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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Saturday, January 11

Card Tricks

Mr. Wizard reminded me of other card tricks I’ve known across the years. About sixty years ago, when I was in Korea, an army buddy showed us a trick in which he had one of us select a pair cards from ten sets of pairs he laid out facedown. The chooser was to memorize the two cards. Then he picked them all up and laid them out, face up, in four rows of five cards each. Then he asked which row or rows the two cards were. Then he told us what the two cards were. Amazing. How did he do it? I finally paid him $20 to reveal the secret. You have to understand, twenty bucks sixty years ago was a bunch of money. And, in this age of the World Wide Web, I could have found the answer without paying out good money. But then I thought it was worth it. I was young and stupid. What did I know? The trick depends on four words: bible, atlas, goose, thigh. In putting out the cards, the trickster places them on a grid conforming to those four words. Whatever row or rows the person says will contain the ones duplicated in the letters of the words. The trick is to put out the cards as fast as possible without looking like there’s any pattern to the layout. That takes practice. And without knowing the words, there’s no way anyone can see how it’s done. I got the four words for five buck apiece, and spent a lot of time practicing the grid. The old con games with the walnut shells and 3-card Monte take the same kind of practice, but I was never very good at either of those.

Another game my wife and I played at parties in the past had me lay out six, eight or ten cards, face up in two or three rows. I’d send Rosalie out of the room, then have someone choose one of the cards. She’d come back and I would then touch each of the cards and ask her which one was chosen. She would tell us the right card. We could do that two or three times before someone told me not to touch any of the cards. Okay. So when she came back, she could still point to the correct card. This could go on for up to an hour. At first, when I touched the cards, I would touch whichever card had the same number of pips as the pattern of the layout, touch the pip that corresponded to the card chosen. If there were ten cards, I’d lay them out in three rows, four in the outer rows and two in the middle, conforming to the pips on the ten that I’d included in the laid out cards. When the tricked person decided that the secret lay in the way I was touching the cards, I’d agree not to touch them. But when Rosalie came back in the room, she’d surreptitiously look to see how I was holding a cigarette (in those old days when folks still smoked indoors at a house party)—pointing left, right, or neutral to indicate which row, fingers holding it at top or bottom or part way in between to indicate which card in that row. The same could be done with a pencil or pen. Ah, the good old card-trick days. Now I have to trick myself into going to sleep and waking up.
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