The Art & decay of Lying
Exploring the Volatility of Lies and Statistics Within the Context of a Card Trick
“Mark Twain wrote that there are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics. Did you know that almost 71 percent of statistics are made up on the spot? It’s true. Ironically, statistics are what this piece is all about.”
The performer invites a participant to the table as the performer proceeds to cut three approximately equal size packets of playing cards face up onto the table.
“You’ll notice that there’s three packets on the table. In a moment, I’m going to turn around. When I do, I’ll ask you to go ahead and make a mental selection of one of these face-up cards. Sound good? Perfect.”
The performer turns away while the participant makes their selection. Once their selection is confirmed, the performer asks their participant to turn all the packets face down.
“Oh, and to make this more interesting go ahead and switch the positions of the packets that DON’T have your card with each other.”
The participant follows suit at which point the performer turns to face them.
“In fact, go ahead and keep mixing the packets some more but be sure to keep track of which one has your card.”
The spectator does so. After a brief moment of concentration and mental calculation, the performer retraces the participants actions revealing their mentally selected card.
“Now let’s think about this. There is a 33.3% chance of this working out in my favor every time. Those are far better odds than any casino in the world, and to be honest, I take that bet every time. However, that doesn’t change the fact that statistics aren’t always facts. In fact, they’re contextual. Which means that at the end of the day they’re malleable. Let me show you what I mean.”
The performer again cuts three approximately equal sized packets face down to the table. The performer turns their back and invites the participant to note and remember the top card of any packet. However, it’s at this point that things take quite a turn.
“While the context will remain the same, the variables will change. Take your card and bury it somewhere within its respective packet and then swap the positions of all three of the packets as much as you’d like!
The participant does so and only upon the completion of this process does the performer turn back to face the participant. After yet another brief moment of concentration and mental calculation the performer states the following;
“Now I could tell you that this is all based on statistics, but I’d be lying! Though, it would only go to prove that one should only lie to keep in practice, which is exactly what this is; practice.”
The performer concludes by not only revealing which PACKET the thought of card is in, but the cards IDENTITY and its exact POSITION within its respective packet.
The method is all thanks to the work of David Britland in combining two classic principles in his original Monte Mystery. In combining Burling Hull’s classic Svengali Deck with Bob Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte, David assembled a deeply fooling piece of material. This is my working presentation for this gem along with a few handling changes, simple modifications, and presentational thoughts. It’s with David's blessing that I’m sharing this phenomenal and fooling piece of magic with you. Additionally, please note that the author reserves all commercial and manufacturing rights as per agreement with David Britland as of March 2023.
The deck utilized is in fact a Svengali Deck with a few extra bells and whistles by way of modification. Namely, the short force cards have been lightly marked in red in the upper left and lower right corners while the long indifferent cards are stacked in a pre-determined order. The order of the long cards can be arranged in any stack of your preference, be it a memorized order or strictly cyclical in nature. Furthermore, the force card does not appear anywhere within the uncut twenty-six cards of the stack, it only appears within the context of one of twenty-six force cards.
The idea of stacking the regular cards within a Svengali deck is not new, dating as far back to the late 1930’s as evidenced by J. G. Thompson Jr.’s contribution to The Jinx in his Utility Routine. It is a concept that I feel has been vastly underused and one which provides more avenues for subterfuge than one might expect. Additionally, the pack is equipped with a set of repelling breathers. That is, a regular breather crimp on the top card of the pack and a reverse breather crimp on the bottom card of the pack. This concept by Jared Kopf allows its user to confidently undo any cuts the deck may sustain before beginning the effect.
Bob Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte is a logic puzzle which relies on simple deductive reasoning and a small but effective bluff. As David Britland writes,
“The Hummer trick works by knowing the position of one of the three cards being shuffled around. When the performer turns back to face the spectator he notes the new position of the memorized card and is now able to deduce which of the three cards was chosen.”
While this principle has seen print numerous times before and has featured outstanding contributions from the minds of Al Koran, Cy Endfield, Martin Gardner, Jon Racherbaumer, Joshua Jay, Michael Weber, and Allan Slaight, it is a principle which feel I many may dismiss. While I will share my take of how I interpret the principle, I believe that the best source to learn the original workings of it is within that of Martin Gardner’s Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery. However, for a further and more thorough understanding of the principle, one can do no better than Persi Diaconis’s and Ron Graham's Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks. A superb supplement to the above sources and one which reframes the principle with some rather offbeat but modern-day interpretations, would be three episodes from Brian Brushwood’s Scam Nation of which links are provided for at the end of this explanation.
I like to view a key factor of the principle as assumptive logic. Namely, because I assume that the position of my key card will NEVER change within the first phase of the routine. While this might seem like a rather elementary thought, it was pivotal in my understanding of the logic. The following serves as a brief insight as to how I choose to see this principle.
Let’s say that the three cards at the face of each packet from left to right are that of the Ace of Spades, the Queen of Hearts, and the Seven of Diamonds. Make a mental note of the leftmost card, the Ace of Spades. This will be your key card and will therefore act as your assumed packet. This means that you will always assume that this packet does in fact have the Ace of Spades at it’s face.
Turn your back and ask your participant to mentally select one of the face-up cards. Once they have done so, ask them to turn each packet face down and to SWAP the positions of the packets which DO NOT CONTAIN their card with each other.
