Posts tagged method
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.

Sometimes "Cheating" is OK

     A few days back I was watching Nate Staniforth on Scam School. (For those that don’t know Scam School, it was one of my first real exposures to magic, and, despite its certain flaws, will always be one of my favorites. Fight me.) Now Nate has a reputation as a talented creator and performer, with some devastatingly clever methods to his name. So when I watched the coin effect he did in the episode, I was a little surprised. Basically, he taped a coin to his hand, allowing him to do the slowest, cleanest false transfer ever.

Brian’s admirable response to anyone who thinks this method is “cheating”.

Brian’s admirable response to anyone who thinks this method is “cheating”.

     Now there are a couple things about this that I like, and that I want to talk about. The first is that, method aside, he does a really good job of making the vanish magical. He talks about how he uses the spectators hands to frame the space, and how to choreograph them in subtle ways to increase their conviction that the coin is in fact in that hand. The second is that a lot of magicians would call this “cheating.” Nate addresses this in an interesting way. He says “It is cheating. But it’s better; it’s cleaner.” And that makes you step back and think about what’s actually happening. What does it mean he’s “cheating”? Magical is all about cheating the spectors' senses. Sure, we don’t (and shouldn’t) present it that way, but as some point we “cheat” and steal the coin, peak the word, etc. So why would using this simple, simple gimmick be any worse?

     The last point is that, as magicians we do often get caught up in the beauty of the method over the power of the effect. Now this is not always a bad thing. Those beautiful methods often have advantages (say, when you want to perform but didn’t remember to bring your poster tape), and are often important steps on the path to better, simpler methods. But they don’t always translate into better magic, and at the ends of the day that’s what matters most. This hit home today when J.R. and I were playing around with a new book test method we had been developing. We had it to a workable point, but something about it just didn’t seem right. Finally we realized we were too caught up in the beautiful method, and needed to accept that if that methodological road was the one we wanted to take, we should go all out to make it as good and clean as possible for the spectator, even if that meant “cheating” on our end.

-- Z.Y.