, but was previously removed and which the spectator may now withdraw from an envelope previously placed aside as a prediction.

This is not a trick for everybody among other things, part of the method depends on a "pump deck" (a hint for those familiar with that jargon) and willing to master the demanding requisites of verbal and performance skills. But the presentation is a clever and original take on the plot popularly associated with Eddie Joseph's "Premonition" in which a thought-of card vanishes from the deck, combined with a decidedly deceptive set of methods. If you use this trick, it is not only worth the price of the book, but indeed, much more than its meager asking price.

This is my first introduction to Mr. Hostler's work and all I can say in conclusion is, "Well done, sir."

Cryptical Envelopment: Five Gentle Frauds for the Close-Up Performer • John Hostler • Magic download (ebook) • 50 pages • illustrated with 13 photographs plus diagrams • 2012