Golden Seams

Magic tricks can be broken, and the pieces may be put back together to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Kintsugi – Japanese words ‘kin tsugi’ translate to ‘gold joinery’, a Zen practice of repairing broken pottery such that every crack is highlighted with golden seams. It celebrates being broken as part of the journey in life. It respects the pieces as having value of their own, not just as part of the whole.

I believe magic tricks need to be broken.

I often respect the pieces more than I do the whole. I’m not interested in performing an off-the-shelf routine, as written. I’m looking for the raw material; the concepts, the techniques, the ideas. I break magic and try to re-join the pieces to create something more beautiful. In an expressive art, of course, my idea of beauty will be very different than yours.

Cards Across is a trick I have broken and repaired many times over. Traditionally, three cards move from one pile across to another. I no longer see it as a whole, rather a collection of pieces. Any transposition is truly two independent parts; a vanish and appearance. The magical effect of the trick is created by still another piece in between; what is it you actually do, or act out, to make the cards travel across.

When you read the trick in a book it comes with all three pieces bundled as a set, but it’s not locked. There is nothing stopping you from breaking that bond, plucking the vanish of cards from Juan Tamariz1, the travelling from me2, and the hands-off re-appearance from Bill Malone3. Each piece has value, and with the right joinery you may end up with something greater than the sum of its parts.

Managing the pieces is a balancing act in itself. You get to choose where you put your emphasis. Take, for example, the final piece of Cards Across, where 10 cards are sealed inside an envelope and then 13 come out. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. Some sleight-of-hand, some gimmicks, some self-working, but each choice affects the whole.

Would you rather show the envelope empty before the 10 cards are placed in, or after 13 are removed? Is it important for the spectator to hold the cards and you hold the envelope, or the other way around? Can the cards or envelopes be examined? Or both? Every decision changes the emphasis and pacing of that moment, and the routine as a whole. It may not work to have a vanish that emphasizes extreme fairness, paired with a visual appearance that cannot be touched. Or would it?

Unlimited combinations

This may feel overwhelming. We’ve gone from picking one trick you might like to perform, to picking from an exponential number of options about how you’d like to break and reassemble multiple pieces, in which way, and in what order. I find that inspiring! I love being a “Magician In Progress” always swapping out pieces, trying new combinations, and never getting stuck in my ways, doing the same trick the same way.

Let’s get started. Look in your repertoire for a trick you like performing because of one strong moment. That suggests the routine includes several other moments which are not as good. Can you break it apart? Keep the piece you like, and join it together with something else. It may end up looking like Frankenstein’s monster, or it may turn out more beautiful for having been broken.


  1. Juan Tamariz’s “Thought Cards Across” is found on a number of videos, including the “World’s Greatest Magic: Cards Across” from L&L Publishing. (which will give you even more pieces to consider.)
  2. You may request a written copy of my “Energized Cards Across” routine which emphasizes this middle piece. Send me a note.
  3. Bill Malone’s “Leap of Faith” published in Paul Harris’ Art of Astonishment - Book One allows the spectators to count ten cards each.

Published: February 2, 2021

Channel: Blog

Access: Public



Ryan, Love your approach and your output. I am new to magic and have recently been gifted a large number of props from by gone days. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about finding out how to perform these bits of history. Most are unnamed and with no instruction sheets.


Thanks Stan, identifying old magic props is something magicians love to help with. (we get to "show off" our arcane knowledge!) My suggestion would be to join my favourite magic discussion group on Facebook, SME Talk Magic. You can post a picture of your mystery prop and ask for help there. There is such a wide variety of experience there I've yet to see the group stumped for ideas, and in many cases they can help you get the instructions, too.


Good stuff! Thanks, Ryan!


Thank You! I was equally astonished by your Kintsugi analogy! I did not know this!

You must sign in to add a comment.

Subscribe to my newsletter.

Every week I send out my latest tips, tricks, and tutorials to spark your magical mind.