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Fractalicious DVD (John Bannon)

The John Bannon approach to packet tricks



Does a video have the names of John Bannon and Big Blind Media on the cover? Then I want to get hold of it. With his proven track record of success, John Bannon has demonstrated that you don't have to be a professional magician to produce strong material. He has many successful books and videos to his credit, with DVDs like his Move Zero series and his Bullet series, and more recently his Dealing With It series.

With Fractalicious (2014), John Bannon teamed up with Liam Montier from Big Blind Media to produce a special DVD that focused entirely on packet tricks. It was in part inspired by content from his small booklet Triabolical (2011), which contained three of the routines taught on the DVD. The video teaches five different packet tricks as the main feature items: Brainiac, Montinator 5.0, Chop Shop, Short Attention Spin, and Spin Doctor. Two bonus routines (Box of Doom and Self-Assembly) are also included. Additionally, it comes with five custom printed cards, which are needed for three of the five main tricks.

These aren't self-working tricks like the ones in the Move Zero series, but they aren't difficult, and they show what the brilliance of a mind like John Bannon can produce when applied to the minimalism of a small packet of cards.



So how did this video come about? Most readers will know that John Bannon is held in very high regard for his clever psychological approach to magic, and the popularity of his excellent Move Zero DVDs is evidence of this. This series of videos is populated entirely with self-working card tricks, many of which rely on clever subtleties, and demonstrate that even if you don't rely on sleight of hand or gimmicks, you can still perform very strong magic.

But John Bannon has contributed more than just self-workers to card magic, and he also has a real fondness for packet tricks. He finds their minimalism and directness especially appealing, and when he began exploring this genre, he soon created some popular hits. A case in point is his clever packet trick "Twisted Sisters" (1993), which quickly became one of the top ten most popular packet tricks of its time.

Bannon would continue to delve into the world of packet tricks in 2008, when he released his Fractal Card Magic trilogy, a set of three tricks. As he explained in an interview that year, the word "fractal" has its background in mathematics, and has to do with an object that displays self-similarity. John coined the term "fractal magic" as a fresh way of referring to packet tricks, given the fact that the term "packet tricks" has a negative connotation for some. Applied to card magic, his idea with the phrase was that card tricks with a packet bear some self-similarity to card tricks with an entire deck, with common characteristics but on a smaller scale. In Bannon's words: "`Fractal card magic' seems like a good trademark-able name for what we used to call packet tricks. Besides, I like how `fractal' sounds."

But not all packet tricks are created equal, and they do create analytical and presentational challenges. Being the thinker that he is, in an essay on the subject of packet tricks, Bannon identified the following requirements that he believes are essential for a "perfect" packet trick, besides being easy to perform and straight-forward to understand:
1. a visually interesting progression of effects
2. versatile performing conditions, no difficult moves or angles
3. no self-deceptive magician’s methods (like passing off many cards as a lot fewer, two as four counts, or copping off the extra cards at the end of the trick)
4. a strong, but unexpected climax
5. ending clean with all cards fully examinable

Very few packet tricks meet all these criteria, and often there is a trade-off where something has to be compromised. Typically the outcome is that you need gaffed cards. The Fractal Card Magic project was designed to be a series of packet tricks that do meet all these criteria, including ending clean and where everything may be examined. In other words: no gimmicks. The idea was that each trick in the series would come with the necessary cards and also an instructional DVD.

Bannon's own description of the three tricks in the Fractal Card Magic series was as follows:
● "The Royal Scam": a dizzying set of surprises that not only ends with a rainbow back finish, but an unexpected change to a Royal Flush.
● "Duplicity": a small packet thought-card transposition (think "Twisted Sisters").
● "Spin Doctor": a Twisting the Aces effect with a number of additional surprises including a rainbow back finish.
The series was a strong success. "The Royal Scam" is still an outstanding packet trick by today's standards, and remains a favourite for many. The excellent "Duplicity" eliminated the need for the non-examinable gaffs used in "Twisted Sisters" while retaining a similar plot. And "Spin Doctor" is a classic Ace trick. The fact that all of these tricks ended with examinable cards made them very strong.

