The Complete Cups and Balls by Michael Ammar
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii February, 1999)
Although it is now well established that a performance of the Cups and Balls was not in fact depicted in hieroglyphs on the walls of a burial chamber in Beni Hasan, Egypt, this fact does little to dispute the notion that this trick is among the oldest of all conjuring feats. Until fairly recently—perhaps at most the last half century—proficiency with these props was considered a measure of, and indeed a prerequisite to, one's mastery of the art of sleight-of-hand. Master magicians, Dai Vernon included, have frequently pointed out that the timeless appeal of the trick may have something to do with the fact that it encompasses many of the fundamental effects of magic; at least five of the six basic effects, to use Sam Sharpe's nomenclature from his classic theoretical text, Neo-Magic, can be incorporated into its performance: e.g., Vanish, Appearance, Transposition, Transformation, and Defiance of Natural Laws (and I could make a theoretical case that the sixth category, Mental Phenomena, can also be included in some cases). Other reasons contributing to this longevity might include the fact that the potential for endless technical variation helps to maintain its appeal to performers; the fact that an individual can graft virtually any kind of presentation onto these simple props; and that, as with the Linking Rings, while the cups may be considered magician's props (a critical flaw in the eyes of many, notably Michael Close), their structural simplicity lends a sense of innocence and immediate comprehension in the audience's eyes and minds (an opinion shared by this writer). More recently, the cups seem to have fallen somewhat into disuse by the general conjuring population, either supplanted by modern variants—most commonly Al Wheatley's Chop Cup and Roy Benson's Bowl Routine, both popularized by Don Alan—or discarded entirely. Yet at the same time experts still appear to maintain a fascination and fondness for the classic, as witnessed by the routines of David Williamson (who won the IBM Gold Cups with his now well-known two-cup routine), Tommy Wonder (whose revolutionary approach is probably the most purely original of the late twentieth century), Ricky Jay (who closes his show with the cups, the only non-card trick of the performance), the late Michael Skinner (who often performed his take on the Vernon routine at restaurant tables in the Golden Nugget), and Penn and Teller (whose pseudo-exposure routine was a strong feature of their early success in the 1980s).
Although the literature of the Cups and Balls is both ancient and extensive, it is also spread throughout the literature, and one has the opportunity to enjoy a great deal of research while gathering and studying these many sources. These efforts reward any earnest student who avails him or herself of the opportunity to, for starters, frolic among the ancients in Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft and Hocus Pocus, Jr., veer to the eccentric routines of John Ramsay, Alex Elmsley, and Scotty York, make an exotic detour to drop in on Charlie Miller's Indian Cups and Balls routine, study the works of modern masters like David Williamson, Bob Read, and Tommy Wonder, and, of course, immerse yourself in a hundredth-fold reading of Lewis Ganson's description of the Dai Vernon routine. All who have mastered the trick have assuredly done so only by making this profitable if challenging journey. Enter Michael Ammar, who appears to have taken it as his personal mission to lower the bar for progression through the ranks of the conjuring arts and sell the relative newcomers a maximum of goodies before their interest level wanes and they drift on toward other amusing pastimes. Continuing with his penchant for misleading titles (see, for example, any videotape labeled with the unfortunate appellation, "Easy To Master"), the Ammarization of Magicdom takes yet another step backward with his latest installment, The Complete Cups and Balls, which claims in its glossy dust-jacket to explain "ALL the fascinating secrets of this enduring classic" [italics per original].
