Posts tagged mentalism
People Stopped Looking

I was talking with a mentalist this week. 

How weird is it to be hired for the exact same gig yet both come with an entirely different set of props, skills, and presentations? 

This kind of is an addition to some of my previous thoughts on mindreaders. 

There’s something about the inherent trust and connection when it comes to the idea of mindreading, in direct opposition to the contrarian chase of the magician by an audience member. 

I had guests come to me talking about the person who’ll read their mind. When I work with many other magicians, the guests ask me about the other guy who’ll show them tricks. That’s an important difference. 

Whether it’s embraced or pushed against is completely up to you. 

— J.R. 

Vinny DePonto w/ some Visual Poetry

Dear Reader, 

Why do people like Mind Readers?

This is a question I’ve asked myself many times -- it speaks to a human condition to hear and be heard for who we truly are, unbeknownst to others... a  desire and danger to share our earnest secrets with someone else -- a showtime confessional. 

Vinny DePonto explores his response to this question in his latest promotional video. He’s a stand-up guy doing some good work:

The video is extremely poetic and visually beautiful. For some reason, it also reminds me of the closing of a poem, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann: “...With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”


-- J.R.

Osmosis + Reverse Osmosis

For those who didn’t see: last week we released Down Memory Lane, a PDF of mentalism focused on finding presentations that strengthen (or better conceal) the methods while “explaining” the effect in more entertaining ways. In keeping with that idea, here is a fun, quick mentalism routine (if you can call it that) perfect for those who want to start dabbling in mentalism for casual settings.

Osmosis + Reverse Osmosis


When you were in school did you have any friends who studied by osmosis? You know, where you sleep with the book under your pillow and hope the knowledge just sort of seeps into your brain? Well I did, and it always struck me as absolutely bonkers. I mean, how did they think it was gonna work without water?!

Everyone knows that in chemistry osmosis refers to water passing across a barrier, so how did they think that information was gonna get across if they didn’t dissolve it in some water?* Here, let me show you what I mean. Write a word down on this piece of paper, then fold it in half each way so I can’t see it. If I just hold it against my head like this obviously the information won’t transfer across. Like I said, you have to dissolve it in water! Help me tear it up into little pieces so it will dissolve faster. [Performer begins tearing up the paper and handing scraps to the participant to tear into even smaller pieces.] Tear all this up into tiny pieces while I go get a glass of water.

[Performer leaves and returns a moment later with a glass of water.]

Put all the bits of paper in and stir them up so they really start to break up. Perfect. Now the word has bonded to the water, so when I drink the water my brain will absorb the word just like my body absorbs the water. [Takes a sip.] Oh yeah, it started with a [first letter of word]. Let’s see. [Takes another, slightly longer sip.] Ok, looks like we are dealing with [number] letters. [Takes one final sip then starts to try and sound the word out, finally getting it after a moment.] See? How did you think I got through college?!

The best part is that, since it’s a fundamental physical property, it works for everyone. Sure, it takes practice to get really good, but anyone can do it. Here, why don’t you try? [Get them a fresh glass of water.]

I’ll write a short word, just three letters, on this paper. Now help me tear it up and dissolve it in the water again. And so you know I don’t lying to make you look good I’ll write it again on this paper, as proof.

Now take a sip. Let your mind open and see what letter pops in. Did you get one? What was it? [They say a letter.] Exactly! Take another sip and see if you can get the second letter. Like I said, it’s a pretty simple word. [They take a second sip.] What about now? Did you get another one? [They say yes and say the letter.] Dead on! Ok, see if you can get the whole word. One more sip, maybe a little bigger one this time. [They take a final sip, then say a last letter and/or the whole word.] Bingo! Isn’t that wild? I can’t believe people don’t use this more often. They should really teach it in schools; it would have saved me sooooo much time as a kid trying to learn spelling.

[If they insist on see the proof paper then show them, otherwise casually leave it on the table where they can find and check it later if they want to.]


The methods here are pretty straight forward: Center tear for the first word and thumb writer for the second. What makes these fun though is that the story is about something we’ve all encountered (studying by osmosis) and is based on something real (the physical phenomenon of osmosis). This means it walks much closer to believable territory then most “mind reading”, while still creating two moments of impossibility.

If you want to move further away from the “magician shows cool skills” presentation (which this still sort of falls under), I would recommend getting a few miracle berries that change how you taste things. Say that your friend told you they have a weird side effect that allowes you to taste letters and you want to see if it’s true. This allows you to a) be just as incredulous as the participant, b) explains why it can’t be done all the time, c) let's you just have fun with the miracle berries, which are a blast.

I hope you enjoy this idea and check out Down Memory Lane for more entertainingly-presented mentalism!

