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Hand Spiker

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, 7:51 am
by Jonathan Pendragon
I have been trying to research the origins of a mental effect. Here is my history with it.

I the mid 70s Harry Anderson sold me the replica dueling pistol (single shot muzzle loader) he had used in his presentation of the Bullet Catch. He wanted to buy a Civil War era naval Colt revolver so that he could work on a Russian Roulete routine. After he purchased the replica weapon, he began to work on a routine, which he eventually performed. About a year later Harry told me he questioned the sanity of the presentation. Yes, it was terrifying no matter how "perfect" your safety was. There was more, Harry questioned the effect on the audience. Did the apparent danger of the effect overshadow all else. Harry believed that the audience was juggling too many questions.

1. Are you out of your mind?

2. (Related) Do you have a death wish? And, am I your Witness?

3. No one would risk so much "twice nightly" therefore it must be fake.

4. If you really are so powerful a psychic that you can risk your life proving it, why like this? Surely such power can be used better.

You should all be aware of the time and thought my first mentor puts into everything he performs. The last question is especially interesting. Someone that powerful (no room for mistake because there would be no second chances) could do anything. All the nunances are gone.

The first question, he told me, normally prompted people to grab him and plead with him to give it up (remember the scene in the Tony Curtis "Houdini" where the older magician pleads with Houdini to walk away from the supernatural).

Harry believed there were those who asked the second question. With all the jack ass films and viral videos it is even more likely today that an audience member would consider that question.

The third question was the most nagging. There is always danger in this kind of an effect as history has proven time and again. IF the audience dismissed the danger that was really there, why risk the effect?

Several years later I developed a RR routine using an office spindle and paper cups. I published it in my 1986 Genii issue (green cover, me in tails and Charlotte in white cape and costune). I feared that someone would impale their hand so I replaced the spindle with an egg. I suggested that you could use delicate painted egg, the destruction of art being the threat, or a real egg, no explanation of the threat being needed. When Max Maven and TA Waters read the effect, both knew why I had changed the routine in print and mentioned it to me in person. I did the egg trick (with a real egg) in comedy clubs and the spiker in private shows. When I lectured at the Wednesday Night Magic meeting in Las Vegas in 1986, I presented the effect with the spindle. Siegfried asked me many of the same questions that had plagued Harry and I related Harry's concerns to the group.

There are still questions. Mine is trying to determine if my RR routine with the egg or spindle are the first or did someone put this in print (Genii 1986) before me.

Jonathan Pendragon

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, 2:19 pm
by David Ben
Gary Kurtz believes that he is the originator of the hand spiker effect. I had dinner with Gary a few weeks ago, and this topic came up in conversation. He was a bit annoyed that so many others have appropriated the effect. Gary has not, to my knowledge, published the effect. He did, however, unfortunately put his hand through a spike in the 1980s. So, I suppose that establishes some provenance. I can't remember the exact year, but I believe it was around the mid-80s. The topic came up for conversation because of the number of people in and around Toronto who have also had a problem with piece.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, 2:29 pm
by Richard Kaufman
Sankey was in the audience when Kurtz put his hand through the spike and took him to the hospital!

David, why don't you contact Kurtz and get a date from him.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, 4:00 pm
by David Ben
I was next door when it happened, performing at Harper's. Gary did it onstage at The Laugh Resort, a comedy club owned by the same people who owned "A Little Night Magic", and Harper's. I'll send Gary a note.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, 5:32 pm
by Pete McCabe
At Magic Live 2009, Luis De Matos gave a talk based on minute-by-minute analysis of TV ratings of several magic performances. One of the more powerful results was than any time any magician did a version of the russian-roulette-impale-your-hand-on-a-spike trick, large numbers of viewers changed the channel, and most did not come back.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 12th, 2010, 4:55 pm
by Robert Allen
The spike trick has always intrigued me, and I almost bought one. Then I realized I'm old enough to realize how stupid I would feel if/when I spiked myself.

As one who spends more time nowadays trying to enjoy watching good magic than doing it, I will say that when I saw Penn & Tellers version of the bullet catch my very first thought was #3. Followed by #1 (since any trick done with a real gun is dangerous.)

