SIX NIGHTS OF SCRUTINY
John Scarne is known for fooling Arnold Rothstein (accused of fixing the World Series of 1919) by cutting the four aces from a shuffled deck of cards. He fooled Rothstein and his men six nights in a row back in 1923. When I read about it as a kid it captured my imagination and fueled my desire to become a magician. There are many layers to this legendary story and it is shrouded in mystery. In this writing I examine those elements.
Each of these elements, for the most part, have their own chapter. The elements are like pieces of a puzzle: none of them on their own will give you the whole picture, it is when the pieces are assembled that you begin to see the whole picture. I am going to examine whether John Scarne really did cut to the aces for Arnold Rothstein and his men with Rothstein’s own shuffled deck.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Six Nights Of Scrutiny
The Weather Report
Anecdotes About Scarne
What’s A Zero Between Friends?
The Next Time You Tell That Story, Lie
The Final Analysis
When I was about fourteen I read a story about a magician by the name of John Scarne. John Scarne’s claim to fame was that he could take a deck of cards shuffled by someone else, and cut to all four aces. He even did it for Arnold Rothstein, the man accused of fixing the World Series of 1919. Rothstein hired him on six successive nights in an attempt to discover his secret, but Rothstein and his men couldn’t figure it out. John Scarne took his secret to the grave.
Absent any proof, I proceeded as if it were known to be true as best as I could. It has been said that a rising tide lifts all ships and that applies to the four minute mile better than the four aces. Applying the same concept to the ace cutting, it’s as if my ship was rising with the tide, but water was coming in at the same time. The hole in the ship being my skepticism as to whether Scarne really did cut the aces as he described. Doubts kept entering my mind. I spent time contemplating the truthfulness of the story which took my attention from recreating it. Had there been proof, I wouldn’t have spent valuable time contemplating. In this book I will examine those doubts, and be making a case to you throughout. I will not leave you hanging without my conclusion as to whether this great mystery was accomplished or not.
The story first appeared in print in 1956 in John Scarne’s autobiography, The Amazing World of John Scarne.
It appeared again in 1966 with more detail but told in exact sequence, sentence by sentence, in his second autobiography, The Odds Against Me.
The story as told in The Amazing World of John Scarne:
ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN, ET AL: A BID TO
JOIN NEW YORK’S GAMBLING FRATERNITY
When I was nineteen years of age I again visited the theatrical agent by the name of Saul Bernie who later became my favorite booking agent and who now is a top-notch Hollywood talent scout. His offices were located then in New York’s theatrical district.
I entered his office one afternoon, with nothing particular in mind other than finding out how show dates were shaping up, when Bernie greeted me and asked, “Say, John, How would you like to play a date for a political club? I had a call yesterday from their chairman and they need an act for this Saturday night. They’re holding their annual banquet at the Park Central Hotel. The date will pay you twenty dollars for a half-hour performance, and I think your magic and card tricks will be just what they want.”
I replied, “Sure, Bernie, I’ve nothing planned for this Saturday.”
“Good,” Bernie replied. “Let me call him on the phone while you’re here and confirm the date.”
That Saturday evening found me entertaining before a group of approximately two hundred men and women of a Democratic organization. I opened my performance by doing a few card flourishes in an attempt to warm up the audience. At that period of my career my act consisted of card tricks, the rope trick, and the lemon trick, which I would usually employ as a finale. The rope trick, you will recall, was so staged that I would appear to cut a length of rope into several small pieces and then restore it to its original length. However, the card trick which was indubitably responsible for my not becoming a gambler was performed for the first time that night in public. It was the one trick which I had practiced years to perfect, and was to bring me more fame than any other card trick of my repertoire. But as it happened, I introduced it only on the spur of the moment after having completed the planned program.
Towards the end of my performance that evening, preparing to wind up with the lemon trick, I said to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, to complete the next experiment it will be necessary for me to borrow some money from someone in the audience but before I do so, I would like to ask any one of you to examine this lemon.”
