The Four Bank Robbers

This is a great magical effect that anyone can do.   As a perspiring magician, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this one. 

The Effect:  You ask for a deck of cards (or provide your own).  You remove the four Jacks and announce that the Jacks are bank robbers.  They are going to rob the “Bank” (the remainder of the deck) and scoot with the loot by helicopter.  After removing the Jacks, show them – fanned – and give the deck to a spectator to “make sure” there are no Jacks left in the deck.  There are none.  He/she returns the deck to you.  You announce that the Jacks will search the bank for safe deposit boxes, cash, negotiable instruments and bonds.   As you are saying this “patter,” close the fan and face down insert one Jack on the bottom of the deck (the “first floor”), a second Jack a third of the way up (the “second floor”), a third Jack close to the top (the “third floor”) and the fourth Jack on top (the “top floor”) and set the deck on the table.   Then – here comes the helicopter!  Move your hand as if flying toward the “Bank.”  The Jacks race to the top floor to catch the copter.  As the helicopter arrives, slowly turn over the top four cards and there are the four Jacks. 

The Secret:  When you take the four Jacks out of the deck, take three extra cards which are placed behind the Jacks.  🙂   As you take them, square them up carefully.  Handing the cards to a spectator gives you time and distraction to do so.   Keep them tightly squared as you insert them (the extra cards one at a time) into the deck.  For the last Jack on the top floor?  You have all four Jacks, tightly grouped and quickly but carefully placed on top.  The scenario can be played out as you wish. 

How to Build Strong Kids

On April 15th, I attended a fascinating presentation by psychotherapist Alice Virgil on how to raise strong and resilient children.   Ms. Virgil described two diametrically opposed family dynamics:  the over controlled family (I will make sure no pain comes to you) and the hands off family (life is tough – deal with it).   Ideally, a family wants to be somewhere in between.   Here are bullet points for achieving that objective:

Relationships — It’s important to have them.  Develop empathy with others in the sense that we are all in this together;

Creativity — Help children stretch their thinking:  how to make a meal, how to play with a cardboard box, how to be occupied without an IPhone or television;

Awareness — Develop social awareness such that a child learns to “read” situations and social cues;

Initiative and courage — Learn to do the right thing at the right time.  Learn how to work hard and put in effort to achieve;

Morality — Develop a moral code.  Learn what is right – and what is wrong; and

Spirituality — Develop a sense of purpose.  Learn that we all have a reason to be in this world.  Say grace at meals.   

Praising a child?  Absolutely.  But never praise results or outcome.  Always praise effort.  

So what can parents and grandparents do to build strong and resilient kids? 

1.  Practice gratefulness — Discuss the best of the day – and the worst.  Teach joy and appreciation;

2.  Practice mindfulness — Give attention to the present moment with kindness, curiosity and compassion.  This helps children respond reflectively rather than reflexively;

3.  Emotion coaching — Help children understand their emotions;

4.  Develop a strong marriage and family home;

5.  Allow unstructured unsupervised free play — Forget the gimmicks, complex toys and oversight.

Ms. Virgil’s comments have been borne out by research and experience.   Ms. Virgil’s website is 

Martin O-18

In 1962, my parents bought me a guitar.  Not just any guitar but a Martin O-18.  A pristine, unused 1960 model.  It was an extravagence they could not afford — but did. 

My Martin traveled to college with me.  To law school.  I played in a group early on with two girls from my church — “Scott & the Bookends” (yes I know).   If we couldn’t get a gig as “Scott & the Bookends,” we went by the name “The Corydon Trio.”   For my daughter, I played every night when she went to bed — from the day we brought her home from the hospital and for years (see post of 8/14/11). 

I love my guitar and I still strum it nearly every day.  Usually the same old stuff (mostly the Blues) but sometimes new stuff to stretch my brain.   Ten years ago, I started taking lessons — every Monday until shortly before my daughter got married.   What a hoot! 

