header image 2
The Life & Magic of Stewart James (1908-1996)


PRINCIPLES | Stack Within A Stack

There’s something thrilling about looking at the apparently innocuous face of the deck in its Robotic form and realizing how much work is contained therein. Performing the routine seems like unfolding a house out of a suitcase.

—Gordon Bean on “Robot Deck”

It is a stack within a stack within a stack within a stack within a stack within a stack within a stack plus a stack.

—Stewart James on “Robot Deck”

As the above quotations imply, the small, simple stacks James studied and refined made his larger, more intricate stacks possible.  And though few have an expert grasp of the seven separate effects made possible by the interlocking elements of the “Robot Deck,” the trick is a key component of Stewart James' work on card magic principles. A sustained analysis of this effect by members of the magic community could be one of the exhibit’s most useful pages.  That, however, would require participation from readers like you. At present, the 42-card stack will play the humble role of making distinctions between the “small stack," the “stack within a stack,” and the “cyclic stack.”

Compared to “Further Than That,” which is a “small stack” trick relying upon a single principle, “Robot Deck” is a “stack within a stack” which relies upon many. The latter complete deck stack employs multiple principles and their complimentary interactions to perform a total of seven different tricks.  Each of these separate effects dovetail in a similar manner to the three individual tricks combined in the performance of James’ “51 Faces North.”  His “stack-within-stack” tricks depend upon more than one type of principle being used in the same routine and upon the degree to which those principles interact harmoniously.  Further research and analysis could easily yield a list of principle couplings suggested by James’ oeuvre.  An example of one such coupling is mentioned in the “Miraskill” entry of the exhibition’s biography section. (Williamson, Slaight and others have written about the “Miraskill” and Gilbreath principles).

Lastly, a distinction between the “stack within a stack” and the “cyclic stack” concepts is necessary. “Robot Deck” is almost a complete stack, but falls just short of being a 100% pre-arranged deck of cards.  Due to the ten cards James describes as “floaters” in the prepared deck, it cannot be said that every single card has an exact, predetermined position.  All “cyclical” stacks – the Aronson, the Tamariz, the Si Stebbins and the “Eight Kings” – require that each of the 52 cards be placed in a location which does not change in relation to the other cards in the pack.




Copyright © 2007 Joe Culpepper and Magicana. All rights reserved.