You heard of the principle of a stack, rosary or memorized deck, and you may be wondering if it’s worth embarking on this adventure. Why use a stack? Why not use one? What will this tool bring to your magic?
All excuses are good to procrastinateLet’s start with the (untrue) clichés on the subject, and the bad reasons to start learning a stack.
I sometimes hear people say they don’t want to use a memorized deck, because:
«The deck can’t be shuffled.»
In magic, what counts is not what you do, but what you appear to do. In this case, you have several solutions.
Firstly, you could of course do a false shuffle; whether it’s a Charlier false shuffle (easy and very efficient) or the excellent Truffle Shuffle by Derek Del Gaudio, the audience will be convinced that the order of the deck doesn’t matter. Secondly, you could choose to not shuffle at all, but to present routines giving the impression that the order of the deck is disturbed; it’s often the case with spelling routines, gambling demonstrations and many others; giving the impression that the deck is shuffled is just as efficient as saying «Look, I’m shuffling the cards!». Thirdly, and this is one of the approaches I’ve been using a lot, you could use faros; these systematic shuffles have a predictable outcome, and it’s easy to perform an effect, then do a couple of faros, then present another effect available with the newly obtained order. Fourthly, you could adopt an approach that has been explored by, among others, Arnaud Chevrier (Twins on the Internet); some of his routines partially or totally destroy the stack, but the following routines secretly rebuild the stack. Fifthly, you can choose the path of the partial stack, an idea used by, among others, Juan Tamariz and René Lavand; some more or less extended sections of the stack are truly shuffled, but the routines are performed using only the intact sections.
There are no problems, only solutions.
«OK, great, but what if the spectator wants to shuffle?»
If you use one of the previously listed solutions, and that your attitude is relaxed and doesn’t call for challenges, the audience should be convinced enough and not feel the need to shuffle themselves.
That being said, if a spectator asks to shuffle, here is another solution: let him shuffle. Too bad, you’ll have to show him different effects, just as good, without a stack.
Finally, you could also do a secret switch of the deck he just shuffled. There is a multitude of methods for this, including one by John B Born that I have discussed here.
«I don’t like stack magic, the effects are neither commercial nor entertaining.»
If you lack talent or entertaining power, don’t blame the stack. Watch Juan Tamariz entertain an entire room with a stack and you’ll change your mind.
«I don’t like stack magic, it requires a table, procedures are long and tedious, etc.»
Since 2004, I use my stack in my professional repertoire when doing walk-around magic. I never put anything down on the table (during cocktails, there sometimes isn’t any table!). In these conditions, I perform quick, strong effects, based on the stack.
It is true that some magic effects look more like an intellectual puzzle than an entertaining piece, but it’s your job to choose the routine that will suit best the conditions.
«I can’t use a stack, I have a bad memory and I don’t like mathematics.»
Some stacks base their sequence on a mathematic formula, and you are right in avoiding such systems, for reasons I explain in this other article. That being said, most routines require no calculus from you, because the stack helps you invisibly, just by being in the correct order. This also solves your memory problem: a lot of routines don’t require you to know the stack, but simply to have it in your hand, because the order will take care of producing the right outcome, as I described in Amnesia, my book about using the Mnemonica stack without memorising it.
Aside from the misconceptions about the stack, some magicians sometimes start using a stack for «bad reasons», leading them to drop this tool later on.
For example, aside from a very few exceptions, don’t use a stack to know the selected card; a glimpse or a marked deck will do the job just fine. It is also not very logical to use a stack in order to perform only one or two effects; the strength of a stack lies in the multitude of routines it offers you, and to make the effort to commit a deck to memory only to add a single routine to your repertoire doesn’t strike me as being energy-efficient.
What are the good reasons to start using a stack?
Before even looking into some of these good reasons, look at these magicians:
(Annemann, Aragon, Aronson, Baker, Berglas,
Chelman, Del Gaudio, Elmsley, Giobbi, Green,
Hofzinser, Robert-Houdin, Jay, Lavand, Marlo,
Tamariz, Vernon, Vincent, Weber, Wild.)
Despite their differences in style, usage, and even era, all these artists became interested in the stack and added one to their arsenal. This simple fact alone should be enough to convince you it’s really time for you to join the group.
If you’re still unsure, here are some good reasons to start.
A stack is a card index, in the sense that it gives you instant access to any card in the deck (with a shuffled deck, it would be difficult, if not impossible). In addition, a stack is an index of effects. When you have a stack in your hand, you can instantly access a multitude of effects!
«One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.»
Let’s take three very different but very entertaining effects: a gambling demonstration (poker or something else), the «Shuffled Bored» effect by Simon Aronson (described page 145 of his book Bound to Please), and the «Tut Tut» effect by Michael Close (described in his book Workers 5). Each of these effects requires a specific deck order to function. If you don’t use a stack, you will have to take three decks, arrange one per effect, then switch two times. With a stack, not only each of these effects is doable from the same order, but many more are also available. Even better: it’s up to you to decide in which order to perform them so as to obtain the most entertaining and impressive sequence!
The next level
Michael Close said that, thanks to the stack, pick-a-card effects become think-of-a-card effects. To find a card selected by the spectator is strong, but it becomes a miracle if you can find a card a spectator merely named or thought-of. Without any added effort!
Cards, but not only.
Finally, a stack is a principle that is not limited to card magic. It is a mental structure that you can overlay on other non-card effects; for example, for the classic memory demonstration with a list of words chosen by the audience (here the stack can be used as a structure of mnemonics). In my case, I transposed the structure of the stack to my «Pi» effect, where I show that I memorized the first 10 000 decimals of Pi.
He shall receive an hundredfold now in this time.
In general, each new routine requires from you that you learn a new ability; it’s doable, but not very energy-efficient. With a stack, you make the effort to learn 1 ability (the stack) to derive it into 100 uses (routines). It’s a lot more energy-efficient.