A few years ago, I called the Martin Guitar Company about doing a little fixup (tuning keys, frets, etc.) and they said that if I was the original owner, it was still under (lifetime) warranty.  I found the paperwork and got a “new” guitar back.  

I’ve told Donna that maybe I should try and get the Bookends back together and we could go on the road.  Her response?  “Don’t quit the day job, Elvis.”  (Sigh)  Rock on. . . . . .


Can you say “Anna backwards“?  The usual response is “Anna.”  But the real answer is “Anna backwards.” 

Anna is a “palindrome” (it reads the same forwards as backwards) just like Otto, Eve, Hannah and Elle.  “Anna sees Anna” is a palindrome.  “Did Hannah see bees?”  Sure she did – backwards and forwards.  One of the first palindromes I learned was “Madam I’m Adam.”  Then there was “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama.”  I began using palindromes for tutoring at Chicago Lights Tutoring (see prior posts).  “Read this backwards” I would say to the student.  And get blank stares.  And then suddenly – the lights (and smiles) went on.  🙂

Cigar?  Toss it in a can.  It is so tragic.

Enid and Edna dine.

Hey Roy!  Am I mayor?  Yeh!

My gym. 

Never odd or even. 

Now I won. 

Too bad I hid a boot. 

Was it a car or a cat I saw? 

Too hot to hoot!

Live not on evil.  

Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.

So Ida – Adios. 

Tuna roll or nut?

Stella won no wallets. 

The earliest palindrome dates to 79 A.D.  In Latin, it is “Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas” (“the sower Arepo holds works wheels“).   The longest palindrome?  17,826 (pretty random) words.   No I won’t repeat it here. . . . .

Baseball in Heaven

Two very old men lived together.  They loved baseball.  Each morning they would get the newspaper and read the stories about the day’s games.  They studied the box scores, statistics and players.  In the afternoon, they would watch baseball games on television and occasionally go to the games when their team was in town.  In the evening, they’d talk over dinner about the games, the players and statistics.  And each night, they would dream — dream of baseball.

They knew their days were numbered and so they made a pact.  When one of them died, he would do his best to “come back” to let his friend know if there was baseball in heaven. 

One cold gray morning, one old man did not arise.  He had passed away in the night.  He was buried but his friend carried on.  Reading, studying, watching and dreaming about baseball.  

A few weeks later, the old man got up and shuffled into the kitchen.  Who should be sitting at the kitchen table — his old friend!   “My friend!  How I’ve missed you.  How are y. . . .is there baseball in heaven?”    The friend smiled — “I have good news and I have bad news for you.”  “Well what’s the good news.  Is there baseball in heaven?”  His friend responded “Is there!  I’m on a team with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.  We played yesterday.”  His friend smiled “What’s the bad news?” 

His friend looked at him “You’re pitching tomorrow.” 


Cremona is a city of 75,000 in the Northern (Lombardy) area of Italy.  The city has a long and storied history.   It is known for many things but it is famous for one — violins.   Beginning in the 16th Century, Cremona was home to three legendary luthier families:  Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri.  While many associate the names Guarneri and Amati with fine violins, everyone knows the name Stradivarius.

When I was young, I read a lot about treasure — the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Oak Island Mystery, the San Saba River treasure, Padre Island doubloons and so on.  I avidly read books like Frank Dobie’s classic Coronado’s Children.   And I always longed to one day go hunting for these treasures or rarities like a Gutenberg Bible (post of 8/18/11) or a Stradivarius violin.  I’ve come close to a Gutenberg (another story) but the Stradivarius has escaped me. 

During his lifetime, Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) made about 1,100 instruments.  A few hundred survive and those that do are rare and valuable.  Why?  Because the sound is near perfection.  Antonio created his works of musical art with spruce tops, willow blocks and maple backs, ribs and neck.  The technique has been duplicated but the sound never replicated.  There is thought that the coatings on the wood made the difference.  So far, the exact recipe remains a mystery.

