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When, in 1957, Mr. Elmsley published his series of articles on
faro shuffle principles and their mathematics, in his closing lines
he mentioned having reserved one principle in particular for his
private use. This was obviously a tool that he valued highly. Over
the years it was passed quietly from hand to hand through the inner
circles of cardmen, and as was inevitable, tricks based on this
ingenious principle began to appear in print—sometimes with credit
given to its inventor, but more often not. Mr. Elmsley did not formally
release Penelope's principle, for that was its name, until 1988, over
thirty years after its formulation. Penelope was the daughter of
Icarius and the fabulously faithful wife of Odysseus, who, during
Odysseus' twenty-year absence, wove and at night unwove a
tapestry, at the completion of which she had vowed to make a choice
from importuning suitors. Mr. Elmsley's unending tapestry is the
woven deck.
The principle is this: Assume you have a particular card—say the
ace of spades—at a position twenty-sixth from the top of the pack.
If a spectator then cuts a small packet from the bottom of the deck
and you follow this with a perfect out-faro of the remaining cards,
the ace of spades will now be at a position from the top equal to the
number of cards cut away by the spectator.
Some further explanation is in order. The faro weave must be
started from the bottoms of the packets for the principle to work
consistently. Those who weave from the top down will find that, when
an odd number of cards is cut away, the target card will not be
positioned by the shuffle as desired. But if the weave is started at
the bottoms of the packets, the principle is entirely dependable. This
holds whether the upper portion contains one less card than the
lower, or one more. (In the latter case the weave will end with the
top two cards of the upper portion left unwoven.)
Those who weave downward may wish to turn the above process
topsy-turvy. The target card in this case is located twenty-seventh
from the top. The spectator is asked to cut a small packet from
the top of the deck. If you now perform an out-faro with the
remainder, beginning the weave from the top, the target card will
lie as many cards from the face of the pack as are contained in
the removed packet.
Mathematically, the principle can be expressed in this way: If a
card rests within the mid-portion of the deck, and if "x" cards above
it and "y" cards below it are removed, and if the remainder is given
a faro shuffle, the card of concern will be transported to a position
k + y - x from the top, in which "k" is some constant that depends
on the original position of the card and on the type of weave.
The following four tricks are illustrations of how Penelope's prin-
ciple is put to use.
August 1988