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Review: Stack Watch by Pete Turner & Ellusionist
NOTE: I posted The original Stack Watch review in the #Reviews channel of The Peoples Palace of Prestidigitation on the eighth of June 2020, with a later addendum on the 12th of August, and another addendum on the third of September of the same year. I’ve also since come across some additional information not listed in any of these posts. What follows is an updated review (hopefully) blending all of that into a more coherent single review of the Stack Watch.
The Stack Watch:
If you want to buy one, you can do so HERE, but I suggest you read the review before making a decision.
Any magic product or gimmick that either is, or pretends to be, one thing while also doing the ‘magic’ thing should probably first be judged on how well it achieves that before considering at the magic side, if that isn’t convincing, the magic side is completely pointless. So first off, how good is the Stack Watch at being a watch? And credit where it’s due, the Stack Watch is a really nice watch, I was expecting something cheap, light and tinny, but it actually has some heft to it and it’s a nice-looking item. (it still broke though, see later). One of my good non-magic mates is a huge watch guy (seriously, he spends nearly as much on watches as I do on magic effects and books). I was curious to hear his thoughts, and although he was absolutely confused by the bezel, he genuinely liked it and said he would be more than happy to have it in his collection. This is the first non-digital/non-smart watch I’ve bought in well over thirty years, so although I do like it as a watch, he is much more knowledgeable on the topic than I am.
Now the bit you’ve all been waiting for, how well does it do the ‘magic bit’? And the answer to that is, as expected, really bloody badly. I’ve had the watch a little while now, as I absolutely wanted to give it a fair crack of the whip before writing this review. Most of the country I live in is still under COVID-19 lockdown, so my performance opportunities have been much more limited than usual, but I honestly don’t see how using it more is going to change any of these points and opinions.
So can you do what they claim in the trailer/ad copy? No, not really. To use this watch to perform the ACAAN they use to sell it without first knowing Mnemonica, is in my opinion impossible. But can you use it as a safety net for that ACAAN if are reasonably OK with Mnemonica but don’t have it 100% down yet? Still, no not really, but you have a FAR better chance of pulling it off this way. The problem with the first is finding the card, If you have no idea about the stack you have to scan the whole lot, every time, this takes some time and MUCH longer than the three or four seconds Pete claims in his ‘five-second justification’ You may get lucky, but I’m not the type of performer who wants to rely on getting lucky for everything I do. The issue with the knowing Mnemonica well enough to know more or less where to look (and not knowing it at all after finding it) is alignment, more on that in a moment.
The dEllusionist team claim they had many many revisions of the watch before they got to its current state, this is either an out-and-out lie (I have since been told by an insider it was indeed a lie), or what they started with was unbelievably bad (possibly both are true actually, now I think about it). The big problem is the bezel movement is totally smooth, if it was ratcheted, you could move it x number of positions forwards or back without looking, that single improvement would make the device several orders of magnitude more useful, but no, you need to keep an eye on it when you move it. I’m told a ratcheted bezel was discussed by the team, but the idea was dropped as it would cut into the profits too much.
Another issue with the bezel is unless your positioning is perfect, due to the scale you are working at, it’s VERY easy to go to the position you want and find it not perfectly aligned, leaving you with the decision to guess and hope or go back and reset which takes more time, and as the second markers are quite a distance below the card indicators, you need to look at the watch perfectly square on to avoid misreads too, even a very slight viewing angle can introduce an error. You can see the problem here:
So can you do any effect with it? Yes, you can, you can do a very nice little pseudo-memory routine where you look at what the spec thinks is a shuffled deck to memorise the order, then call them out one by one while secretly just reading the cards from around the watch. The problem is A) this isn’t a very impressive effect, and B) is almost certainly the first thing you’ll do when you’ve actually memorised Mnemonica anyway.
Another problem with it is, if you wear it but DON’T use the crib bezel every time, it tends to lock up and is either difficult to move, or completely locked until you use a releasing agent on it when you do try to rotate it. I would expect (hope) anybody using the watch in a planned performance would check everything is fully functioning first (as with any magic utility device), but if you are want to use it in a more ‘impromptu’ way, this design flaw may scupper you.
I said above it was a good watch but a crap utility, it seems I was wrong and it’s also a not so great watch. The strap is attached to the watch with just a thin piece of folded metal that is rather weak. Fortunately, it was fixed cheaply and easily enough, but you shouldn’t need to be fixing watches only a few months after buying them.
The big problem with the idea behind the watch is to do stack work well you need to instantly know which card is where, and with a crib, any crib, you can’t do that, it takes time to look up. I know Tameriz himself advises using a crib while learning, but it’s not good in performance. A quick glance at the card box could go unnoticed (even if it does slow things down), but a performer gazing at their watch halfway through something just makes them look bored, and if the performer isn’t engaged, why should the audience be? A word about cribs as I’m sure it will come up, I’m not against cribs in general at all, in fact, I really like Richard Osterlind’s knight’s tour routine that uses a very clever crib, one I even considered getting made up to use myself. The difference is that crib both fits the rhythm of the piece and is 100% justified to be in play when it’s used. Neither is true of the Stack Watch.
So is it a total pig in a poke? Not necessarily. As I’ve said before I wanted one as a joke item, I was fortunate enough to get one for the original ‘discounted’ price without shipping or import duty, and I’m really quite happy with it for that price. And although I’ve yet to wear it to a magicians conference or the like, I’m sure it will be great for that. The other use, which is exactly what they should have been selling it for in the first place is for learning Mnemonica. Not learning it ‘on the job’ as they claim will happen, but just to have something on you to test yourself with before you even think about performing anything. Back when I first learnt Mnemonica I kept a note with the stack scribbled on and whenever I was out and about and noticed a number between one and fifty-two I’d think of the card, and often pull the note out to check. With this on your wrist, you’d just need to look down to check rather than pull stuff out of a pocket. I think this really could be a very useful tool to learn the stack before you try to perform anything.
So is it worth getting? Almost certainly no, if you want it as a joke or as part of a considered learning program, perhaps, but to do the things dEllusionist claim of it, just no.