I'm reluctant to re-stir the ashes, offal, or bones of an old dust-up. I have never met Mr. Steranko but I was an early admirer of his artwork and STERANKO ON CARDS. Although his writing was often hyperbolic, it was not dull and it had dramatic elements akin to the now popular graphic novels. In the past I wrote a detailed paper on the STERANKO-MARLO-MARSHALL FLAPDOODLE and will not relitigate it here. Regarding the notion that Marlo's ESTIMATION is a flagrant ripoff of Steranko's ULTIMATE MOVE is at best an exaggeration and, at worse, not true. The oft quoted line applies here: "One has his or her right to their own opinions but not to their own facts."
In this regard, consider the following:
The Ultimate Move remains unpublished. Nevertheless, Steranko, when circumstances prompts it, continues to claim that Marlo stole ideas from him, read his unpublished book, and rushed Estimation into print before The Ultimate Move could be published! The ugly drift of this rant is now perpetuated by friends and fans of Steranko.
To repeat: Rants are one thing; facts are another.
Few of the defenders and apologists of Steranko have read and studied The Ultimate Move or have compared it to Marlos Estimation. (I have!) Those who already think that Marlo was an overrated, pathological thief dont need or desire any evidence. As far as they are concerned, the case is closed.
Steranko claims to have devised a technique he dubbed the ultimate move.
What is it?
Since his second book is unavailable and nobody can read it, here is the answer: The so-called ultimate move is a simple technique for determining by sight the number of cards a spectator cuts off of a deck.
Steranko, in his unpublished book, explains a method where a well-shuffled deck is tabled face down. A spectator is asked to cut off some cards and look at the face card of the cut-off packet. This packet is replaced and the deck is squared. Then, using sight estimation, the performer notes the size of the cut-off packet and calculates the approximate number of cards comprising the packet. Suppose he estimates twenty cards. He then asks the spectator to give the deck a straight cut. As the deck is cut, the performer again estimates the size of the top section being cut off at the outset of the straight cut. Suppose it is about half the deck (26 cards). When the cut is completed, the selection will then lie (26 - 20 = 6) sixth from the bottom. If the initial cut was about ten cards or less than the selections estimated numerical position, the selection would end up approximately tenth from the top.
Does this seem familiar?
It is explained in T. Nelson Downs book, The Art of Magic, which was written 30 years before Steranko was born. So much for innovation.
T. Nelson Downs: The spectator holds the pack in his own handbut it is not necessary to bridge the cards. He may cut the pack, or lift the cards up, or note a card in any manner he desires. Nevertheless, the performer instantly produces the card. Cleverly performed this has a stunning effect upon an audience, the more imaginative of whom will almost be persuaded that the performer has a Machiavellian mastery over the cards.
The means by which this surprising result is brought about are in reality very simple, although the bungling and unobserving performer will meet his Waterloo in this experiment. The keen-eyed, ready-tongued and adroit performer, however, will experience no difficulty whatever in this method, the secret of which lies in locating the selected card by observing where the spectator breaks the pack. For convenience arrange the pack as follows: First, seven or eight clubs; then the same number of hearts, followed by about the same number of spades and diamonds. These suits are not arranged in any order. With a little practice you will be able to locate within five cards where the pack is broken by the spectator in selecting a card. In rapidly running over the cards (which can be done as you return to the table) remove these five cards, placing one on top of the pack, another at the bottom (remembering, of course, which is which), and palm the remaining three cards, remembering their order. To facilitate the memorizing of five cards the pack is arranged in suits, as described; for it is easier to remember five cards of one suit than five of different suits. After a little practice, however, the performer should be able to perform the trick without any pre-arrangement of suits. When these preliminaries have been accomplished, request the spectator to name his card. You then know whether the card is on the top or at the bottom of the pack, or in your hand; and you act accordingly, exhibiting either the bottom or the top card, or producing the selected card from the pocket, leaving the other two behind. With a little practice the performer will find that, nine times out of ten, he will be able to come within three of the chosen card, and seven times out of ten he should be able to locate the exact card.
- From The Art Of Magic (1909) by T. Nelson Downs (although actually written by John North Hilliard) - Card Trick Based On A New And Original System Of Locating A Chosen Card, Fourth Method, p. 153
The same idea was also published in 1930 by Charles Hopkins:
Should the spectator gum up the above cut-for-a-card procedure by giving the deck a final perfectly elegant squaring up on his own account, you are still in position to keep right on going. Note as closely as you can the location of the cut just made; that is, is just about the middle, a bit above, below . . . or quite near top or bottom. There's no trouble at all hitting within 6 or 8 cards. Upon getting the deck back into your own hands, break it at the point where you estimate the cut to have been made. Re-cut the pack at break.
With the deck fanned facing you, the wanted card should be among the 3 or 4 cards at the back of the fan or 3 or 4 cards at the front of the fan. While apparently giving the matter grave consideration, shift cards around here and there . . . just for general effect. In the process, from the 6 or 8 likely cards set up a sequence of values for 6 of them. If there are 2 or more of the same value, but differing in suit, place them top and 24 show bottom of deck. Palm the other 6 arranged cards into a pocket.
