The coolest man alive.
October 3, 2007 12:52 AM   Subscribe

Ricky Jay wants to play cards. Place your bets.

He can do all sorts of crazy shit with cards. To learn more about this magician, historian of the con, member of David Mamet's troupe, author and dice collector, be sure to read this wonderful New Yorker article. (previously)
posted by Bookhouse (38 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
I have never broken out in applause over a YouTube clip until tonight.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:53 AM on October 3, 2007

You know who else did all sorts of crazy shit with cards?
posted by Poolio at 1:16 AM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

The man is a master of his art. Inspiring.
posted by ikareru at 1:18 AM on October 3, 2007

Excellent post, Bookhouse.
posted by Poolio at 1:20 AM on October 3, 2007

One more: the Charlie Rose interview (starts twenty-five minutes in). Jay also recently recorded a commentary track with David Mamet for the Criterion Collection edition of House of Games which I recommend.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:35 AM on October 3, 2007

Jay's been the shit for 20 years.
posted by Clave at 1:37 AM on October 3, 2007

Surprising how little we see of the "mountebank" tag given the state of contemporary politics.
Great stuff, Bookhouse.
posted by Abiezer at 1:41 AM on October 3, 2007

That was actually pretty awesome. I watched every one. Thanks, Bookhouse. The guy's a master showman.
posted by blacklite at 2:20 AM on October 3, 2007

And, I just learned the word "orotund" from that article.
posted by blacklite at 2:37 AM on October 3, 2007

Ricky Jay is good indeed, but I'll lay my bet on Steve Forte at the card table.
posted by splice at 2:46 AM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

splice - I would take that bet. You wouldn't see it, but I would take it.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:15 AM on October 3, 2007

I'm gonna savour these. I just love a great card magician.

He was great in Deadwood and IMDB tells me he was the narrator in Magnolia, which I didn't know.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:30 AM on October 3, 2007

He also did a great episode of "X-Files" (and I'm not particularly a fan of the show). It's very difficult to do a "mystery" involving stage magic -- but they really pulled it off quite well.
posted by RavinDave at 3:39 AM on October 3, 2007

The sad thing is that Ricky Jay is the last of a breed... who will replace his encyclopedic knowledge and skill-base when he is gone? The guy is a friggin genius, and a perplexing joy to watch.
posted by foobario at 6:10 AM on October 3, 2007

Plus he was the best thing in Mystery Men.
(ok, ONE of the best things)
posted by SPUTNIK at 6:16 AM on October 3, 2007

Goddammit, I just realized you linked that in the post. Apologies.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:25 AM on October 3, 2007

Steve Forte is a great card mechanic (one of the best), but Ricky Jay is a master showman.

I have been an amateur magician for over thirty years, and Ricky Jay has always been one of my favorites. Besides being very capable technically, his presentation is second to none. What I really enjoy about Ricky Jay, though, is that he is a serious student of his craft. His knowledge of, and love for, the histories and stories of magicians and con men and freaks makes him much more compelling than most magicians.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:33 AM on October 3, 2007

My dad has an autographed copy of Cards as Weapons. Great book.

Anyone who wants the PDF version, feel free to contact me.
posted by dmd at 6:47 AM on October 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I got to interview him once, and it was the greatest thing EVER. [url=]This is a direct link to the MP3 of the show.[/url]

If you haven't read his books, get on it.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:58 AM on October 3, 2007

Oops, I meant this is a direct link to the mp3.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2007

So if I'm willing to accept that Ricky Jay has a phenomenal memory, and can memorize a whole deck of cards with little difficulty (he mentions in one of the videos that they had played rummy with the same deck previously, and used that as this opportunity -- discards and whatnot -- to learn the deck's configuration), and that likewise he is able to do such mechanic stuff as being able to cut an exact number of cards and to shuffle precisely -- left deck, right deck, left, right, left, right -- such that he can, with his nimble mind, keep track of the new configuration ... if I can accept that he has those skills of memory and dexterity, does that basically explain all of these tricks? Or is presuming that the ultimate triumph of his sleight of hand?
posted by blueshammer at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2007

Any Los Angeles Mefites reading this thread are required to go to this exhibit, which I saw last week in Westwood. Fucking incredible. Jay is quite possibly the world's most interesting person.
posted by jonson at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2007

When it came time for Encyclopedia Britannica to update its online entry for conjuring, guess who the editors asked to write it?
posted by gargoyle93 at 9:27 AM on October 3, 2007

blueshammer: It explains part of it I imagine, but several of videos involve turning cards into other cards (Three Card Monte, Four Queens, etc.) which is a whole other bag of tricks.
posted by gwint at 9:48 AM on October 3, 2007

A couple years ago, I was in NYC, and my wife and I got tickets to "On the Stem." About 20 minutes in, Ricky asked for a volunteer from the audience, and I practically rocketed out of my seat.