With that I produced a lemon from my coat pocket and handed it to an alert-looking woman in the audience for examination.
“Madame, I would like you please to examine the lemon you have in your hand and make certain that it is an ordinary fresh lemon and that it has not been tampered with.”
The lemon was examined by the lady, who then passed it to person sitting next to her. It made its way around the audience until they seemed satisfied it was just an ordinary lemon and tossed it back to me.
I continued, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you have examined this lemon and are certain that it has not been tampered with. I would at this time like to borrow a dollar bill from someone in the audience.”
This was immediately handed to me, as were ten, twenty and fifty-dollar bills, which I also requested. I then asked for a hundred-dollar bill, which I seldom received but which was actually a lead line for the following patter: “You know, ladies and gentlemen, the last time I performed this trick I received a thousand dollar bill, but of course I was performing for J. P. Morgan.”
This would usually bring a chuckle from the audience, but on this particular night, much to my surprise, a man seated at the head table said to me, “Here you are, young man.” And with that he handed me a bill.
As I reached out for what I thought would be a C-note, I saw that it really was a thousand-dollar bill, the first such bill I’d seen in my life.
My patter was almost lost in nervousness as I folded the one, ten, twenty, and fifty-dollar bills, and finally the thousand-dollar bill, into a small packet. I placed the bills under a handkerchief for the lady to hold and when I whisked the handkerchief away the bills had disappeared. With the bills gone, I took a knife from a table and held up the lemon, saying, “I will now cut this lemon in two, ladies and gentlemen, and if I’m correct, your money will be found inside.”
With that remark I sliced the lemon in two and extracted the vanished bills from the center of the lemon. I returned the bills, wet with juice from the lemon, to their befuddled owners and finally had just one bill in my hand, which I held up for everyone to see. It was the thousand-dollar bill, which the man at the head table had handed to me.
Looking at him, I said, “Sir, you gave me the thousand-dollar bill, did you not?”
He replied, “I certainly did give it to you.”
I then said, “Thank you very much, sir, for being so generous,” and proceeded to pocket the bill.
The audience howled with laughter, as I looked at the man with a broad smile on my face. However, as I met his gaze I could see that his eyes remained cold, lacking any expression whatsoever. I realized he didn’t appreciate the comedy taking place at his expense.
I quickly withdrew the bill from my pocket and returned it to him, saying, “Thank you for your help, sir.”
The audience broke into a round of applause, calling for more tricks as I bowed in acknowledgement. I then decided to do another trick, which I’d never included in a public performance before. Bowing to the audience, I said, “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for your kind applause. As a final experiment this eventing I will employ a regulation deck of playing cards which I have here in this sealed card-case. You can see it still bears the federal revenue stamp. I would like one of you please remove the deck of cards from this box and shuffle them.”
I handed the unopened card-case to a man in the audience who was sitting toward the front. He carefully removed the deck of cards and, after shuffling it, handed it back to me.
I returned to my place and continued, “I will now attempt to cut an ace from this deck of cards, which the gentleman has thoroughly examined and shuffled. If any gambler, ladies and gentlemen, could perform at will the following feat of cutting to an ace from an ordinary deck of playing cards, he could of course win a fortune within a very short time—perhaps after only one cut. You’ve no doubt heard of Bet-A-Million Gates cutting Diamond Jim Brady high card for a hundred thousand dollars. Now imagine what a gambler could earn with this effect.”
I then requested that a spectator cut the deck of cards and expose his cut card to the rest of the audience. This was done by a man in the front, who showed a king. I made my cut and produced the ace of clubs. With that, I then proceeded to cut the remaining three aces from the deck, flipping each one to the floor.
As the audience started to applaud I threw the deck of cards into the air, signifying that my last trick had been performed, and walked off the floor. Turning around to acknowledge the final applause, I noticed a number of men picking up the cards which were strewn all over the floor. But what drew my closer attention was the man who had given m