“He walks aided by a cane and speaks in a refined British accent that carries no hint of his pre-World War II childhood in Germany. He has a white goatee and a pair of dark eyebrows… If he had a cameo in a film, he’d be credited as ‘Senior Wizard.’ At 94, the magician David Berglas says his renowned effect can’t be taught. Is he telling the truth?” D. Segal, The New York Times, May 23, 2021
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: The Mystery of Magic’s Greatest Card Trick, By David Segal, The New York Times, May 23, 2021
“In the late 1940s, the British magician David Berglas started refining a trick that came to be known as ‘he holy grail of card magic.’ To this day, nobody is certain how he did it. Decades into his retirement, he has revealed just about every secret in his long and storied career…But even now, when the subject of Mr. Berglas’s famous effect is raised, he remains as cryptic as ever.
‘It’s not a secret I can give to anyone because it’s not a secret as such,’ said Mr. Berglas, a formal and intense 94-year-old, at his home in North London. ‘t’s like asking a musician who can improvise to teach you his improvisation, which of course he can’t.’ The trick is a version of a classic plot of magic, called Any Card at Any Number. These tricks are called ACAAN in the business.
ACAAN has been around since the 1700s, and every iteration unfolds in roughly the same way: A spectator is asked to name any card in a deck — let’s say the nine of clubs. Another is asked to name any number between one and 52 — let’s say 31. The cards are dealt face up, one by one. The 31st card revealed is, of course, the nine of clubs. Cue the gasps. There are hundreds of ACAAN variations, and you’d be hard pressed to find a professional card magician without at least one in his or her repertoire…At some point, the magician touches the cards. The touch might be imperceptible, it might appear entirely innocent. But the cards are always touched.
With one exception: David Berglas’s ACAAN. He would place the cards on a table and he didn’t handle them again until after the revelation and during the applause. There was no sleight of hand, no hint of shenanigans.
It was both effortless and boggling. Among magicians around the world, his touch-less ACAAN is one of the most talked-about and puzzled-over tricks in history. It was eventually labeled ‘The Berglas Effect,’ and helped make its creator’s reputation in a career that spanned six decades…The magician and mentalist Barrie Richardson, for instance, described a 1977 visit to Mr. Berglas’s home in his book for magicians, Theater of the Mind. Asked for a card and a number, Mr. Richardson settled on the seven of hearts and 42. After that: ‘He motioned me into his study and pointed to a deck of cards on his desk,’ Mr. Richardson wrote.
‘When I counted down to the 42nd card, I discovered the seven of hearts. The experience was chilling!’…It’s more like archery, which requires practice and concentration and can end with something other than a bull’s-eye.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. Examine any photos, then create a list of words and ideas that you and your group members think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- In the late 1940s, the British magician David Berglas started refining a card trick.
- The trick came to be known as ‘the holy grail of card magic.’
- Decades into his retirement, he has revealed just about every secret in his long and storied career.
- ACAAN has been around since the 1700s, and every iteration unfolds in roughly the same way.
- Nearly every professional card magician has at least one ACAAN in his or her repertoire.
- There are ACAANs in which in which the spectator shuffles the deck.
- At some point, the magician touches the cards. The touch might be imperceptible.
- some skeptics believe that Mr. Berglas’s ACAAN is both simple and vulgar.
- They say he uses a confederate masquerading as a spectator — a stooge.
- All he needed, detractors note, was an ally with a hidden crib sheet listing the order of the cards.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- In an late 1940s, the British magician David Berglas started refining a trick.
- The card trick is known as the holy grail of card magic.
- To this day, nobody is certain how he did it.
- Decades into his retirement, he has revealed just about every secret in his career.
- There is hundreds of ACAAN variations.
- Mr. Berglas and many other magicians have used allies in the past.
- Magicians lie to spectators constantly.
- I contacted Mr. Berglas to ask if he would talked about his famous trick.
- He debuted what became known as the Berglas Effect in 1953.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
I left his ___in a muddle, and I have returned to that ___every time I think of this___. Off by one seems, on some level, more___ than nailing it. Off by one implies that there is nothing___about this ACAAN, that it isn’t a contraption that simply works when deployed. It’s more like___ which requires practice and ___and can end with something other than a___.
WORDLIST: bull’s-eye, concentration, archery, automatic, perplexing, performance, house, muddle,
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Do you enjoy watching magicians? Why?
- Have you ever performed any magic tricks?
- Basically, how did Mr. Berglas distract the audience’s attention during the disappearing grand piano trick?
- What does ACAAN stand for?
- How long has ACAAN been around?
- How many versions of ACAAN are there?
- What is the one feature that all ACAANs have in common?
- What was different about David Berglas’s ACAAN?
- What was the name of Mr. Berglas’s ACAAN?
- Explain why some people were skeptical of Mr. Berglas’s card trick.
- What do other magicians have to say about he Berglas Effect?
- List three new ideas that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Share your responses with your class.