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Mutus Nomen by Karl Fulves

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


This latest cache of material from Karl Fulves reflects the typical range of his concerns, focusing on an assortment of classic card problems and off-beat methodologies. This manuscript concerns itself with the classic card routine "Mutus Nomen," short for Mutus, Nomen, Dedit, Cocis, the Latinate origins of a word code used as a mnemonic device in the trick's method. (The phrase has no useful literal meaning, essentially translating as "Mutus gave a name to the Coci," albeit that we have no idea, historically or otherwise, who Mutus or the Coci might have been.)

The trick is a sleight-free routine, dating back to at least 1774, which accomplishes the revelation of multiple cards selected by the audience, typically but not always in pairs. That is to say, in the original version, 10 pairs of cards are dealt to the table from a shuffled deck, and any number of spectators from one to 10 chooses a pair. The cards are then gathered randomly, mixed, and redistributed to the table in columns or rows. Whenever a spectator indicates the row his or her cards fall in, the magician immediately knows the identity of the cards.

This treatise explores numerous aspects of the Mutus Nomen procedure, in both method and effect. Perhaps surprisingly, some clever presentational approaches are included, such as a version in that the spectator selects two cards that represent her age, and at the climax the magician arrives at four cards that reveal the year of her birth. There are poker and blackjack themes. In a version done with photographs, 10 spectators each contribute two photographs from their wallets, and the photos are "mixed and dealt into rows to represent the pages in a photo album." When a spectator indicates one of his own photos, the magician finds the other picture belonging to the same spectator. Other versions depart even further from the fold, as it were: a page of the personals ads from a newspaper is folded into squares, ads are chosen by several spectators, where-upon the magician, after cutting the page into pieces and dealing them into rows, can reveal the selected ads.

Despite these admittedly clever variations on the theme, one would be hard-put to insist that the Mutus Nomen effect is the stuff of which commercial standbys are made. The methodological exploration is often more of Mr. Fulves' métier, and fellow explorers will not be disappointed by the varied examinations provided here. In one rather witty solution, the trick is performed with alphabet cards, and so the columns are dealt in the actual spelling and pattern of the original Mutus Nomen chart!

Despite the esoteric nature of the subject matter, Mr. Fulves' wit shows now and again, as when he refers in his script to the four time zones: "Time Honored, Time Immemorial, Time Out, and Times Square." One of these days I'd like to see a book of Mr. Fulves' favorite effects and presentations for commercial use only—I bet it would be an interesting and entertaining exercise. For the time being, however, he continues to serve his loyal readership in their pursuit of the arcana of cardmanship.

Mutus Nomen • Karl Fulves • 8" x 11" comb bound • 82 pages • illustrated with line drawings and charts • 1998