Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Twenty-one Card Trick

The first known description of this trick, done with fifteen playing cards and employing a mathematical positioning principle previously used with other objects, appeared in Horatio Galasso's Giochi di Carte Bellissimi di Regola, e di Memoria, 1593, p. 49-51 of the English translation by Lori Pieper. This translation was published in Gibecière, Vol. 2 No. 2, Summer 2007, p. 15-150. The title of the trick translates as “How to have someone think of a card and guess what it is.”

An interesting extension on this very old principle is found in Edmé-Gilles Guyot's Nouvelles Recreations Physiques et Mathematiques, 1769, p. 46 of the Hugard translation, under the title of “A person having secretly thought of a card to make it be found at the number demanded.” It details a system to deliver a card thought of to any named position in a deck of 27 cards, by means of dealing the entire deck into face-up piles several times, each time gathering the piles in a specific sequence formulated to position the thought-of card at the chosen location. This was later published with a fifty-two-card deck by Charles Jordan as “The 52-Card Trick”, first advertised in The Sphinx, Vol. 18 No. 10, Dec. 1919, p. 264. (See also in Karl Fulves's Charles T. Jordan: Collected Tricks, 1975, p. 62.)

This trick depends on a principle of redistribution, which is shared with other card divinations, particularly Mutus, Dedit, Nomen, Cocis and the Matrix Card Divination.

See also: The Redistribution Principle.