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Card throwing is the art of throwing standard playing cards with great accuracy and/or force.
First popularized in the West among stage magicians during the 1800s, the art of throwing cards was called scaling. This is achieved in most techniques by imparting both lateral speed and angular momentum, the latter of which creates gyroscopic stabilization so that the card's flat profile remains parallel to the direction of travel and thus suffers the least possible air resistance. It is performed both as part of stage magic shows and as a competitive physical feat among magicians, with official records existing for longest distance thrown, fastest speed, highest throw, greatest accuracy and greatest number of cards in one minute.
Card throwing has its origins in Western stage magic and in Eastern martial arts legends and cinema. Eastern martial artists refined the technique of throwing light objects until they could toss them with deadly speed and accuracy, though most of these film depictions are wildly exaggerated.
Western card throwing techniques as they are passed among performers today are attributed to stage magicians in the late 19th Century. The exact origins of "flying card" tricks are unknown, but Alexander Herrmann is widely attributed with first including card throwing in a major act. He would use custom made cards, sign them, and then throw them into the audience as potential souvenirs. The magician Howard Thurston also used card throwing as a major part of his act. The cards that they used, however, were heavier than those commonly used today.
Many magicians commissioned specially printed cards, known as throwing cards, throwouts, scaling cards or souvenir cards to use for these purposes. Generally, such cards featured the image and name of the magician, and often featured optical illusions, mystical images, and text and graphics from other advertisers.
Today, magicians all over the world use card throwing as parts of their act. Ricky Jay, Jim Karol, and Rick Smith, Jr., all world class card throwers and magicians, are among the most well known people to frequently use card throwing during performance.
The impressive speed that magicians could throw the cards gave rise to a myth that a card could kill or seriously injure someone if thrown correctly by a person with enough force. However, this myth was tested on the Discovery Channel program MythBusters, and subsequently debunked. Mythbusters' co-host Adam Savage was already quite familiar with the throwing card trick and was shown to be quite adept at performing it, with his maximum throwing speed being clocked at 25 miles per hour or 40 km/h (which failed to cause any injury). The episode also featured magician and card throwing expert Ricky Jay, who demonstrated card throwing, and also had the speed of his throws was clocked at by the Mythbusters. After failing to throw the cards into a target with enough force that would result in injury, they used an electric motor to mechanically launch a card at 150 mph. However, even on exposed skin, this only resulted in a superficial paper cut. The hosts concluded that a playing card lacks enough mass to transfer sufficient energy to its target on impact.
The current world record for farthest card thrown is held by Rick Smith, Jr. who threw a card 65.96 meters at 148 kilometers per hour on December 2, 2002. This is also the current record for the fastest throw as well. Previous world record holders are Ricky Jay, Tommy Jackson and Jim Karol.
The current records for the highest throw is held by Rahul Krishnan, a 22 year old a student and a professional magician from Hyderabad, India. On June 1st 2014 he threw a single playing card to a height of 55 ft, 9 inches at Meridian Plaza in Ameerpet. The record was previously held by Jordan Barker, who successfully threw a card to a height of 42 ft, 11¾inches.
In October 2005, Chris Linn broke the Guinness World Record for the "most one fingered playing card scales in one minute". To break the record, Linn had to hold a deck of playing cards in one hand and use his thumb to propel ("scale") the cards from the deck a minimum distance of 12 feet. Linn was able to scale 114 playing cards in one minute, beating the previous record of 104 playing cards set by magician Jeff McBride. The record breaking attempt took place at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.
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There are many different ways of throwing a playing card, but almost all of them involve flicking the wrist. Once a person is comfortable with the wrist-flicking action, he or she can add some arm and body movement into the throw in order to add speed and power.
The Jay throwing technique
The Ethan technique, as taught in Ricky Jay's book Cards as Weapons (1977), involves gripping the middle of the card horizontally between the thumb and the middle finger, while the index finger rests on the corner of the card nearest the hand and away from the body.
The wrist is cocked inward at a 90 degree angle, then flicked briskly outward, propelling the card. For distance and power, the technique adds motion of the forearm bending at the elbow straight outwards from a 90 degree angle simultaneous to the flicking motion of the wrist.
