By Martin Joyal
Memorized deck is a very hot subject these days. The Internet is buzzing with questions concerning which stack to use, the best method for memorization, and which books and videos contain the strongest effects. This heightened interest is due to the fact that many of the practitioners of this artifice have been more open in demonstrating to other magicians the powerful effects possible with a memorized deck. As with the current self-levitation craze, everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon.
However, unlike the self-levitations, memorized deck work requires a pretty serious jump, and most magicians are, thankfully, unwilling to pay the price. Most stacks require that the student learn through the use of a mnemonic system, associating each number from 1 to 52 and each of the 52 playing with a mnemonic "word." After these associations are learned, each "card word" and its associated "stack number word" are combined to form a vivid image. This is done for all 52 cards. To determine the stack number of a card, its "mnemonic word" is recalled, the image association is made, and the "number word" is translated back into digits. A similar procedure is used to determine a card given its stack number.
Eventually, the mnemonic system falls away, and you simply "know" the stack. From this point on, how good you get with the stack depends on how much time you spend with the deck in your hands.
For most magicians, the demands of the mnemonic system are too overwhelming. An alternative is a stack based on calculation; that is, the position of each card in the stack can be calculated using a mathematical formula. A drawback to this approach is that unless the performer does his calculating extremely quickly, the audience may discern that "something" odd is going on.
Another approach is to memorize the position of each card using a set of "rules" rather than mnemonic associations, and it is to this end that Martin Joyal offers the magic fraternity The Six-Hour Memorized Deck. Mr. Joyal has constructed a stack which appears to be in a completely random order, but which has been constructed using 14 rules which allow the performer to quickly recall either the stack number of a named card, or the card which falls at any given number. In this 240 page book Mr. Joyal not only completely explains the construction and the rules of his stack, but he offers an extremely interesting overview of stacked decks in general, and he details several effects to which his stack (or any other memorized stack) can be put to use.
The book begins with an explanation of the differences between a "stack," a "system," and a "memorized stack." These definitions are followed by three chapters which give overviews of stacks, systems, and memorized stacks. The information presented here is valuable and extremely interesting. Of special note are several tables which compare the various stacks and systems.
Next, Mr. Joyal presents an overview of his stack, and he explains the difference between memorization using mnemonics and memorization using rules. Also presented here are some basic suggestions on how to practice memorizing the deck. This is followed by a chapter presenting the actual rules and how apply them. (Actually, there are two chapters presenting the rules. Mr. Joyal gives you the option of learning the stack using either "CHaSeD" or "SHoCkeD" order.) The rules are given in increasing order of complexity, allowing the student to absorb the easier rules before moving on to rules which are less intuitive. The information is extremely well presented, and I could certainly see that a dedicated student could become comfortable with the stack in the advertised six hours. To conclude his exposition of the stack, Mr. Joyal offers ways in which the stack can be altered to fit personal preference.
In a chapter titled "Mesmerizing with the Stack," Mr. Joyal presents eight memorized deck effects. To be honest, I was less than knocked out by these tricks, and there are two reasons why: 1) the stack is destroyed during the course of each trick, which makes them impractical for real world work; and 2) most of the tricks require mental mathematical calculation in order to find a spectator's selected card. For example, in one routine you must calculate the number of cards cut off by a spectator. This you find by the following formula: B=T-A-C-D-1. The number derived from this calculation is used in another calculation to determine the actual selected card. This is simply not my cup of tea. However, the effects are clever, and they may be exactly the kind of thing you're looking for.
The book concludes with two appendices (one which discusses the genesis of the Joyal stack, and the other which tackles the interesting problem of determining how "shuffled" a deck of cards really is) and a very thorough bibliography. The appendices were fascinating, and the bibliography is a very useful reference.
So, you want to add memorized deck miracles to your repertoire. Should you buy this book and learn the Joyal stack? That's a hard question to answer. Let me give you a couple of things to think about. Whether you use rules or you use mnemonics, the goal is exactly the same: the complete, instantaneous knowledge of the position of any card in the deck. My belief is that for memorized deck work to have any impact you have to know the deck "cold." Rules and mnemonics will only get you part way there; time and commitment will bring the rest. Mastery will not come in six hours, or in six months. Mr. Joyal's method will allow you to recall the cards and their stack numbers with a minimum of effort, but this is not the same thing as being able to use this information to present baffling and entertaining card mysteries.
My other point is this: getting proficient with memorized deck takes a lot of time and effort. You're probably not going to learn more than one stack in your lifetime (although if Juan's book ever sees the light of day I probably will learn a second stack). For this reason you may want to consider learning a stack which has a number of built in features: that is, there are some tricks already built into the stack. Simon Aronson's stack contains a number of such features, several of which I use to great effect in my work. The Joyal stack does not contain any features of this nature, because the cards were organized according to easily remembered rules. I have found that there are some things about Simon's stack that I wish were different, and at some point in time I may alter his stack to better suit my performing needs. If you are a novice in this area it will be difficult for you to decide exactly what your needs are, but it would behoove you to take a moment and think about how you want to use the memorized deck. This could save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run.
The bottom line? The Six-Hour Memorized Deck is a fascinating book, and is valuable for its excellent overviews of the various systems and its thorough bibliography. Will I learn this stack? No. But if you're looking for a stack, and built-in features are not a factor, then the Joyal stack is certainly worth your serious consideration.
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