Review: Machinations by Ben Harris

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“The Trapdoor Card” is one of the most unforgettable, yet often overlooked, plots in card magic. Popularized by Martin Gardner and Bob Neale, this effect features a small card with a “door” cut out, just off-center. Someone is invited to hold the card by this makeshift tab. The magician is then able to turn the card inside out while it is IN the spectator’s hands. This an unbelievable and impossible topological illusion that you can watch over and over and over again without ever figuring it out.

With Machinations, Ben Harris has taken “The Trapdoor Card” puzzle and pushed it to the limit. With over 20 new effects, Harris has broken this trick out of its card magic background to explore new routines with paper, ticket stubs, schematics, and more. The legendary Bob Neale even contributes his own amazing impromptu handling.

If you love origami or are looking for something unusual and memorable, Machinations is for you.

Learn mind-boggling effects like:

Zoo Ticket – A zoo ticket printed with donkey images changes into a ticket with penguin imagery.

The Wishing Paper – A spectator blows out the candles on a piece of paper in their hand which is then unfolded to reveal their “wish” on the other side.

Houdini’s Escape – Help Houdini perform his world famous trapdoor escape with a “paper” padlock.

And more than 15 others!

Every effect in Machinations is easy to perform and requires almost no practice.

The book itself is a slim, handsome, and fully-illustrated, 100-page volume with detailed plans for each effect.


I’ve always been a fan of Ben Harris; you can find plenty of positive reviews of his work on NingThing and my past magic review sites. The man is a thinker and I’m not at all surprised that he’s come up with this, and very cleverly partnered up with Vanishing Inc (IMHO these awesome fellas produce the very best publications in our industry) to create this amazing book… Machinations is more than just a book!

Their official ad copy runs true, except they forgot to tell you how you’d easily spend hours relishing every page of Machinations with glee (assuming that you’re as big a magic nerd and origami geek as yours truly) as you work out the various presentations offered in this glorious hardcover book using the supplied trapdoor cards you’ll find at the back of the book.

That’s right… While there are blueprints that follow the instructions, and read-to-print templates for the performance cards available as online downloads, the creators of Machinations have included a full set printed on high quality art paper for your immediate use. I love that all props are included so those of us who don’t have a printer at home can start enjoying it right away.

After the foreword and introduction, there are 6 parts to the book (Machinations, Little Door, Sides, Sideways, Adding Graphic Illusions, Multiple Trapdoors) before ending with Final Words and a special bonus from Robert E. Neal, who wrote the engaging foreword. I think it’s perfect that Ben Harris got him to pen the foreword of the book, since Robert E. Neal was after all the genius behind Folding Money Fooling. Now out of print and incredibly hard to find, I really loved that book but lent it to a magician who never returned it. Wen will I learn never to let people borrow my books? They never come back. Anyway, if you can hunt down a copy, grab it and never loan it out! There are so many origami gems in there, with the bunny bill being my personal favourite.

Back to Machinations. Ben Harris’s latest book is very accessible to all. The instructions are clear and easy to understand. There are illustrations to guide you as you follow along. You don’t need any sleight of hand knowledge and there’s a wide range of presentations to suit all performers, especially hobbyists. In fact, you can even gift this to a friend who’s interested in puzzles. I’m certain they’d be thrilled by this highly original gift.

TLDR: I really enjoyed performing it (in case you’re wondering, Upside is from part 3 of Machinations) and since the effects are highly interactive, the spectator holding onto the flap of the trapdoor truly experiences the wonder of this magical miracle as well. Very highly recommended!


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Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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