Given #3 I can't see why anyone would do anything like Russian Roulett, acid drinking, or the spike trick nowadays, unless it was to prove to themselves they had the guts to do it. Which I think would be a very poor reason.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 17th, 2010, 1:54 pm
by Jon Allen
Does the analysis of the 'r-r-i-y-h-o-a-s' trick extend to *any* magician in danger tricks? Mention has been made of the bullet catch. What about Copperfield's Niagara Falls or collapsing building escapes? Lance Burton's Rollercoaster escape? Even Luis de Matos has done a 'burning rope' straightjacket escape from 40 feet up. How about any stage illusion where the magician is in danger of being crushed/impaled/killed by an obvious magic prop?

I think the analysis of people watching 'dangerous' magic on TV is flawed. I think that when people see these effects on TV, for the most part they are not live. Hence, the audience is thinking, "Hmmm... the network isn't go to show this if the guy fails and gets badly injured or dies. I didn't read anything about a tragedy on the Internet or in the newspaper to get me to watch it. I guess he succeeds. That's different to seeing a dangerous effect done live on stage. Maybe its the inevitability of the outcome that turns TV viewers off.

The Russian Roulette effect needs a decent emotional hook or it does simply look like a stunt. Too many times the performer passes their hand over the cups/bags and with no rhyme or reason, avoids the pointy object. It is a valid question to ask, "What is the point?" (no pun intended)

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 17th, 2010, 2:11 pm
by Jonathan Townsend
When was the Paul Harris book item where you stick a pin through a card, set it on the table then smack your hand down on that published? - just add a dixicup. As best I recall the time, the bit with the alkaseltzer on an almost broken spoon was popular. Seems to me the cross pollination to the two items was about due.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 17th, 2010, 2:41 pm
by Joe Pecore
"Pain" was a Harry Eng idea published in Paul Harris' book "Super Magic" in 1977.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 18th, 2010, 4:10 pm
by Gregory Edmonds
The late Lee Noble did a crazy version of the effect in the 1980's.

Several of us talked with Gary about substituting the effect with other devices in place of he "spike" or knife (Gary's knife version was, then, by far the safest I'm aware of, providing lighting is adequate). Gary finally, if I recall correctly, came up with a version using snakes (this for a "world's most dangerous magic" or some such production. Other performers (Chris Carter, perhaps?) used spiders and such. My failing memory can't bring forth the details at present.

The UK performer who smashed an audience participant's hand down on a spike SHOULD have rung the curtain down on this version of the effect for everyone, in my opinion. A couple of clever performers have come up with better versions (like the one Jonathan mentions), with funny outcomes. While the "danger" element is greatly downplayed (usually for comedy), the effect, again in my estimation, is stronger.

Banachek has the most dramatic version, using several different knives and knife handles, I've ever seen. He too, however, (apparently) puts the audience participant in the "driver's seat," so to speak, but doesn't end up permitting the latter to ever get into any real danger.

So, as to who was "first," I'm afraid I can't say. One might have to go back to the far earlier version of "Russian Roulette" (David Ben has better insight into these concepts than most, I guess), to name the true "originator" of the concept. Does the substitution of a knife, needle, broken bottle, pin, etc., really make the effect that much different from the "gun" version(s)? In any event, I think Joe (Allen) is correct; at some point the "risk" versus reality has to be taken into account, and we have to ask if the audience is, #1, Fooled, and #2, Gives a tinker's dam.

As he noted with these "death defying" challenges all round, how well an audience takes to the performance is the most important question, to my thinking. Most of us remember "The Amazing Joe," (no relation to Mr. Allen, I presume), who was crushed to death before a large crowd while trying to "beat the clock" as concrete was poured onto his flimsy, transparent box.

Just as there are always those who attend "Nascar" and "Formula One" racing hoping to see spectacular accidents, there's no-doubt an element in every society who "get off" on the more salacious aspects of the "challenges" in question.