-- Z.Y.

*For the record: I am not a chemist and have no idea what the official definition of osmosis is. No one has ever called me out when I say this, so I’m assuming I’m pretty close, but you might want to look it up before performing for your Chemistry PHD friends.

Down Memory Lane - Release

     Four Suits Magic is very pleased to announce the release of our first PDF download: Down Memory Lane.

     Here's the description: 
     "A new release from Zac Young, Down Memory Lane presents three different approaches to how mentalism could work, providing effects based on memory manipulation as well as classic mind reading. Capable of playing to anything from a casual gathering with friends all the way to a formal parlor performance, each of these effects is designed to amaze. Almost totally propless, these effects assume some existing mentalism experience and skills, but put them to use in new and clever ways."


     ...So, if you too would like to demonstrate the wild mental abilities you learned as a top-secret government lab rat, or experiment with your friends with memory erasure (all the COOL kids are doing it these days, don't you wanna be COOL?) -- "It's MEMORY ERASING MADNESS!" -- you should definitely make a visit to our shop and take your audiences on a trip down memory lane with you.

-- J.R.

The Dangers of Mentalism: On the Fringe but not Of it

     This is part three of a short series, so make sure to check out The Dangers of Mentalism: An Introduction and The Dangers of Mentalism: Walking a Line by Necessity

     The best magic presentations draw on something known outside the effect, something the spectator is already familiar with (or at least aware of). This allows them to put the effect in context and places the experience not as an isolated incident of “magic”, but as a experience woven into an existing thread of thought.

     Some traditional (read: trite and overdone) magic presentations make no pretense towards this, such as those centered on woofle dust or magic wands. No layperson has ever authentically encountered those concepts in any context other than in other magic shows or children's books. Others, however, did at least make an attempt. For example ones that centered on the power of imagination or memory at least tried to connect the effects to externally valid ideas and experiences. Obviously, as external anchors for magic these are vague at best, but are a step in the right direction. The question, then, is what kinds of real-world concepts are best to connect to.

     This is where the idea of Fringe Spaces enters play. For a concept to be a good anchor for a magic presentation it needs to be both familiar, or instantly recognizable, but also not fully understood. The fact that it is familiar ensures that the experience will have something existing to weave itself into. The fact that it is not fully understood allows the actual “magic” to happen in that interplay between what clearly isn’t, and what might just be.

     Fringe spaces obviously change with time and culture. Where once electricity itself was a Fringe Space and performers could make entire shows out of passing current through their bodies, now something like quantum physics takes it place. Where once Spiritualism was the cultural craze, now its psychological readings (see shows like Sherlock, Psych, Lie to Me, The Mentalist, or the spread of NLP). Like these trends, the best magic presentations will come and go with the times, always connecting themselves to something known but not understood.

     The wide spread, but changeable, nature of these fads, when thought about with the criteria from the previous post, help explain what is a bad presentation, what is a good presentation, and what is a dangerous presentation. A bad presentation is hard to connect to existing experiences and clearly doesn’t even pretend to explain what occurred. A good presentational frame is one the audience member recognizes and that could perhaps (but of course in truth does not) explain what happened. A dangerous presentational frame can be the same as a good one, but with the addition of the fact that it changes or affects the way the audience makes meaningful decisions. This can be a change in their views on ESP,which causes them to lose thousands to fraudulent psychics, it could be that they believe this miraculous procedure turns black paper into hundred dollar bills, that they believe NPL will solve all their problems and spend money they do not have on hucksterish ‘success seminars,’ and so on. These presentations can make very exciting and entertaining effects to watch, but can have very real and negative consequences for the spectators.

     While you are not responsible for every poor decision your audience makes after your show, do realise that you are spending an immense amount of time and energy to make them see something impossible, and, if you are doing your job well, then intentionally or not some of them are going to believe it, and walk away slightly changed. While you know the edge of your abilities is the theater door, they do not.

     To ensure that you are always using the Fringe Space, and that it is not using you, try to match the unbelievability of the effect to the believability of the presentation frame. If the presentational frame is believable, use it to explain something so unbelievable that even if they think the frame is real they couldn’t possibly believe it explained that effect. This is not to say magic should never change the audience, but we should recognize that whenever man’s reach exceeds his grasp, there’s a huckster waiting to sell him the next handhold.

-- Z.Y.

effectJax Riddmentalism
Review: Xeno by Marc Kerstein
Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 14.39.01.png

     I almost feel sad sharing this secret, but let it be known that Marc Kerstein is changing/has changed the game of app magic. The reason why? IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE APP MAGIC. We all (some of us in reality, but “all” sounds better, and makes you search it if you didn’t know it already) remember the days of having that little folded playing card, or silver dollar bouncing on our home screen, to shake it out and have a physical version land on our hand. Xeno is probably the opposite of this type of an app. It’s pretty much invisible with the correct implementation.

