Folding Money Fooling by Robert E. Neale

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 1997)

Folding Money Fooling

If I was one of the many magicians who loved puzzles and origami—and I'm not—or if I even suspected that I might someday want to be, I would immediately buy this charming new book by Robert Neale. Mr. Neale is something of a celebrity in the Venn diagram overlap between magic and origami, not to mention its special subset utilizing paper money. He is the inventor of the incomprehensibly cute "Bunny Bill," an extraordinary construction which manages to fold a dollar bill into the form of a top hat from which, when squeezed, pops up a simulacrum of a bunny head, ears and all. I am not making this up.

The Bunny Bill has been around a long time, marketed as a manuscript from Magic, Inc., who have kindly granted permission to include it in this volume, already a giant step toward providing significant value to the reader. Those instructions have also been updated with some further details concerning the folding of the ears, the original description of which apparently leaned rather heavily on the imagination of the reader. How good is the Bunny Bill? Mr. Neale tells us that Paul Harris, long a Bunny Bill fan and master folder, "has done an entire evening of walkaround performances using only the Bunny Bill." I am not making this up.

But there's much more to be found in these pages. In addition to three entries concerning the Bunny Bill and variations, there are eighteen other items, divided among more animated folds, puzzles, and tricks. The animations include such items as a Fluttering Butterfly, a hopping "Billfrog," and a Perching Parrot. The tricks aren't quite in the miracle class, but they do contain some surprises, including bills that stretch; changing George Washington's expression; turning a basket into a much larger snake; puncturing and restoring a bill; and a lovely variant of the classic marketed effect Skull Location, in which a bill is folded into a small head-like shape with a mouth that opens and closes, and then, "When a small packet of cards is held in the mouth and shaken, all fall away except the previously chosen card." I am not making this up.

You have to admit that folding an animated toy or puzzle or magic trick out of a common dollar bill has a much better chance of branding you the coolest guy in your peer group—as opposed to annoying people with the social geekery of a poorly-executed duck-and-deal card trick. (Okay, that may be a false dichotomy.) So the only remaining question is: How hard is it to learn this stuff? Because, of course, if it's much harder than replacing the rubber band on a folding quarter, we're going to lose at least a few students right there. Well, while this stuff isn't exactly effortless—and goodness knows you don't want to get me started on that tangent again—it does seem like it would be remarkably easy to master many if not most of these constructions. There is no doubt whatsoever that this book has been a demanding collaboration between the author/inventor, the illustrator, and the publisher. The explanations are written with superb clarity, and the drawings, done by the estimable Earle Oakes, are magnificently detailed, generously sized and voluminous in number and some of them, like a sequence on page 125, are so filled with life as to be simply beautiful. I also like the design of the binding in its choice of color and font (although I wish the publisher would spring for cloth instead of vinyl bindings), but the efforts of all parties involved seem to have come to a crashing stop at the threshold of the dustjacket, which is, I think it fair to say, a failure. Perhaps this last element will improve in the proposed second volume, whose appearance you can help to assure by buying your own copy of this book, not borrowing it from a friend.

One practical question which interested me was how long it might take to execute these models after sufficient practice has been invested to achieve reasonable proficiency. Although I would have liked to have seen such information included in the book, in a conversation with Mr. Neale, he said that while many might be somewhat time consuming if folded from scratch—i.e., a couple of minutes—that the real secret to making practical use of most of these forms is to prefold them, then unfold and refold them in front of your audience. People will tend to be very interested in watching the folding process, and refolding the forms along the preexisting creases means that, according to the author, most of these constructions can be refolded in about 30 seconds or thereabouts, an encouraging and perfectly practical time for real-world use and "performance."

Regarding performance, the author has also provided sample scripts—some appropriately brief, and some quite effectively more elaborate—for turning most of these items into charming moments of theater. I really think he's onto something here, given the combined novelty and intrigue of paper money, origami skills, entertaining constructions and presentational accompaniment. I would encourage readers to try their hands at this, as well as to perhaps introduce younger potential folding enthusiasts. Many of these items are certainly manageable for kids in the range of eight or ten years old in my estimation. After all, I actually folded every one of these forms just to write this review! Okay, I made that up.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound w/dustjacket; 146 pages; illustrated with approximately 500 line drawings; 1997; Publisher: Kaufman & Company

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