I published a successful publicity-garnering routine using live (real) ammunition, real pistols and members of the press in the pages of "Vibrations," the Psychic Entertainer's Association's journal, about 17 years ago. I may share it with the magic community at large at some point, but would like to emphasize that in "my" version, no one was ever placed in danger, including myself.


Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 18th, 2010, 7:53 pm
by SteveP
There's a different version of the history of this as it relates to Gary Kurtz. Banachek claims originality of using a knife.

In December 09, the topic of a safe smash & stab routine came up on The Mentalist Sanctum forum and here is what Banachek said:

"Okay, I know I was the first to do a Russian Roulette with knives,. and now, thanks to Gary Kurtz performing a version on THE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS MAGIC, who saw me do my roulette at a Florida convention and asked if it was in my lecture notes (it was not), there is plethoria of such routines, most based on the hands coming down on the knives.

My version used and uses five knives sealed in envelopes and a prediction. Three are predicted as holding safe knives. They stab me in the stomach. I have alternated this through the years with my hand coming down upon the last safe "predicted" envelope. The real knives are stabbed into a block of wood. I have never given anyone permission for this version since it has been a signature peace for me. All to often people assume what is in my show is in a lecture of a book and feel free to pinch it. This is a problem many working professionals who also share with the magic/mentalism community, have. Osterlind, Cassidy, Maven, myself.

It was Jim Rainho, as I recall in Magick Magazine who used a letter spike under a cup in a roulette. Others have used items like a needle in a syringe, nails, spiked balls and the like. However, the very first Russian Roulette with knives as far as I can tell started with me back in 1978-9.

Having said that, there are those who hate Roulette type routines, they feel it is wrong to put that kind of stress on an audience. This is their right to feel this way an they should not use roulette routines if this is how they feel. I respectfully could not disagree more. In the words of a long lost PEA member "it is bloody theater folks." To me this is no different than a good scary movie. It creates emotion in the audience. It is something people will talk about for years to come, something they will request. The idea of entertainment is to create emotion in the audience. It is why the bullet catch and the bullet roulette plays so well. Hell I even did an acid roulette in my first mall show along with the knife roulette (something I quickly realized was too much). I have also done blindfold crossbow shooting and arrow catching but this is another topic.

As for the egg idea, first one I saw do this many, many years ago was Kreskin.

Having said this, I think it in horrible bad taste and very, very irresponsible to take a spectators hand and hold it over the spikes/knives. This is very different. especially since I have not seen ONE method that is 100 percent safe, other than the one I use. I have had brain F A R T S over the years and messed my method up but I have an out and I know beyond a doubt when I have failed, the audience does not and the out looks and feels even more dramatic.

Just my two cents."

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: September 28th, 2010, 4:22 am
by Jonathan Pendragon
Thank you all for your responses. It occurred to me, of course, that the idea probably existed before I considered it. I did come up with the idea independently, I never knowingly take another's work. Since I am concentrating on mentalism, I wished to learn what I could about the effect's history. When I worked out my presentation the internet didn't exist. As stated the impetus of my work was discussions between me and Harry Anderson.

Jonathan Pendragon

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 3rd, 2010, 12:03 pm
by Terry
I remember seeing Banachek do the routine at the Florida State Convention in Orlando. He was using some kind of religious schtick as a presentation. It went over like a lead balloon and a good number went out to the lobby to keep from falling asleep.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 4th, 2010, 2:18 am
by Max Maven
I'm sitting in a hotel room in Beijing, hence far away from my library and unable to check details. However, the "danger roulette" premise was, I believe, first proposed by Oscar Weigle in the 1940s (it may have been in The Dragon).

The original premise had to do with finding (or, more appropriately, avoiding) a glass of poison from among several unpoisoned ones. Many versions were published in the 1950s (in fact, I recall that Bruce Elliott held a contest in The Phoenix).

Since then, there have been many different modes of danger/death applied to the plot, with Fogel probably the first to use guns or nooses, and Banachek probably the first to use knives. But, after Weigle, it kind of comes down to doing it with red-backed cards as opposed to blue...

