Review: NFW (Gary Freed)

Discussion in 'Product Questions and Reviews' started by EndersGame, Mar 30, 2020.

  1. NFW (Gary Freed)

    A classic packet trick that is still as good as ever


    I'm a big fan of packet tricks. There's something special about their minimalism and directness. They're typically portable and practical, and a good packet trick can provide quite a punch despite its small size.

    I first became interested in packet tricks more than ten years ago, and at that time there were some very clear leaders that were the popular choice for the best of the best. If you were asking about magician's favourite packet trick, you'd almost certainly hear these top suggestions: Color Monte (Jim Temple), Twisted Sisters (John Bannon), Ultimate 3 Card Monte (Michael Skinner), B'Wave (Max Maven), Wild Card (Frank Garcia), Twisting the Aces (Dai Vernon).

    And right among these top notch recommendations would be this one: NFW by Gary Freed, that was first released in 1999 as a packet trick from Elmwood Magic. According to some sources, it was partially inspired by the earlier Jason Alford's "Twixter", which was originally published in Magic Magazine. However the printed instructions of NFW state that it was created independently from Twixter, and that it uses less cards and has less handling.



    The plot of the original trick is quite simple: a packet of four face-up Jokers is shown. One at a time, the Jokers turn over face-down. Then comes the real kicker: the four cards are turned face-up, and all four Jokers have vanished, and in their place are the four Aces!

    Here's the original performance demo video of NFW from Penguin Magic, presented by a younger Oz Pearlman:

    You can also watch the performance demo video from Elmwood Magic here.


    This trick was one of the very first card tricks every produced by and sold by Penguin Magic, and they are still the main source for it. What you get is a package with the gimmicked cards, and instructions for getting online access to the instructional videos at Penguin Magic. The cards are standard Bicycle quality and design. Not only does this mean that they won't arouse suspicion for being gaffed, but they are also durable. The gimmick provided can wear out after a lot of use, however, but you will find ready solutions in online forums where this is discussed.



    The original trick came only with written instructions by Paul Richards on behalf of Elmwood Magic. They teach a "Basic Handling" (which starts with revealing one face-down Joker), and an "Optional Handling" (which adds an extra phase where you first show all four Jokers as face-up), and there's a brief paragraph explaining the Elmsley Count.

    Buyers of the product today get video tutorials instead. The online video instructions that Penguin Magic provides for NFW has grown over the years, and now you are provided with several different video tutorials, including some new ones from Rick Lax. Altogethere there are three sets of video tutorials you receive access to:

    1. Jay Nobelzada tutorials: Firstly there's the original tutorial (3 minutes) which teaches the original handling of NFW, and which comes with a companion tutorial video teaching you how to do the Elmsley Count (3 minutes), both taught by Jay Nobelzada.

    2. Nick Locapo tutorials: Then there's a 22 minute tutorial video by Nick Locapo, which teaches both the original version of NFW using the Elmsley Count, and an updated version which presents the trick quite differently, and uses the Flushtration Count and a Buckle Count.

    3. Rick Lax tutorials: Finally there's two tutorial videos by Rick Lax, teaching his handling of the trick under the name "No Joke", which uses only the Flushtration Count, and (much like the updated version from Nick Locapo) allows you to do the trick in the spectator's hands. The main instructional video from Rick Lax (Bar Handling) is 13 minutes, while a second instructional video (Coffee Shop Handling) is 5 minutes and has a slightly different handling.


    Updated Handling

    So what's the background to the updated handlings taught by Nick Locapo and Rick Lax? Some time after the release of NFW, in 2004 Richard Sanders released a video entitled Super Cards, which included a routine that used virtually the same gaffs as NFW, but a totally different handling and feel. It was entitled "4 Card Crunch", and was later marketed separately in a more polished version as "ACE". You can check out a video clip of a performance demo of one handling of ACE here.

    Meanwhile in 2014 Penguin Magic had acquired Elmwood Magic, the company that originally distributed NFW. Having thus purchased the rights to the NFW effect and the gimmick, they went on to produce several video tutorials that offered a somewhat similar presentation to ACE, and which focused entirely on the transformation. The first of these was the updated handling by Nick Locapo, which you can see in a performance demo video here.

    Subsequently in 2015 Rick Lax published an even more smooth handling that used the same gimmick and a similar presentation, which Penguin Magic presented under the new name "No Joke". The result of this updated version feels quite different from the original NFW, because it uses a very different method, and can be done in the spectator's hands. In this version, you simply show the four face-up Jokers, and go right into showing them has changing into the four Aces.

    Here's a performance demo video showing the "Bar Handling" version of No Joke, as performed by Rick Lax:

    A slightly revised and more advanced version was taught along with, and was called the "Coffee Shop Handling" - see a performance demo video for that here.
  2. Impressions

    The name: The name of this trick refers to the reaction it generates - something like "No Flipping Way", but with a less savoury word starting with the letter F. I'm would have preferred any connection to the F-word to be avoided, but this does summarize the reaction that NFW typically produces: complete disbelief and amazement! If magic was real, this is what it would look like!

    The reputation: When NFW first came out, it generated a lot of buzz in the magic world, and proved to be a real hit. It quickly became a favourite packet trick for many magicians, and you only need to read the comments in this thread to see that it has stood the test of time, and still receives a lot of love two decades later!

