A few months back I was watching a Masterclass by Matt Baker and in one of his tricks he made a reference to Simon Aronson. I can't remember if he said it was this book or not, but either way I figured it out and picked up a copy. During the month of January, 2023, I read the book cover-to-cover... twice!
I took a lot of notes while reading, and I also practiced just about every trick. There are some that I loved. There are some that I'll likely never read again. And there are others that, while I don't like the routine itself, the principle and basis of the trick are priceless -- and I can easily build on top of it. I know I'm jumping ahead here, but I very much recommend this book for anyone who studies card magic.
The YouTube video below is my first video book review, and I'm happy to say it was for Try the Impossible. This book took me out of my comfort zone and really taught me some things. Watch the video for a demo of a few of the tricks from the book, or continue reading below for a more brief summary.
Simon Aronson and all his Eccentrics
Simon self-published this book back in 2001, but I got my first copy in late-2022. The material within the book doesn't read or feel aged at all, everything still works quite well to this day.
The book itself is split into 3 sections:
- UnDo Influence
- Unpacking the Aronson Stack
And there's also a Postscript section, but we'll touch on that later.
The first section is all about Simon's "Undo Influence" principle, a math concept that lets you position two spectators' cards at previously-known locations in the deck. The first trick teaches the principle, the rest of the section shows different ways to use it.
Eccen-tricks, or the second section, is a hodgepodge collection of card magic routines. They are each decent routines, but they don't fit into any specific chapter so they're all tossed into this one. Truth-be-told, I own more than a few card magic books that have fewer routines than this second section does and the number of "keepers" here is more than them too. This section alone was worth the cost of the book, albeit I personally think the first section's principle was the best.
The final section, Unpacking the Aronson Stack, is all about, well, the Aronson Stack. With a twist though, Simon goes into detail about how to utilize the stack without needing to memorize it! He unleashes several routines that show how to produce multiple four-of-a-kinds, how to deal poker hands, and more. This is beneficial to those of us who don't have it memorized -- and even better considering I don't plan on memorizing this specific stack quite yet. Conversely, it does require you having a deck in Aronson Stack order...
Counting and Spelling
Let's talk about counting for a minute. The entire first section regarding the UnDo Influence principle, and most (if not all) of the third section where we unpack the Aronson Stack, have to do with counting. And yes, the second section has a few of these types of tricks too.
With the Aronson Stack, we're actually spelling words rather than counting. And in Eccen-tricks we learn Simon's Flash Speller -- and a few routines to use it -- where, guess what, we spell the names of cards.
Spelling tricks are counting tricks. Let's set that context. If you need to count 6 cards to "find the selection", you could also just spell a 5 or 6 letter word (or name) to get to it too. The same trick, just a different presentation.
I don't like these types of tricks. I don't mind watching them, mind you. I just don't like performing them. I have no problem with a trick taking a few minutes, that's fine. But having the spectator watch me count 40 cards or spell "Seven of Diamonds", ugh.
The UnDo Influence principle is more than worth ignoring that bias on my part. The routine is practically hands-off. It's so close to a self-working concept that, dare I call it a self-working trick? Matt Baker's improvement to it, where you can actually have the spectators name the numbers rather than having them pre-committed, does require a bit more work (e.g., math), but it's transparent work. Utilizing that and psychology tricks picked up from Dani DaOrtiz, it's a powerhouse of a principle! While yes, I do recommend Matt's version over Simon's original, understanding the original does make it a lot better.
Similarly, Simon's Random Tandem is another presentation utilizing the UnDo Influence principle that I think is amazing all by itself. It's identical to Prior Commitment, except it doesn't use cards with written-on numbers -- and no Jokers. The handling of the deck, where you go through it face-up after telling the spectator what you're about to do, actually meshes really nicely with the way I like to perform too, so that specific trick can easily fit into my sets. Did I just find a math-based trick to use? Heck yeah I did!
Now, as for spelling... I don't use the Aronson Stack. The third section of the book presents many ways to leverage the stack -- without memorizing it -- to do things like producing a four of a kind. My issue with it is that first, it's stack-dependent. Second, all of the methods are spelling-based. I think that it's a great section for anyone who uses the Aronson Stack, and it does provide good utility and reference for ideas for other stacks too. However, I don't see myself performing much -- if anything -- from this section directly.
Backing up to the second section, Eccen-tricks, there are a few spelling routines here too. If I have to spell the name of a card, I typically avoid the trick. The info presented in Simon's Flash Speller, specifically the ability to instantly know how many letters are in the name of a card, is actually really useful though. Knowing that, and combining it with the presentation for the Spell-it-Out trick, you now have the ability to do a routine like this completely impromptu. Given that you're aiming for a word that is 13 characters long -- with outs for shorter and longer words -- I actually see this working way more impromptu and personalized, perhaps by using a name (or two) of the spectators. Just a thought =]
The postscript section kicks off with, well look at that... a trick. Go figure!
Simon explains that he wasn't going to include it, but thanks to John Bannon, it's there. The "problem" was that the explanation of the routine -- which uses a rubber band and a borrowed ring -- was really difficult to put into words. Don't you just love those kinds of tricks?
I'm not a band-magic person, myself, but the effect did sound really cool.
It sounds like a short-and-sweet routine to me. It takes a solid 8 pages to walk through, but all-in-all, I think the performance is quick. If you're into band magic at all, you'll likely add this one to your repertoire quickly!
I feel like this book makes me sound very hypocritical, but in a good way? I don't really like math-based tricks, but I love the UnDo Influence principle. I don't like spelling tricks, but I've already started studying Simon's Flash Speller. I don't use the Aronson Stack... ah, wait, yeah no that part's still true.
After going through the book, Simon could have taken it in a completely different direction and released the different chapters as separate books. The whole UnDo Influence chapter is a thing on its own -- I actually think that if it was released separately, a lot more magicians would know about it and use it. The Eccen-tricks chapter, likewise, could've been a whole book by itself with just "card magic by Simon" as the title. Or, something more clever... like Eccen-tricks =P
As a person with limited shelf space though, I'm glad it's a single book. I'm also glad that I didn't read the description before buying it because I really, honestly may have passed on it. A big thank you to Matt Baker for that one; again, his performance in his Masterclass is the whole reason I jumped onto the book -- and I'm very glad I did.
I recommend this book for all card magicians, not just those who use the Aronson Stack or prefer counting or spelling tricks. There are so many alternative handlings and extra explanations of things that it'll keep you busy for quite a long time!