“The Last Trick of Dr. Jacob Daley”, more commonly known as Dr. Daley’s Last Trick, is one of my favourite tricks because the effect is easy to follow, only takes a few seconds to perform and, like the Incredible Hulk, packs one hell of a punch! However, the effect suffers from several inherent weaknesses. These deficiencies must be dealt with if you want your performance to be more than mediocre.
With that end in mind, I’ve decided to write a series of articles about the good Doctor’s most famous trick. Each article will focus on a specific weakness, and possible ways to eliminate it. For those unfamiliar with the original trick, here is a description of the effect taken directly from chapter twenty-one of The Dai Vernon Book of Magic:
The four Aces are held face up in the left hand; the red Aces on top of the squared packet and the black Aces underneath. Each card is shown separately, then a black Ace is placed on top of the packet and the other black Ace underneath — the cards are spread and the red Aces are seen to be sandwiched in the centre. After turning the cards face down, the two outer (black) Aces are placed on the table, leaving the performer holding the two red Aces. A spectator is asked to indicate the position of the Ace of Spades which a moment previously he saw dealt on to the table. When he points to the card the performer turns it face up — it is a red Ace. The other card on the table is also a red Ace! Both black Aces are in the performer’s hand; an extraordinary transposition has taken place.
The first issue I’ve decided to address is the one I feel presents the biggest problem. The effect is simply too direct. This is a classic example of Rick Johnsson’s Too-Perfect Theory* in action; the transposition is so strong that it will lead some people straight to the actual method. This weakness is further exacerbated by the fact that many magicians, including Bill Malone and Michael Ammar, decide to deal the cards into the hands of a spectator (and not onto a table as the original instructions dictated).
I believe the key to eliminating this particular weakness is to introduce some kind of mixing procedure. By delaying the revelation of the transposition, you introduce the possibility that sophisticated sleight-of-hand was used to switch the cards after they were placed on the table. The delay needn’t be long, simply switch the position of the two “black Aces” a few times (three times is usually enough). This manoeuvre makes locating the Ace of Spades more of a challenge, which strengthens the internal logic of the trick. More importantly, the mixing of the two tabled cards acts as a red herring, leading your audience away from the truth. This moves the trick out of the “too perfect” category.
However, this mixing procedure does present a slight complication; it must be done one-handed as your left hand is already occupied holding the two “red Aces”. To make this strange behaviour a little less suspicious, I explain that I’m only going to use one hand in an attempt to prevent myself from cheating (this absurd concept usually gets a laugh). Alternatively, you can free up your left hand before the mixing procedure begins by discarding the two “red Aces” to one side (I shall discuss how this this idea can be expanded upon in a future article).
I think this solution works well because it transforms Dr. Daley’s Last Trick into a demonstration of an impossible-to-win street scam, rather than a pointless guessing game.
* Rick Johnsson’s Too-Perfect Theory was first published by Jon Racherbaumer in his journal The Hierophant in 1970. The original essay was re-printed in the 2001 August edition of Genii magazine (Vol. 64, No. 8), along with a collection of reflective articles on the controversial theory by several well known exponents of magic. If you’re interested in learning more about the Too-Perfect Theory, I strongly recommend you read this collection of articles.