Surprisingly, I came across this trick not in its original close-up form, but with fruit replacing cards in Jim Steinmyer’s stage version, Apples and Oranges, from his book, The Conjuror’s Anthology. The basic plot of all the versions remains the same, whereby after counting out pairs of objects into even piles, a spectator is asked to place one more object onto either pile, thereby making that one the odd pile. After a wave of the magic wand, it is revealed that the pile originally thought to be odd is now even, and the other pile odd. The object has transferred from one pile to the other. In description, it doesn’t sound like much, but in performance, if done right, it seems utterly impossible.
After reading the Apples and Oranges version, I was interested in not only performing it for a group at an upcoming annual retreat in Maine, but perhaps adapting it for the Suitcase of Wonders stage. This latter idea would be a mighty challenge, for all versions of this trick require carefully constructed patter by the magician, while I am currently performing tricks in the style of the late Silent Mora (set only to music, with no talking whatsoever). Adding to the difficulty of this proposed adaptation is the requirement of active involvement from a spectator, another no-no in my act (the stage viewing area being too small to accommodate sustained volunteer interaction). I really have no idea how a trick like this would work in the Suitcase of Wonders, but I seem to keep thinking about it anyway.
When I posted a request on an online magic forum for thoughts about Apples and Oranges, two distinct and opposing opinions emerged. One was that the trick was best performed with cards as originally intended, and the other was that any other pairs of objects used were better than cards (an opinion also shared by Steinmeyer). Penn and Teller have said they are always on the lookout for card tricks they can use with other items - a valid and interesting idea. On the other hand, there is something about the original Piano Card Trick, with its use of the spectator’s fingers formed as a “piano” to hold the pairs of cards, that seems just right. And it is this version that I am currently looking at, perhaps once again in vain, to adapt to the Suitcase of Wonders stage. I don’t know how I would pull it off, but I like the image of a pair of hands (Mr. Widdle’s in this case) being used as the holders for the cards on the stage.
One slight variation that I might employ would be to use only black cards for the trick, referring to them as piano keys. I would also use a non-face card as the one flashed as the ‘odd’ card, and its suit match in the other pile. This, in case the spectator chose to look at the new odd pile, would find the suit match, and perhaps think it was the original odd card that had transferred. But of course, the trick really should end with the counting of pairs in the piles.
As long as I’m thinking about all black cards, why not make them numerical pairs as well? That wouldn’t seem out of place since in many versions of the trick (including in Scarne On Card Tricks, the book I first read about the trick), you’re supposed to be saying “a pair, a pair,” etc. as you’re placing the two cards between the spectator's fingers. Strange how I haven’t seen that idea in print yet. Of course, you would still count them face down in two piles (while saying “a pair, a pair”) while not emphasizing the identity of the odd card at the end. After the final counting, you would probably also want to mix the piles naturally, but quickly.
The Piano Card Trick is a case where I love the magic principle, but it may be too much of a stretch to apply it under the conditions I need. Perhaps I should just leave it as a trick to be performed outside of the Suitcase of Wonders. Even if that’s the case, I am still conflicted as to what version to perform, as I now have discovered a diabolical version by Hideo Kato (Japan Ingenious, by Kaufman and Cohen) where the whole trick is performed by the spectator. And then there’s the version where you use pairs of chopsticks, or the one where you use pairs socks...