Here's what Michael Ammar has in fact done:
- created two videotapes in which he demonstrates a substantial quantity of Cups and Balls techniques, a few of which are explained in detail and many more of which are dealt with in more perfunctory fashion
- created a series of exercises in the form of simplified routines explained the previously published Dai Vernon routine
- provided about 25 minutes of fascinating video of Bob Read discussing the trick via the use of some samples of his extraordinary collection of artistic renditions of the Cups and Balls throughout history
- created a book by reprinting a transcription of most of Mr. Ammar's script for these two videos in printed form
- added a brief foreword by Tommy Wonder
- added a burdensome supply of photographs in an attempt to compensate for the meager text-based descriptions
- added a number of visual novelties consisting of colored highlighting of text and wholesale quantities of arrows
- added an abbreviated description of Mr. Ammar's own previously published Cups-and-Balls routine
- left out the Bob Read material in the printed volume
- and added eighteen minimally edited and seemingly hurriedly assembled question-and-answer segments, totaling about 56 pages, with an assortment of Cups-and-Balls practitioners.
Part One of the book, comprising the first 40 pages, is probably the most useful segment. Herein the author takes the reader through Beginning Sleights including several false transfers (the weakest portion of this section), then techniques for secretly loading small balls, stealing small balls, false loading, a loose aggregation of techniques gathered under the chapter heading of "Cool Cup Moves" (really, couldn't the author's imagination manage to conceive of a phraseology less trivializing and ever so slightly more elegant than the slang label, stale at that, of "cool?"), and a chapter of final loading techniques. This section also includes one-page snippets concerning such notions as Acting, Timing, Routining, and Misdirection. Also included are four "routines," three of which might be more appropriately dubbed exercises, that put the basic sleights to use as they are progressively addressed in the preceding segment of text. The final routine is an impromptu one that can be readily performed with ordinary, conceivably borrowed materials.
This section is the most useful because it will in fact serve as an effective introduction for a beginning student who knows nothing about the Cups and Balls and doesn't know where to begin. As Tommy Wonder writes in his typically thoughtful foreword, "(The book) will have taught you to think in terms of 'Cups and Balls.' You will understand the language." The portion of this material which I view favorably, however, primarily concerns directly cups-related techniques, and not the ball-related items, such as the false transfers, false loads, Advanced Wand Vanishes, and the like that appear later in Section Two. Mr. Ammar has taken to portraying himself (not directly, of course, but through the marketing efforts of his publisher and selected quotes from various less-than-independent sources) as a great teacher of magic, but I will risk questioning the opacity of the emperor's adornments and suggest that I don't entirely agree. Mr. Ammar, if his videos are any indication, seems to think that the task of a teacher is to demonstrate a correct execution and then exhort his viewers to duplicate it, reminding them that if they require further assistance they need only rewind the tape and play it again, perhaps in slow motion; then again, they need only wait for the "Super Practice Session" to come around on the videotape, during which time they will be played soothing classical-lite music while the previously demonstrated material is indeed replayed several times in slow motion.
I have a very different notion of what it takes to be a good instructor, based on my own experience as a teacher of numerous private students and as a student of many teachers, great and poor alike. I believe that a demonstration of a correct execution does little to enable a student to duplicate that execution. Rather, a skillful teacher anticipates the problems and flaws that most students will typically encounter, and then offers clever and useful ways to avoid such traps and correct those mistakes. Note, for example, Roberto Giobbi's superb Card College volumes, in which detailed descriptions (intended to portray correct execution) are then often followed with tips and pointers which are intended to assist the learning process and overcome common errors. Roberto Giobbi is a fine writer and educator who produces stunning pedagogical tools; by comparison, Mr. Ammar occasionally comes off as a competent demonstrator in a retail magic establishment.
Which is of course precisely what he seems well-suited for and clearly what he has been most successful at being. I honestly don't mind that Mr. Ammar has managed to make such a successful living at marketing to magicians; he is far from alone in this practice, albeit few can match his effectiveness as a magic marketeer. What I do mind is the earnest disingenuousness which he brings to his profligate profitability, casting his intentions with doe-eyed sincerity in the guise of contributing to the betterment of his art. We are of course supposed to offer our humble gratitude for these beneficent gifts, for without him we would be forced to suffer in the dark ages of the written word as so many poor enthusiasts were compelled to do in those ignorant, video-less times past.