I still think of taking a sabbatical someday — and heading off in search of a Gutenberg Bible or a Stradivarius violin.   Or maybe the Lost Dutchman Mine. . . . .

Education: So what do we do?

Some said that while my Monday editorial critiques, it offers no substance — on reforming education.  I’ll add some thoughts.

How about if we pay nursery school, kindergarten, 1st, 2d, 3d grade teachers (the early grades) what we pay college professors (and college professors get paid what nursery school teachers make)?  Young children are virtual sponges.  They learn and absorb the most in these early years.  This is the time!  This is where we need our best teachers.  By the time children reach college, learning patterns are fixed.  Will this happen?  Should it happen?  Probably not — but you get my drift.

Longer and more school days beginning with the grades referenced above.  The U.S. averages 180 school days per year.  That’s right down there with Portugal, Haiti and Bolivia.   The average day is 6.5 hours.  We can do better.  We must do better. 

Unions represent teachers – sure – but they must be spokesmen for students.   The job is education.  Become champions of education instead of the trumpets of discord.   Blindly protect the worst teachers?  Everyone loses.   Strike for fewer work days and shorter hours?  Give me a break.  Work for the betterment of students?  Everyone wins.   And policy makers need to understand what it takes to be a good teacher.

Today anyone can become  a teacher.  Yet some teachers don’t have the ability to teach.   Raise the bar on teacher certification. 

Teachers deserve incentive pay and h.d.p. (hazardous duty pay) for working in tough schools.  Great results deserve meritorious compensation.   

Charter schools – yes.  Magnet schools – yes.  Vouchers – yes.   Tutoring programs – yes.  Require parental involvement (and educate parents while we’re at it) – yes.    Keep our eye on the ball — the objective is to educate.

Hold students to higher levels of achievement.  Let’s not “dumb down” expectations.   Grades are important.  You fail?  You fail.  Try again. . . . and again.  And succeed.  I’ve read that uniforms (or strict dress codes) improve student performance.  Worth a try??   

Teach computer literacy and typing early on.   Best course I ever had in high school — typing. 

Be creative.  Be inspirational.  Be learning-oriented.  Target achievement.  Develop a new mind-set.  Educate.  We can get there. 

Education – An Editorial

We spend more and more money on public school education and each year, the results are dismal.   Our educational system is flawed if not broken.  Why?    

I am concerned that teachers unions impede the education process by focusing on teachers — not education.  There is blind protection of the lowest common denominator (the worst teachers), opposition to charter schools, objection to longer hours and more school days and rejection of merit pay for great teachers who achieve great results.   And unfunded (and unfair to taxpayer) pensions drain state and local budgets.   And tenure?  Where did that come from?   No other business has such foolishness. 

A big negative in educational outcome is parental void.   We want parents to be involved in the education of their children.  But when parents are out of the mix, teachers must step up to a higher calling. 

The notion of federal control over education is not working.  Requiring states to send massive amounts of taxpayer money to Washington to be massaged and nitpicked by (and paid in salaries to) bureaucrats is draining and counterproductive.  The U.S. Department of Education (begun in 1979) has 5,000 employees and a budget of $94 billion(!).  I have a feeling that states can use that money more productively.  

School districts?   According to a 2002 census, there were nearly 14,000 in the U.S. (each a bureaucratic fiefdom unto itself).   And Illinois (a state that is nearly bankrupt) has nearly a thousand of them.  Can we consolidate?   

 We need to educate.   Those with good jobs and higher pay are normally better educated.  Those without solid education* are the un and under-employed.  Want to build the economy?  Education.  Want to reduce crime?  Education.  Want to reduce unemployment?  Education.  It’s the Rx for lots of things. . . .    

     *”Education” does not mean a child must be college-bound.   It can mean the trades, military,  associate degrees, agriculture and a host of other job and skill set training.  (See posts of 11/23 and 12/5)