Ever since the invention of playing cards magicians; card cheats; gamblers etc. have been finding ways to take advantage of the cards, and the public without them being aware.
In my article Fox Lake Playing Cards - a magician's perspective I briefly spoke about mechanical decks. This article goes into more detail about some of these so-called mechanical decks, however, due to my magician’s pledge, I am unable to go into specific details as to how some of these decks work.
I define a mechanical deck (trick decks) as any deck of cards, group of cards or even a single card that has been modified or changed in some ways to facilitate the operation of the deck / trick. There are a great many varieties of trick decks, in this article I will talk about one type of trick deck, and that is were either a single card; group of cards or a whole deck has been cut in some way.
The short-long principle was applied to playing cards by the 1600s. It is based on an old principle that can be found in The Discoverie of Witchcraft and Clever and Pleasant Inventions (both from 1584), and which is commonly known as the Blow Book.
Decks that use this principle include:
The colour changing pack
Colour Changing Pack made with ‘Trump Playing Cards’ manufactured by ‘Hudson Industries’ prior to 1983
In this deck, at least in mine, the red backed cards are cut short and the blue backed cards are of normal length and are interlaced between the red backed short cards. If the deck is riffled one way the backs all show as red, whereas riffled in the other direction, they changed to blue backed cards. In some cases, the red face cards are the short cards, and the black faced cards are the normal length. In some cases, corner shorts are used.
The most famous trick deck using the long-short principle is the ‘Svengali Deck’ with 26 long and 26 short cards, the short cards being the top card of each set of 2, and all the short cards being the same e.g., 9 of Spades.
Svengali Deck – cut and assembled by: Trix Unlimited (Roy Hopwood)
Greatly exaggerated to show the long-short principle
This deck is widely credited to be the invention of Burling Hull, in 1909. He called it 'Improved Cards Mysterious’, Boston magic dealer W. D LeRoy, who seeing its possibilities, marketed it in 1909 under the title of 'Svengali Deck.’
Variations of the ‘Svengali Deck’ include Two-Way Svengali Deck and the Three-Way Svengali Deck are used to force more than one card by using different "banks" of duplicate cards.
A variation of the Svengali Deck created by Ralph W Hull in 1934 is the Mirage Deck which is a rough and smooth Svengali Deck. You can do all the effects possible with a normal Svengali. However, you can fan out the cards to show them all different too. It was also marketed as the Charlen Trick Deck.
Mene-Tekel Deck (or Menetekel Deck or The Self-Shifting Pack) is a deck where a card is selected and placed back in the center of the deck. Instantly it jumps to the top of the deck.
Two variations of the Mene-Tekel Deck are:
NPR (No Pass Required) Cut and assembled by: Trix Unlimited (Roy Hopwood)
Your Card’s Mate Cut and assembled by: Trix Unlimited (Roy Hopwood)
1) ‘NPR’ (No Pass Required): From the top of the deck down is an A card is selected, and inserted in the middle of the deck, the card appears back on top of the deck, without any moves. The secret in this case each set of long card-short cards are identical cards. As a result of the long-short arrangement, the selected card is on top of the deck, after inserting this card into the middle of the deck it leaves the duplicate card on top.
2) ‘Your Cards Mate’ is one of my favourite decks, you have a card selected, the spectator takes his selected card and places it in his pocket, you place the rest of the deck into your own pocket. By the time the spectator reaches into their pocket and removes the selected card you have reached into your pocket, found, and removed the mate (the mate of the 7S is the 7C, 2H would be the 2D etc.) of the spectator’s card, before they have removed their card. Once again because of the long-short arrangement, the selected card is on top of the deck, after inserting this card into the pocket it leaves the mate of the card on top.
A huge advantage of ‘Your Card’s Mate’ is that (providing you have a list of which cards are the short ones) is that if anyone wants to, even though if your audience management is good, they won’t ask to examine the deck, however, a couple of shuffles will destroy the set up and you can then oblige, or even use the deck for other tricks.
A stripper deck (also known as a tapered deck, wizard deck, or biseauté deck) allows the magician to control the main location of a card or group of cards easily within the deck. Even after being shuffled into the deck by a spectator, the magician can cut to a selected card. Similarly, even after being lost in different parts of the deck, the magician can move multiple cards to specific locations using basic shuffles.
The cards of a stripper deck are slightly tapered, so that the sides no longer form a perfect rectangle. The change is slight enough to be undetected by visual inspection or even casual handling, but if a single card is rotated 180° so that it's tapered in the opposite direction from the rest of the deck, the card's broad end can easily be detected, by feel or even by sight, among the narrow ends of the rest of the deck.
Unlike the Invisible or Svengali Deck, the Stripper Deck can be handled by an audience member unfamiliar with the concept and can withstand a modest amount of scrutiny without exposing the secret; however, this deck is found in several beginners' magic kits, so the secret is well-known, even among non-magicians. What is not as well known though is the number of types of Stripper Decks there are, these include:
- Classic or Side Strippers - The long side of the cards are stripped.
- Hindu or End Strippers - The short ends of the cards are stripped.
- Belly Strippers - The stripping is either convex or conclave and can be side or end.
- Negative Strippers - Only certain cards are stripped (think Aces, Kings, Queens, and Jacks) in a way that allows you to find each of those types of cards separately (that is producing the Jacks first, Queens second, Kings third and Aces last).
- Bathroom Strippers - An impromptu stripper deck made using broken glass while in the bathroom. However, it is probably easier to use a corner short card and a nail clipper.
The X-Ray Deck is a neat trick deck by Haines House of Cards  in which a playing card is freely chosen (sort of) then inserted back into the deck without it being shown to the performer. Following a ‘chat’ with the joker, the performer reveals the name of the selected card, without any manipulation of the deck.
The secret lies in the fact that 23 of the 52 cards have a ‘cut out’ and these cards are at the bottom of the deck, beneath the normal cards, and a Joker is on the face of the deck. Now if a card is selected from the ‘top’ portion of the deck and then returned to the lower half of the deck, in the middle of the cut-out section, the removal of the joker reveals the cut outs, and any selected card can be sighted when you lift the Joker to ‘chat’. After the card has been sighted the left thumb can easily be placed over the cut outs while you are ‘chatting’ with the Joker. The Joker is then replaced on the face of the deck prior to the selected card being revealed.
Although not necessary, if the deck is turned 180 degrees the cards can be spread face up to show the faces of the cards without revealing the cut outs.
Member since October 15, 2023
I am a 77-year-old retired professional magical entertainer and former occupational health and safety consultant. I was a passive playing card collector for more than 50 years until I moved from Australia to Canada in 2019. Since then I have been moderately active in increasing my eclectic collection of around 750 decks (packs)
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
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