Semi-Automatic Card Tricks VIII by Steve Beam
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2011)
Steve Beam is a pretty funny guy. He'd have us believe that seven volumes of semiautomatic card tricks was an inadequate repast to fill magicians' appetites for card tricks that are largely sleight-free and rely on primarily mathematical methods. He'd also have you believe that you can entertain audiences with tricks relying on Down Under Deals and Reverse Faros. And what's more, he'd have us believe that you can fool magicians with such material—repeatedly.
Well, look who's laughing now.
I guess that would have to be Mr. Beam's cackling we hear in the background, since it's certainly not me; his monumental series is enormously popular and consistently well received, and I have no doubt that this latest volume will continue this seemingly unlikely tradition. After all, when I read magic books for purposes other than review—that is, for my own interest and pleasure (it's possible!), I tend to skip over tricks that require Down Under Deals, Reverse Faros, or adult self-circumcision. Yet I have seen Mr. Beam perform material from these books over the years, and I have often been thoroughly entertained and gasped in the process.
And now here's another book of more of the same. Close to 150 entries in more than 300 pages, routines from dozens of popular creators, invariably clear descriptions (even of complicated mathematic principles), original presentations that are actually useable, and variations that serve clear purposes. Mr. Beam's clarity and consistency of vision is a significant if less often commented upon reason for the success of these books.
There is a very wide range of material here, to appeal to many different tastes; that said, some items that stand out for me begin with several tricks using a "cootie catcher," that folded paper fortune-teller puzzle device that most of us played with as kids (even if they were mostly made by the girls). This is a charming and recognizable prop that offers a wide range of performance opportunities, beginning with the four examples provided here as starting inspiration.
There is a chapter of material contributed by Spanish creators (along with separate chapter from Ramon Rioboo), and Juan Esteban provides a thought provoking piece for serious workers entitled "The Point-of View Card Trick" that relies on a sophisticated approach to multiple outs and a clever presentational ploy. Along the lines of other such sophisticated verbal methodology, Mr. Beam's own trick, "Hooked," relies on skillful "fishing" techniques to provide a handy impromptu miracle.
In the area of tools (by this I do not refer to the author) there is an entire chapter of false shuffles and cutting sequences that even sleight-of-hand sophisticates will find use for; I particularly liked Paul Wilson's "Overlap" tabled cutting sequence, and Mr. Beam's "Live Stock," which memdeck workers might find of particular interest. In this, a pack is apparently randomly mixed into groups of face-up and face-down cards, but the starting order is maintained nonetheless. Among other utility items, Lewis Jones contributes an ingeniously simple system for memorizing a string of cards on the fly.
I think I mentioned that Steve Beam is a pretty funny guy. Reading these books often makes me laugh out loud, and not only at the parts where he proposes entertaining people by combining Down Under Deals with mentalism. Speaking of Down/Under Deals, the author addresses readers who "debate whether or no to read some of these tricks," but as your humble reviewer, I don't have that choice. I actually read them, and I can prove it: on p. 181, within the section of Down/Under Deals, there is a typo which reads "thee" instead of "the" (And no, I'm not bucking for a proofreading job, heaven forbid—but Mr. Beam spends some time discussing his proof readers—who seem to do a fine job, and I would blame the author for the two or three remaining typos I found, since he probably inserts them just in order to make them seem overpaid.)
Although Mr. Beam's distinctive sense of humor will not and should not suit every reader, there are always excellent presentational ideas in his books. Amid Mr. Beam's steady supply of wise guy jokes and winking wordplay there are useful utility jokes to be found, and presentations that can be adapted by many performers, far from being limited to the tricks they accompany here. (I was going to name some examples but I've decided to keep them for myself since I had to read the Down/Under Deals section.) For the right reader, the trick "Finger Flinger" might be worth the price of the book, in which the magician manages to predict what freely selected finger his spectators end up choosing, concluding with a revelation that results in the entire audience making what could be interpreted as a rude gesture directed at the performer. The accompanying script for this is smartly crafted and suitably hilarious, and I've seen it in action (proof of which can be found in the pages of this book—I knew I shouldn't have signed that release).
All this and more, including priceless tidbits of practical advice like this: "A bigger motion doesn't always cover a small motion Sometimes it just makes you look silly." Steve Beam really is a pretty funny guy.