The problem here is that I think Mr. Ammar proclaims his good intentions a bit too loudly. What he is successfully doing is promoting magic to a new and larger audience, precisely what any marketer needs to do once he has saturated the market at hand. (And if you think the market isn't saturated, you haven't been paying attention. Last year angry dealers all but demanded that producers cut back on the glut of video and book releases, threatening to refuse purchase of new releases, and indeed publishers have substantially acquiesced. The pipeline is shrinking for a while, which is fine with me because it will enable me to slowly catch up on titles missed in the last year due to Genii's irregular publishing schedule.) That this has been a successful venture is indisputable, but to confuse this success with the claim that promoting magic to a wider audience is good for the art is a gross presumption lacking definitive supporting evidence and at the very least subject to some debate. Although any one position is difficult to prove, my own opinion is that what has been created is a larger audience of dilettantes who enter the hobby for a brief period of perhaps one to three years until their consumer's appetite is satiated through dissipation of interest, funds, or both, and then depart with a head full of secrets without having ever engaged with the more meaningful and substantive aspects of the art—the very aspects that seize and maintain those who eventually become passionate and productive artists. As Eric Mead recently proclaimed in, ironically, an L&L Publishing catalogue, "I know there is no going back to the days when you had to read, but I must say that I find a lot of videos to be so superficial as to be more or less worthless . . . . I have serious doubts about the quality of performing magicians this schooling will produce."
And so I defy any beginning student to actually learn the false transfers, wand vanishes, false loads, and other fundamental but difficult sleights that are so poorly described in these pages. There is no information provided that is designed to put these descriptions in any sort of context that would give readers a chance to achieve a realistic approximation of what these sleights and illusions are intended to look like in the real world. There is no addressing of the typical mistakes that beginning students invariably make when starting out with such sleights. For example, it is of course important to attempt the genuine action and compare it to the simulated action of any sleight, as the author often reminds us, but even this apparently simple notion is extremely difficult to achieve in actuality, for the reason that once someone begins to think about what is supposed to be natural, he or she becomes, by definition, "self-conscious," and that almost invariably produces, in beginners, the kind of stilted, unnatural actions implied by this very term. It takes a long road of difficult study, combined with some specific skills and tricks of learning, to be able to figure out what "natural" really means in terms of conjuring. It takes much more than an admonition to simply do it; mastering sleight-of-hand is far more difficult than buying a pair of Nikes, or for that matter a magic video. And teaching it is more difficult than littering the pages with photographs; when Mr. Ammar presents the Inertia Move in these pages, he does so with less than fifty words accompanied by ten pictures. I propose that a few more sentences accompanied by half the illustrations or less would have explicitly and uncompromisingly explained precisely what is intended on this page, rather than leaving the student in a guessing game trying to figure out what the phrase "inertia being what it is" is supposed to mean.
The second section of the book begins with the afore-mentioned advanced wand vanishes, which generally suffer from the same instructional limitations as the false transfer sections. This is followed by a number of useful, more elaborate sequences for use as opening and middle phases in lengthier routines. Loading and ending sequences are then discussed, in another of the book's most valuable elements. There is frustratingly little detail in the literature about these techniques, which tend to be mastered via a great deal of trial-and-error combined with assistance from magic's oral tradition. In these pages the loading technique that Mr. Ammar favors is taught in sufficient detail to fully explain what is required of the performer. Having said that, however, the book also fails to note that this is merely one approach to making such loads. Charlie Miller, Tommy Wonder, Harry Riser, and Don Alan have all contributed to different approaches, to name a few obvious examples, none of which are mentioned here.
