Card Maps

By RNC, December 2004

This essay relates to an idea I call Card Map. As the name implies Card Maps allow us to locate card-tricks, to position them graphically on a coordinate system. A simple prop, that illustrates the relation between tricks, their mutual distance, their conceptual vicinity.  Here, below, is the simplest form of a  card map. Before we'll discuss its benefits later on, let me briefly introduce the concept. Please have a look at the picture below.

A simple Prototype Map

How to read it?

First of all, assume that the big rectangle represents a map onto which boxes with trick-names are placed. You will probably recognize these tricks and realize that they are of very different nature. To be more precise, one can assign attributes such as individual, generic, abstract and material to the tricks. Consider that these attributes can be arranged in two pairs: individual vs. generic and abstract vs. material. This allows us to regard the attributes as the poles of axises that span a rectangle. Each trick can now be classified according to these attributes and placed upon the rectangle. The map of tricks is drawn.

To illustrate this, let's start in the lower left corner of the rectangle.

- "Think of a card" is a very abstract trick. The  card is just thought, it's not even physically touched. It's also a very individual trick. One single card is in center of the attention. Therefore, "Think of a card" belongs to the lower left corner.

- "Card on Ceiling" - just as "Think of a card" this trick, too,  is a very individual trick. It therefore belongs close to the left hand border which represents the attribute individual. But the card is physically selected and it even ends up on the ceiling, it sort of contradicts the laws of the material world. "Card on Ceiling" is therefore placed close to the material border. Find it in the upper left corner of the map.

- "10 cards to Pocket" is a material subject, too.  Cards physically change places. It is also a generic trick as it doesn't really matter which individual cards travel. Same would apply to a Card-Matrix sort of tricks.

- "Coincidences", I mean entire deck coincidences, like adivinations, is an abstract subject. But different from those, it can be considered a generic trick. Not individual single cards will be remembered as the protagonists of the magic, but the entire deck.


Tricktype Corner indiv.-generic Axis abstr.-material Axis
Adivinations "Think of a card" lower left individual abstract
Card to Wallet upper left individual material
10 Cards to Pocket upper right generic material
Coincidences lower right generic abstract

Archetypes of Card Magic.

Many other tricks can be placed onto the map, most probably between these four poles, which I like to consider my private Archetypes of Card Magic. Here are some samples for selected other tricks:

- "Ambitious Card" somewhere along the left axis

- "Twisting the Aces" somewhere in the middle region of the cart (... a group of Aces, physically turning)

- "Slow Motion Aces" (Aces, physically translocating) even more towards the material and generic Poles but not as much as...

- ... the "Travellers" plot (Aces, long distance translocation)

- Etc.

Those are just a few examples. Any other card trick can be assigned its position within this map.

Guidance and Orientation

What's the motivation for all of this? Card Maps reveal the mutual relations among tricks.  This may be related to an entire repertoire, to the more limited scope of a book or the trajectory drawn during a 10-minute table-act. Just as geographical Maps help you to orient yourself through a territory, a Card Map helps you orient yourself through the universe of card tricks.

The practical benefits may get obvious considering the common expression: one picture says more than thousand words. Here are some valuable ideas for practical applications:

Position contents of books into a map. My vision is that the books comes along with the Card Map as an additional table of contents. At a glance the reader can prioritize the various tricks without the need to have read through the chapters.

Generate a Card Map of your repertoire. Realize where you are blank. Identify which sort of effects you may want to study next in order to become more complete.

Get inspired when composing new card acts: what about drawing a line, a spiral, the silhuette of your loved-one into the map. Consider the tricks along the route to be worked into the show. Just an idea!

I wonder whether a card act, drawn as a seven of hearts into a Card Map, may inconsciously affect  the spectator to think of the seven of hearts at the end of the show... you are invited to experiment with this esoteric perspective!

Exact Positions!?

One word about the exact positions. There is plenty scope for interpretation. Coordinates assigned to the tricks may vary based on the way one interprets the trick. Indeed, I like the fact that this subject may open doors for discussions. But remember, the first ancient maps of the Egypts and Greeks didn't fully match today's satellite-drawings. But they already worked out well.

Also consider that the axises favoured by myself may be substituted by alternative criteria. Currently they work out for myself, but Magic may have more than just the four directions geographists must deal with. For some of you eventually different criteria work out better, for example:

- routine type of structure vs. single plot structure

- spectator participation vs. pure monologue by magician tricks

- etc.

Also, I admit difficulties in introducing the at-the-card table type of tricks, sucker demos, poker plots, dealing procedures. In fact, this may just mirror a common understanding that those types of tricks, as entertaining and impressing they may be, can be considered slightly outside of magic. What about finding criteria suited for only those sort of tricks to generate specific Maps for At-the-Card-table tricks!? Sleight-of-hand is a universe with many planets and just one single Map won't do.

Trick types

Another issue worth to mention: Think in trick-types first. Pre-populate the Map with the generic trick types. Then superimpose the individual tricks. It's quite interesting to observe how a consistent picture gets generated.

Practical Benefits

Concerning the practical benefits, I suggest to further use a colour code to indicate which tricks you master, which ones you decide to focus on, which ones you want to study and of course which ones you may just ignore (weekends are 5 days too short to get it all). Colour coded Maps can substantially help you to set and manage your priorities.

All this would be incomplete without working samples, pure theory only made for the academics. Not what we really want, therefore feel invited to have a look at the Sample Maps page.