M. D. Smith: A Key Figure in Finding Erdnase? (Part 2)

Erdnase_MDSmith

(Continued from my last post)

Smith was the only real person mentioned on the frontispiece of TEATCT. This means that there is also a chance that he was “in on it”, a friend or partner of Erdnase, so he may have given false clues in order to protect his anonymity, even all those years later. Who knows, he might might might even have been Erdnase himself, a notion that has not been looked into deeply and seriously yet, as far as I know. S.W.E. = Smith Was Erdnase???

In conclusion, I really would advise not too rely too strongly on Smith‘s “clear and undoubtful recollections” and to not exclude other options or a promising candidate just because “his height or age doesn’t match with Smith‘s description at all.”

To be fair, there are two points to consider: First, unless proven otherwise, it is reasonable to assume that Smith tried his best in remembering and describing his mysterious customer. But then again, a free-lance artist may have met hundreds, if not thousands of clients over the years, maybe with quite a few of them having very “special” assignments. And was drawing hands a totally odd job at the time? Maybe, maybe not. Who knows.

And secondly, yes, maybe a fine artist would pay special attention to the hands of this strange client. But maybe he was so busy getting the finger positions, cards, and angles right that he wouldn’t remember a thing about the man’s real hands…

When it comes to estimating a person’s age and height, this seems very thin ice to me, as there’s a huge subjective factor involved in it. Also, from today’s perspective, a lot of people on photos one hundred or more years ago seem to look so much older then they actually were at the time.

As I’ve learned from Joe Posnanski’s interesting book, The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini (see my short review here), even the world’s most famous and most publicized artist of his time, who undoubtedly was a short man, had quite a huge range of heights attributed to him.

My biggest point though is the indisputable limits of our senses and our brain when it comes to attention, perception, and memory. Please feel free to take my little online test for you here. If, after 10,000 hours or more of shuffling and toying with playing cards right under our noses, we are unable to tell which Jack looks which way or which Kings do not sport a mustache, what kind of peripheral information are we supposed to remember and report reliably then decades after an insignificant incident?

No wonder that we marvel at the few enviable people with eidetic memories, as this incredible trait is so many light-years away from our own experience in daily life!

That’s why I wouldn’t bet more than a dollar or two on the reliability of Smith’s recollections about Erdnase. Yes, I would consider them for what they are, but I certainly wouldn’t use them as “conclusive evidence” against or in favor of one Erdnase candidate over another.

(End of rant.)


M. D. Smith: A Key Figure in Finding Erdnase? (Part 1)

Erdnase_MDSmith

In discussing Erdnase candidates, sometimes someone objects that this or that guy simply cannot be the man because he doesn’t match in terms of age, looks or body height with the book’s illustrator Marshall D. Smith‘s recollections of meeting the author some 40+ years earlier.

This simplistic view seems rather daring to me, as there are at least six points to consider:

1. In general, people are lousy observers and make horrible witnesses (even though they usually believe otherwise). You can ask any police officer, criminologist or judge about this. Also think of fascinating phenomena such as inattentional blindness and change blindness, which both reveal and debunk our allegedly “super observation powers.”

2. More than one hundred years of research into memory, mind and brain have also detected major flaws and tricky secret mechanisms running in our head. There is recent research that suggests that we are constantly and inadvertently creating false memories over time, and we fully believe them. For a memory bit is not a fixed, tangible asset that is safely stored away on a shelf somewhere in the back of our head and can easily pulled forth once we remember it; on the contrary, it is probably more like a tangled web of loose bits and ends scattered somewhere on our neuronal memory hard disk drive, and as we try to retrieve a file and pass it on (e.g., tell it to someone else), there is a good chance that we are actually rewriting and reediting our own “memory” in that very moment. But we swear that “it happened exactly that way, because we remember it so vividly!” (For a fascinating read on these and other brain-related topics, you may want to check out The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.)

3. Try to remember any single, insignificant event in your life 40+ years ago in detail, and describe the look, height, manner, speech etc. of any person you have met only once or twice back then… Good luck! Except for some major events (like „…and then that shabby magician at the country fair smacked me several times with a big yellow stuffed rabbit!“) you are very likely to fail or misremember. And even if you think you do remember in detail, you may have fallen victim to the mechanism described above in #2.

4. Smith was not under rigorous professional interrogation, but likely prodded and influenced by an enthusiastic and biased Martin Gardner, who may inadvertently have forced many „facts“ on Smith, seeking affirmation.

