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False Anchors by Ryan Schlutz (2020)

A classy book filled with clever, fresh, and strong card magic

OVERVIEW

Ryan Schlutz first caught my attention with some of his terrific card magic videos, which include the following releases:
- Completing the Cut (Vanishing Inc, 2012)
- Miracles Without Moves (Big Blind Media, 2013)
- Effortless Effects (Big Blind Media, 2014)
- Only Slightly Sleighty (Big Blind Media, 2017)
- Super Strong Super Simple (Vanishing Inc, 2018)

It's a fine collection of work that contains around 50 tricks altogether, which are typical of Ryan's style. That means: tricks that are light on sleights, but are cleverly constructed to disguise the method, resulting in an effect which seems truly impossible to the minds of your spectators.

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In recent years Ryan has moved away from producing videos, and has instead made a conscious choice to contribute to the world of card magic by writing. And that's where his book False Anchors comes in, which was released in 2020. For some time Ryan has been producing a series of small booklets called "False Anchors", and this hard-cover book is essentially a compilation of the content from the first three of these. But there is some new content as well, and the final couple of dozen pages consists of material that appears in print for the first time, although some of it (e.g. the GAP principle and the trick "Clearly See-through") has appeared on Ryan's DVD "Effortless Effects", admittedly in less detail.

I was fortunate to get a copy of this excellent book about a year ago, and have been enjoying it ever since. But now it's time to do some writing of my own, and share some thoughts about it.

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THE CONCEPT

The book revolves around a concept which Ryan calls a "false anchor". This explains the title of his book, and also the name for his personal website, falseanchors.com. Ryan has also released several versions of his custom False Anchors Playing Cards, which draw on the false anchor image for the artwork and design. The playing cards are not directly connected with the False Anchors book, nor are they a requirement for it, and they have secrets of their own.

So what is the false anchor concept? In Ryan's own words, as stated in the book's introduction, the way a false anchor works is that it "creates a memory, a feeling, a sense of comfort or spatial placement in the spectator's mind. You are creating a moment they anchor to as important even though, in reality, it is fictitious. A False Anchor can allow you to erase part of a procedure in a trick as if it never happened."

In another part of the book Ryan explains this idea of "erasing" as follows: "If a person's logical brain was a reel of film recording everything they see, then proficient sleight-of-hand would allow you to cut out the parts of the film you do not want the spectator to remember and surgically attach them back together so that the gaps are seamless."

By giving your spectator a false anchor, you're cementing a moment or aspect of the trick in the mind of the spectator that has nothing to do with the method, so that this becomes something for them to hold onto and remember, thereby helping make the actual method become more invisible. The ad copy does a good job of describing this: "Within these pages you will grasp how to create a False Anchor, to change a person's perception so it becomes their new reality. You will learn techniques that erase any trace of a suspicious moment from your spectator's recollection, so the only thing left is pure astonishment."

The book contains effects that utilize this concept, and several moves that help enhance it.

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THE CONTENTS

So what should you expect to get with your copy of False Anchors? It's a hard-cover book of around 130 pages, filled with card magic, and also comes with a gimmick:

Card magic: This book is devoted to card magic exclusively. So if you're looking for coin magic, or anything other than magic with playing cards, you'll have to go elsewhere. Ryan's speciality is with card magic, and he's good at it. So if you are like me and share this love, you'll be a happy camper.

Tricks: There's over a dozen tricks that Ryan carefully teaches, each with ample colour photographs that illustrate the moves and steps you need to take along the way. In many cases there are extended after thoughts with alternate handlings and further ideas. The chapter headings don't correspond exactly to tricks, since some sections of the book are just about techniques or principles. But as I see it, these are the tricks that are taught, and they represent the bulk of the book's content:

- I Love You
- Strange Gift
- In-Air Transpo Trick
- Equifinality
- Forget to Remember (Updated)
- Somewhat Touched
- Card At Any Sum
- Sprung Location
- 6 Covers 6
- Boxy Waltz
- Before the Thought
- The One With The High Five
- Clearly See-Through

Techniques: Several parts of the book are devoted to covering techniques and principles that Ryan has come up with. There's about half a dozen different sections like this altogether. Some are moves (e.g. Secret Sauce Switch), others are gimmicks (e.g. The Double Out Box), and others again are principles (e.g. GAP). These techniques and principles are then applied in some of the tricks that follow, although they do also have broader application.

Gimmick: Finally you also get along with the book a special metal gimmick, which has been custom manufactured to help you with one particular trick. It's good quality, and has undoubtedly added somewhat to the price, although Ryan has said that this addition wasn't a significant factor in determining the price point. But the good news is that the trick it is used for is one of the best ones in the book, so it definitely does add real value.

