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Oil and Water

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Oil and Water is a classic plot in card magic where a small group of red cards are intermixed with a group of black cards. The black cards (representing oil) magically separate and assemble at the top of the packet. This is usually done a number of times.

This effect was noted as a Card Problem by Hofzinser as "The Magic Separation"[1]

The premise of this effect was first published by Walter B. Gibson in Jinx as Like Seeks Like (issue 91, November 1940). You need six cards, you use the Glide and you don't openly alternate the cards.

The Oil and Water presentation of this theme was created by Ed Marlo, who also developed many methods for the effect, published first in The Cardician and M-U-M (1953).


Most variations can be classified into 3 version: Using only normal cards, using extra cards and using gaffed cards.

  • Oil & Water Climax from Ibidem No. 8, december by Ed Marlo (1956) have a sequence in which oil and water mixed.
  • The Second B and R Routine in Ibidem no. 15, december 1958 by Ed Marlo. This version uses apparently three red backed and three blue backed cards.
  • Vanishing Water in Ibidem no. 34-35, august 1969 which becomes Oil and Queens from The Devil's Playthings by Roy Walton (1969) adds a kicker where the one set turns into the 4 queens.
  • Camouflage from Packet Switches (Part Two) by Karl Fulves (1973) added a climax where all of the cards became the same color.
  • Oil and Water in a Wine Glass from 52 Lovers 2 (1991) by Jose Carroll have an oil and water mixed AND a climax where all the cards became the same color.
  • Arturo de Ascanio's version in La Magia de Ascanio, vol 2 (1980), translate as The Magic of Ascanio (2005).
  • Paul Cummins' Oiled & Watered in Apocalypse, Vol. 3, no. 10, October 1980.
  • Richard Vollmer's Very Nice Oil and Water in Apocalypse, Vol. 5, no. 9, September 1982, page 673.
  • David Regal's Perfectly Oiled in Star Quality: The Magic of David Regal by Harry Lorayne (1987)
  • John Bannon's Shake Well Before Use in Smoke and Mirrors (1991).
  • Michael Skinner "Oil and Water Ride Again" in Classic Sampler (1996).
  • David Salomon's Technicolor Oil and Water in Solomon's Mind by Eugene Burger (1998).
  • Guy Hollingworth's version in Drawing Room Deceptions (1999).
  • Darwin Ortiz's Ultimate Oil and Water in Scams and Fantasies with Cards (2002)
  • Larry Jennings' version in the DVD The Complete Collection, Volumes 1 & 2 (2002)
  • Derren Brown's in his Devil's Picturebook Video (2002)
  • Rene Lavand's version in DVD Close-up Artistry Vol 1 (2002).
  • Simon Lovell's Oily Snobs in his DVD The Methods Behind the Madness, Vol. 3, 2004)


  • In Nouvelle Magie Blanche Devoilee (1853) Ponsin described, page 152, a trick in which, after a spectator had shuffled the deck, you cut it then give it again to the spectator to look for the figures. He can't find them and you produce them from your pocket. You do that by "magically" separated spots from figures. Can we conclude that Hofzinser didn't read and/or understand french?


  1. Epilogue No. 11, march 1971 and More Self-working Card Tricks By Karl Fulves page 22 (1984). Quote : "The Magic Separation : This is what remain of Hofzinser's approach to the Oil and Water theme. The Performer shows a deck of cards, calling attention to the fact that the colors are mixed. The performer places the deck on the table and makes two packets. Immediately each half is turned face-up, showing all the red in one half, all the blacks in the other."