I was just on Pinterest looking at tips for topical reading (that is, divination based on the general “fortune-telling” subjects of love, money, work, health, etc), which I belatedly realized are just variations on the Lost Man Spread. A card is pre-selected as “Significator” to represent the topic of interest, but it is left in the deck. The deck is shuffled and then turned face-up, after which the cards are fanned out, keeping everything in the as-shuffled order, and the Significator is located. What is essentially a “vertical slice” of the deck is taken, in which the Significator and the two cards immediately adjacent to it are pulled out and laid down in a three-card line with the Significator in the middle, the bottom card to the left and the top card to the right. This doesn’t always have to be three cards; if more detail is desired, the two or three cards both below and above the Significator can be pulled, creating a five or seven card line. One potential “glitch” I recognized in this method is that the Significator might appear at the very beginning or end of the deck with no cards on one side or the other, in which case I would pull the card(s) at the opposite end of the deck to accompany it on the vacant side, once again keeping the original order. (Think of the “fan” as becoming a continuous circle.)
It seems more productive to me to read these lines as a pivotal focus card with modifiers than as a linear progression or time-line from left-to-right. One suggestion is to treat the flanking cards as challenges to the free expression of the Significator, essentially hemming it in. But I’m thinking it would be useful to view the card (or cards) to the left as showing challenges and the one (or ones) to the right as reflecting opportunities. The odd number of cards offers an ideal scenario for the use of Elemental Dignities, which could either strengthen or weaken the potency of the Significator according to the elemental “friendliness” of the modifiers.
The advantage I see in this approach is that it eliminates the complexities of the “deal” and of having to choose an appropriate spread. The Significator’s condition as defined by the nature of the modifiers is sufficient to determine the likelihood of it manifesting as expected. The outcome of the reading hinges on how clear a path the Significator has to realizing its potential. A poorly-favored Significator could be either a bad thing (a “good” card is undermined) or a good thing (a “bad” card is mitigated), although in the worst case the “bad” card’s influence would be exaggerated by unfortunate associations.