Having satisfied yourself that all is well with the deck, calmly ask for the name of the selected card . . . with an air of just wanting to be sure. When you hear the name of one of your 8, show it on the deck or remove from your pocket as the case may be. Memorizing the few cards is not difficult since duplicates remain can deck and the rest are arranged by numerical value. The suits are not necessarily memorized for the cards in the pocket.
- From Outs, Precautions, And Challenges (1940) by Charles H. Hopkins, p. 56.
Going back a decade earlier, the same idea was used by Morris Seidenstein (Moe) to fool everybody at a 1930 I.B.M. Convention held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The trick was later sold by Frank Lane for $3.00:
After receiving the deck, the performer turns his back, but before he does this, he notices approximately where the deck was cut. It might have been cut, we will say, in the middle, and the performer guesses as to the number of cards that were cut to be 25 cards from the top. When he turns his back, he counts down to the 22nd card, and places on top of the deck the 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and the 25th; and on the bottom of the deck he places the 26th, 27th, 28th, and the 29th. Now even a bum guesser will come as close as that, and he has eight cards to get. While his back is turned he arranges the cards on the top, from the lowest number onto then the next highest, etc.(For instance, the top four cards might be the QS, 4H, 6D, and the JC.) The performer would have the top card the 4H, the next the 6D, the next the JC and the fourth card from the top would be the QS. He memorizes them and spreads them apart, in a sort of fan shape, so that he can get the card in a quarter of a second, as this is where the effectiveness comes in - the quickness with which he does it. On the bottom he arranges the other four cards in the exact manner, the lowest numbered card being on the bottom of the deck. He also memorizes these four cards, and also spreads these as he did the top ones. Then with these cards spread out, and after he knows exactly where the eight cards are, he turns around, and with the deck still behind his back, and asks the name of the card in a hesitating manner as if he lost it.
When the spectator says, for instance, the Jack of Clubs, he has his fingers on the third card from the top and he holds this out, drops to his knees before the spectator, and as he drops to his knee (one knee) he lets the JC, or the selected card, drop behind him and brings the squared up deck in front, and says, Well, I am sorry that I lost it. Will you give me another chance? The spectator says Yes of course, and is handed the deck and invited to cut it. He now holds two portions. The performer says: Which portion do you think your card is in? Spectator chooses one, and performer takes this portion saying; Well you are wrong. Which other portion? Of course there is only one other portion, and spectator chooses this one. The performer takes this portion, and says: Well, I am sorry but you are wrong again, and fools with the deck a second, riffling the cards, and asks the spectator to repeat the name of his card, and the performer stands up and there on the floor behind him is the card selected and which is turned over and it proves to be the same card that is looked at.
A positive knock-out and a trick that fooled LePaul, Lane, Nofke, Holden, Downs, and was done over 350 times at the convention and not a soul got even an idea of how it was done. It is sure fire and the presentation is a knock-out.
-From Moe And His Miracles With Cards (1986) by William P. Miesel, p. 4, but it was in Moes Miracles in the 50s. Guess what? It is also in Grants Fabulous Feats Of Mental Magic. There are three estimation tricks in Glenn Gravatts Encyclopedia of Self Working Card Tricks (1936) that include the so-called ultimate move.
Considering these references and previously published sources, how can Steranko claim he invented the ultimate move or that it's innovative?
If and when The Ultimate Move is published, students will be able to scrupulously compare it to Marlos Estimation booklet. When they do, they will not find any rip-offs. They will discover instead that Marlo, the alleged thief-of-the-century, actually credits Downs, Hopkins, Moe, and Expert Card Technique in his introduction. Later on, he also credits Luis Zingone, Bert Allerton, Neal Elias, Laurie Ireland, Bill Simon, and Carmen DAmico.
Marlo, the supposed plagiarist, credits no less than 10 people. Steranko does not credit anybody.
I found one item explained in The Ultimate Move that appears in Estimation. It is an idea based on the faint reflection of color (red or black) when lighting conditions permit. This reflection can be seen on the white margin of another card. Marlo learned about this idea from Charles Aste Jr. in 1958. This is mentioned on p. 35 in Estimation.
Marlo did not steal anything from Steranko.
Marlo wrote Estimation in 1962, based on ideas he devised in the 40s. If The Ultimate Move had been published in 1962, Steranko might have been scolded for not crediting others and, worse, not publishing anything new. Ignorance of provenance by supposed experts is inexcusable.
Im willing to discuss and debate anything with anybody and would be willing to meet with Steranko. If so, my initial questions would be:
Are we the enemy that Pogo descried? Where is Captain America when we need him?
This of course is not likely to happen. Besides, its unclear at this point that this warmed over controversy matters to anybody other than the principal parties and their cohorts. Instead of being miffed, why doesn't Steranko publish THE ULTIMATE MOVE and showcase his talents? Why not publish a new book? How about a new graphic novel? Wouldn't this be a better approach than simply dropping out?