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Ken Krenzel's Ingenuities by Stephen Minch

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


Ken Krenzel is a grand master of the pasteboards who will require introduction to few but the very youngest of readers. The Krenzel record is spread across the landscape of late-20th century conjuring, with contributions to the journals most emblemetic of their respective decades, from The Phoenix and Hugard's Magic Monthly [page 128] to Hierophant [page 454], Epilogue, Richard's Almanac and more. Card Classics of Ken Krenzel is a much-sought after title now 22 years after its initial release, and it has been seven years since the appearance of Dr. Krenzel's previous title, Close-Up Impact.

I'm always suspicious of books—be it in or out of magic—that claim to offer "something for everyone." Too often the phrase leaves a gap demanding the insertion of the additional words, "but nothing for anyone in particular." In this case, however, the description seems both apt and advantageous: There is a wide range of material here, with standout items in many categories, including impromptu card work, gaffed card material, sleight-of-hand card tricks, coin magic and more.

Interestingly, the opening chapter, and indeed a subtext through much of the volume, is comprised of material not defined so much by props or technology but by the conditions. That is, the initial segment, "Out of Hand," consists of card effects and techniques that occur primarily or entirely in the spectator's hands. In his thoughtful introductory essay, Dr. Krenzel makes a strong case for the distinctive power and impact such conditions have on lay audiences, and the point seems indisputable. What is remarkable is the range of ideas to be found here that meet these difficult conditions, which all too often merely lead to self-working items of restricted magical content.

Those seeking "commercial" real-world items need look no farther than the opening entry. For the climax to an Ambitious Card routine, the deck is returned to the card box in order to isolate the cards from control or manipulation. The signed selection is deliberately inserted in the center of the boxed deck. After a magical gesture, the box is opened and the spectator is asked to remove the top card, which is now the signed selection—and the spectator may also then remove the deck, which is unprepared. The trick uses a clever combination of ideas to achieve this eminently useful result, the kind of combination that is characteristic of Dr. Krenzel's work. His sources are disparate, and as he recounts his credits and inspirations the reader is often taken on an eclectic tour, from the ideas of modern sleight-of-hand masters like Earnest Earick and Jim Swain, to seminal thinkers of times past. Similarly, despite his deserved reputation for demanding technical skills, throughout this new volume the overwhelming majority of material relies on a clever synthesis on ideas designed to yield the maximum impact with a remarkable minimum of technical demands.

"In my estimation the term 'self-working' is a misnomer. 'Sleight-free' may be a more accurate designation, denoting a method that resorts to subtle, sleightless artifices and gaffs."—Ken Krenzel, from Ken Krenzel's Ingenuities by Stephen Minch

Elsewhere in this opening segment you will find a couple of very good solutions for Paul Curry's Open Prediction, a now-classic card problem that invariably provides an irresistible challenge to great thinkers. There are also two methods provided for forcing a card while the deck is in the card box. These methods are excellent—they achieve the intended goal and do so in eminently serviceable fashion.

The second chapter consists of five items sharing the theme of changes and transformations, the last of which is entitled It's A Wrap, in which a selection is cleanly inserted in the center of the deck, the deck is turned face up, and with a minimal gestural movement the selection appears at the face of the deck. This intriguing sleight- of-hand item looks good, and while it will require some practice it's a visually startling effect.

The third chapter, "Escaping Cardville," provides five coin entries plus a quick but striking sequence in which a full-length ordinary pencil is mysteriously produced from the magician's fist and then just as impossibly returned whence it came. One of the coin routines, Pocket Passport, is a truly fabulous idea, in which Dr. Krenzel returns to his challenging conditional demands of ultimate spectator control. As a climax to a copper and silver sequence, the spectator is instructed to place both coins in her own pocket, and then to withdraw either one of her choice. With a moment's assistance from the magician, the spectator displays her chosen coin and then retains it. The magician inflicts his magical powers on the situation, whereupon the spectator finds that the coins have changed places—one in her hand, the other in her own pocket. The method may seem head-rattlingly obvious at first, but this is a terrific idea that, if elegantly executed, should yield a potentially stunning effect.

