BoardGameGeek Reviewer EndersGame
SUMMARY: An impossible impromptu spelling effect from the Mozart of Magic
Many magicians have a natural aversion to spelling tricks, and it's not hard to see why. Everyone watches while you pain-stakingly count out a large number of cards, and do some self-working mathematical wizardry that eventually reveals the chosen card. That sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry.
But how about a shorter and more interesting plot, where the spectator takes any card from a shuffled deck, places it anywhere in the deck, and then spells out the name of their selected card ... to turn over their actual card! That's the premise behind Shin Lim's "Spell".
Canadian-born and Singapore-raised Shin Lim is of course a well-known name in card magic, having successfully appeared twice on Penn & Teller, on both occasions earning the coveted "Fooler" award with some slick card magic that is truly beautiful to watch. He's been described as "the Mozart of Magic". He's a World FISM Champion for Close Up Magic, and has created a number of popular card effects, including his Dream Act, and 52 Shades of Red. And now with Spell, you can learn another card trick from Shin Lim that can be performed completely impromptu with a shuffled deck.
Here's how the ad copy describes the effect: "You hand the deck to a spectator and instruct him or her to shuffle the deck and select any card. You instruct them to lose the card into the deck without your touching it in anyway. No funny movements and you are completely clean at this point. The deck is now in their control the entire time. You then instruct the spectator to spell out the selected playing card, with each card dealt representing a letter. Once she does so, the audience will realize that the final letter will be the freely selected card."
Can it really be that good? Actually it's better, because there's no gimmicks or gaffs, no forces, glimpses, or prearranged stacks. And it can be performed completely impromptu with a borrowed deck! And yes, your spectator truly can select a card from anywhere in the deck, and return it practically anywhere.
What you get for around $8 is an instant digital download of the video, which demonstrates and teaches the routine, with Shin Lim explaining the effect. You can play the video via streaming, or download it in *.mp4 format to view on your computer with any video program. The entire video is just over 10 minutes long, and is filmed in high quality 1080p HD, so the downloaded file is about 175MB in total size.
In addition to the video you also get a PDF which explains some of the secrets behind the spelling counts required. It's recommended to print this out and have it alongside when going through the tutorial video, as a reference. It's less than four pages, and the bulk of it contains a list of different cards, to illustrate how you need to handle specific examples. Shin Lin also acknowledges that the concept underlying this trick is a very old one going back hundreds of years, and his contribution is to try to make it cleaner and fairer.
The video begins with Shin briefly introducing the effect, and then he gets right into explaining the secret. Two main camera angles are used, both focusing on Shin's hands and the cards. For this trick, that's perfectly adequate, and especially given that the resolution is very high, it's easy to follow along with what is happening.
The routine effectively consists of three main phases, firstly the selection of the card and setting up the deck, secondly returning the card to the deck, and finally the concluding spelling phase. In the course of the instruction, Shin basically walks us through each of these phases, explaining everything that is involved and what you need to do.
The basic secret to the effect is fairly straight forward, and Shin does a good job of explaining the essentials. His teaching is easy to follow and understand, and I had no difficulty whatsoever in understanding what was required - although performing it smoothly myself is another story!
While the core concept behind the magic of Spell is fairly easy, that doesn't mean that it won't take work to accomplish the effect. To begin with, for the first phase of the trick you'll need to master a certain break which Shin explains. Knowing the pinky count or thumb count is the ideal pre-requisite, especially if you want to do the effect impromptu with a deck that is shuffled by your spectator. But not to worry if this isn't something you have mastered, because Shin Lim also teaches a way of accomplishing the necessary work in a very easy way that doesn't really require any sleight of hand. In some cases you'll also need to maneuver a single card to accomplish this, and while Shin mentions possible sleights to do this, like a side steal, he doesn't explain those methods. But as he points out, you can just nonchalantly move the card as required, and in most cases this won't attract unnecessary attention given the timing of when this happens.
But the most difficult move occurs in the second phase of the trick, and this requires much more complex sleight of hand. For this part of the routine, Shin Lim credits a move taught by Aaron Fisher in "The Graduate". It can best be described as a complicated pass type of move, and for most magicians it won't be something that is already in your quiver, but will be something you'll have to learn. While it can be done surrounded, this move is also somewhat angle sensitive, although it can be done under the cover of fiddling with the deck. In the latter part of the video this move is shown multiple times from different angles, so if you want to put the work in to learn it, you should have everything you need in order to do so.
The final part of the trick is the spelling phase. The video doesn't really cover this in detail at all, except to refer to the PDF which gives you all the information you need for this part of the effect. It's fairly straight forward, but does require some memorizing to cover all the different scenarios that could emerge, even though some patterns will help make this easier. Overall the effect is definitely outside the ability of beginner magicians, and requires an intermediate ability with card magic as a minimum.
- Spelling yet stunning: Unlike most spelling effects, Spell isn't long-winded or boring, but has a very straight-forward plot that doesn't waste time with endless moves, but gets directly to the point, which makes it all the more amazing. If you normally avoid tricks that use spelling, then this trick might just change your mind, because it's worth making an exception for.
- Impromptu yet impossible: A real strength of this trick is that it can be done impromptu with a borrowed and shuffled deck. The spectator can genuinely choose any card, and place it anywhere in the deck that they want. And yet when they spell the name of their card, what's the card that they turn over? Their own selected card! It seems totally impossible, and yet the method is quite ingenious and foolproof.
- Personalizing presentation: One area where Shin Lim doesn't spend a lot of time on is the presentation, and even in his performance in the demo video the final revelation could have been presented with a greater degree of climax. But the real secret here is his ingenious method, and it's up to you to use this with your own style to present it in a way that emphasizes the baffling nature and impossibility of the effect.
- Skills required: The biggest challenge in adding this effect to your repertoire will be in learning the pass-style sleight that is required. Shin Lim teaches you everything you need to know in order to learn this, and I suspect that mastering it is mostly going to be a matter of practice, especially to be able to perform it invisibly as he does. The memorization required for the spelling phase isn't massive, but it is another element that is required to master, and be aware that this will only work in English.
Shin Lin would be the first to admit that the material here is not completely original, and that he's reworking and teaching something that has been done before, although I haven't researched the whole ancestry of this particular routine. But evidently it's not something so well known, because Spell is an effect that fools most people when they see it. When performed well, the method is very difficult to figure out or reverse engineer. It is a brilliant impromptu effect that can generate real astonishment, given its simple plot and apparent and complete impossibility of the effect.
If you're an intermediate level magician and are willing to put some work into mastering the sleight and memorization required, and if you like the look of what you're seeing in the performance demo and find that it fits the kind of magic you enjoy performing, then definitely consider picking this up. Spell is priced very reasonably, so it isn't a big investment to check out this digital download.
- BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame