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Combo by Karl Fulves

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 1999)


This is by far my favorite of the current Fulvesian crop (your mileage may vary). Combo describes a system for rapidly memorizing certain facets of the identities of a series of playing cards, typically 16. More specifically, by means of a coding system, one can instantly memorize about 16 cards that are sorted in a binary fashion, that is, red/black or high/low, for example. Relying upon this binary code, one can appear to have memorized the complete identities of these cards, because with the proper handling and presentation, knowing this much information is, if not the same as knowing the actual identity, turns out to be as good as doing so. Indeed, the impression can readily be created that the entire deck has been memorized. What is particularly striking about this methodology is that the cards are genuinely shuffled by the spectator, and then memorized literally as fast as they can be dealt by the magician.

Now, granted that, as is often the case with some highly conditionally dependent material, these feats can readily be duplicated by simply altering a single condition, as is readily demonstrable with an examination of the many approaches to the Curry "Open Prediction," for example. And so too in this case, wherein one can simply false-shuffle a memorized deck and achieve the same effect, or switch from a genuinely shuffled deck, or some combination therein (Le., false shuffle or switch only a portion of the deck). That said, there is some fascinating work in this manuscript, which will not only be of interest and use to those with better memories than sleight-of-hand skills, but also to those interested in gambling and cheating methods.

The opening segment includes a careful exposition on the principles and how to learn them. Mr. Fulves is obviously deeply interested in these subjects, and has given much thought not only to how they can be applied and exploited, but in fact to how to teach the concepts, even to children.

Here the author, another writer of longstanding, also seems to be letting his wit show a bit more now and again through his terse descriptions, as when he encourages the reader to persevere in learning these techniques by providing a metaphor from real life, namely the ability to memorize the phone number of an attractive woman in a brief encounter. As the author says, "With reasonable motivation, the job gets done."

Mr. Fulves does an excellent job of explaining these concepts and his techniques for mastering them, and they are within the reach of anyone who has done any sort of mild memorization, mnemonic and/or mathematical work of this kind. If you already understand the idea of binary sorting, you'll be that much further ahead, but it's not a requirement, as the author keeps things as simple as possible, providing only what is necessary to use the concepts and without excessive academic diversion.

The rest of the book includes gambling routines, magic effects, and items incorporating further principles along with that of the binary coding, such as one-way decks. The Blackjack demonstrations are very convincing and will be striking to any gambling-interested audience; several of these look like card counting, even though they are in fact much easier to accomplish than the real thing. In one, the deck is dealt through and apparently memorized, then collected, and part of the deck is dealt face-down into two piles, one of which turns out to consist entirely of low cards, the other of high cards. This may read dryly, but presented in the context of Blackjack it could take on some real significance.

In another Blackjack demo, you cut the deck in half and rapidly deal through both halves, apparently memorizing the cards, two at a time. Sixteen hands are now drawn from the deck (admittedly in a somewhat contrived fashion other than normal dealing), whereupon the per-former tosses poker chips onto some of the hands—a clever presentational ploy. When the remaining hands are turned up, they are all weak; when the "bet on" hands are turned up, they are all strong. An interesting way of secretly and visually keeping track of which hands are which is included here, and used elsewhere throughout.

Under the heading of extra tips and the like, a Frank Thompson False Cut is provided, related but not identical to the popular FT False Cut published by Frank Garcia. And then, how is this for a clever plot: The mage quickly draws an outline of the United States on a piece of paper. The spectator scatters some coins over the map, which are described as locations to drill for oil. While the magician turns away, the spectator turns one of the coins over from its original orientation (all the coins were randomly mixed as to heads and tails). When the magician turns back he uses a swizzle stick as a dowsing rod to eventually locate the correct coin—the location where oil was "struck." The method is a very simple application of the principles discussed, but I thought the presentation a clever one that might be used in other ways.

All in all a fascinating read, and although not for everyone, I guarantee that someone out there is going to fall in love with this and find some effective and utterly impenetrable applications.

Combo • Karl Fulves • 8" x 11" comb bound • 55 pages • lightly illustrated with charts and diagrams • 1998