OVERVIEW: Placebo was created by Mark Calabrese, a close-up magician who has been performing
professionally for 15 years, and a respected magic creator and consultant. The premise of this trick
is fantastic. It can be done entirely impromptu with a borrowed shuffled deck. A spectator names
any card in the deck. Then behind their back they reverse a single card in the deck. Without the
magician touching the deck, they look through the deck and discover that only one card in the entire
deck is reversed - their named card!
EFFECT: Does the ad copy sound too good to be true?
If you watch the performance clip in the demo video, that's exactly how the trick looks when
performed - a spectator names a card, reverses a card behind their back, and it's the named card.
But does this trick really stand up to what the marketing materials claim, namely that it is
"completely impromptu, for beginners and workers, no weird moves, borrowed and shuffled deck, freely
named card, spectator can do all of the work!? Let's take a closer look and find out.
VIDEO: What you get for under ten bucks is an instant digital download of the video, which
demonstrates and teaches the routine. The entire video is around 24 minutes long. The video
consists of Mark himself performing the effect to a spectator (Chris), and then running through all
details of the routine with Chris. The sound quality is good, and the filming has been well done,
with multiple camera angles, including close-ups of the hands and cards where necessary.
METHOD: Obviously I don't want to tip the method, but if you are considering picking this up,
you do need to know that Mark teaches two different ways to do this trick:
- Method #1: This is
completely impromptu, and the spectator can genuinely do all the handling once you give them the
deck. However, there is a moment where you need to accomplish some dirty work when they have the
deck in their hands, which relies on making the spectator a little confused, or at least affirming a
- Method #2: This is also impromptu, and completely eliminates the "dirty work"
when the spectator has the deck in his hands. However, you can't let the spectator reveal the
reversed card, but you need to do this yourself, and you are left somewhat dirty at the end -
although Mark does cover a large number of ways you can accomplish the clean-up.
Do the claims about this trick stand up: Impromptu? Yes. Borrowed
shuffled deck? Yes. Freely named card? Yes. For beginners and workers? Yes. "No weird moves
... spectator can do all of the work?" Well, not quite. Method #1 does require a weird move, or at
least a confusing moment where you need to accomplish something that is a little clunky. And Method
#2 does require that you take the deck out of the spectator's hand for the final reveal. So there
is a way to do the trick with no weird moves (Method #2), and there is a way to do the trick where
the spectator can do all the work (Method #1), but not both at the same time. The official video
demo, by the way, shows the trick being performed with Method #2.
I find myself somewhat
conflicted about this trick. It's straight forward and simple, and does apparently accomplish a
miracle. But you can't have the best of both worlds at once, and there's always some compromise, in
order to accomplish the magic, with both methods:
a) Method #1 has the advantage that the
spectator can do all the handling, and also do the final reveal, to emphasize that you aren't doing
sleight of hand. But it comes at a cost: to accomplish it, this relies on creating some confusion,
and the way that happens is somewhat odd. Good magic should never be confusing, but it should
always be very clear in the spectator's mind what is happening. In fact, with some very aware
spectators, they may even catch you out, and insist that you are mistaken in what you are saying.
There's also a risk that surrounding spectators might see something they shouldn't, and corroborate
what your spectator is saying. So Method #1 is best reserved for a one-on-one performance, but even
then you need to be fairly confident that you can get your spectator through the one critical moment
b) Method #2 has the advantage that it entirely eliminates the need for a
confusing moment, plus it can be performed in a group, and there's genuinely no funny moves that
spectators might observe. But it too comes at a cost: to accomplish this, because you can't let the
spectator do the final reveal. What's more, some skill with the cards is necessary, because there
is a risk that you might give something away when doing this reveal. And you're also left with a
dirty deck, which is not ideal, especially if you are giving the deck back to the spectator or are
going on to perform some more card tricks with the same deck. Mark does cover possible and clever
ways to do this clean up unnoticed, but it's still not an ideal conclusion.
So which method
is better? Method #1 is easier to perform, since Method #2 does require a greater proficiency with
card handling. But Method #1 is also more risky and even though the magic all happens in the
spectator's hands, the fact that he is potentially confused about some aspects will reduce the
impact of the magic. It might work for laymen, but definitely won't fool magicians. I suspect that
is why in the demo video we see both Mark Calabrese and Chris Ramsay using Method #2, simply because
it is safer, and when well executed, completely convincing and baffling. A good magician should be
able to handle the clean-up just fine.
This trick has a lot
going for it and there's a lot that recommends it. Real strengths are the fact that it's impromptu,
can be performed with a borrowed shuffled deck, and that the spectator can genuinely name any card.
Unlike other methods that use a gimmick, nothing of the sort is used here.
The fact that
Mark teaches two different methods also means that you have some choice about how to perform this.
Beginners will probably gravitate to the first method, which does appear to be a genuinely new idea,
but isn't a magician fooler and does have some real weaknesses. While Method #1 might prove
successful more often than not, I think that if that was my only option, there are better tricks I'd
perform ahead of this one.
Fortunately Method #2 is a good alternative. Those with some
basic skills with cards and magic will probably prefer the second method, which is more reliable,
although I'm not entirely sure it's something brand new. Even though it means that not everything
is examinable when the trick is done, and that the performer needs to reveal the cards at the end, I
think it is safer and stronger when performed that way, and it's something I can recommend. If you
like what you see in the demo video, that's exactly what you're seeing, and considering that it's
quite straight forward to perform, it can have a strong impact for very little work.
pulled off successfully, your spectator's mind will really be blown. After all, they named a card -
any card - and that's the only one reversed in the deck, which they reversed themselves?