Lu Brent’s Exclusive Card Mysteries

Lu Brent's Exclusive Card MysteriesOne of the best things about magic is that amateurs have such a large impact on the art. My hometown of Santa Rosa, California, was also the home of one of the great card magic innovators, Jack McMillen. But better known magicians such as Ken Krenzel and Ed Marlo were also amateurs. Another such icon of the art was Benjamin Joseph Lubrant, who performed and published under the name Lu Brent.

Last year, Michael over at iTricks provided the only biography that I’ve ever seen of this unique magician, Bringing Lu Brent Into The Spotlight. He was born in 1903 in New Jersey. It seems that outside of his semi-professional performance schedule and writing for “every major magic magazine of his day,” he preferred to keep a low profile. Still, he was well known in the Philadelphia area where he was a frequent performer. He lived there the rest of his life, dying in 1993 at the age of 89.

In 1934, Chas C Eastman compiled 15 of Lu Brent’s effects in Exclusive Card Mysteries. They aren’t all originally Lu Brent’s effects. In fact, Lu Brent was more known as a technician — coming up with different ways of accomplishing established tricks. And in this book, he’s very fond of using short cards and stacked decks. It isn’t strictly necessary, however. For those with strong technical skills, most everything can be done with a normal deck.

Lu BrentIn my experience, magic has a tendency to get stuck in ruts — following fads. And the magicians who really stand out are the ones who are willing to go outside what people are doing now and revitalize older effects. Michael Vincent has done a great job of this, although combining it with flawless technique is what makes it transcendent.

The first trick in Exclusive Card Mysteries is a favorite of mine, “Thought Spelling.” The reason is that I love effects where the audience member doesn’t need to physically pick a card. In this trick, the magician shows a half dozen cards alternately to three different spectators and asks that each person mentally choose a card and remember it. Then the deck is given to each spectator to spell out their thought of card, turning over the card at the final “s,” which of course is the thought of card. It’s especially effective when done for fellow magicians, I find. And it requires no slight of hand, but the addition of a little goes a long way in heightening the effect.

There are other interesting effects. The “Reversed Card Location” is about the best use of a locator card that I’ve seen. And “The Suit and Value Coincidence” is very much like a popular Bill Simon effect from years later. It just goes to show that ideas cycle. But the point of reading old magic books is not to find new routines. In general, the effects in Exclusive Card Mysteries would seem old if presented as written. But the book is filled with different ways of looking at the art of magic.

Recently, I created a copy of Exclusive Card Mysteries in PDF form. I scanned it from an original 1934 edition of the book. And even though it is in the public domain, it is still available commercially. But you would have to pay for such updated versions. I’m sure that anyone interested in card magic will take away at least a couple of ideas from it. As for me, I actually perform “Thought Spelling” — and I really don’t like spelling tricks in general. So take a look. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

The PDF will be available in the next issue of Magic Roadshow, where this article will be reprinted. I’ll provide a direct link to it so you can get the file when it is available.


It’s up! Click over to The Magic Roadshow #163. What a cool little zine it is! Go now. Check it out!

NYT’s 51% Fringe Against TTIP and TPP

Jim NaureckasThe New York Times‘ Jonathan Weisman reports that President Barack Obama’s chances of getting “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements are shrinking as “the political fringes expand on each end.” …

Toward the end of the article, Weisman writes that 150 out of 188 Democrats in Congress signed a letter opposing fast track. He notes that House Speaker John Boehner in the last Congress said he would need 50 Democratic votes to pass fast track, which would imply that there were about 72 anti-fast track Republicans. (Weisman suggests that that number may be bigger now.)

A hundred and fifty plus 72 is 222 congressmembers, or 51 percent of the House of Representatives. That’s a pretty big “fringe.”

—Jim Naureckas
Tell Us How You Really Feel About Fast Track Opponents, New York Times

Do Headlines Matter at Frankly Curious?

ClickbaitMatt Yglesias no doubt thought he was being very clever when he published, 13 Ways of Looking at a Clickbait. Of course, he makes some good points. One is that people have taken to claiming that any article they don’t like is “clickbait.” That certainly is not true. But I think that Yglesias is wrong to try to turn “clickbait” into an all purpose word meaning “effective headline writing.” The word is a pejorative and it should remain one.

To me, clickbait is a form of false advertising. And it usually consists of opinion. “The 30 Best Game of Thones Characters.” People only click on such articles to make sure that Tyrion Lannister in listed at number one. But the worst — and most effective regarding myself — are lists of things I supposedly do not know. “17 Hollywood Stars You Didn’t Know Were Gay.” There ought to be a law against such headlines. They abuse the disabled. My disability is that I know everything that is worth knowing. And while it is true that I won’t even know who 14 of those “stars” are, I will most certainly know the ones I recognize are gay.