With Fractalicious, John Bannon works with these same criteria and builds on his previous creations. He even incorporates one of the tricks (Spin Doctor) from his Fractal Card Magic trilogy, but Fractalicious primarily contains completely new material. With this DVD we get no less than seven great packet tricks, along with instruction for various moves, and some larger discussion and commentary on the genre.


*** CONTENTS ***


1. Braniac:
Effect: The Ace chosen by a spectator turns out to be the only one reversed in a packet of cards, after which it also turns out to have a different back. In a further phase, the other Aces have yet other backs.
Comment: Described as "Four card Brainwave on hallucinogens", this trick is obviously inspired by the classic "B'Wave" packet trick. You will need to use the gaffs supplied, but it ends clean and examinable.

2. Montinator 5.0
Effect: In this "four-card monte" game we begin with three Jokers and a Queen, with the names written on the back to mark them clearly for our sucker spectator. But our spectator has the odds stacked against him, because the three Jokers will soon turn into the other three Queens!
Comment: This is a super strong trick, and one of the strongest of the lot. The "Find the Lady" plot is well-known, so there's a strong and familiar hook that is very engaging.

3. Chop Shop
Effect: You remove a card from a packet and put it into your pocket, but it keeps coming back into the packet! In a final twist, all the cards change to Aces.
Comment: The Chop Cup is an apparently impossible cup-and-balls routine done with a single cup, and here we have something similar happen with cards.

4. Short Attention Spin
Effect: Let's give your spectator a little observation test: can they recall the blank cards and Ace you show them? After the Ace is placed on their hand it turns out to be a blank, while the other cards are no longer blank but are the four Aces - from another deck!
Comment: Given the multiple phases and surprises, the ad copy for Triabolical where this first appeared rightly described it as "radical deconstruction, re-engineering and reconstruction."

5. Spin Doctor
Effect: In a packet of four Aces, each Ace turns face-up one at a time, after which the Ace of Spade turns blank between the other three face-up Aces - which all have different colour backs!
Comment: This trick was originally released separately (see a video of the demo performance from that release here) as the third effect in the Fractal Magic trilogy. Any apparent discrepancy at the start will go unnoticed by spectators, and they're left simply with the memory of having witnessed something truly astounding and impossible.

Bonus effects

6. Box of Doom
Effect: The spectator removes a random packet of cards from a deck, and you reveal a claim that in a closed box you have as many cards as he does, plus three, with enough left over to make 23. As an added twist, a selected card proves to match one stapled inside the box lid.
Comment: Many magicians will immediately recognize this as the plot of the famous "Trick That Fooled Einstein", but it's really the presentational approach that takes this to another level and makes it interesting.

7. Self Assembly
Effect: The spectators are engaged to help in a two-phase trick that results in the assembly of four Aces, with the twist that their backs change colour.
Comment: This routine combines elements from John Guastaferro's "Assembly Line" and Mike Powers' "Twist of Simon".


Performance Examples

As with many of their DVDs, in order to promote this video Big Blind Media has released several video clips that show performances of some of the tricks. In the official video trailer, you'll find a John Bannon performance of "Montinator 5.0" here (starts 56 seconds in):

You can also watch Liam Montier perform "Short Attention Spin" here:

Other Content

If you're familiar with John Bannon's other videos, you'll know that he doesn't just teach you tricks, but also gives you the background material to help you understand and perform his work, often with separate instruction for common moves. That's also the case with this DVD. There's a section where John Bannon speaks about packet tricks, and shares some insights and perspectives about them. We also get a section with Liam Montier, discussing the genesis of the material. In some additional interview segments, both magicians answer various questions about themselves and about various topics relevant to the content.

