Fully Booked | Simply Simon

By Harapan Ong - Sunday, April 28, 2019


To continue with the theme of the previous entry on Juan’s memorised deck magic, we shall now turn our attention to another master of the memorised deck, Simon Aronson.

In the 1970s, Simon brought back a wave of interest in the memorised deck when he published his stack, which he titled “A Stack To Remember”. While there have been other memorised decks in publication before Simon’s, such as the Nikola or the Ireland stack, Simon’s stack was so densely packed with different tricks and features that it became very popular amongst many magicians.

Simon went on to explore many different possibilities with the memorised deck concept, which he published in a series of his books. While there are many books to choose from, I am going to begin by recommending not the first book in the series, but instead what I feel is the most interesting book, which is Simply Simon.

Firstly, unlike Mnemonica, Simply Simon is not a book dedicated only to his work on the memorised deck. In fact, only the last two chapters of the book are directly related to the use of a memorised deck. The first four chapters, containing a series of different card tricks of his, are neatly categorised into different types of tricks. The first chapter are tricks that are shown to spectators as games instead of tricks, the second chapter focuses on tricks that can be done with a normal deck of cards with little to no setup, the third chapter looks at tricks that require some extra gaffs, while the fourth chapter looks at card tricks with a large stack (non-memorised).

Within these four chapters, you will already find some amazing tricks. I’ve always envious of how Simon is able not only come up with some incredibly clever principles, but also apply them in such a way that they are impossible to reverse engineer. Some highlights that I feel anyone with the book should check out are:

  1. Moves and Removes: One of the cleverest things in the book. Simon has come up with a fantastic version of the classic 3-by-3 elimination matrix, using nine playing cards and a series of instructions for spectators to move from card to card, eliminating all the cards except the final one they land on. Unlike the usual versions where the number of steps to take are fixed and unchanging, Simon has come up with a version that allows the spectator apparently have a free choice on some of the moves. It’s absolutely baffling.

  2. This Side Up: This trick was later marketed under the name Side Swiped. It is a very commercial effect in which an instruction card held by the magician the entire time somehow transforms into their signed selection.

  3. Happy Birthday: If you are familiar with Simon Aronson’s work, you will know that he absolutely loves Alex Elmsley’s effect “Birthday Card”. This is a great version that I actually like a lot.

Now, let’s move on to the most important topic for discussion today: the memorised deck stuff. The reason why I have chosen to recommend Simply Simon over his other books is because I think the book has the most interesting tricks with the memorised deck. There are some excellent and obscure principles being explored here that are criminally overlooked nowadays, and I think anyone who is interested in memorised deck work must read and learn these concepts that Simon has discovered.

Some highlights for me were:

  1. Past-Present-Future: This was one of the first tricks I ever learnt with the memorised deck, and it still fools me to this day despite having performed it many times. Three cards are selected and divined in a nice coherent presentation about fortune telling. The result is really fooling and will baffle the best of them.

  1. Everybody’s Lazy: One of Simon’s most famous memorised deck routines. You impossibly divine the exact positions of two freely selected cards, with a spectacular finale where a spectator becomes the magician and divines the position of your selected card.

  2. Taking Advantage Of One’s Position: This isn’t a trick per se, but this section describes a great principle that I find to be extremely underused. Simon calls it the Self Position Principle, and I’ve actually used it to create a routine of my own that I use, with great results and reactions from both laypeople and magicians. Definitely something to check out.

Now, in my previous review of Mnemonica, I commented on both what I liked about the tricks in that book, as well as what I don’t like. I will do the same now for Aronson’s work.

  1. Simon has this amazing knack for layering different methods and principles in all of his tricks, such that it is quite literally impossible to figure out how his tricks work. Even with his memorised deck routines, I have found that magicians watching these tricks don’t believe that it uses a memorised deck, because Simon has placed so many layers to throw people off the idea that the deck is stacked. Now, while this is very commendable, the result is that the trick can often be very long and procedural. The routines I mentioned previously are themselves pretty long, and you might find it to be challenging to get spectators unfamiliar with magic or playing cards to follow all the procedures without getting confused or lost.

  2. This might be a nitpick, but the writing style in Simon’s books tend to be more on the verbose side. The book is pretty densely packed with text, with little pictures. Simon also tends to go into a lot of detail for every trick, which can be a good thing - but for those who prefer a succinct description for tricks in books, just watch out for this little warning.

To me, Simon’s work on the memorised deck is a must-read for every memorised deck lover. I feel that his exploration of the more esoteric and abstract concepts with the memorised deck is much more inspiring and interesting than the usual Open Index style of tricks (ironically, this book has a great essay on how the memorised deck can be used as an Open Index). His tricks are always baffling and are constructed in such a way that even the cleverest of magicians will not suspect the use of a memorised deck. However, his efforts in making his tricks impenetrable could also be his downfall - I feel that many of his tricks can be seen as being too long, too procedural and often result in the deck being shuffled - compared to the straightforward Open Index applications that Tamariz offers, I have heard magicians tell me that they find Simon’s memorised deck routines to be “impractical.

Regardless of what you think of his work, I seriously recommend everyone who is interested in strong card magic to study Simon Aronson’s books. Even if you don’t like the procedural stuff, what you can learn from his is how to construct a routine so tightly that it becomes impossible to deconstruct. And that is a lesson that is possibly more valuable than any memorised deck routine you can learn from anyone.


Reader comments:

Chris

Sunday, 28 April 2019 21:20 PM - Reply to this comment

I’m enjoying the ‘’Fully Booked’’ reviews.
Thank you Harapan !

Dr. Joaquin M.

Monday, 29 April 2019 02:38 AM - Reply to this comment

I have had the pleasure of being a houseguest of the Aronsons and in a few of the many discussions and sessions we have had on cards and memorized deck work, we have discussed the procedural part of his work. A lot. He is very aware of it and he will tell you outright that for many, it can be seen as 'too long/procedural' and he is okay with that.

I would offer this advice to readers of his books that do find some of his effects to be too procedural: Study the effect and really get to know it. Ignore the length to begin with, and once you learn it, see which parts you like best and remove what you do not like. Even a procedural thing can be made to be entertaining if you work it out - just watch Bill Malone, for one example.

Also regarding the Birthday plot: The work Simon has done on this plot is astounding and if there is anything that should cause anyone who is on the fence about memorizing a stack, this is it! This stuff alone would be worth the effort.

To Harapan: This is an excellent article and I greatly enjoyed it! I wholly agree with your assessment of this book. Simon is very clever and very devious, and every book he has written I have found many gems in, but Simply Simon is probably the best of them all.

Looking forward to your next blog!

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