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Wit And Wizardry: The Magic Of Norm Houghton by Unknown

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1998)


The late Norm Houghton died at the age of 89 in Toronto on March 4th, and I'm glad he had the chance to see this charming collection of his work, affectionately assembled by some enthusiastic fans, released before his passing. Houghton's work was probably best known to readers of Howard Lyons' Ibidem, but he also became known firsthand by regular visitors to the annual FFFF convention in Buffalo. In fact, Houghton contributed to a laundry list of magic publications throughout his long life, including the Sphinx, the Jinx, and no less than five covers of the Linking Ring (a record). After a fond biography by David Drake, there follow 77 entries in this volume, culled from all of Houghton's published work throughout his lifetime, and they run the gamut, in nine sections, of material from cards to coins to general close-up, silks, mentalism, ropes and, of course (if you were at all familiar with his work) comedy. There are some fun and silly and downright hilarious ideas strewn through this book, a few of which are likely to make you laugh aloud. The emphasis is on simplicity, with maximum effect bang for minimum technical buck. We also learn that Houghton seemed to be the original creator of a number of ideas that later became attached to other independent inventors, including no less than the now infamous Flushtration Count, circa 1955. There's a coin switch circa 1966 that presages John Carney's handling of the Shuttle Pass. There's a premise in which coins stick together, reminiscent of but predating David Roth's Linking Coins. There are some clever ideas with paper coin folds, believe it or not. There's a version of the old purse swindle done with clear plastic purses. There is a funny premise here in which the magician suggests that the spectator select 51 of the available 52 cards, and then the magician proceeds to attempt to find those cards in 51 different ways. There are turns of phrase throughout that tickled me, as when we read that in order to "add to the anywhereness" of a given card, etc. There's a funny presentational idea about "mindreading in reverse," in which the performer provides detailed descriptions of obscure facts of which the spectator is (clearly) not thinking. The book is simply full of little gems like this that are fodder for further thought and development. The terse descriptions are occasionally unfathomable, and I would have appreciated a heck of a lot more illustrations, but other than that (and a few weak credits), I really got a kick out of this book, and I think you will too.

...the glide, a sleight I dislike because it's rather unnatural to deal cards from the bottom of the pack or packet, and also because it seems to me likely that, in the entire history of playing cards, nobody but a magician has ever held them in the position necessary for the glide. — Norm Houghton, Wit and Wizardry

178 pages; illustrated with 63 line drawings; 1998; Publisher: I Saw That!