Daley Dilemma (Part 1)

“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.

9 thoughts on “Daley Dilemma (Part 1)”

  1. Marlo has a version in which he uses a fifth card and flashes it to confirm what color of cards he holds. He used a 3C to represent the AC by covering the indices and two of the pips. He must have assumed use of a regular deck. You could use a duplicate card to do the same. The point is that the performer flashes a black card in his hand at the moment when the spec believes that she has the red cards. Then Marlo cops and removes the extra card. See Jump-Jump Aces from “Expert Card Chicanery.”

    1. Thanks Eric, I’ll make sure I check “Jump-Jump Aces” out. I think Robert Walker also employed a fifth card as an added convincer too. In his trick “Prunes and Prisms”, published in Good Turns 2.0: A Retrospective Study by Jon Racherbaumer (2002), he combined Daley’s Last Trick with Vernon’s “Twisting the Aces”, getting maximum use out of the extra card.

  2. I have done this trick on and off for years, but I have always been sensitive to the weaknesses that you point out. Furthermore, there’s an element of the “sucker trick” about it that is a little off-putting. Double Back avoids this by making it a truly magical transformation, but you can’t really do that with Daley’s Last Trick. For the transformation to be convincing, the spectator must be 100% certain that they are holding the black aces, and for that they need some sort of proof. Double Back provides that; DLT cannot and I guess that is why I perform it less often than I might. But I’d love to find a way round it, for I seldom carry Double Back with me.

  3. Hi. Good points in general, although I feel the solution of moving the cards (black aces) might lead the spectators to think you did something sneaky there. You put them down or in a hand and leave them alone that won’t happen, but still the original trouble exists–they lead back to the fact that you must have switched them before. The way I do it, for what it’s worth, is like this–put the two alleged black aces (in this example) under something (card box, whatever) and the other one on top and do the old joke of how you can make them switch without touching them–and look, they went back again! Then do it the “magic” way, and show the cards in your hand to be the black aces and so on. Hope that makes sense.

    1. When I perform DDLT as a monte routine, I want my spectator to think that I’ve done something sneaky! This does mean that I’m presenting the trick as a demonstration of extreme skill (the ability to invisibly switch cards); some might argue that this is not very magical. Using a joke to add some time misdirection works well. I think I’ve seen Bill Malone do it this way.

  4. “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.”
    You can ditch the guessing game presentation ( which, I agree, is pointless ) and still maintain the directness of the effect. I dont subscribe to Rick Johnson’s Too Perfect Theory as I understand it reading your blog post, I go with Ascanio’s thinking that the shorter the time between the setting up the conditions and the effect, the more effective the trick is. Dani DaOrtiz showed how true this is in his Open Triumph, a download in the Buck twins website. If people are catching on the multiple lifts, I think its because the transpo was just revealed too quickly, & the doubles werent justified enough ( e.g. directing their attention away from the fact that you need to turn the doubles back then deal them off ).

    I think the directness IS a negative if you’re doing the trick as a stand-alone. Darwin Ortiz hit the nail when he made the trick the CLIMAX of his version of Follow the Leader ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TpTy-EKXLQ )

    Yoann ( Magical Sleight ) has an excellent version in his DVDs sold by Vanishing Inc., its progressive, 3 phases, with nice visuals to boot. My favorite version so far.

    1. I agree that this trick is more difficult to sell stand-alone, but it’s not impossible. After all, many magicians perform it this way. As the method is so direct, I think you need a little time misdirection to take the heat off the modus operandi. Obviously, you shouldn’t to wait too long otherwise the impact would be lost. Thanks for the link to the Darwin Ortiz video, I like his use of poker chips to make the position of the red and black Aces clear. In fact, I’ll be talking about using a poker chip with Dr. Daley’s Last Trick in a future post.

  5. Interesting blog. But it seems that all of the “problems” with DLT vanish if you do it as follows. First, do a twisting the aces type of effect using the AS, 2H, 3C, & 4D. With 4 different values and suits, the contrast in card changes is accentuated. Following the TTA variant, the cards are in position for DLT. Show the AS on bottom, emphasize it’s significance as the trademark card, and place it in the spectator’s hand. Show the 3C and place it crosswise on top of the AS (?). Snap fingers and announce the AS is on top and the 3S is on bottom. Snap fingers again and announce the AS is back on bottom and the 3C is back on top. (I think this is a Malone ruse. Gets a groan and spectator’s guard is down.) Snap fingers a third time and show the AS and 3C in your hand and the 2H and 4D in their hand. This has gotten gasps, giggles, and laughs every time I have done it. Very satisfying. No weaknesses that I see with this presentation.

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