I was the only person who raised his hand. I don't understand people. He called me onstage.

I got to do card tricks with Ricky Jay!--or, rather, I stood there while Ricky Jay made fun of me and did card tricks. He's fucking incredible.

I also participated in one non-card trick; one of those things where he figures out what items you've put in your pockets and in what order. I don't know whether he was having an off night or was relying on my tacit collaboration, but it was obvious that the whole trick relied on a thread tied to one particular item; I felt it when the thread snapped. I of course did not give him away. He could have thrown a playing card into my skull, after all.
posted by Skot at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2007

"Cards as Weapons" is like $300 now. Good luck finding it. I also saw "On the Stem" and to me the most impressive feat was The Knight's Tour, where he moves a knight around a chessboard, touching every square only once (by calling out the moves) while simultaneously calculating the cube root of any integer (drawn from a stack of flash cards by a volunteer) and while reciting from memory all the soliloquies from any Shakespeare play chosen by the audience and while singing a "field holler" style song. Worth the price of admission right there.

The "How to Cheat an Honest Man" link is from the great box set "Ricky Jay Plays Poker."
posted by mattbucher at 10:50 AM on October 3, 2007

Ah, Ricky Jay.

When it comes to that close up, table magic kind of stuff, he is most impressive.
posted by Relay at 11:30 AM on October 3, 2007

Oh, and speaking of Jay's books, you should check out Jay's Journal of Anomalies.

posted by Relay at 11:32 AM on October 3, 2007

I can't get the radio archives to play (from Ricky Jay's website). Anybody else having any luck?
posted by billysumday at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2007

These links were great. It was strange seeing the guy smile, though...I was only familiar with his film work, where he almost always plays long-faced sad sacks (excellently, I might add).
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2007

blueshammer: I'm going to call that the ultimate triumph of sleight of hand. :-) While Ricky Jay is undoubtedly a master manipulator of cards, it is also true that, in the general sense, "explaining" his tricks doesn't require resorting to super-human memory, perfect shuffling, etc. The real mechanics behind the effects involve concepts that I daresay most people wouldn't believe possible if you told them outright (i.e., to laymen, it would seem easier to believe someone could interlace the cards perfectly in a riffle shuffle rather than do what Ricky Jay *actually* does, which sounds much harder but isn't).

Of course, Ricky Jay's greatest asset as a performer is not how he manipulates the cards but how he manipulates the audience. He is one of my favorite magicians for this reason.
posted by sappidus at 1:09 PM on October 3, 2007

sappidus: I'm familiar with the phenomenon you're talking about -- I had a card trick that I was great at because I sold it on the strength of psychological mumbo-jumbo like tells and involuntary responses. And so you sell sleight of hand by making it look like you're doing something else entirely ... I get that.

So is that the story of the video "Ricky Jay finds a card," linked above as "cards?" Would you suspect that he is employing something other than card counting to arrive at his solution?

Also, when you say that what performers like Jay do sounds harder than supermemory, etc., but really isn't, what are you referring to? Stuff like forcing cards, or devising trick decks, etc.? Or something else entirely?
posted by blueshammer at 1:25 PM on October 3, 2007

blueshammer: I am but an amateur magician, and there are some effects for which I can guess at the method better than others. Also, Ricky Jay is not the sort of artist who's gone around and told everyone in the magic world how he performs his effects, so I really am guessing.

Nevertheless, as far as "Ricky Jay finds a card" is concerned, I will say this... He is not "perfectly controlling" the order of the deck through the multiple cuts and shuffles; instead, by his own tacit admission, he is finding a particular card. As to how he gets a handle on it, well, perhaps I should shut up now lest the magicians' fraternity shut me up instead.
posted by sappidus at 4:20 PM on October 3, 2007

I'm off to watch the Mamet films I have access to and lament about those that I do not yet have.

This thread needs amazon links. This is definitely a situation in which I would appreciate text ads for relevant products.
posted by ODiV at 5:55 PM on October 3, 2007

I was told that I just missed seeing him at the Magic Castle once. I was bummed.

Here's his website if you're interested, someone I know designed it & it's pretty cool. And if you've never been to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, you definitely should check that place out. It rocks.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:30 PM on October 3, 2007

Dr. Steve Brule says, "I love cool cards! For your health?!"
posted by _aa_ at 8:01 PM on October 3, 2007

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