Magic Tricks, Card Shuffling And Dynamic Computer Memories by S. Brent Morris

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1998)

S Brent Morris is a mathematician with expertise and interest in computer science and, among other things, card shuffling; his doctoral dissertation was entitled "Permutations by Cutting and Shuffling: A Generalization to Q Dimensions." Dr. Morris has brought to bear his passion for the faro shuffle in particular and card magic in general to produce this unusual book. In five chapters plus assorted appendices the author examines the mathematics of perfect shuffles in extreme and academic detail, along the way teaching five excellent card tricks relying upon the faro shuffle, including Paul Swinford's The Seekers and a mildly simplified version of Paul Gertner's Unshuffled.

That said, I can't imagine precisely who the audience is for this book. The math will be beyond the grasp of all but the very most mathematically inclined magi. The magic is good—so good, that I find it hard to visualize the creature it is designed for. Is there such a being who knows so little about magic that he will use three faro shuffles in order to control a selected card to fourth from the top (!), but is sufficiently skillful to have mastered the faro shuffle for repeated use under fire? Perhaps so, but there can't be many. There is an appendix which teaches the faro shuffle to beginners, but in the description of Unshuffled, the Riffle Force is taught in one sentence. I don't get it. I respect and admire the author's diverse expertise and effort, but I'm not certain how usefully it translates in these pages. There is a section describing the triple faro, a creation of the author, which he admits "is too tediously slow to make this a really dramatic trick for all audiences..." Whoever might find fascination in the triple faro will also enjoy this book; Martin Gardner fans, take note! A bit on the pricey side for a small paperback, I suspect this will do a good deal better in math rather than magic circles. For the magician with a deep interest in math, or the mathematician with a deep interest in the faro shuffle, this is the perfect book. Anybody out there?

6" X 9" perfect bound paperback; 148 pages; illustrated with line drawings and charts; 19 98; Publisher: The Mathematical Association of America