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THE PRODUCTION QUALITY

The choice to publish this material as a book rather than on video was very deliberate. Ryan has produced numerous DVDs already, so he's been down that road himself previously. But in his own experience he finds that he only watches videos a single time, and then they get forgotten. He much prefers the idea of a book, because if it is a good book, it is much more likely to stand the test of time than a video.

The material Ryan has included in this particular book is some of his best work, and that's why it was important to him to present it in a form where it would have the most staying power, even outlasting his own lifetime. He believes that the quality of material he's included deserves this kind of treatment. That's why he spared no expense to make it the very best that it could be, opting for a durable hard cover, high quality pictures taken by a professional photographer, well-organized text, and easy to follow instructions.

Did he succeed with this? For sure. Our first impressions begin with how a book looks, and False Anchors impresses from the outset. It's a hard cover book that immediately conveys a sense of quality, and the minimalist graphic design of the cover exudes a sense of sophistication and professionalism.

The indications of quality are confirmed once you crack open the cover. Inside we find around 130 pages of glossy pages, put together with a fresh and modern graphic design, with full page colour photographs throughout, and a very flashy style. Some of Ryan's favourite inspirational quotes from magicians are scattered throughout. Admittedly, you're left with around 100 pages of text if you don't count the full page pictures, but that's still pretty solid, and it certainly breathes quality all round.

It really is a gorgeous book that is a pleasure to page through and read, and it looks very impressive. So before we even examine the content carefully, we have a sense that what we have in our hands is something of quality. And let's not forget that you get a custom metal gimmick along with the book too.

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THE TRICKS

Not all of the tricks get the same level of treatment. For example, "Somewhat Touched" is much briefer than any of the other sections of the book, and basically is a couple of pages of written instructions that give an alternate handling for the classic self-working trick "Untouched". "Mind The GAP" is also more concise, because it works with ideas from the previous pages. The other tricks are all covered in more detail and with accompanying photographs. I was impressed by them all, and the strength of the material is consistently very good. Here's some my impressions on some of the routines that I consider to be standouts, although I could easily have included more in this list.

- "I Love You" is the opening trick, and serves well to demonstrate the "false anchor" concept, because it creates an emotional moment for your spectator by having them whisper "I love you" to their card, and that becomes the hook that they'll remember and which disguises the actual method. The premise seems truly impossible, even for a magician: without you looking or touching the deck, you let your spectator shuffle to their heart's content, they pick any card, return it to the deck and shuffle it however they want, and yet you find it. You'd think there's no way to accomplish this, and normally there isn't. But Ryan has come up with a presentation that not only works as a false anchor, but also helps achieve this very effect under apparently impossible conditions. There is a caveat, however: this does require the right weather conditions, and won't work if it's cold or overly dry, which is a significant limitation. In my part of the world means that this trick - excellent as it is - won't be practical year round, and does come with an element of risk.

- "Equifinality" is an outstanding trick which you can do impromptu with a shuffled deck provided by your spectator. You openly place a prediction card in the card box, and then put half a dozen or more apparently random piles of cards in front of two spectators. Each spectator then combine the piles in front of them however they wish, and this produces two piles. The top card of one pile determines the suit, and the top card of the other pile determines the value, and remarkably this perfectly matches the prediction card in the box. Here Ryan is channelling some of the best "chaos" of Lennard Green in a way that disguises the ingenious method brilliantly. This trick was also released separately as a download from Penguin Magic under the name Equal Finality, and has received very positive reviews all round. I was completely fooled by how impossible this seemed, and was almost somewhat embarrassed by how simple the method is. But that's exactly what Ryan Schlutz is all about.

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- "Forget to Remember (Updated)" is a trick I first learned from Ryan's DVD "Effortless Effects", and has been a personal favourite of mine for some time already, because it's so fun to perform, so simple, so fooling, and so impossible. Your spectator merely thinks of a card, which is first discovered to be missing from the deck in their hands. As an added twist, you then produce their thought-of card as the only one you'd set aside in advance - from the card box which was on the table the entire time! A small bit of prep is needed, but the astounding outcome gives a good payoff. It makes further use of a clever principle also used in the previous trick, something Ryan calls "The Double-Out Box". Ryan has some very clever thinking behind the method used in "Forget to Remember", and I've blown away many people when performing this.

