Magic Trick: Houdin's Die Trick

Although this trick, sold everywhere for a shilling, must be as well known as any, I have found it appreciated by certain audiences, which have, by the way, invariably been drawing-room ones. Before a boys' school, or large public audience, it would not be advisable to exhibit it. The trick consists in placing a die upon the uppermost of two hats, covering it with a cover, and causing it to pass through into the lower hat. The secret lies in a hollow false die, which has five sides only, and which fits over the real die like a cover. The actual cover used in the trick fits over the dummy die. The method of performance is extremely easy. Place the dummy die in the breast pocket, in a handy position, and give the real one to be examined with the cover. Whilst this is being done, borrow two hats, and take them to the centre table, slipping the false die from the pocket into one of them when your back is turned. Place the hat containing the dummy on the table, crown downwards, and invert the other one over it. Now take the die and place it upon the uppermost hat, and explain to the audience as follows: "Ladies and gentlemen,—You have all kindly examined the die and cover, and found that both are genuine and free from trickery. I now take this solid die and place it upon this hat; but before doing so I will show you that the hat has no hole through the crown. [Take up hat, and hold it before the light, and bang it about a little, then replace and put die upon it.] The trick I shall perform will be to cover the die with this cover, and, on again removing it, it will be found that the die will have passed through the hat into the one underneath, thus [tilt the top hat so as to cause the die to fall into the lower hat]. Now that I have explained what is to be done, I will proceed to do it." Take the dummy die out of the hat (being careful to keep the open part from the audience, and leaving the real die behind), and place it, with the opening downwards, upon the upper hat, which you have replaced. You can pretend to cut through the hat, all round the die, with a penknife, making a noise with the nail to imitate the sound of cutting, and then, placing the cover over the die, give it a rap with the wand. Grasp the cover very tightly near the bottom, and raise it, bringing away the dummy die as well. Hold it up to the spectators, and rattle the wand inside, and then turn out the real die from the hat on to the floor. Whilst doing this with one hand, the other should be passed behind the table, and the dummy allowed to slide out of the cover on to the shelf. This latter effect is invariably omitted by conjurors, and the trick, in my opinion, spoilt, as attention to it enables the performer to hand round the cover for inspection after the trick is performed, thereby totally upsetting those who, having purchased the trick, fancy they know all about it. I have frequently been asked by such people how I do the trick, they little thinking that the apparatus I use is exactly similar to their own. The die, cover, and dummy can be purchased so cheaply that it is scarcely worth while for the conjuror to manufacture his own. If he wishes to exercise his ingenuity, let him try the following method, which is an improvement on Houdin's old one only inasmuch as it is not so well known.

Procure a die some four inches square, with dummy and cover complete. A smaller size can be used, but I give the most effective for the trick. Now take five pieces of cardboard, each the size of one side of the die, and join them together with hinges of linen, not all in a row, but with one in the centre and the four others on either side of it. Lay these upon the centre of a large coloured handkerchief, and place another handkerchief, of a precisely similar pattern, over it. Sew the two handkerchiefs and cardboard together through the centre piece of card only, and then sew the edges of the handkerchiefs together all round. The two handkerchiefs are made to pass as a single one only. Before commencing, the dummy must be placed, opening downwards, upon the shelf, and the handkerchief should be lying carelessly upon a chair or side table. Show the die and cover round, and borrow two hats. Take the cover and hats to the table, and whilst one hand is placing one hat over the other, as in the first method, the other should place the cover over the dummy die on the shelf, which must thus be picked up. Show the inside of cover (i.e., the inside of the dummy), and place it upon the uppermost hat. Now take the die and place it upon the table, a few inches only from the back. Spread the handkerchief over it, and whilst taking hold of the centre piece of card of the internal arrangement across the middle, with one hand, from the outside, pass the other hand underneath the handkerchief, and, under cover of the same, place the die upon the shelf. The hand holding the handkerchief will all the time appear to be holding the die in the air a few inches from off the table. Fold the handkerchief carefully up, and the five pieces of card will give an exact resemblance of a die folded up in a handkerchief, which idea is what you wish to convey to the minds of the audience. Place this carefully upon a side table, and then explain that you are about to pass the die from the handkerchief invisibly under the cover. Raise the cover—and, along with it, the dummy die—once more rattle the wand inside, and replace it. Then take the handkerchief carefully by two corners and suddenly give it a hard shake in the air. The die that is supposed to be inside will not, according to the expectations of the spectators, roll upon the floor, but you will show it to be on the top of the hat by raising the cover only, and revealing the dummy. Remove the dummy from the hat to the table with two hands, as if it were solid, and act as if you were about to return the two hats. You, however, take one of them, opening downwards, and, bringing the brim on a level with the top of the table, but overhanging the shelf considerably, pop the die inside it with the other hand, which instantly takes up the second hat, and you advance with both. Before you have progressed very far, however, you say that, perhaps, after all, the audience would prefer seeing the die back again; and it is very evident that so large an object must be somewhere. Of course, no one will object, and you replace the hats one over the other, the one containing the die being naturally the lower one. The trick then proceeds as before described, the dummy die being carefully lifted with two hands upon the uppermost hat, and the cutting operation gone through. The difficult portion of the trick is getting the die from the shelf into the hat. This should be well practised.

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