     You can look up the official description of the app on his site, but if I were to describe my use of the app to someone, I’d describe it this way: You’re chilling at a bar/cafe with your friends. They have their phones out (2017, folks, the future is here), you ask to borrow their phone after they open their web browser and navigate away from porn (future, again). You ask them if they’re a big movie person, and then you type in a movie ratings site. You ask them to scroll to their favorite movie and then familiarize themselves with the plot, director, year of release, etc. They put their phone away. Then you have them place their hands on yours, look into your eyes, and while you make out with them, you divine the movie they were thinking of (secret of tongues).

     Isn’t that crazy? Yes. With Xeno, you can too make out with complete strangers (don’t do this). Seriously though, huge fan of this effect. Good on you Marc. You’re crushin’ it. Xeno is simple, direct, and if you hang out with the smartphone crowd, you’re looking for a clever addition into your mentalism repertoire, want an effect that can be performed in a multitude of situations (dope-ass pre-show, anyone?) all for less than $20? Purchase this effect. 

-- J.R.

The Dangers of Mentalism: Walking the Line by Necessity

     This is part two of a short series, so make sure to check out Part One: The Dangers of Mentalism: An Introduction a couple posts back.

     Magic is necessarily about presenting something impossible as possible. Within the context of the magic trick this is fun and exciting, and it is accepted that different magicians ask different levels of credulity from their spectators when they perform. While that is all well and good while the effect is being performed, I think it is important to think about the longer-term consequences of our presentational choices. This is partially because the drama which the spectator remembers is just as important as that which they witness, but also because, if we are going to spend immense amounts of time carefully constructing effects that convince, or seem to convince, someone something is real, we should be cognizant of what that belief (honestly intended or not) could lead to.

     While this applies to almost every branch of magic, mentalism stands out as the clearest example because of its long and fraught connection with spiritualism and occultism (and the charlatanism that goes with it; this is not supposed to be a put-down of spiritualism, simply a statement that theatrically intended mentalism should not be conflated with it). The most common modern way of avoiding this confusion is to present mentalism as psychological reading of tells, eye movements, Neuro Linguistic Programing (NLP) word associations, and the like (thanks Derren). This neatly sidesteps the problem, correct? Wrong.

     To understand why, we have to step back and think about why it is so important that mentalism try to get away from spiritualism. It’s not that spiritualism is more or less real than other magic presentations (which include everything on the spectrum from Woofle Dust to quantum mechanics). And (I hope) it’s not just that many magicians think spiritualism is a weak presentation (because if I have to hear one more time about how “the power of your imagination” makes the card change I swear to god…). What I would say, though, is that spiritualism is a significantly more nuanced presentational frame than most, it has a more direct bearing on many people’s lives (more, I think, than many magicians think) than other frames, and it has more potential to be misused and abused than most. So for example, though quantum mechanics is incredibly complicated and nuanced in terms of what it actually does and does not explain, very few people encounter it directly in their daily lives, so a magician fudging the truth about it won't really change any choices they make in the day to day, and there are established credentials that indicate who is actually an authority on it (do they have a PhD after their name?). Alternatively, Woofle Dust has no nuance (there is no grain of truth, and the audience knows it), and rarely occurs in people’s lives.

     If we look at NLP, micro expression reading, body language mirroring, etc, we see that they fit these criteria as neatly as spiritualism does. These concepts come up in, and therefore influence, people’s everyday lives quite regularly, as they are simply methods of talking and interacting with people, something we are all doing constantly. Additionally, they are nuanced in that, while all built on grains of truth and elements of reality, they are often blown out of proportion and exaggerate, either by over eager media, or by hucksters hoping to make a quick buck off of them. This then also explains why they are dangerous: they are easily exploitable by those seeking to profit from those unclear on what and how these ideas actually work. And therefore magicians blithely bolstering their credibility can be doing real harm as well.

     But was it by accident that mentalism stumbled directly from one moral grey area to another? I would say no. I think magic needs these “fuzzy spaces” between what is known and accepted, and what is actually understood. Magic has always, and always will, draw on these fringe spaces to operate and give its effects backdrop and meaning.

    More on what I mean by “fringe spaces”, and how to use them without letting them use you, next time.

-- Z.Y. 