    The impact: NFW is one fantastic packet trick, and revealing the Jokers as Aces really blows peoples minds. Even people who don't typically like packet tricks have reported loving this one. So if you're looking for a packet trick with a big finish, this definitely qualifies. It is a fantastic trick, and its popularity ago was well deserved. It doesn't get much press today, mostly because magic forums are typically swamped with news about the latest and greatest. But sometimes what you really need isn't something new and dazzling, but something proven and time-tested, and NFW is exactly that kind of packet trick.

    The gimmick: Having a gimmick allows you to do things that are simply impossible with regular cards, and that's certainly the case here. But there's always a compromise, and in this case it means that the outcome isn't completely examinable, because you don't end totally clean. But you can display the Aces in a way that is quite convincing, so your spectators won't feel a need to inspect things anyway. Some spectator management is needed to prevent your audience grabbing the cards at the end, but using a Z-fold wallet is one way you could get the cards out of play if you have to (with four regular cards on the other side), and you could even routine it together with Dr Daley's Last Trick as an immediate follow-up. The reset is fairly quick too, so you can repeat it quite easily if you are doing strolling magic. The only real drawback is that the gimmick will wear out over time and will eventually need replacing, but there are ready solutions for this that don't require you to buy an entirely new set of cards.

    The instructions: The tutorial videos you get with this packet trick are excellent, and give you lots of different options. In fact, if you have an original version of NFW with written instructions only, you may even want to consider picking up the new one, just to get access to the additional new tutorial videos from Rick Lax. These explain things clearly, and offer some solid new handling options that have been highly praised. If you have ever bought NFW from Penguin Magic, you should check the download area of your account, because the new Nick Locapo and Rick Lax tutorials should have been added there automatically.


    The difficulty: Like many packet tricks, NFW is geared to magicians with an intermediate ability in card magic. The original version relies on the Elmsley Count. In many respects it is a variation of Twisting the Aces, but with a transformation kicker courtesy of the gimmick. Most magicians will already be familiar with the Elmsley Count, but if you haven't learned it previously , it will require some practice to perform smoothly. It's worth the effort, because it is a very useful move to know for many other packet tricks. Aside from the Elmsley Count, the only other element of difficulty is remembering the sequence of moves, so the typical magician will be able to learn the original NFW routine comfortably in 10-15 minutes.

    The updated handling: NFW was always good, but the new "No Joke" handling (following Nick Locapo's handling, and possibly ACE from Richard Sanders) eliminates the Twisting of the Aces style turning over of the Jokers. Instead it goes directly to them turning into Aces in the spectators hands, making it arguably more direct than the original version. The original method involved what some considered to be an awkward display of the Jokers at the start, and this alternative handling of the same gaffs solves that by going right into the transformation, plus it also brings the magic into the hands of your spectator. It also makes the trick easier to perform, assuming that most people will find the Flushtration Count easier than the Elmsley Count. Instead of feeling like Twisting the Aces with an added transformation kicker, it feels more like Dr Daley's Last Trick with its transposition replaced with a complete four-card transformation. The Rick Lax approach effectively strips the original effect down completely, and by eliminating the Twisting the Aces part of the routine, goes straight into doing the transformation after first showing the cards as Jokers.

    The competition: Perhaps the most similar effect to NFW is ACE by Richard Sanders, and you'll find advocates for both routines. NFW did come out well before ACE, and when ACE was released it was praised for having a better handling of very similar gaffs because the magic could be done in the spectator's hands. While having the same cards, the gimmick works slightly differently (so you can't do the routine for NFW with it), and it has a different method that relies on lifts rather than the Elmsley Count. Some have argued that ACE made NFW obsolete, but courtesy of Rick Lax's new handling ("No Joke"), we can now do an in-the-hands version of NFW too, and this produces a very similar effect to ACE. So if you prefer a more direct approach that moves more quickly to the transformation and avoids the need for the Elmsley Count, you'll like the Rick Lax approach. The nice thing is that buyers of NFW get multiple tutorial videos, so you can choose to use the original handling or the updated handling that gives NFW a more direct in-the-hands transformation feel. The gimmick for NFW is also more easy to replace than the one for ACE.

    The legacy: NFW is now more than 20 years old, and I don't see it mentioned and recommended nearly as often as it used to be in magic forums. But I don't think that's because it has aged poorly or become obsolete, but is largely because of the high volume of new effects that are being released all the time, and the typical obsession many of us have with what is new and shiny. Rather than being outdated, if anything the new handlings that now come with the trick have only made it better, giving you another option for handling the same gaffs in a completely different way for a more direct "in the hands" routine. Certainly NFW is a gem that deserves to be dug up and brought into the spotlight again.



    NFW is a terrific card trick that will baffle audiences, and is well worth the effort required to learn and perform well. There's good reason that this packet trick has often been mentioned among the greats, because it is one of those jawdropping pieces of magic that never fails to amaze. If anything, the fact that it comes with video tutorials for an alternative and newer "No Joke" handling is all the more reason to get it, because now you have two different routines to choose from, each with its own distinctive feel.

    If you're not familiar with this wonderful trick, don't overlook it, because it has aged well, and has just as much potential to create astonished cries of "NFW" today as it has been doing over the past 20 years!

    Want to learn more? See the Penguin Magic product page.

  3. PS: NFW has been around for a while, and most experienced magicians will be familiar with it, but there are two good reasons for posting the above review now:

    1. NFW will be unfamiliar to many people who weren't into magic when it was especially popular and making waves, i.e. the first ten years after it first appeared in 1999.

    2. NFW deserves a more current review in light of some of the newer handlings that now come with it, which put a very different spin on the original routine.

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