This material is followed by descriptions of the Vernon routine—clearly the most popular and influential cups-and-balls routine of all time—and then by Mr. Ammar's own routine. Both of these routines—as already noted but worth another mention to those wondering how much of this volume might be labeled by some readers as padding—are previously published and widely accessible. Before I get to the third part of the book—imaginatively titled "The Bonus Chapter"—I must pause to address what is possibly the most incredible (not a compliment) page of the book, included in the section concerning the Vernon routine, entitled—spectacularly!—"What might Vernon Have Done Differently." Well, perhaps we should begin with what Vernon didn't do: He never, in his many published works, penned a chapter entitled, "What Malini/Leipzig/et al Might Have Done Differently." Why, one might ask, did Vernon never write such a chapter, even though he knew these and so many other greats and wrote about them extensively? Because he knew that it is patent folly, as well as the pinnacle of arrogance and egoism, to pretend to read the mind of a dead genius.
But let us consider the actual content of this page of speaking to—correction: for—the dead. What the author primarily suggests is that Vernon might have seen the apparent wisdom of Mr. Ammar's three-vanish sequence over that of Vernon's own. But the very idea is ludicrous! First of all, one of Mr. Vernon's intractable character traits was to always reexamine his work and attempt to improve it; he passionately pursued perfection while fully understanding, more deeply than most, that it could never be achieved. The Professor had many decades to reconsider the cups-and-balls routine which became associated with him (despite the fact that it heavily incorporated the work of both predecessors and his contemporaries), and made few if any changes. He often used it to open his shows at the Magic Castle, and performed the routine professionally throughout his seventies and probably into his early eighties.
The fact is that Vernon never altered his vanish sequence because he understood the brilliance, the inescapable genius of it. Vernon first executed a vanish via a flawless false transfer—and his false transfers were elegant and eerily convincing. He understood how totally deceptive such a sleight can be when properly executed—and so he then repeated that sleight with equal effectiveness. Now, knowing that after that repetition a viewer might begin to become suspicious as to whether the ball was in fact being transferred to the receiving hand. Vernon would actually transfer the ball with an exact duplication of the actions of the false transfer. He would now address the spectator's suspicion—pretending to be a bit behind but in fact always being well ahead of the audience—and open his hand to show that the ball was actually there. Under cover of the spectator's momentary surprise—an important factor to keep in mind—Vernon would then immediately execute his famous wand spin vanish (a variation of a sleight of Silent Mora's, the credit history of which Mr. Ammar addresses in these pages). The wand spin occurs as a brief flourish, during which time the ball is secretly stolen while the performer directs his gaze at the audience. Then, after a brief but very important pause, Vernon would tap the hand and reveal the vanish. The point of this entire sequence was to use the essence of magical construction, namely the changing of method for a repeated, duplicated effect what we now often call canceling—to set the spectator up and then fool his or her mind in as thorough a manner as possible. The actions of the three vanishes, it is implied, are identical, consisting of the transfer followed by a tap of the wand which yields a vanish; the wand spin is simply a flourish that lends a bit of theatrical build to the final revelation, but apparently has nothing to do with the method. Of course, the wand spin may be too fancy a maneuver for some styles, and this is where the kind of direct steal vanishes that Mr. Ammar uses in his sequence might be effectively substituted for the Vernon Wand Spin, especially one of the two through-the-fist handlings he describes. But either way, the fundamental construction renders this a stunning sequence that students will do well to understand and indeed duplicate.
By contrast, Mr. Ammar applies no such canceling or clever construction to his vanish sequence; he uses three direct-steal type vanishes, essentially doing a series of repetitive change-overs in order to desperately prove his hands empty at every opportunity. (He also relies upon David Williamson's excellent Striking Vanish in its weakest form, namely with the use of a wand. Mr. Williamson originally published many other far more subtle uses for this clever technique which continue to remain superior to the wand, an application he in fact never uses in his own superb cups-and-balls routine.) Entranced by the flamboyance and visuality of these maneuvers, Mr. Ammar's choices betray, I am compelled to point out, a deep misunderstanding of sleight of hand, and a tremendous lack of confidence in its most fundamental techniques and tenets. Ironically, at the start of the book Mr. Ammar seems to anticipate and identify this very failing in others when he states that, "Now I realize magic doesn't have to be visual in order to engage the imagination of the viewer. Engaging the imagination has more to do with concept, construction, and courage—with enough of each to trust yourself to slow down, pause, and actually encourage them to think about what is taking place." Not to mention the courage to execute a simple false transfer and then stand there, calmly, holding out a ball all the while, confident that the spectator will have no clue to its whereabouts. But if you lack that courage, you'll be busy doing acquitments all day long and never be able to get yourself to simply stop!—and recognize that the audience has already been fooled, while you've been so busy running for your life that you failed to notice.
