©1978 Earl Nelson; Mark Wilson Publications
Hardcover, no dj, 137 pages
©1979 Revised Second Edition
Image courtesy e-Bay seller MagicInvestments
Comments (Bill Duncan): Earl Nelson's "Variations" is a modern classic of close-up magic which has commanded over $100.00 on internet auctions. Mr. Nelson, in an interview, in the August 2001 issue of Genii magazine, modestly says that the book is not worth such high prices and that he no longer performs any of the material therein. While it's understandable that a performing artist might grow beyond, or simply tire of, his own older material the fact is that his "Variations" inspired further variations which in turn engendered experimentation by others. Those children can be seen to this day. It should also be noted that origination in not the only hallmark of exceptional creativity. Since copies of "Variations" are so hard to come by the following detailed review is offered as a sort of palliative for those who hunger, unaware of what the dish contains.
The first edition differs from the more commonly available second edition in that there is a forward written by Michael Skinner which was omitted because Earl Nelson did not own the copyright. A short forward by Dai Vernon is included.
Contents: (updated with page numbers Sep 2017):
1 Section One - CARDS
1 Reset, Reset: The oft imitated Re-Set gets the Nelson treatment. Earl's work on the effect was deemed significant enough to warrant inclusion in the collected works of Paul Harris. See Re-Set Options on page 143 of "The Art of Astonishment" Book One.
7 Between Your Points of Departure: Inspired by a Phil Goldstein effect called Palm Off from "Scattershot" this hybrid of Alex Elmsley's "Between your Palms" and "Point of Departure" is relatively simple to do with the high impact that comes from direct audience involvement. Four aces are given to a spectator to hold. A card is selected and placed between the aces which are held between the spectator's hands. The card (which may be signed) vanishes and is found face up in the center of the pack. The Goldstein effect does not appear in the collection "Focus" which does include other effects from "Scattershot". Those interested in creating their own handling should note that three aces in red, black, black order can be Elmsley or Jordan counted face up to appear as four aces. Further details are left as an exercise for the reader.
12 Slow Motion Top Change: A method for showing the face of a card and exchanging it for the top card of the deck (Top Change) as the hands and cards are slowly lowered to the horizontal.
17 Color Changing Deck: A seated deck switch and visual change highlight this handling. Of even greater value are Mr. Nelson's thoughts on presenting the effect. He prefaces the trick with Vernon's "All Backs" to draw attention to the backs (and thereby the color) of the deck without saying "notice the blue color" and after restoring the faces uses a Marlo palm from "Tabled Palm" to steal the top (and only remaining) blue card. This effects a 'hands off' color change as the fingers are waved over the tabled pack. Lay audiences (and some magicians) perceive that as the hands are passed over the tabled deck all fifty two cards change color.
22 The Haunted Card: This caused quite a sensation when "Variations" first hit the shelves. It explained a Michael Skinner refinement of a move by Las Vegas' Joe Fisher wherein a card slowly pivots out of the actual center of a tabled pack of cards, face up. The handling is quite difficult. An easier method, using a crimped card, appears in "The Card Classics of Ken Krenzel" and also in "Close-up Impact!" (another collection of Krenzel material).
26 Exploding Aces: Three aces almost jump off the pack as it is cut. The final ace emerges face up using the Haunted Card method. Create your own variation using any three fast and fancy card productions followed by the dramatic slow spin out and you'll have a nice routine you can call your own.
33 Pass the Sandwich, Submarine Sandwich (39): Two sandwich effects using Frank Simon's Versatile Control (a variant of Marlo's Convincing Control). In the first the top and bottom cards are turned face up and a pass is used to center the cards around the selection. In the second the sandwich card protrudes from the inner end of the lower half of the pack while the selection is made from the top half. After the selection is pushed into the front of pack the sandwich cards are pushed in
from the back and the selection pokes out the front. The pack is spread to show that the sandwich card have captured the selection.
43 About Face Aces: A Frank Simon effect based on Phil Goldstein's "Counter Revolution". Aces and Kings are shown and the Kings are placed into different parts of the deck. A twisting the aces sequence is performed which climaxes with the aces
changing to Kings. The Aces are (optionally) produced "from the deck" using a bluff cutting sequence by Bill Taylor.
The Goldstein effect can be found in the collected works volume "Focus" on page 103. It uses four red and four black cards of non-distinct value after the fashion of "Oil and Water".
52 Sleeve Aces: A very pretty production of the aces. The pack is cut and the indifferent cards on the face of each half transform into aces as they are rubbed on the shirt sleeves.
65 Section Two - CARDS AND COINS
65 Pretty Good Coins Across: This routine uses the Pop-Up coin move ("Classic Magic of Larry Jennings") and the (Ross) Bertam transfer from "Stars Of Magic" to effect a four coins across routine without gaffs or extra coins.
75 Coined Card: A standup, no table required, version of Larry Jennings' Coin Cut. After a card is selected and lost a quarter is borrowed and vanished using a technique similar to Paul Harris' Hi-Ho Silver vanish (see page 157 of "The Art of Astonishment" Book One). The coin reappears on top of the selected card in the center of the pack. The Harris' routine was published a year earlier but Nelson makes no mention of it as an inspirational source. This is odd because Hi Ho Silver was originally published in "Supermagic", the same book that introduced ReSet. One must assume this is a case of independant invention. The Harris method is a 'take' vanish while the Nelson version is a 'put' or, more correctly, a 'slide/drop' method.
81 Mr. Nelson credits Al Schneider for ideas he contributed during the creation of the three effects that follow. They were all developed during sessions where the two men attempted to accomplish the production and vanish of coins using playing cards.
81 - The $1.50 Vanish: A playing card is used to pickup and drop a half dollar into the hand. It vanishes followed bya second coin. The third half dollar is picked up at the fingertips and also vanishes. The tabled card is lifted and all three coins are underneath. Only three coins are used.
91 Four, the Hard Way and Four, the Easy Way (page 96): Four half dollars are produced from between a pair of playing cards. In the first method four coins are used. In the second Al Schneider suggests using a shell in place of one coin making it necessary to palm only three coins. Jerry Andus' Misers Miracle was the starting point for these two effects.
103 Section Three - FINGER RINGS Two now classic 'moves' with rings. If you've seen anyone do a finger ring and cord routine you've almost certainly seen both of them.
103 Clifton's Ring Move: The ring is threaded on a cord, held in the hand and the cord is wrapped around the closed fist that holds the ring. In spite of this condition the ring appears on the fourth finger of the other hand.
108 Earl's Ring Move: A very fair threading and display sequence.
114 Impromptu Flying Ring: A clever idea using a magnifying glass with the commercial effect Ring Flight.
119 Section Four - BONUS EFFECTS
119 Hit and Run Aces: The Derek Dingle neo-classic Roll Over Aces is simplified: The Triumph effect and the production of Royal Flushes are pruned, leaving only the production of the aces. The deck is shuffled once and rolled over sideways leaving four small packets, each with an ace at the face.
124 The Changing of the Card: A card is selected. A silver dollar is placed on the face of the pack and the hand is waved over the deck. The card, underneath the coin, changes to the selected card.
137 Section Five - COMMENTARY
137 Why, and Why Not: Opinions on the Performance of Magic. A short essay in which Mr. Nelson speaks to those who opine "I don't try to fool 'em, I just entertain them" and those who use comedy poorly. He notes that most magician's don't seem to realize that good magic often elicits laughs of astonishment even when the performer is of a serious demeanor. It is interesting that this very reaction is so often seen in the audiences of David Blaine's television specials. One could hardly find two more different performers than Blaine and Nelson but both offer evidence of this bit of truth