- "Before the Thought" is a magician fooler that Ryan often does at conventions. He also taught it as part of his Penguin LIVE "Live Act" video. It's something that has a very "off hand" feel, because after your spectator shuffles the deck, he takes several cards from the deck while your head is turned away, while you place an envelope on the table. Your spectator looks at the cards in their hand for the first time, and merely thinks of one of them, and this thought-of-card turns out to match the single card inside the envelope. It's a clever application of Bob Farmer's Tsunami Principle, combined with an edge marking system, so it does require significant preparation and practice, but the payoff is worth it.

- "The One With The High Five" is the trick that makes use of the gimmick provided with the book. The idea is that multiple spectators rip a deck in half, and mix all the pieces randomly together. Two pieces are chosen at random by the spectators, and despite the apparently fair procedure involved in the whole process, the two pieces combine perfectly and are shown to come from the same card. The metal gimmick was inspired by a Gaetan Bloom idea, and Ryan had it created by a professional metal worker. It enables you to create identical tears in any card. One down side of this trick is that you'll also need to make a special box that is critical to part of the method. And besides needing some duplicate cards, you'll be getting your audience to help you tear up an entire deck each time you perform it. But it's perfect for a parlor setting with a larger audience, and Ryan personally uses it as a closer to his show.

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The other tricks are of course also very good:

- "Strange Gift" is a "color sense" routine that has your spectator separate cards into red and black, with cards from a borrowed deck.

- "In-Air Transpo" is a reworking of a creative two-card transpo originally buried among the pages of Harry Lorayne's Apocalypse.

- "Card At Any Sum" is an excellent CAAN style trick that uses Ryan's Counterpoint principle.

- "Sprung Location" is a multiple selection routine with a fun use of a rubber band around the deck.

- "6 Covers 6" is designed to have a "test conditions" feel, where your spectator cuts and shuffles a deck after a selection is made, and yet you identify it.

- "Boxy Waltz" was developed from the traditional and powerful "Anniversary Waltz" effect, but adjusted to eliminate the double backer usually required, and offers a perfect excuse for introducing the double-facer.

- "Clearly See-Through" has your spectator look at a card from a shuffled deck, which becomes "invisible", and then reappears face-up in the middle of the face-down deck. This uses Ryan's GAP principle, and is followed by other ways of using the principle, including the final evolution of the routine into the effect, "Mind The Gap".

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THE TECHNIQUES

It's somewhat hard to separate the techniques from the tricks, because they are often closely connected. In actual fact the book includes a mix of different material besides the tricks, and some of these additional items are techniques or moves, others are principles, while others again are basically gaffs or gimmicks. And because they're sometimes incorporated within the explanation of a trick, they're not always given a separate heading. But here's how I'd sum up these additional elements that are included, most of these having their own section in the book:

- Secret Sauce Switch: This is a bit too short to be a routine on its own, and is basically Ryan's way of having a face-down card between two face-up Aces be secretly switched with a spectator's selection. It can be used as part of a final revelation, or as the ending of another trick.

- Flow vs Sequential: This is basically a single page of text, explaining how self-working effects can be made more fooling when they flow in sequence one after another, rather than being presented individually.

- Coordinated Chaos: Here we have Ryan's handling of two things, a Bottom Stock Control and a Top Stock Control. In both cases the goal is to create the impression of carefree mixing of cards, which serves as a "false anchor" that your spectator will remember, whereas in reality this was actually a card control.

- The Double Out Box: This doesn't get a separate section, but it gets almost three pages of explanation of the trick "Equifinality", and is also used in a later trick "Forget to Remember", so it really deserves special mention. It's a clever way to use a card box to give you multiple outs.

- Counterpoint: This is a principle that uses either double-sided tape or a pencil dot to help keep track of the position and identity of a card in a deck given to a spectator to shuffle. It's a clever way to force a number, and is used for the excellent CAAN style trick "Card At Any Sum".

- Box Switch: Under the cover of putting a card in the card box, this is Ryan's method for switching a card in the process, and relies on a similar method to his clever "Double Out Box", which I love.

- Edge-Mark Pencil Dot: Several of the tricks in the book make use of a pencil dot on the cards, but this combines the idea with an edge mark, along with applications for how to arrange a shuffling sequence to control this card.

- GAP: This is an acronym for "Grab Any Pile", and will be familiar if you've seen Ryan's "Effortless Effects" DVD, although it's given a more systematic treatment here. GAP is a utility move that enables you to control a spectator's selection without sleight of hand. It seems very fair and hands off, because you have your spectator make a selection from a random pile, shuffle the pile, lose the pile in the deck, and then shuffle the deck. It's used for the trick "Clearly See-Through", which later evolved into "Mind The Gap", both of which are taught, along with other ways of using this principle. None of this material has appeared in the three smaller False Anchors books that make up the bulk of this hard cover book, so this excellent content about the GAP principle all represents previously unpublished material.