5. Besides, it’s not that Smith had displayed super memory powers, right? He seemed to remember some details clearly, but he failed miserably, for example, to remember other vital details as to the man’s name (how he introduced himself), even how often he met him and  how many drawings he had actually made, and from which bank the check he received was issued. Duh!

6. The fact that M. D. Smith’s name as the book’s illustrator was given away on the frontispiece is somewhat peculiar. If Erdnase desperately wanted to remain anonymous, he must have known that Smith was a risk to that goal. So why mention his name at all? In this case, it also seems unlikely to me that any anagram or wordplay shifting “S.W. Erdnase” around would directly reveal the author’s true name.

On the other hand, Erdnase might have been so proud of his work that he wanted his (magic) peers to find out and just put some minor obstacles in their way, like in a merry treasure hunt.  In this case, publishing M.D. Smith’s name could have been used as one possible key to finding the author. Using “Erdnase” as a simple anagram of the author’s real name (be it Andrews, Sanders, Anders, …) might have been another key then.

(to be continued in my next post)


On the Fascination of Gambling for Majishuns

Blackjack2

In a discussion on the Genii Forum a while back, Mark Lewis wrote:

I am quite astonished at the interest of magicians in anything to do with poker, card sharking and gambling generally. I strongly suspect that any book with a gambling theme sells very well to magicians. (…)
As a result I strongly suspect that if a writer was to write any kind of book concerning gambling whether it had card tricks and sleights or not would sell very well if marketed to magicians. That is probably why the Steve Forte book has done so well.

Well, my personal guess is that there are (at least) two reasons for that:

First, we majishuns simply love magic lore, stories, and riddles, the more fantastic the better. Real-world deceivers like cheats and hustlers attract our attention, earn our respect and trigger our imagination.

Second, I think we love to fancy ourselves as suave card mechanics with nerves of steel at the poker table, but because of our embarrassing shortcomings in the real world we resort to the second best thing: we pretend to be experts at the card table by doing risk-free gambling tricks and demonstrations!


 

Scamming the Magic Lemmings?

TEATCT_Fig101_ST

Phew… Michael Close posted this very interesting link in his Jan/Feb newsletter. The headline sounded rather compelling:

“How a Magician Made $200,000 in Sales on a $100 Budget”

I certainly cannot validate the claims raised by marketeer Geraint Clarke in this article. However, it does sound fully possible to me. The product under discussion here is Ellusionist’s 2017 bestseller, “Erdnase x Madison” by Daniel Madison, which caused some stir in the magic community – and especially among Erdnase worshippers – back then. As we learn, the rage was well planned and planted.

From the introduction of Clarke’s article:

In 2017, I was asked to work on a campaign and product launch for a new training set for magicians. The product was called Erdnase x Madison.

Taught by Daniel Madison, a famous magician turned YouTuber, it was his re-telling of the methods Erdnase once shared. Bringing those methods and magic tricks into the current day.The product took the magic industry by storm, but not for the right reasons. To many, it was the butt of a joke they assumed we weren’t in on.

However, the sinister truth behind that negativity is… I manufactured it. With one bold quote [“I’m better than Erdnase, and I can prove it”–Daniel Madison] and less than $100 worth of marketing spend, the product sold out and grossed well over $200,000 within its first month of release.

But why did it work?

Shock and awe are online media’s bullet train. The fast route to awareness.

(…)

Click here to read the full article.

<<>>>

Done? OK.

Quite a sobering read, isn’t it?

Now, leaving aside the specific product, why don’t we take this as a free lesson and a well-meant warning to all of us magic lemmings? It’s just plain wrong and stupid how we tend to jump, in best stimulus-response fashion, time and again on every latest overhyped gimmick or trick or the most outrageous claim out there in our fierce and tireless quest for the next holy grail of magic, searching and spending, spending and hoping, praying and spending…

Remember the First Law of the magic trade: Tricks can be bought. Magic can’t.
(And don’t forget the Second Law either: Never preorder! Never ever.)


 

 

Jolting Erdnase (2)

Karr Expert

Huh, now it’s getting really exciting!

Within a few days, another major work on Erdnase has been announced, this time by Todd Karr. He claims nothing less than a “massive new biography of the actual author” including “rare photos of the author performing moves from the book” plus “the author’s own annotations to The Expert at the Card Table,” and “all evidence carefully documented; no speculation.”

Quite a promise! Let’s see if Karr delivers and if his two-volume book will actually be “coming summer 2020”!

Richard Kaufman has just called Karr’s candidate “beyond preposterous,” though. And Denis Behr writes, “I’m fascinated, but skeptical.”