The Dangers of Mentalism: an Introduction

     A week or so ago I had a jarring experience that made me revisit how I present mentalism effects. While I originally intended to write a quick post about how magicians need to be careful in how they use the “psychological reading” pseudo method, the more I thought about it the more complex the topic became, and the more it seemed to connect to the history and evolution of mentalism. So instead of a single post, this will be the first in a short series about mentalism presentations, how they connect with real world tropes, and the dangers of the audience lending a bit too much credence to our presentational frames.

     Before I get into all that, though, let me explain what happened. I was hanging out with an old friend, and since they always enjoyed my magic, and usually requested to see some, I had prepared a few mentalism effects. Just as the topic came up and I began to perform, a few of their friends that I didn’t know started to watch. The final effect (performed one on one of the newcomers) was a billet effect presented as psychological reading of a childhood nickname. For the first letter I had swept my hand across the air telling them one side was A and the other Z, and supposedly reading their eyes to determine the letter. I had named it, and was concentrating on their face when suddenly I let my eyes go blank, started slightly, and abruptly stated the last letter, finally filling in the name. They were duly surprised and intrigued, and began discussing what had happened, and how.

     Now though I have been creating and performing mentalism effects for a while, most are in the context of larger, more formal performances, so only rarely do I get that kind of direct access into the audience's immediate thoughts. It shocked me, then, how fully they bought into the pseudo method, discussing how clear it was for the first letter, and trying to figure out what subtle tell had given away the last letter in such a manner.

     One common refrain when discussing mentalism is that care must be taken to ensure the performer does not, intentionally or otherwise, bolster the audience's belief in the supernatural. While many come to think that presenting these particular effects as feats of psychology, body reading, NLP, and the like elides this issue, I have come to wonder if these pseudo methods are perhaps more dangerous. In later posts I’ll talk about why, in many ways, NLP and its ilk are the modern equivalents of palm reading and fortune telling, why and how magic gravitates towards whatever the current popular tropes are as presentational frames, why that’s both dangerous and necessary, and how carefully you have to matching the believability of the pseudo method to the unbelievability of the effect.

-- Z.Y.

Pre-Show, Dual Reality, and Careful Scripting


    Recently, J.R. and I had the opportunity to see a small theater show by a magician we both respect, and who has created material we both enjoy watching and performing. In the show he had a very strong book test, with a pre showed, dual reality closer. Unfortunately, due to an inattentive spectator, the effect didn’t quite come off, but it, and the memory of the Derren Brown show we mentioned last week, got me think about the importance of really strong scripting, especially in effects like that one.

    Any dual reality effects require you to be very careful in keeping two views or perceptions of an event separate, and pre-show work directly challenges this by forcing you to remind the spectator of the other reality in that very moment without reminding the audience at large. While the specific techniques used will vary effect to effect and performer to performer, one mainstay will be careful scripting, such that the words can (and hopefully must) be interpreted correctly but differently by the two groups. Creating this dual language can be difficult, but definitely pays off in the impact effects that properly employ it can have. (For some excellent examples of this and more ideas in this area, check out almost anything by Luke Jermay.)

     For example, here is a simple script designed to elicit a pre-showed word from a spectator at the end of a book test like the one seen in the show. This script assumes this spectator was handed the book and asked to confirm that the page numbers where on the bottoms of the pages (for another phase of the effect), to make sure the book wasn’t just the same few pages repeating over and over again, and then to immediately pass it off to another spectator. After reading the mind of the spectator they handed the book to you turn to them and say:

     “A moment ago I asked you to confirm the page numbers are on the bottom of the pages, and that the book is normal, correct?” “Yes.” “But I think, even before that, you had seen a word, one that really rooted itself into your head. Is that right? Are you thinking of a word?” “Yes, I am.” “Focus on that word now, the one rooted there, not one that maybe just floated through, or that you skimmed over...”

     Since verifying the page numbers was the first thing the spectator did with the book, being told to think back to before that must mean before they had the book, and thus to the pre-show when you forced or peeked a word they chose. Combine this with the repetition of a specific phrase in both the pre-show work and the moment of recall to jog their memory (“rooted itself,” or whatever fits your presentational style), and asking them not to think of a word that floated through or that they skimmed over (and since you hurry them through checking the book they really only have time to skim it), you ensure they arrive back at the intended word.

     Additionally, none of these instructions to the spectator tip that they are actually thinking of a word not from that book to the rest of the audience. Since most of them wouldn’t be able to see the spectator directly they can certainly believe that they had more time looking through the book, or spent more time really scouring any given page, than you allowed. If additionally you have the book handed back to them just before you begin this phase (but don’t give them a chance to open) and ask them to stand and pass the book back to you after you reveal the word, then you will visually bookend the effect with the image and idea of them holding and looking at the book.

      Seeing this show certainly prompted me to look back over a lot of my scripting choices, and hopefully it will help you as well.

— Z.Y.