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SAMPLE PERFORMANCES

To get some idea of what the tricks in the book are like, I managed to track down some performances of some of the tricks, most of which are performed by Ryan himself, unless otherwise noted. Watching some of these will give you a sense of how strong the material in False Anchors is:

- Love Me (performed by Amanda Lindsey)

- Equifinality

- Forget to Remember (also see another performance)

- The One With The High Five

- Clearly See-through

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THE FALSE ANCHORS IDEA

Much of the material has the "false anchor" concept built in as a recurring theme. But since this is a theoretical concept rather than a method or a presentational approach, there's little overlap of the content despite this. The idea of a false anchor is more about the way that your approach and design your magic, so it doesn't limit the material that's included, and there's still a good range of very different effects. Some of the tricks which require a real set-up and careful preparation, while others are done impromptu with a shuffled deck. Similarly the types of plots included also varies significantly.

In my view the concept of a false anchor isn't something entirely revolutionary, although Ryan's idea to frame it in this way is both new and helpful. For a long time already magicians have already seen the value of separating effect from method. For example, in his book Designing Miracles, Darwin Ortiz emphasizes that the strongest magic is that which creates the illusion of impossibility, and he encourages us to distinguish between outer reality (what the audience thinks is true) and inner reality (what you as a magician know is actually true), and offers numerous suggestions for designing a magical effect in a way that will help accomplish this. He suggests that we should employ things like temporal distance, spatial distance, and conceptual distance, to engineer our magic so that the audience connects the magic with a false moment or location, rather than the actual moment or location that the dirty work has happened.

It seems to me that what Ryan Schlutz is advocating is something along similar lines. And while I don't believe that this idea is in itself entirely new, describing this concept as a false anchor does offer a fresh way of thinking about this. Ryan is absolutely right that it is important to construct your magic in a way so that the method becomes virtually invisible and abstract, and creating a fictitious moment, memory, or feeling in the mind of your spectator can indeed serve as a false anchor, and can help erase and vanish the true method.

Certainly Ryan himself does a good job of applying this concept well in his card magic, and that's what makes the tricks in this book so compelling and powerful. They appear very much "hands off" in the mind of your spectator, since you can't possibly have done anything to accomplish what they've witnessed. There is only one conclusion your audience can come to: the impossible has happened, and they've just seen magic. And isn't that place of astonishment exactly where we want to bring them every time we perform card magic?

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MORE IMPRESSIONS

Tricks: This is a wonderful collection of card magic, and I'd be hard pressed to name tricks included that aren't worth the paper they are written on. Everything here is solid. It often happens that a collection of published material is somewhat mixed in quality, and while some routines are stand-outs, others are forgettable. Ryan has set himself a very high bar in writing this book, and has spent a long time crafting and polishing the material that went into it, to ensure it would be the best that it could be. I think he's succeeded. There's also plenty of variety, and many of these routines are strong enough that they could easily go straight into the act of a working professional. He's taken the time to suggest alternate handlings and ideas for each trick as well, which is also very helpful.

Techniques: What I love about Ryan's card magic is the clever thinking he has behind the construction of his tricks. So I really like the fact that he's devoted several sections of this book to specific techniques and principles, such as his GAP Principle (Grab Any Card). The whole notion of false anchors shows that he is a deep thinker who really takes the time to understand how magic should be constructed to make it as powerful as possible. This is much more than just a book of card tricks, but it contains many ideas and principles that have application to other card magic. As such, you can take a lot of what he's come up with here, and use it in ways that go far beyond what he's included, and apply it to other aspects of your repertoire and performance.

Difficulty: Some of the promotional material for the book goes a little too far in making things seem easier than they actually are. I'd respectfully suggest that even Ryan himself downplays some of the difficulty when he said in an interview that it is geared to the skilled beginner, and consists of 80% basic card handling, and that there's just one double lift in the entire book. This is mostly true, and generally speaking the moves are easy and the card magic in these pages doesn't rely on advanced techniques, but basic fundamentals. Even so I think it is fairer to say that this is a book geared to the intermediate level card magician. There are references to moves like the Stuart Gordon Double Lift, Columbini's Fireworks Control, Robert Moreland's handling of the classic Riffle Force, The Rub-a-Dub-Vanish, Gary Ouellet's Touch Force, and others. If there are moves like this they are usually explained, but beginners may find this all a little too much.