Mr. Ammar also second-guesses Mr. Vernon's use of the exposure of the French Drop during his loading sequence, an admittedly controversial device that few modern practitioners have chosen to utilize. Vernon clearly had his reasons for doing so, however, which perhaps Mr. Ammar fails to grasp. One possible reason that I have often considered is that Mr. Vernon was using a strategy that Penn and Teller have often embraced, namely appearing to tip something to the audience as a way of breaking down some of the psychological barriers that magic often creates between performer and audience, in order to eliminate the sense of challenge and to create a bond that puts the performer and audience on the same side. In this way I believe that Mr. Vernon preceded the Penn and Teller ploy by several decades. If we prefer, however, we needn't speculate that far. Johnny Thompson has recounted how Vernon explained to him that at the start of his routine he would always say that he would perform the trick and then explain it afterward. Hence when Vernon gets to the French Drop explanation he is by implication signaling to the audience that the routine is about to come to a close. Once he has explained the idea of the move then he actually places this last ball in his pocket, only to reveal that all three balls have mysteriously returned to the center cup. The notion of explaining things at the end, coupled with this pseudo-climax, goes far to thoroughly disarm the spectators and lead them to the belief that the routine has been concluded. Hence their shocked reaction to the subsequent revelation of the final loads will now be all the more extreme!
I should mention that following this page Mr. Ammar offers the most detailed guidance to be found anywhere in the book concerning presentation, to wit: "What will be your opening presentational hook? What are you going to say? Why are you going to be doing this effect for this particular audience?" If this seems to consist more of questions about presentation than answers, well, I noticed that too. But continuing from there, and as already mentioned, this material is followed by a brief description of Mr. Ammar's own routine, probably an inferior description to that published in the author's volume of collected works, The Magic of Michael Ammar. Although I'm not terribly fond of this routine, it does include the wonderful effect of one of the balls appearing magically atop a cup as a finale to the opening production-of-balls sequence (an effect I have in fact adopted for my own use, although I set up for it quite differently). Also, the author chooses not to publish a very clever idea he uses at Caesar's Magical Empire for introducing all of the props early in his act and building the routine as the climax to an entire close-up performance.
The so-called "Bonus Chapter," oddly dubbed—is it a free bonus? an unplanned bonus? an unnecessary bonus?—consists of questions-and-answers (it seems an overstatement to call them interviews or even, in one striking euphemism from a back-cover blurb, essays) about the Cups and Balls from eighteen contributing magicians. Although I had hoped that this section might provide a great payoff for the book and possibly even comprise its greatest feature, I admit to being disappointed here as well. A few of these individuals are true "workers," and it is these contributors that offer the best material in this section. Mike Rogers, Johnny Thompson, Michael Skinner, Bruce Cervon, and David Williamson have all relied upon the cups extensively in their professional repertoires, and these masters all provide excellent real-world advice and perspective in their segments. (Mr. Cervon briefly describes an excellent short routine he did for television some years ago that might provide students with some stimulating fodder for further thought.) Although some other great cups workers are also included, including Gazzo, Paul Gertner, Tom Mullica, and Bob Sheets, many of these segments (along with those by others either less known or in some cases better known as contest entrants) are far less fulfilling than they might have been because they all seem to have been slapped together with a minimum of editorial thought and effort. With few exceptions, most of the contributors have been asked the same extremely limited set of questions, queries which may appear specific but in fact seem to lead to rather vague responses in many instances. Those answers appear to then be rather sloppily and haphazardly thrown together with results that are in at least some cases choppy and awkward. Furthermore, it seems inexcusable that these questions were not customized to each performer's particular strengths and habits. For example, why not ask Bob Sheets why he takes the time to have all of the props examined at the start of the routine, an option many other performers ignore? Why not ask Paul Gertner why he chooses to utilize the Vernon exposure sequence, since he is probably the only performer in this entire section of the book to do so today? Why does Tommy Wonder reject the use of a wand, while Mr. Ammar endorses its use without question? For that matter, why does Mr. Ammar not address the fact that Bob Read disputes Mr. Ammar's tastes and recommendations in style and shape of cup? And while were at it, why wasn't Bob Read included in this section? For that matter, why weren't some of his prints included? It seems to me a shame that much of this section of material, which could have been a strong feature of the book, unfortunately comes off as padding interspersed with a few strong entries.
