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Simply Simon by Simon Aronson

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii February, 1996)


Simply Simon

Simon Aronson, a visible member of Ed Marlo's inner circle, was for many years a regular attendee at the weekly Marlo "round table" sessions. For some time now Mr. Aronson's name has spread far beyond the borders of Chicago, to cardicians near and far who have found interest and reward in his particular fascination with card conjuring. A deeply methodical and creative thinker, Simon Aronson brings a unique style and sensibility to magic with playing cards, and the depth and variety of his tastes are well represented in this, his latest book.

Divided into six chapters, the author presents 28 tricks and routines, plus several sleights and technical items and a detailed essay on a principle he calls the Cross-Index Index (more on this later). A casual glance through this book is frankly not a good idea, as you will find yourself faced with endless pages of pure text, a mere handful of illustrations, and some imposing pages of tables and charts—not to mention a one-page mathematical proof Yikes! If you're looking for lots of illustrations and tricks loaded with moves (not that there's anything wrong with that!), this book will not satiate your need. But, if you are looking for a book of usable, unusual material that does not rehash worn and familiar territory, this may well be the book for you.

Simon Aronson tends to be fascinated by concepts that are not only uncommon, but for some, downright unpopular. This fact is largely fortuitous, resulting in material that is fresh and may well be previously unfamiliar to the reader. If there is an unfortunate side at all, it may be that some readers will find some of the odd methodology and plots a tad off-putting. While it is really impossible to label all of this material as any single type, it is probably fair to say that we are not dealing with extremely visual material based on color changes, classic shifts, and other knuckle-busting if classic technique; nor are we expected to master difficult misdirective and timing skills along the lines of top changes and palming. In his preface, the author assures us that "You won't find any impromptu, visual quickies." Rather, this is material that requires a magician with an active and facile mind, who is intrigued by mathematical possibilities and other such principles, on a level of sophistication far beyond your average deal-and-duck or reverse faro procedures.

If you have a good mind but are disinclined to master difficult sleights, this book can help you to accomplish some incredible feats with cards. There are effects here which are without doubt devastatingly deceptive for lay audiences and magicians alike. Mr. Aronson confesses a certain passion for fooling magicians, a pursuit of little import to me, and that much of this material has been developed by a magician for magicians does show in various ways. But this is not necessarily bad; the author is at least aware of his motives, and speaks of the "love and luxury of the hobbyist.... [that] sometimes results in experimentation, fascination with contingencies and alternatives, perseverance beyond the bounds that realworld performing conditions might require, and on occasion falling off the deep end." The payoff, however, is that there is some truly amazing magic in this book, far too much of it to discuss more than a fragment in this review.

The first chapter, entitled "Games People Play," is particularly good, consisting of three effects. Point Spread is based on a gambling premise of the same name, in which the spectator continually bets against the magician as to the differing numbers of red and black cards in piles clearly controlled by the audience; guess who wins' Moves and Removes contains some great ideas on the 3-by-3 elimination matrix, including a terrific idea for a presentation dependent upon a self-contained flip book of instructions. Child's Play is Mr. Aronson's clever elaboration of Robert Neale's My First Trick, based upon the ancient child's game of Scissors-Paper-Stone. This latter routine is one of several effective mentalism pieces in the book. All three items in this chapter are deceptive, potentially entertaining routines, requiring a minimum of sleight of hand.

The second chapter includes several sleights of the author's devise, including a false shuffle and cut sequence, and a number of commercially-plotted tricks, including a snappy multiple climax poker deal. Chapter Three includes several tricks that require some prepared props, and with terrific results. This Side Up has a great premise, wherein the magician introduces a card containing the instructions for the "world's greatest card trick." After returning a signed selection to the deck and following the instructions, it turns out that the instruction card, which has been in play from the start, has the signed selection on one side of it, an "impossible object" which you can leave with the audience as a souvenir. There follows a clever version of Alex Elmsley's birthday card trick, and then an excellent idea—actually a group of stimulating ideas— based on the use of greeting cards.