There's also separate coverage of some of the key moves required, notably the Elmsley Count. The Elmsley Count isn't difficult, but it does require proper technique, so the instruction provided will definitely help get you well on your way if this is new to you. Bannon's Bullet Party Count was taught in a previous DVD release from his "Bullet" series, but comes in handy for some tricks here too, and is also taught.

And as mentioned earlier, you also get five gimmicked (custom printed) playing cards which you'll need for some of the tricks: Brainiac, Short Attention Spin, and Spin Doctor (plus the bonus effect Self Assembly). These are printed with the standard Bicycle style. Montinator 5.0 and Chop Shop (plus the bonus effect Box of Doom) simply use cards from standard decks, although in making up the required packets you will need to write on some cards with a marker, and having cards handy with different coloured backs will also help.



My Impressions

Tricks: If you don't normally enjoy packet tricks, this video might convince you otherwise. One of the usual drawbacks for packet tricks is that they can't be examined, but the strict criteria that John Bannon has set himself means that the ones in this collection of what he calls "fractal magic" have features that you won't find in many other packet tricks. They're all quite varied, particularly in terms of presentation, so you even if one or two of them aren't your cup of tea, there's still several others to enjoy. With the bonus effects you effectively have a collection of seven different tricks altogether. Considering that one of them (Spin Doctor) was previously issued as a successful separate release, that makes this package decent value.

Difficulty: Unlike the tricks in John Bannon's Move Zero series, this isn't self-working card magic. But anyone familiar with Bannon's style will know that he is fond of tricks that are straight forward in technical execution, and rely on psychological subtlety just as much as they do on sleight of hand. So the sleights are still on the lighter side, and if the Elmsley Count is already in your repertoire, then you will find these quite easy. It's certainly material that the amateur can enjoy, and well within the reach of most people who have some experience with card magic. It's certainly not geared just to advanced level magicians, although experienced performers will also appreciate the strength of the routines.

Teaching: One nice thing about this video is that there's quite a bit of content besides the tricks themselves. John Bannon is highly regarded for teaching magic in a way that gives attention to all aspects of a performance, particularly the psychology of magic. In this video I enjoyed learning from the section about his overall perspectives on packet tricks. The sections explaining the Elmsley Count and the Bullet Party Count, a handy utility display also taught previously in his Bullet Party DVD, are both terrific as well. These will especially be of benefit to anyone who is struggling with the Elmsley Count, or wanting to add this essential move to their quiver.

Production: This is a Big Blind Media product, and if you have any experience at all with their videos, you'll know that their products are of the highest standard. So we get everything we're looking for in a good quality video, with clear sound and lighting, solid camera work, and a video that is easy to navigate. As always, each trick features performances for spectators as well as detailed explanations and discussions.


Other Endorsements

I'm not the only one enthusiastic about this DVD, and to prove it, here's a sampling of some more praise about Fractilicious, which I have gleaned from around the internet from various working magicians and amateurs:

"Believe the hype. Sometimes a DVD reviews get so over enthusiastic that it seems too good to be true. This DVD deserves all the praise and more. It's great, get it." - Sam Walch
"Another superb DVD with an excelant range of very quick and commercial effects. Would recomend this as well worth perchasing." - William L.
"Five stars for the routines, which are killers. Explanations clear and concise. Well worth the minimal effort required to learn and perform." - Benjamin Levy
"It's scary what you get when you combine Bannon's mastery and Montier's devious young mind. These amazing effects are cunning, practical and surprising as hell." - John Guastaferro
"Brilliant DVD ... Great buy." - Pete W.
"All the effects are within the grasp of beginners but proven to work for the pros as well. " - Rolando H. Santos (Linking Ring Magazine)
"BBM hits a home run again...This is definitely a product that experienced performers will find valuable. However, even a complete beginner could pick up this DVD and be able to do some very powerful and simple magic very quickly. " - Jeff Stone
"Brilliant routining with all excesive moves taken out. Minimum work & mega maximum effect." - Mike Donoghue
"A master class in construction. Beautifully crafted pieces of magical gold you will seriously love performing! Worth far more than it is sold at." - John Carey
"It is very rare that any book or DVD will supply you with a routine that you will actually put into your repertoire --this DVD is filled with them." - Darrin Cook
"This is gold! Lightweight card magic in your pocket. Highly mobile! If you like packet tricks, you will definitely find something here that you will use!" - anon


