December 15, 2000

Find the psychic, look just like a psychic, don't lose your marbles.

Uri Geller, as we mentioned previously, has issued a widely-noticed press release saying that he's suing the Nintendo game people, but note, please, that no "service of process" has been issued at this point in time, which means that there's nothing actually under way; it's all publicity hype right now, which I'm sure serves Mr. Geller very well. His press agent says that Geller is dismayed over a cartoon character he says resembles him. Well, all the "Abra/Kadabra/Alakazam" Pokémon figures I can find — which are the ones he's so mortified over —

  1. Have a huge kangaroo-style tail
  2. Have only three fingers, three toes, all with long sharp claws
  3. Have a 5-pointed orange/red/pink star on the forehead
  4. Hold a straight spoon in the right hand — or one in each hand
  5. Feature a droopy mandarin-style mustache
  6. Are bright lemon yellow
  7. Show three wavy lines on the chest.
Now, concerning that last element, which Geller's lawyers state is clearly an ethnic insult, consider this: there are not two S's here as used by the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel — defense echelon), which Geller implies. In fact, those three wavy lines are one of the ESP-card patterns used in parapsychology, as is the 5-pointed star! There is nothing here to suggest Nazi elements, nor anti-Semitic ideas. And this resembles or represents Mr. Geller? Does he claim that a straight spoon is his trademark? Does he hold a copyright on that symbol, or even on a bent spoon? Where's the case here?

A test for my readers: here are four figures. One is Mr. Geller, three are Pokémon cartoons. It may be tough, but try to guess which is which. I got it right away.

As promised, here are instructions on "How magicians do the old sealed-drawing trick, without any special powers like the psychics." Teller, of the famous Penn & Teller magician team, poses to reveal how the magicians do it. Now, the psychics all say that they don't do tricks, and they've been known to say, repeatedly, that they're not magicians. Magicians are tricksters, admittedly, and they use tricks to entertain. Psychics say that they don't do tricks, and that they don't know how to do tricks, so they should not have any problem with the following, since these are methods only used by those who do tricks. Understood? I thought that some of you might like to perform this trick at your next party. Mind you, the method I describe here will enable you to do the trick in a manner that absolutely cannot be differentiated in any way from the same feat as performed by a real psychic, by real psychic powers. For that reason, please promise me that if you do this, you'll admit that it's a trick. Okay? People can get confused, otherwise.

As with all "mentalist" tricks, the spectator — whether a single person or a studio audience — should be led to mis-remember the stages that preceded the actual dénouement, or not be told about that phase, at all. There is danger that the trick can be solved if the spectator accurately pieces together the complete sequence of events that enabled the "miracle" to take place. In the case of a trick that is essentially accomplished before the audience even hears about it, the performer can usually bury the really important details by simply offering a recap of the preamble and leaving out the essentials, details that will never be known to the audience.

I once performed a drawing-sealed-in-an-envelope trick for a Washington, DC, TV program, under very difficult conditions. The host had seen a "real psychic" do the demo on that same program a few days before, and challenged me to it by trickery. He was not going to give me any special opportunity or conditions, he said, that were not given the other performer. That sounded ideal to me, but I had no idea that it was going to be as easy as it was!

The host took me into the make-up room and grabbed a pad and pen. He told me to face away from him and he proceeded to make a generously-sized drawing, his head bent down to the task. In some delight, I looked up and into the multiple-mirror array that surrounded us. There, quite clearly, I saw the drawing as the host made it! Simply looking down again, I awaited his permission to relax, and he tucked his drawing away in his inside jacket pocket. I was never better prepared to perform a miracle, which I did when he challenged me with his "secret" drawing later on the program. I reproduced it exactly, and he was quite puzzled.

I personally prefer to use other standard methods of knowing what the drawing is, however; one cannot depend on having multiple mirror reflections available! We magicians use many methods to do this. Simply covering the eyes with a hand, but peeking through the fingers while the subject makes the drawing (see the Teller version shown) is effective but nervy. Better is using some sort of "impression" method on the pad, or having a confederate enter the room (or just peek in through a cracked-open door) to get a glimpse of the target. There are literally dozens of approaches to this task. One clever method, which I've described before, is to conceal a small mirror in the palm of the hand that goes over the eyes, turn away from the subject, and simply look into the mirror to see over the shoulder! It never seems strange to the subject that the magician would turn his back, then cover his eyes as well — which is exactly what is necessary to accomplish this method of seeing the drawing as it's being made!

