Two Hundred and Fourteen Playing Cards

(Along with the posters designed, calligraphy attempted, and shots of vodka drunk, this is another story about what went into last month's FISM World Magic Championships award.)

One of the reasons I wrote last week's post (about the quasi-impossible card sculptures I make – as per the photo on the right) is that the following story doesn’t make much sense otherwise.

The core of the routine I performed at FISM was creating a quasi-impossible card sculpture live on stage in front of an audience of 600 people, all of whom would be watching very closely via video projection.

There were going to be several difficulties with attempting that.

Firstly, cards like the one above take a while to make. Even if you know what you’re doing, it is a complex and time consuming process to fold them accurately without creasing the hell out of them.

Secondly, before you even start the folding you have to get the cutting right. Depending on the design, being off by just a millimetre can make it impossible to do the folding without mangling the card. Normally you would deal with this via templates and/or cutting guides, but for the routine I was doing, the cutting had to be free-handed.

Thirdly, FISM has strict time limits. All acts must be a minimum of five minutes, and a maximum of ten. Go over time by as much as one second and you face instant disqualification.

There were many other challenges (such as how to create the card live on stage without making the secret method obvious), but the biggest by far was the physical cutting-the-card-that-quickly-and-reliably one.

There was going to be no margin for error; if I screwed up the cutting, there wasn’t enough time to start over again. It was balls-to-the-wall high pressure craft work, live on stage in front of 600 people and a panel of eight judges.

It was going to take an absolute shitload of practice.

When I realised I was staring down the barrel of practicing until I could free-hand cut a perfect impossible card shape every single time, I decided to keep the discarded practice cards. Partly as a way to keep track of progress, but also so that after it was all over, and my obsessiveness had been vindicated by an originality award, I could lay them out and take a photo like this:

Two hundred and fourteen cards. To be honest, I’m surprised it didn’t take far more than that.




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