<<>>>

I’ll sit back and enjoy the upcoming skirmishes and revelations, but I certainly won’t break any of my Golden Rules of Magic:

(1) The secret is not the secret.

(2) Be prepared.

(3) Be natural.

(4) You cannot buy miracles.

(5) Never preorder.

<<>>>

Nonetheless, it’s probably time to lay our bets on the table now and to take sides before these two exciting books will be out!

As far as I’m concerned, I’d love to learn one day that Dr. JameS W. E lliott, known both as “Champion Card Manipulator of the World” amongst magicians and “The Boston Kid” amongst card sharps, was in fact ErDmaSe…uumm…Erdnase! Not the most improbable candidate I have seen… Maybe research should shift more towards him?


 

Jolting Erdnase

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr

Whew, this year is off to a promising start! Gambling and cheating expert Steve Forte has just announced his two-volume tome, Gambling Sleight of Hand – Forte Years of Research. It will include a 130-pages chapter called “The Erdnase Factor”, and it may bring about a major shift (pun intended) in the perception of our Dark Lord!

As Forte teases,

Was Erdnase a cheater who plied his trade with moves and systems that he invented? Unfortunately, my findings suggest that Erdnase was neither a cheater nor an expert at the card table! I expect this chapter to jolt many cardmen.

Looking forward to learning more soon!

<<>>>

On a side shift note: Rumor has it that Forte’s great-grandfather (on his paternal side) might have been Erdnase, as his name is artfully hidden in the frontispiece of TEATCT…


 

 

Wishful Thinking and Automatic Rejections: Erdnase and Voynich

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr
An early quest in Genii Magazine

This fascinating article by medieval scholar Lisa Fagin Davis published in The Washington Post was brought to my attention the other day via a post over at the Genii Forum.

Dealing with the annoying recurrent and premature claims by various authors for having solved the riddle of the legendary Voynich manuscript, Davis shares a number of critical observations and very reasonable recommendations. With striking similarity they also match the proceedings and the heated discussions over new “findings” about the Erdnase authorship in our field of interest.

Thus, I have extracted the relevant paragraphs from the article below and added the corresponding Erdnase references, so ((double brackets)) around original text and bold additions are mine:

Why do people keep convincing themselves they’ve solved this ((medieval)) mystery?

For ((centuries)) decades, the ((Voynich Manuscript)) Erdnase authorship has resisted ((interpretation)) discovery, which hasn’t stopped a host of would-be readers from claiming they’ve solved it.

Every few months, it seems, a new theory is trumpeted ((by the new media)) beneath a breathless headline.

But most would-be interpreters make the same mistake ((as Newbold)): By beginning with their own preconceptions of ((what)) whom they want ((the Voynich)) Erdnase to be, their conclusions take them further from the truth.

Like others before them, ((these)) authors tend to go public prematurely–and without proper review by the real experts. Word of each new solution spreads across the ((globe)) Genii Forum in minutes.

Almost Dozens of solutions have been proposed in the past ((century)) decades alone, most of them more aspirational than they are substantive.

I recently received an ugly and threatening direct message . . . referring in detail to my critique . . . For some, apparently, the stakes appear to be irrationally high.

. . . undercooked solutions presented without context lead readers down a rabbit hole of misinformation . . .

Every new ((Voynich)) Erdnase theory offers an opportunity for readers to exercise healthy, critical skepticism . . . Proposed solutions shouldn’t automatically be rejected (the default reaction of most ((medievalists)) Erdnasians), but they should be approached with caution. Seek out expert opinions, and do some follow-up reading. It shouldn’t take ((a Voynichologist)) an Expert expert to spot a leap of logic or an argument based on wishful thinking instead of solid facts.

. . . we tend to bring our preconceptions with us to the table. The more we burden the manuscript with what we want it to be, the more buried the truth becomes.

To truly understand the past, we have to let it speak for itself. The ((Voynich)) Erdnase Manuscript has a voice–we just need to listen.

Chapeau, Ms Davis, I’d say you’ve nailed it! For Voynich, Erdnase, and beyond.

I think it would be fun and revealing to browse through the Erdnase thread over at the Genii Forum again with this checklist in hand.

This brief text should be required reading for all (amateur) historians and over-enthusiastic secret-solvers, don’t you think? Please help spread the word!


Addendum:

Here’s a related article by the same author. It ends with this plea:

To those of you out there in Voynich-land who are even now working on decrypting or deciphering this “elegant enigma,” please take heed of Manly and Mendelsohn’s words of caution: in order to be accepted as legitimate, your solution must be logical, repeatable, take into account the verifiable published scientific analyses, and result in a reading that makes sense both intellectually and chronologically.