But the whole thing did get me thinking about headlines here at Frankly Curious. I hate writing headlines. But Yglesias is right: it is a new world and websites are like magazines. The purpose of headlines are not to summarize the article but rather to entice the viewer to read the article. For a long time, I’ve been under the spell of Jakob Nielsen — the usability guru. His point has always been that people come to a website to get information. But that isn’t so much true of Frankly Curious. But to be honest, I’m not sure why people come to the website.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the articles that get a lot of attention do so because the content is good, original, provocative. Ultimately, I think that is what most matters on any website. But it probably is true that this site doesn’t get as much traffic as it would if the headlines were better. There is a problem here though.

Frankly Curious does not publish articles about the ten best ways to fight belly fat or the eight greatest generals of the Civil War. Most articles here are broadly essays. They are not about stuff — they are about my reactions to stuff. And what is the best way to entreat a potential reader to follow along? I really don’t know.

Then again, I don’t have a clue what people want to read about. So I simply write — generally at a furious pace. And I figure that some people will be interested in some of what I have to say. And given that I don’t know what people are going to want to read about, I don’t see how I can be expected to write headlines that will encourage them to even try. It would probably take me as long to write a good headline as it does to write an article.

But there is a difference. If you go over to Vox or Crooks & Liars, you will see that all you are offered are headlines. This is a big trend on the internet to make websites more like magazines. But Frankly Curious not only has the actual articles on the front page, it rarely puts any of the articles “below the fold.” So people can just scroll down the page and see if anything looks worth reading. So maybe headlines don’t matter so very much — at least not here.

Dinosaurs and Family Values

BarneyScott Kaufman over at Raw Story has some interesting news, Irate Christian Parent: “I Am Getting Sick and Tired of Dinosaurs Being Forced on Our Children.” She is apparently part of an advocacy group called “Christians Against Dinosaurs” — known as CAD. This is more than the usual biblical literalism that is so common in this country. Most creationists are fine with dinosaurs. They just assume God wiped them out in the flood or whatever. But the CAD folks have a point. If you accept fossils, you really are opening a can of worms. This seems a much more defensible position than the saddled dinosaurs of the Creation Museum.

But the woman highlighted in Kaufman’s story sounds like a real loon. She claims that dinosaurs don’t have family values. To demonstrate this, she told the story of a kid at her children’s school who acted like a dinosaur and ended up biting three children on the face. Other than references to this claim, I can’t find any reporting on a child going on a rampage and biting three children on the face, so I figure it is folklore — or just a lie because this woman thinks the evil of dinosaurs is so great that lying is justified.

What I found most interesting was the kind of family values that this woman herself exhibits:

She also claimed to have disowned her sister, who “foolishly gave my two youngest some dinosaur toys for Christmas. After telling her to get out of my house, I burnt the dinosaurs. My children were delighted because they know that dinosaurs are evil. I am fortunate that my family has been very supportive, and has disowned my children’s former aunt.”

Let’s be clear here. Because of an ideological dispute, this woman banished her own sister from her family. I see this a lot in little pockets of Christianity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for not wanting their children to have any friends outside the faith and for a strong tendency to banish family members for what amounts to heresy. To me, this is about the most evil thing I can imagine. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” I’m no Bible expert, but I’m certain there is no part of the Bible that says, “To the extent that a person does not worship me in exactly the way you think is right, you should scorn them and never speak to them.”

It sounds so cliched to say that love should trump all, but I really do believe it. If it doesn’t, then you will find yourself more and more isolated as you go through life. In the end, even your children won’t talk to you because you taught them so well. They may well share your belief that stuffed dinosaurs deserve to be cleansed by fire. But they will also share your belief that something as trivial as a disagreement over dinosaurs justifies turning their back on friends and family.

I love you, you love me
We’re a happy family
With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you.
Won’t you say you love me too?

—Barney 25:45

Margaret E Knight

Margaret E KnightOn this day in 1838, the great inventor Margaret E Knight was born. She invented a whole bunch of things. She was granted 87 patents in her lifetime. But she is most known for her first patent: a machine to make those flat bottom paper bags that we all know from the grocery store.

There is an interesting story about that. She built a prototype of the device out of wood. But for some reason, she needed a working model made out of iron to get a patent. That doesn’t make any sense. It certainly isn’t the way that patents work today. I suspect it was because she was a woman. Never underestimate the power of sexism. Anyway, she hired the machinist Charles Annan to build the needed iron version of the device. And he promptly stole it and got the patent himself. She had to fight him in court and eventually won, getting the patent for herself in 1871. Somehow, I figure if it happened today it wouldn’t have ended so easily and justly.

She went on to invent a large number of other manufacturing devices — especially related to rotary engines. It’s surprising that she isn’t better known, given that she was the first professional woman inventor. But maybe that’s the reason she isn’t better known.

Happy birthday Margaret E Knight!

I’m not convinced that the image above is actually Knight. The woman in the photo looks to be around 30, which would put the photo at around 1870. She looks a lot more modern than that. But given that she was such a liberated woman, it may well be her. It may just be that I’m used to looking at images of women from the Civil War.