Chapter Four, entitled "New Tools," is a diverse range of entries for the cardician's toolbox. The first item on Peek Decks provides Dr. Krenzel's work on this standard but presently uncommon gaffed deck. This is a no-skill, sure-fire method for allowing a spectator to peek at a card, the identity of which is instantly known to the mage. While I would be inclined to employ a subtle sleight-of-hand control and glimpse combination, I have no doubt that some performers will find this principle ideally suited to their needs. Also included in this section is a method for a Top-Card Cover Dribble Pass, an interesting combination of ideas from this past master that pass masters will want to study carefully.

The final chapter consists of ten full-dress performance routines, generally complete with presentation. Yet again there is something for everyone here. The opening item, The Lost Aces of Louie the Loser provides a charming story mated with technically challenging methods to produce some visually memorable magic around a poker plot. Briefly, after inserting the aces face-up in the center of the deck, four hands are immediately dealt out. Each ace now appears face-up in position to be dealt to the mage's own hand, but as the card is seen and heard to be dealt to the table, it visibly disappears. The spectator chooses one of the remaining hands, and the aces are found to reside therein. Astute readers will recognize shades of Lennart Green's "laser deal," to which Dr. Krenzel has brought his own technique, routining, and presentational approach. In Cloning Queens, initially inspired by a well-known Paul Harris effect, a queen of hearts is visibly split into two identical queens, then one of these is split yet again, creating a third match, and finally a queen is split again, but this time into a half- sized miniature card. With a snap, all the various queens melt back into the single starting card.

The Last Heist is a multi-segment routine with the Jacks accompanied by an elaborate story wherein the cards are personified as, respectively, Jack Diamond, Jackie Valentine, Clubfoot Jacko and Shovel-face Jack. If you go in for this sort of thing—and I don't—the routining is sound and there is a lot of bang, including a back-changing kicker, accomplished for minimal technical buck. If you don't go in for this sort of thing, I imagine the effects are achievable without the contrived banter. There is a variant of Vernon's Travellers which is quick, direct, practical and, like most such variants, measures up poorly when compared directly with the original. There are several monte variations which are designed to produce an unmistakable slow-motion action. I tend to eschew all conjuring-type monte approaches that differ widely from genuine street handlings—Color Monte makes me gag—but due to the slow-motion theme, one of these (most likely the final entry) could probably be safely mixed with more traditional versions.

There are several entries in the book that address the timeless "any card at any number" problem, and while the perfect solution has yet be reached, Under Wraps provides a decidedly valid approach. The spectator shuffles a deck and then wraps it in a paper napkin, thus protecting it from view and further control. After some brief byplay the spectator names a card, the performer names a number, the spectator unwraps the deck and deals down to the number at which the named card indeed appears. One of several alternate versions enables the spectator to name the number and the performer names the card at that position. There is some preparation and technical ability required here but in the end the effort is minimal and the effect maximal. The final item in the book is based on a recently marketed item, Becker and Knepper's Kolossal Killer, a popular card prediction effect. While the specifics are difficult to effectively describe briefly, this is a solid performance piece that utilizes strong presentation and psychological skills— including some fine equivoque ideas—with a virtually sleight-free handling. A dark presentational variant buried in the final paragraphs will surely send this item into the repertoire of more than one professional with a taste for such twists.

Hermetic Press has produced a lovely volume here. Author Stephen Minch continues to demonstrate that he is the standout literary stylist of his era when it comes to technical close-up magic. His elegant prose is always a pleasure to read, and the descriptions have the sparkling clarity of freshly polished glass. Hermetic Press probably possesses the most consistently outstanding record in recent years when it comes to book design, and this volume is no exception. From the running heads to the title fonts the book is a model of taste and restraint. The dustjacket is an eye-catching and extravagant painting by Greg Webb, and the book is filled with a plentiful supply of Kelly Lyle's capable illustrations. Truly, from packaging to product, there is plenty here for the casual tinkerer and the committed professional.

7" X 10" hardbound w/full-color dustjacket; 224 pages; 213 illustrations; 1997; Publisher: Hermetic Press