Once your participant has completed this initial set of instructions, turn back to face them, and ask them to now swap the packets as much as they’d like. As they do so, follow the leftmost packet, your assumed Ace of Spades packet, the entire time. Once your participant is satisfied, take a moment to apparently “retrace” their movements by holding your hand over each packet. Turn each packet face-up and as you do, note the card at the face of your assumed packet. This packet will tell you everything you need to know as soon as you see the card at its face.
Scenario no. 1
If the Ace of Spades IS at the face of your assumed packet, then it IS the card they thought of and therefore their respective packet. Due to the fact that they were instructed to swap the positions of the packets that DID NOT contain their card, the position of their thought of packet never moved, effectively allowing you to correctly track your assumed packet.
Scenario no. 2
If the Ace of Spades is NOT at the face of your assumed packet, then you know two things. The first being that whichever card is at the face of this packet is NOT their thought-of-card. Secondly, it informs you that your initial key card, the Ace of Spades, is NOT their thought-of-card as well for the same logic as above. This means that the odd card out, must be their mental selection.
While this may read as confusing, please try this a couple of times with a person of confidence until you feel comfortable with the process. As with many logic games and puzzles of this nature, the moment you start questioning the counterintuitive nature of the logic is a beginning sign of comprehension.
the WOrk on the demonstration
The first phase is a direct handling of Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte. However, since you’re working with a Svengali Deck, some care must be given in regards to the way it's handled.
Beginning with Svengali Deck in face down dealing position, riffle up the end of the pack until you hold about a third of the pack at the fingertips. Place this packet face up on the left side of the table. Repeat this procedure twice more, placing each face up packet in a row from left to right.
Because of the nature of the Svengali Deck, there will be a different card at the face of every packet therefore creating a truly copacetic picture of three random cuts to the table.
You can now guide your participant through the initial phase as outlined in the presentation above. However, care must be taken in delivering your instructions with tact in order to keep your participant from revealing the true
nature of the Svengali Deck. Do not fear your participant handling a Svengali pack, but do not let them make a case study of it either.
Once you’ve completed the first phase, reassemble the deck by stacking each packet onto each other and turning the deck face-down. You’re now set for the second phase.
the Work on The Miracle
With the deck face down, you once again riffle up the end of the pack and cut about a third of the deck to the table face-down. Do this twice more forming a row of three packets of cards, each of which contains a force card on top.
Turn your back and instruct your participant to note the top card of any packet and to bury it within its respective packet. Proceed with the procedure as outlined in the presentation above and once your spectator is satisfied, turn to face them yet again.
Under the guise of retracing your participants steps, note which packet does not sport a marked card on top. This will indicate not only the packet they’ve chosen, but based on the thickness of the packet, will also determine the numerical position at which you name their card to be at.
Due to the fact that a force card was removed from the top of the selected packet, this now positions a force card at almost every even position within it.
All you must do is name an even number that is just smaller than what you estimate the thickness of the packet to be. However, there is the possibility that the lone card that was re-inserted within the packet may alter the odd/even distribution of the force cards past a certain point. To accommodate for this we use some slightly misleading language.
When announcing the position of the card claim that the card is “X cards down from the top,” placing particular emphasis on the word “down”. This gives what is otherwise interpreted as a definitive statement enough ambiguity to cover both potential outcomes; either the card is exactly at the named number or it is the card directly following the named number. Due to the markings on the upper left and lower right corners of the force cards, you’ll know whatever the case may be before ever arriving at the number.
Utilizing the above mentioned gambit, all that is left to do is to spread the cards on the table and count to the appropriate position, moving your finger along the spread one card at a time, to bring this exercise in lying to a successful conclusion.
Some Additional Thoughts
Earlier in the explanation of this routine, mention was made of the stacked nature of the long, regular cards. Thanks to the marked nature of the force cards, it is a simple matter to replace the lone force card that has been displaced at the end of the second phase on top of its respective packet. Additionally, it is just as simple to keep the pack in stack, despite the numerous cuts that are made within the process of the routine, by merely reassembling the packets in their correct order at the end of each phase.
The stacked condition of the Svengali pack may be further exploited with a slight tweak or two in additional routines scattered throughout the literature. Many a good one, along with further handling dodges, are to be found within the pages of Hugard’s quintessential and criminally overlooked Encyclopedia of Card Tricks along with Daryl's Svengali Deck video from his Essentials in Magic series. Additionally, anything that David Britland ruminates on, fiddles with, and ultimately decides to share via his magnificent Cardopolis Blog and Genii Magazine Column is worth your time.
credits & References
Britland, David. “Thoughts on Hummer’s Monte.” Genii Magazine, Sept. 2016.
Diaconis, Persi & Graham, Ron. Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic
Tricks. Princeton University Press, 2012.
Gardner, Martin. “Hummer’s Three Object Divination.” Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery. Dover, 1956.
Hummer, Bob. Mathematical Three Card Monte. Frank Werner, 1951.
Kopf, Jared. “Repelling Breathers.” Nothing But The Family Deck. Dark Arts Press, 2016.
Thompson Jr., James G. "Utility Routine." The Jinx, Oct. 1963.
Twain, Mark. “On the Decay of the Art of Lying.” The Stolen White Elephant. James R. Osgood,1882.