The book concludes with something dubbed a "Partial Bibliography." Now, I have heard of a select bibliography, which implies some method to the choice of what items are included or excluded, but "partial" seems to suggest something along the lines of "whatever we could think of without working terribly hard," a suggestion bolstered by the fact that Tommy Wonder's multiple published entries in this area are all mysteriously absent, despite his contributions of foreword and question-and-answer segment elsewhere in the book.
So far I have given little attention to what has been highly touted as a grand feature of this book, namely its layout and design. That's because, stated briefly, if this approach represents the future of book design, then I could learn to hate books. What Mr. Ammar appears to have done, as briefly mentioned above, is to provide a transcription of the video narration accompanied by great googly gobs of little photographs. He has arranged these photos in all manner of elaborate ways in order to allow them to fit with the accompanying text and flow in visually logical manner. He has then highlighted much of the text in a kind of greenish-yellow transparent color that simulates a highlighter pen. And he has connected these high-lighted segments to the photos with an innumerable supply of little arrows in the same highlighter color. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough in the graphical gewgaws department, there is even a key in some illustrations that must be referred to at the bottom of the page which decodes the fact that large balls concealed in the cups are depicted with a large circular dotted line, and small balls are depicted in the same dotted line but in a slightly smaller diameter circle—clever, huh? How about a different kind of line altogether, or a different color, or a bigger difference that would be instantly apparent? Ah, but the bigger difference wouldn't work because the illustrations are so small to begin with that the smaller circle would be all but invisible. Mr. Ammar really should read a book or two about book design and/or information design (perhaps by information design maven Edward Tufte, if I may be so bold) before he takes it upon himself to reinvent the book.
The result is an unpleasant mess that is all but unreadable. That doesn't mean you can't figure out what goes where and somehow manage to get through the text and tiny pictures in the intended order. What it does mean is that I found the book an unpleasant chore to read. I happen to be fond of reading. It doesn't take much to talk me into reading a book, it's a practice I enjoy. But not this book. I've read it once through completely and many sections repeatedly, and once I'm through writing this review I doubt that I will ever open its pages again. Last month I read and reviewed Volume Three of Roberto Giobbi's Card College, and I have no doubt that I will read it again, not only for reference but for sheer pleasure. This is no mean feat when you consider the fact that Card College is purely an instructional work, and yet it remains a highly readable piece of writing. I defy anyone to celebrate some segment of Mr. Ammar's book for the elegance and effectiveness of its prose. It was a chore to read and I'll be glad to get it back on the shelf and out of my sight. I have no doubt that Mr. Ammar took a great deal of time with his arrows and virtual highlighter pen; the book is clearly an experiment, but unfortunately a failed one. I'm afraid that the only purpose the highlighting seemed to serve for me was to utterly distract me from the remaining text, and make it even more difficult to read. The presence of the highlighting seems to make the reader want to read the highlighted segments at the expense of ignoring the balance, which is what one does when one goes back and re-reads highlighted text that one has previously read and high-lighted themselves in, for example, school textbooks. What's more, what warrants highlighting for one student may be a very different thing than for the next. What if instead of highlighting the mere technical steps, as the author has chosen to do, I instead want to learn the technical steps and highlight the theoretical, performance, and timing points so that I can go back and review them? Well, I guess I'd have to use red ink.