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 4th, 2010, 5:41 am
by Joe Pecore
Based on Max Maven's description above, I found "The Maharajah's Secret" in "The Dragon" for May 1940 (Vol 9, No. 5). The effect was that magician would drink glasses one by one, leaving the only glass that an "invisible" (imaginary) poison was poured in, while he was out of the room.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 4th, 2010, 1:14 pm
by Brad Henderson
Will confirm that the Rainho routine using a spiker is in Magick

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 4th, 2010, 1:28 pm
by Andrew Pinard
The Rainho piece ("Ouch!") occurs on Page 2479 (the cover item of the final issue of MAGICK). The props used were a dozen styrofoam cups (one of which was nail-nicked) and a "small, needle-pointed message spike" available "in many well-stocked stationary stores". The illustration shows a small pointed spike pointing up through a square wooden base.

The date attached to this issue is November 12, 1993.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 5th, 2010, 11:51 am
by Jonathan Townsend
Joe, is that the item with the acid where the spoon fizzes etc?

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 5th, 2010, 12:44 pm
by Joe Pecore
Jonathan, No.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 7th, 2010, 3:17 am
by Jonathan Pendragon
I defer to Max in all things mental.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 8th, 2010, 4:52 pm
by Bob Taxin
I have done "Death Trap"(by Hocus Pocus) dozens of times. I engage the spec who places the knife by saying that unless (s)he is a psychopath or really wants me to get hurt, (s)he will react when I pass my hand over the bag concealing the knife. I watch the spec as I pass my hand over each bag, and the audience is watching me and also watching the spec. I occasionally pretend to be about to slam my hand down on the knife and then change my mind. I have always had a great reaction and have had people call me to ask me to do that effect at their events. I've also done Maurice Fogel's effect with nooses. The problem for me with all these RR effects is that when the effect succeeds, nothing happens! I try to add my own twist at the end, so the blow off is "something" rather than a safe "nothing".

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 9th, 2010, 10:42 pm
by Gregory Edmonds
Bob Taxin wrote: "I watch the spec as I pass my hand over each bag,..."

A small point, Bob, but I think an important one: when an audience member assists (or otherwise takes part in) your routine, they technically become a "participant," and no longer a "spectator."

No offense intended, please note, but when we get older, have been reading for hours on end and the like, simple noun choices can help keep the mind clear. I appreciate your input; it's apparent you've been able to work the concept to best dramatic effect (in your "Death Trap" scenario, but I've heard of others failing with that particular method more than once.

As a professional mentalist and hypnotist (having also had a small illusion show at shopping malls, schools, and corporate events; and having performed close-up at restaurants, festivals, corporate and civic events for decades, too), I've seen MANY versions of the roulette concept.

Max, as usual, was very helpful with historical perspective. I now recall seeing the Phoenix discussion decades ago.

Banachek has visited the plot many times, as he notes, and I believe he may well be the first to do the routine with knives. Jonathan, I don't think anyone would imply (by quoting Banachek) that you'd take anyone else's material. I'm glad to hear you're focusing on mentalism now; the physical stress on your body over the years has to have left many scars, and perhaps this new channel for your creativity (or new focus, anyway) will be cathartic. I really did very much enjoy your illusion work, however. Perhaps it's a discussion for another time and place, but I think the grand illusion spectaculars (in what I regard as magic's second "golden age," have peaked, and that audiences have now moved on to some degree). I love illusions, mind, but look at show closings, ticket sale decline and additional factors, there's evidence to support the latter view.

Back to Banachek. I published a book for the PEA a decade ago (with contributions by and for members only), and the "acid test" Banachek speaks of earlier was detailed within. The method used (as opposed to the one appearing six decades earlier in "THE DRAGON") by Ban (then still Steve) is indeed VERY dangerous.

I added several points to, perhaps, make the handling a little safer in my editorial notes and illustrations for the project, but I also noted that one would have to be crazy to attempt the routine (as Banachek agrees, he himself was early in his career, when it came to taking chances).