But the most important thing in all this is to get the victim of the trick to disregard — and not ever mention! — the fact that he was in the same room with the magician while the original drawing was being made. And, this fact must not be communicated to the audience, either, or the method might become obvious. The magician can verbally reconstruct the event for both the subject and the audience by mentioning only that the subject has a "secret" drawing in his pocket, and that the magician's task is to determine what it is. Simple yes-or-no questions fired at the subject will tell the story as he wants it to be known. "You made this drawing yourself?" "I didn't tell you what to draw?" "You didn't show the drawing to anyone?" All these, delivered rapidly, will serve the magician well. But, if the subject decides he wants to tell the audience the drawing procedure in detail, it's well for the magician to interrupt and assert that he wants to move ahead and produce his impression of what the already-seen drawing might be. A question directed at the audience — "Shall I show you now what I got?" — will stop an unwanted description by the host, in its tracks.

Of course, a little scenario-constructing (as the psychics often do) adds to the impact. "Imagine you're a painter looking at a blank canvas. You raise your brush, and you begin to draw a picture...." This should be accompanied by an expression of concentration on the face, and a look of uncertainty as well. On his own pad, the magician draws his "impression," slowly, not at first showing it to the camera or the subject, so as to amplify the impact of the final revelation. He expresses doubt about the results. "Hmm, I don't think I'll get this. This isn't an easy one. But if I'm wrong, I'm wrong." This will get the audience wanting him to be right, and he'll satisfy that need in full, of course. This is very much like the juggler's ploy of announcing a particularly difficult maneuver, trying it once and faltering, then making a grand success of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the magician expresses great exultation when it becomes obvious that he has succeeded with the trick. A big smile of satisfaction, a sweeping gesture, and an expectant look at the audience will bring the applause he deserves.

You'll see from this description that the psychics — who use special powers — have a much easier time than the magicians. But, for all we know, some psychics just might be using these methods! It's not impossible, you know. Next week, we'll describe how you can do The Tired Old Moving Compass-Needle Trick, as done by Boy Scouts — or by magicians who want to look like psychics.

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'Tis that time of year, and since I'm constantly being sued by someone or other, I thought I'd warn the Jolly Old Elf — and my readers — to watch out.... And, my friend Sheila Gibson, never missing a good greeting card, and knowing that Allport Editions of Portland, Oregon, contributes a percentage of their card sales to children's health, education, and welfare projects, sent me this second one. I suggest that you seek out Allport. I must comment that the situation depicted here is an unlikely premise, and I'd need more proof than this, but we at the JREF believe in the SETI project, so....

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The solution to last week's puzzle is cute. Harrison Bauer was the first correct answer. Only one trip up the stairs is needed, and the answer is obtained. How? Turn on any two switches. Wait two minutes or so. Switch one off, go upstairs. The light that's still on is connected to the switch that's still on, and the switch you just turned off is connected to the light bulb that's turned off, but is still warm! Hah! Need I say that the off-and-cold light is connected to the switch you didn't operate at all?

Reader John Oswalt had a novel idea. He wrote:

You have to go up once. Turn on switch A. Wait 30 years. Turn on switch B, and go up the stairs. The light connected to switch A will be burned out. The light connected to switch B will be on. The other one is connected to switch C.

Okay, okay. Another correct solution. Hmm. One wag suggested substituting differently-colored bulbs, and another a complicated system using strings and other added equipment, but both were eliminated for sheer gall. About half the responses were wrong, half right, but more than half of the correct ones came only after I responded to the incorrect one with, "Nope! Much simpler answer. Just ONE trip, upstairs, and it's all solved....!" And, I did not have the time to acknowledge most of the correct answers, which will probably be the case all along the line with these puzzles.

For this week, a classic problem which many of you will have already come upon. You have three small opaque boxes. One contains 2 black marbles, another one contains 2 white marbles, and the third contains one black marble and one white one. Each box was once labeled on the removable lid to correctly show its contents (BB, WW, BW) but some fool has switched these lids so that now no box is correctly identified as to contents. To determine which marbles are in which boxes, you may take one marble out of any box and look at it (you may not look inside the box at the other one) and you must then replace the marble you've just looked at, and shake that box to mix the marbles. You can look-replace-and-shake any number of times. What's the minimum number of times you need to perform this operation in order to know the correct contents of all three boxes? And, explain how and why.

No, you can't mark the marble or the boxes or lids, and you can't hold the marble to heat it up. The procedure is exactly described above. No tricks. Just cleverness.

Next week, a doozy involving a drawer in a dark room containing 5 black socks.... but we'll give you all that at the proper time. Don't assume this is one you've heard before!

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I must tell you that the "urgent appeal" I issued last week was responded to heavily, and I thank you all for your assistance on this matter. The data on the Committee members came largely from Dr. Tim Gorski, MD, who with his colleague Patrick Curry prepared a very powerful document on this situation for the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, to appear in the next issue of that periodical. Reach Dr. Gorski at: xenomed@dnamail.com and I'm sure he'll keep you informed on this important matter.

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We'll have a comprehensive "link" page going up here shortly. We're in the middle of drastic page changes, so let us know what you think, please, at randi@randi.org, as it moves along from week to week. And if you know of a web page you think we should link to, please send it in for consideration.