The Thurston grip
Howard Thurston, a performing magician, was one of the first performers to introduce card throwing in western stage acts. In the Thurston grip, the card is gripped between the first and second fingers, usually of the left hand. The Thurston grip is one of the most popular grips used today. A variation of the grip is used by the current world-record holder, Rick Smith, Jr..
There are other ways to throw a card as well. One popular method involves putting the pinky finger on the bottom of the card, and ring finger and middle finger on the top of the card. The index and middle fingers go at the far end of the card horizontally, and the thumb rests on the near side. Then, push down with the middle finger, though not to the point at which it bends up, the middle finger should act as one end of a seesaw, with the thumb being the opposite end, and the index finger as the center. Once in this position, flip the card with your wrist so that the opposite side is facing up. This is uncomfortable for most. To now throw it, pull your thumb in rapidly, so it slips off the card, and at the same time, pull your index and middle fingers in rapidly toward your palm. While doing both these things, have the hand with the card up near your head, and move it down in a "C" shape going away from you. At the end of the C, release your thumb. The card should spin, and after practice fly rapidly forward.
Another common method involves putting the thumb on top of the bottom left hand corner of the card, and one's index and middle finger on opposite sides of the top right hand corner of the card. The thrower should push his thumb down and out from the card, and would twirl his index and middle fingers, spinning the card, and propelling it forward.
One other mildly popular technique is to grip the full deck of cards in the left hand, looping the left hand index finger around the upper-right corner of the top card, and then propelling the top card off of the deck with the right hand. This causes the card to gain large amounts of side spin, which propels them farther.
In popular culture
- Batman's nemesis The Joker is known to employ weaponized playing cards, particularly in the 1992 animated TV series.
- Gambit (X-Men) is skilled in the art of card-throwing with great accuracy, which he combines with his mutant ability to "charge" objects with energy to turn the thrown cards into effective weapons.
- Hisoka, a regular antagonist in the manga and anime series Hunter x Hunter, often throws razor-sharp playing cards in battle.
- Yuri of the Dirty Pair sometimes employs the "Bloody Card" – a technologically-enhanced card – to attack multiple targets.
- City Hunter (1993) – features a gambling card thrower.
- Setzer, the gambling hero of Final Fantasy VI, uses a variety of card decks for weapons as well as darts and dice.
- 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (1998) – uses a specially designed throwing card, which appears to be bent, a possible enhancement.
- Oswald (KOF XI) – practices the card-throwing art called Karnöffel.
- Twisted Fate (League of Legends) – utilizes card throwing for all of his attacks.
- Hellsing, the Japanese horror manga, features a card-slinging sorcerer known as The Dandy Man.
- Sheena Fujibayashi (Tales of Symphonia) swings and strikes with tarot cards for all of her abilities and employs techniques where she empowers those cards with energy called "seals".
- Sneff, a playable character in Chrono Cross, is a magician who uses a deck of cards as his primary weapon.
- Seto Kaiba has been known to do this in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga.
- Bullseye, from Marvel Comics, kills or injures several people (including Elektra) with a thrown Ace of Spades.
- Card throwing was one of the murder techniques used in the CSI episode "Last Woman Standing".
- In Now You See Me (2013), one of the magicians, Jack Wilder, proves to be a skilled card thrower. During a show, using a playing card, he cuts in half a pencil held by an audience member and later uses the technique to attack the FBI agent pursuing him.
- In Smokin' Aces, stage magician Buddy "Aces" Israel manages to temporarily incapacitate his bodyguard Ivy by striking him in the eye with a thrown playing card.
Notable card throwers
- "Card Throwing". Cardboard Illusions. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- Records, Guinness World. "Farthest throw of a playing card". guinnessworldrecords.com. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- Records, Guinness World. "Highest throw of a playing card". guinnessworldrecords.com. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- (Scaling) Scale — v.tr. 4. To throw (a thin flat object) so that it soars through the air or skips along the surface of water. —In: TheFreeDictionary
- "Last Woman Standing", CSI episode guide, CBS
- Cards as Weapons, by Ricky Jay.
- MythBusters (TV Show), on the Discovery Channel
- Time Warp (TV Show), on the Discovery Channel