Solid advice!

Ah, were it not for the chronological discrepancy, I might have solved the Erdnase puzzle back here… 😉


 

Looking for Erdnase

The search continues: A new docu-drama is about to follow the trails of S.W. Erdnase, the most famous unidentified man in magic history, author of the The Expert at the Card Table. It will combine interviews with knowledgeable folks like Juan Tamariz with reenacted scenes. There is a Kickstarter project running until March 25th to ensure funding of the ambitious film. The mastermind behind this project is Hans-Joachim Brucherseifer, a young German filmmaker. You can watch a brief trailer and listen to an interview with him on Scott Wells‘s podcast The Magic Word here.

ZZZauber_Erdnase_Fr

Read some of my thoughts and musings on Erdnase here.


Addendum: The funding goal has been reached, 15,185 Euros have been collected. Looking forward to the movie, which should be out by the end of this year!


 

The Multiplying Books

It’s springtime in Magic Bookie Land, new titles just keep popping up everywhere like mushrooms on a wet day!

Just about two weeks ago, Penguin Magic brought out Juan Tamariz‘s opus magnum, The Magic Rainbow. You may want to GET THIS NOW. Yes, it’s 149 Euro, but it has almost 600 pages and costs about what you paid for the last four or five “latest wonders” or overpriced one trick DVDs, so why worry? This one is likely to serve you a lifetime supply of brain food to understand magic better and to make you a much better performer.

1rainbow

Last week, Dover published a Kindle edition of How to Make a Living as a Professional Magician: Business First, Sleight-of-Hand Later by Matt Patterson. It’s an updated version of his 1997 manual, Blood, Sweat, and Pinky Breaks, which I had been unaware of before. The price is 12,45 Euro.

Only today I noticed a revised and extended edition of JosePepe” Carroll‘s two volume modern card magic classic, 52 Lovers, now advertised as 52 Lovers Through the Looking-Glass over at Vanishing Inc. The price is 70 Dollars.

Vanishing Inc. have also just started a new line of booklets called Astonishing Essays, which are pigeon-holed somewhere between lecture notes and books. The first three out of ten booklets planned feature Steve Cohen, Rob Zabrecky and an unnamed Prison Magician (with a lifetime sentence).

Cohen

By the way, Steve Cohen also put out a fine graphic novel just recently, The Millionaires’ Magician. The price is 24,99 Dollar, and you can catch a full online preview here.

Oh, and not to forget our very own Pit Hartling, who has just republished his acclaimed first book, Card Fictions, and his more recent, but quickly-out-of-print mem deck oeuvre, In Order to Amaze. Prices are 35 and 52 Euro.

<<>>>

Für unsere deutschsprachigen Zauberfreunde: Thorsten Havener hat ganz frisch ein neues Buch am Markt. Sag es keinem weiter: Warum wir Geheimnisse brauchen beginnt mit einer sehr berührenden, persönlichen Geschichte des Autors. Danch reitet er flott durch einen Wust von Gedanken und Anekdoten, Studienergebnissen und Info-Häppchen. Im Mittelteil dürften dann auch viele Zauberfreunde auf ihre Kosten kommen und manchem vertrauten Namen und Prinzip begegnen. Der Preis: 16 Euro.

Erdnase

Bei Amazon ist am 11. Februar Der Experte am Kartentisch von S.W Erdnase auf deutsch erschienen. Der Untertitel: “Wie Sie erfolgreich manipulieren und meisterhaft zaubern”. Nun ja. Ob es sich bei dieser Veröffentlichung des Nikol Verlages um die bekannte Übersetzung von Christian Scherer handelt, konnte ich noch nicht feststellen. Der Preis: 7,95 Euro.


 

Have You Seen This Bookplate Before?

Gallaway_bookplate_300dpi

The reason why I’m asking is quite an exciting one: This bookplate belonged to the man some scholars believe to be S.W. Erdnase: Edward Gallaway. In his library, a copy of The Expert at the Card Table was found, with this very bookplate inside. Gallaway owned other books on gambling, maybe also on magic. Each bookplate found can help in identifying Erdnase. So if you have ever seen this bookplate before in a book or two, or have some old libraries of magic and gambling books (most likely from the 1850s to the 1920s) to haunt, please give it a try and give a shout to Chris Wasshuber over at Lybrary, the main researcher who favors Gallaway as the man who was Erdnase!