Style: Ryan cites some of his influences being the gambling demonstrations of Martin Nash, the chaos of Lennard Green, the principles of Eddie Fields, and also the magic of Joseph Barry. The result is certainly his own unique style: he is known for principle based magic rather than sleight heavy magic. So it's no surprise that the tricks in this book do rely mostly on principles and clever techniques rather than sleights. What we can typically expect from him are sleight-light tricks that are designed around ingenious, well-disguised, and deceptive methods. That's very much in evidence with this book, and the result is a set of strong card tricks that are relatively easy for the average magician to perform, and where a straight-forward presentation allows you to make the audience believe something truly impossible has happened. Luke Dancy's comment on this book is on point: "It's almost too easy for the impact it has." The intermediate level magician will be best placed to work through and enjoy the material, but because of Ryan's approach and style, he will generally find the execution to be a breeze.

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Practicality: Much of the material in the book can be performed with a borrowed shuffled deck. But there are also a number of tricks where some real set-up and preparation is required. It's not difficult or complicated, and the pay-off more than justifies the time you'll need to prepare. But you can expect to do things like putting pencil dots on cards, and at times you'll need extra items like some double sided tape or a rubber band. In other instances you'll need duplicate cards, or common gaff cards like a double facer. And of course the trick that uses the metal gimmick will have you tearing more than just one deck into pieces, so each time you perform it, you'll burn through a deck. None of the items needed are hard to source, but it is important to realize that a lot of these tricks do require you to bring something to the party before you perform, and not everything will be practical for everyone. It's not the kind of magic Harry Lorayne would like to do.

Formatting: The formatting is generally well organized, although at times this was an area of disappointment. The headings used aren't always consistent in name or how they are organized. There are instances where it's not clear whether something is a heading or a subheading, e.g. "Bottom Stock Control" and "Top Stock Control" are actually subheadings for the larger section entitled "Coordinated Chaos". It think that the final three parts of the book are intended to fall under the heading of a larger section entitled "GAP", but this isn't quite obvious. It would also have been helpful if it was clearer which sections are tricks and which ones are techniques, handling ideas ("Somewhat Touched"), or presentational thoughts ("Flow vs Sequential"). In one instance a versatile technique (The Double-Out Box) is buried within the section a particular trick (Equifinality), when it could arguably have been been given its own section, especially since it is used again with the next trick. The Table of Contents doesn't do the best job of making clear what is what either, and the absence of an index to help us with all this seems to be a missed opportunity. But this mostly a cosmetic complaint rather than one of substance, and this won't really be an issue if you work through the book systematically.

Price: This isn't a cheap book, clocking in at $75. For the working performer, that price tag will easily be justified if you end up including even just one of these tricks in your professional act. And there's a good chance that you will. While the price is definitely on the high end of things, it is a combination of factors that has produced this price point. Ryan isn't one to rush his written work to the market, and what we have in these pages is the culmination of years of development, as he's fine-tuned principles and tricks to make them the best that they can be, and crafted them into a book that he hopes will stand the test of time. But not only is the price an indication of the quality of the content, it is also a result of the high production quality that this book has been lavished with, and the fact that it comes with a custom metal gimmick. The original three False Anchors booklets that make up most of the content are long sold out, and like them, this hard cover book was created with a limited print-run, with the promise that it will never be reprinted. One gets the impression that this sense of exclusivity also accounts somewhat for the higher price.

Sequel: Ryan has also indicated a desire to produce a second False Anchors hard-cover book some day. In 2020 and 2021 he already released the next booklets in the False Anchors series, Vol 4 and 5 respectively. It's his long term goal to produce another one or two small volumes, before publishing another hard-cover book which compiles all their content together, along with the benefit of more polishing. But he wants to give the concept of false anchors a break for a while first, and explore other areas of magic such as mentalism. Eventually he'd like to return to this series, armed with the benefit of what he's learned from further experience in other aspects of magic. Given the strength of this book, I am already excited about the possibility of a sequel.

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RECOMMENDATION

False Anchors is a very high quality book in both form and content. It isn't just another book on card magic, rehashing the same old plots, because there are some genuinely fresh ideas here, and some original thinking.

If you are like me and enjoy really thinking about the construction of your card magic, and stretching yourself outside of the familiar, chances are that you'll really like what you find between the pages of this fine volume. If the price is too much of a barrier, then another option is to consider some of Ryan's videos, which are obviously much more affordable.

Either way, Ryan Schlutz is a creator whose work deserves to be explored and enjoyed. Like him, I'm hopeful that this fine book will indeed outlast him, and that in decades to come magicians will still be reading False Anchors, and share the same level of excitement I've had about performing the card magic that is found within its pages.

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Where to get it? False Anchors is available directly from Ryan Schlutz, and at your favourite Murphy's Magic retailer.

Want to learn more? See this interview where Ryan discusses the book with Luke Dancy, and the content listing from the Conjuring Archive.
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