Kudos and praise especially comes from those who enjoy packet tricks:

"If you are into packet tricks this is definitely for you. Brilliant." - Dean D.
"This project has absolutely changed my mind about packet tricks and I cannot wait to add these to my repertoire." - Magic Junkie
"Beautiful? Check. Hard hitting? Check. Ends clean? Check. A DVD for people that love packet tricks." - Yoshi
"I have a love hate relationship with packet tricks, but I loved this product. I can’t recommend this highly enough." - Joe Diamond
"Some great material and ideas presented here, all in packet tricks. Being a huge fan of Bannon's 'Twisted Sisters', I picked this up and was NOT disappointed." - Luke
"This is a great little disk for any packet-trick lover." - Phil Sweeting
"Every trick on here is a winner. None of them are very difficult, just be sure to practice them a lot to be sure you can execute them perfectly every time. If you enjoy packet tricks then this is a must buy for your collection!" - Leatherlips
"Packet tricks can now hold a respected place in our art again. If you haven't considered performing a packet trick for along time, do yourself a favor and get this DVD. It contains some of the best material you will find and they are all clean at the end." - videoman
"Brainiac is one of the strongest packet tricks I know." - Xcath1
"An instant classic! Liam and JB's packet trick, 'Montinator 5.0' is one of the best and fooling packet tricks ever created." - Jack Carpenter
"Montinator 5.0 is so good. I love it." - Jean-Luc Rivard



If you enjoy packet tricks, and if you enjoy John Bannon, the Fractalicious DVD is certainly a terrific place to begin. You get much more than just a single trick, unlike the individual releases of packet tricks like "Twisted Sisters" or "Spin Doctor". Five specially made gaffs help complete the package, and with seven tricks to choose from, you're bound to find something that you'll like. Even those who don't normally care for packet tricks might find themselves surprised, given the consistent strength of the routines, and the fact that you end each trick clean.

And if you found yourself enjoying Fractalicious, the good news is that Bannon has also produced other DVDs devoted to his "fractal" magic, i.e. his version of packet tricks. After the Fractalicious DVD, packet trick fans should quickly head to the Bullet Party DVD if you don't yet have it. This comes with 13 gaff cards and the two main stars of that product are the packet tricks "Bullet Party" and "Mega 'Wave". Even though the "Bullet" series of DVDs isn't only about packet tricks, I can heartily recommend all three volumes as well, given the amazing amount of material on each: #1 Bullets After Dark (2009), #2 Bullet Party (2011), #3 Fire When Ready (2019).

It's rare that something from John Bannon disappoints, and Fractalicious is no exception. I've written many positive reviews of his material previously, and this continues the high standard of card magic he's released, and now applied to the "fractal" of packet tricks. It may not be self-working like his Move Zero series, but it is still very accessible for the typical amateur, who will find themselves being able to learn and enjoy these entertaining routines without too much difficulty. And in combination with the excellent production values from Big Blind Media, Fractalicious is another winner, and should be welcomed by anyone who likes performing card magic.


Want to learn more? Visit the publisher Big Blind Media or check their social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube).
Product pages: Fractalicious DVD, Bullet Party DVD, Bullet Trilogy DVDs, and other John Bannon titles at BBM.
The Fractalicious video is also available from your favorite Murphy's Magic retailer.

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Montinator 5.0 absolutely kills!
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