There are, of course, several ways to perform the routine which provide NO real danger, but create the illusion that the risk exists. I've enjoyed creating psychic illusions (as I prefer to call them, as opposed to those who believe in the more truly "psychic" acts of palm, aura and cold reading -- the latter are not the same, for some).

The roads Banachek has taken, however, cause my efforts to pale by comparison. The "advantage" (taking Jonathan's initial points at the beginning of this thread into consideration) the "real" acid method used by Banachek provide, I suppose, are the facts that the ethereal aspects of the routine all rang true. The act, the psychological feel, and the very ambient smell in his version all made the reality of his routine hit home.

To my thinking, the effect was indeed TOO strong, and for the reasons Jonathan mentions, and several more I and Banachek himself mentioned in the write-up of his "acid test" should make this fact obvious.

The performer in danger concept is, I believe, unique to the magician (or "mystery entertainment artist," as the late Marcello Truzzi called us). For that reason, it will likely be around as long as magic/conjuring/illusion is (are). I frankly admit I don't much care for the concept, though I've "played with it" myself over the years once or twice, as I don't care for the bullet catch effect (Banachek's contribution to the Penn and Teller version is well-known, too). SOME audiences, however, seem to love them.

Terry mentions that Banachek's knife routine bored audience members in Florida years ago. This could not have been the version I've seen him do; the latter is simply the most dramatic I've ever seen.

If I had to rank a "best" application of the concept, it would have to be friend Christopher Carter's performance on Donny and Marie's talk show. Search "YouTube" for "Donny and Marie 'Tarantula'" for the performance. To me, this was the most genuinely entertaining version of the "effect" I've seen.[quote="Bob Taxin"]I have done "Death Trap"(by Hocus Pocus) dozens of times. I engage the spec who places the knife by saying that unless (s)he is a psychopath or really wants me to get hurt, (s)he will react when I pass my hand over the bag concealing the knife. I watch the spec as I pass my hand over each bag, and the audience is watching me and also watching the spec. I occasionally pretend to be about to slam my hand down on the knife and then change my mind. I have always had a great reaction and have had people call me to ask me to do that effect at their events. I've also done Maurice Fogel's effect with nooses. The problem for me with all these RR effects is that when the effect succeeds, nothing happens! I try to add my own twist at the end, so the blow off is "something" rather than a safe "nothing".

Having provided still further evidence of my talent for meandering endlessly, I'll stop typing now.


Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 22nd, 2010, 5:45 am
by Banachek
Sorry Terry, I have NEVER used a religious theme for my knife Test or any routine I perform (other than my voodoo routine.) I do have a line about a cross in the more current version, but only used as a psychological ploy not anti or for. I did perform my knife roulette it at the Daytona convention but don't think I ever performed it at the Orlando Convention. It was at the Daytona convention that Kurtz saw me perform my knife roulette and later came up with his.

It was the Orlando convention where I entered one of the only competitions (close up) I have ever competed in and took second place with a 2nd plaque of recognition, Johnny Ace Palmer took first place and went on to win FISM later that year. I was told we both had perfect points but they took half a point off mine after much deliberation due to a word I used in the summation of my routine. I was still quite happy to have come in second to Johnny.

I thank everyone for their kind words. This has been a wonderful discussion.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 25th, 2010, 11:57 pm
by Brian Marks
Within the last couple of years, Magick Bailey, a Fantasmo demonstrator performed this effect and put his hand thru the spike.

A few weeks later, Simon Lovell, did likewise in his show at the Soho playhouse.

Gary Kurtz did it.

Some U.K. magician put a spectator's hand thru the spike.

I am curious if anyone else has spiked the punch.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 26th, 2010, 6:57 pm
by Pete McCabe
Time for a book called "Twelve Have Spiked."

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 26th, 2010, 8:12 pm
by Brad Henderson
I made that joke in my review of one of the spiker effects - 12 have bleed, or something to that effect

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 26th, 2010, 11:27 pm
by Pete McCabe
That was my handling of a Brad Henderson bit.

Re: Hand Spiker

Posted: October 27th, 2010, 2:31 pm
by Brad Henderson
And a good one at that