Making the Cut: A Peek into the Magic of Ryan Schlutz by Ryan Schlutz
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2012)
Ryan Schlutz is a young man who has released a few instantly downloadable items to the magic community, perhaps most notably his “Pivotal Peek,” which is a glimpse of a peeked card. Since it is the lead off item of
the contents I will begin by addressing it. The method is certainly deceptive and is very appealing to some magicians because it will fool them. Part of the reason it fools them is because the grip and procedure is somewhat unconventional.
Part of the value of doing the conventional however has to do not with method—there’s nothing wrong with an unconventional method, unless that’s the only reason for its existence but rather with procedure. Erdnase addressed the importance of “uniformity of action” (a pet subject of sleight-of-hand masters like Harry Riser and Bob White), and so if we are in the habit of handling a deck of cards a certain way that also happens to lead naturally to a secret technique such as a Side Steal, for example, then it is useful to consistently have the cards handled in this manner all the time. I would suggest that despite the deceptiveness of Mr. Schlutz’s Peek and Glimpse, having a spectator peek a card himself is always vastly more deceptive than having the magician riffling through the cards (with both hands on the deck rather than just one), and then there are many ways to deceptively glimpse this card in the aftermath. Magicians may be familiar with these methods, some of which may not readily fool them, but keep in mind that Leipzig and Malini always had spectators peek cards themselves, and the later addition of the magician riffling the cards was merely an inferior compromise that rendered the method easier to do and more surefire. Magicians are wise to be skeptical of why and what attracts them to new tricks and techniques.
There are 16 additional entries in the book, accompanied by some scattered theoretical commentary. “Sense Sational” will thoroughly fool laymen and magicians alike, being as it is a sort of test-condition, somewhat hands-off three-card selection and revelation, based on a very old principle that is seldom seen and invariably deceptive. “Fing-Jit-Su” takes Pit Hartling’s “Finger Flicker” from Card Fictions and adds some presentation and cute props. “Foregone Conclusion” is an impromptu transposition of a selected card between two packets, a simple description of a simple effect but one using some convincing methodology and a handy visual disappearance of the card. “Jumbled Thoughts” is a direct but aesthetically pleasing application of the FriXion pen if you happen to be performing where the requisite glass cylinder candles are present. “The Untouchables” is a nice hands-off self working piece in three phases, using two spectators. The standout item of the book at least for workers would be “Insignia,” in which “A spectator’s signed card ends up being a prediction that is attached to the back of the magician’s name tag.” If you like wearing a name tag at your events (and while I generally do not there is nevertheless something to be said for it) this is a practical approach to a plot that has been experimented with by others. The initial preparation will take a bit of effort but after that the reset is simple and quick and you can do this all night throughout your walk-around gig.
That’s most of the material in which I found some merit; about a third of the book’s contents, some okay stuff, if you will, that I’m sure suits the other nicely, but nothing to knock my socks off. Unfortunately this means I found the remaining two thirds to consist of minor effects, minor handlings, or in several cases, tricks to which the author has added specially printed novelty cards. These additions clearly suit his style and taste, and on the one hand do set these tricks apart from the usual, but on the other hand, I personally believe detract from the simple elegance of using a deck of playing cards to accomplish these same effects without the addition of such novelties. To me, I think adding two cards that depict cartoony “black holes” does not improve on the sandwich plot, nor does a card with a dagger imprinted on it improve upon a location relying on a rubber band and the suggestion of a card “stabbing” plot. Rather these additions serve to render magic more silly and trivial and less mysterious and adult. (Anyone inclined to further consider these issues might find interest in the essay, “First Do No Harm” in my first book, Shattering Illusions. [Just sayin’.]) Perhaps the most value in these pages will be found in two appendices. One provides the author’s instructions for how to print cards with your own custom material on the faces; despite my sentiments just stated, there is doubtless value in these instructions, for example in perhaps creating your own custom “advertising cards” or “ranks of the hands of poker” or other such apparently ordinary cards which can be modified, customized, or personalized (with text as well as graphics) to suit your own purposes.
Another appendix contains a terrific little utilitarian idea, a chart for pocket management. Pocket management is a subject of significant importance to working pros, and we all develop systems for inventorying our props in a consistent manner. I tend to keep lists along with my props for articular stage programs, for example, itemizing what goes wear, and in my walk-around work, I maintain longdeveloped habits so that I never have to think twice about which pocket has the memdeck and which one has the shuffled pack.
Mr. Schlutz has taken this a small step further in a way that seems supremely obvious once you see it, and indeed which others have likely thought of for themselves, but which was new to me. He has drawn a diagram of a business suit, with empty text boxes connected to eight standard pockets (you can readily add additional pockets once you grasp the principle). This way you fill in the text of the contents of each pocket, and you are left not just with a list, but with a visual map. Now why didn’t I think of that? These valid contents notwithstanding, I confess that I would have been much happier with this book had it been produced far more economically, as I consider the contents to be more closely on par with a good set of a lecture notes (such as Mr. Gabbay’s booklet already discussed) than with a hardcover book warranting a $45 price tag. At half the price it would be a perfectly pleasant production, delivering reasonable value and representing the present stage of the work of a developing young artist. At its current price, I would prefer a more finished product within.