The far deeper failure, I would propose, lies not merely in whether the book fails to achieve its goals, but in fact in the faulty premise of the goal itself. This book implies that teaching materials must somehow be made cuter and flashier and fun in order to make learning palatable. This book fosters the premise that learning doesn't have to be difficult, that the author can predigest the material and do all of the students' hard work for them, like a mother bird chewing up its food and vomiting it back to its young. But eventually this book and all of its design excesses, in my estimation, fails to create learning; rather it creates merely the illusion of learning. The author attempts to drive this book out to the borders of video where learning is mistaken for the far more passive process of merely viewing. Great books, by contrast, engage the student in a deeply interactive process, and motivate that student to take part in the admittedly, undeniably hard work that true learning demands. The great failure of this book is not that it is a book for beginners, for many such remedial texts remain timeless classics in the literature of conjuring. Rather, it is a book that pretends to tell those beginners that magic is not difficult, demanding, challenging, and that fails to explain that those facets are not the price but indeed integral elements of the very rewards of any endeavor and field of knowledge worthy of pursuit and passion. It is a book that says that all you need to do is look at the pretty pictures! Watch the video! Hey kids, now you're learning!
Which brings us to the video. Now, I'm not a video reviewer and I'm not fond of the form. Despite the fact that Mr. Ammar sniffs disdainfully that he is "amused to hear some continue to question video as a learning medium," I'll gladly sniff back that the resolution of a television screen is indisputably and vastly inferior to that of the printed page, which is why that screen makes for a terrible teaching and informational tool. When I think back about all the television I've seen in my life, I can't think of ever having learned much of anything from it, in the deep sense of learning an idea or a way of thinking. Yes, I've filled my head with pictures and even facts, but that is not the kind of learning to which I refer. Then again, I was fortunate enough to have escaped being of the generation that was plopped in front of "Sesame Street" by way of being parented. Furthermore, Ammar also baldly states that "(i)llustrations, for a while anyway, seemed even better than photos." For a while, anyway? Expert illustrations that provide more detail than mere reality, and can focus on what information is important and necessary while stripping away all the superfluous noise, are more often than not still far superior to photographs, regardless of how many little arrows with which one adorns them.
I've already spent too much time and space on identifying the flaws and limitations of this book to now enter into a detailed discussion of the flaws and limitations of video as a teaching tool. I know that magic shops are probably selling far more videos than books these days. But I contend that the overwhelming majority of these are not tools for the training of fine magicians, rather they are superficial entertainment for casual hobbyists, laymen and magic fans—pseudo-magicians, all. Viewers are exposed to great quantities of sleights and tricks, but they learn little about what it means to be a magician—to think like a conjuror and become and a creative and original performing artist. That video can be effectively used to teach timing and sleights is not at issue, but in that context videos serve best as support materials, not primary instructional sources. That said, I have seen the videos that have been produced along with this volume and they seem to be virtually identical to the book, including both its few strengths and many failings. Notable differences include the absence of the eighteen question-and-answer segments; the absence of the Ammar cups-and-balls routine (perhaps so as not to interfere with agreements and/or sales of previously released videotape versions); and the addition of 25 wonderful minutes of Bob Read speaking thoughtfully (unfortunately interrupted repeatedly by the rest of the tapes) about his extraordinary collection of prints depicting cups-and-balls performers over the centuries, and about some of the lessons he has tried to draw from those fascinating depictions. Also included although not widely advertised is an excellent taped segment of Dai Vernon performing his routine on a Mark Wilson special when Vernon was in his late seventies. Since the Vernon and Read segments will be invaluable to almost any student, and since there is absolutely no advantageous use of the written word and printed page in this book, my recommendation is, astonishingly enough, to buy the videos.