The final three chapters delve into several of Mr. Aronson's particular, and somewhat related, specialties. These are stacked decks (including complete and partial prearrangements), full-deck memorized stacks, and finally, the aforementioned Cross- Index Index principle, a flexible and thought-provoking concept with potentially wide application, too subtle and intricate to encapsulate here, but which includes a truly remarkable effect entitled Fate. The first of these three chapters contains some extremely practical work that, even if you're not conversant with elaborate stacks, is not terribly challenging to master. There are several tricks here which are elaborations of Al Koran's wonderful Lazy Man's Card Trick, each with its own interesting approach.

The final two chapters would be poorly served by any shorthand summary here. They cannot be usefully described in brief, any more than they can be quickly read or easily learned. For those who eschew these types of methods, you will have already received your money's worth in the material covered so far. But for those willing to tread where few have gone before, there be miracles beyond. The memorized or "tuned" deck is an ancient principle in magic, as most students who have come across the Si Stebbins, Nikola, and other stacks will know. (The late Tommy Edwards used to kill laymen across the bar with a basic Eight Kings stack.) But the real work on the memorized deck has rarely shown its head above ground. I first witnessed such effects about a decade ago when I sat across a table from David Berglas (fortunately long enough to realize what was going on, after a stunning initial shock or two). More recently, Juan Tamariz has awakened magicians to some of what can be accomplished when such methods are meshed, as Mr. Aronson aptly puts it (albeit in a slightly different context), "with ad hoc creative thinking, lots of confidence and nerve, multiple outs, and who knows what else!" Mr. Aronson has previously published material in this vein, notably his excellent Aronson Stack, but here he provides some mind-bending concepts, ideas and routines for the exploring student. Developing magi are influenced by the fashions of their times, and just as I experienced a seminal Slydini Period in my late teens and early twenties, mastering skills and concepts that continue to serve me to this day, I can well imagine a young magician now, setting out on his own personal path of discovery, and wearing out a copy of this book in the process. If you want to master some uniquely powerful tools that few will be able to duplicate, sit down with the last few chapters of this book, knock yourself out, and be prepared to knock out lay audiences and magicians for the rest of your life.

My quibbles with this book are minor in the larger scheme of things, but still worth noting. The writing style is often as dense as the endless pages of text appear to be on the surface. Ed Marlo was doubtless a terrific influence when it came to thinking about card magic, but as a literary model he left a lot to be desired. While Mr. Aronson's prose is by no means as turgid as his mentor's, an aggressive editor might well have helped the author breathe a bit more life into these pages while restraining his Marlovian and hobbyist's passion for including every possible thought and detail; even such detail as is necessary could have been more succinctly presented without loss of content. Such an editor might also have explained that, in general, punctuation falls within quotation marks, not outside. The author also possesses the intensely annoying habit of using the verb "fooling" as an adjective, i.e., as a synonym for "deceptive." This results in a plethora of alleged sentences containing phraseology like "...the trick can be made even more fooling..." and, if imaginable, worse. (And here I thought that Chicago-speak was characterized mostly by the flattening of a few vowels.) Finally, while the design of this book is of the typically awkward desktop publishing school, the cover design is downright repellent. For an author who works so hard and thinks so seriously about his subject, he has packaged the book in as frivolous a manner as humanly conceivable, with a silly title to boot, none of which begins to do justice to the contents so thoroughly concealed within. Reading the book during a recent Amtrak ride, and lacking a copy of Penthouse to conceal the book within, I stripped off the dustjacket in embarrassment. The foregoing complaints notwithstanding, I do hope that students will investigate this book and invest the effort due its offerings, as the rewards will, I assure you, be substantial and long lasting.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound with laminated dustjacket; 308 pages; illustrated with approximately 50 photographs and diagrams, plus charts; 1995; Published by Simon Aronson

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