Variations on the Konami Code

This is going to be a long one. 

The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with a trick by Tomas Blomberg called The Konami Code. Actually, it's not a trick, it's a method that can be used to perform all sorts of effects. 

Andi Gladwin and Tomas have kindly provided a pdf of an effect that demonstrates the concept from Tomas' book, Blomberg Laboratories. Read it a time or two until you understand what the effect is. It's not the most intuitive thing to understand in print, but when performed for real it seems perfectly natural and logical. You don't need to understand how it works, just try and visualize what the effect is.

When you're done reading the link below, come back to read the rest of this post.

Konami Code by Tomas Blomberg

Okay, so now you understand one of the effects you can do with this method. Before I go on to describe the context in which I performed that trick that made it extra meaningful for the person I was performing it for, let's take a nice long digression and talk about using the Konami Code in a stage or parlor setting.

Kurtnami Code

What follows is a very basic way of using this method for a stage routine. I should warn you that there are about three levels of my bullshit piled on top of the basic method. Feel free to strip that away. You need to be performing for a seated audience of a decent size.


You look around on your table for something. You don't find it. You quickly walk off stage then return with a stack of index cards. You do an angry stage-whisper off to the wings of the stage. "Kurt, you idiot, I told you to have these on my table waiting for me."

"Sorry, folks, my assistant Kurt forgot to set these out for me. Ladies and gentlemen, I hold in my hands a packet of index cards. On each index card are instructions. In a moment I will hand this packet off to someone in the audience. These instructions will tell you where to hand the packet next. For instance, it may say 'Hand the packet forward,' or 'Hand the packet to your left.'"

You spread the index cards between your hands, there are 10 white ones and one red card. You begin to shuffle them up.

"Now, the order these cards are read in will determine the path the packet travels and where they end up in this room."

"Think of it this way, if you made a left out of your home, then took the first right, and the first right after that, you'd end up up here somewhere [you indicate a point in the air] But if you go right first, take the next right after that, then the first left, you'd end up down here somewhere. Both paths consist of one left and two rights, but the order is different, so you end up in different locations." 

I would turn my back and kind of mime these two paths in the air from a central point.

I don't actually draw it, I just kind of indicate the movements in the air with my finger. This is a completely optional part of the presentation. Since I've never performed this routine, I don't know if it is helpful or not. I just like the idea of reinforcing the notion that the order the directions are followed will affect the endpoint (which is completely untrue).

"Now, what we are about to do will send these index cards in a random path across the room until one person is left holding the red card. Science would tell us that it's impossible to predict random actions. But wasn't it also 'science' that told us bumblebees can't fly and that man would never run a sub 4-minute mile? Well, if an email my mom forwarded me is to be believed, then yes, these are things that science claimed. Personally, I don't let science tell me what I can and can't do."

"As a green belt in ka-ra-te, I must always be able to predict the movement of my opponent. As my sensei, Howie Friedman, says, 'When someone tries to punch your face [start throwing a slow-mo punch], you must try to move your face so as to not get punched in it [do a slow-mo juke of your head to the right]." Start nodding as if you've just shared great wisdom with your audience.

"Allow me to demonstrate how I've used my psychic brain to accurately predict the movement of these cards through the audience and where they will end up. Prepare to be dazzled."

You rubberband the cards and toss them over your shoulder into the audience and ask the closest person to take them. You ask that person to unband the cards and remove any card at random and to put it in her pocket or purse. You tell her that this card will represent the "final move" once all the other white cards have been used. You then tell her to pass the rest of the cards to the person to her left so we can start the game.

You ask the person who holds the cards to mix them up, remove one, and read it aloud. He does so and reads, "Keep this card and hand the remaining cards to the person directly behind you. And never forget you're a strong black woman who don't need no man."

Onstage you let out a long sigh then start yelling offstage. "Goddamit, Kurt! You brought the wrong cards. These are the ones for the Women's Empowerment Seminar. Did you bring the others? You didn't? Oh, Kurt, you imbecile."

"I'm sorry, everyone. My assistant brought the wrong cards. These cards will work, but I wrote them for a different audience that I'm performing for tomorrow, so the message on them might not apply. Let's just continue."

The guy sitting behind the original person takes the cards and mixes them up. He removes one and reads it out loud. "Keep this card and hand the remaining cards to the person on your immediate right. And girlfriend, don't you forget, no one can make you feel inferior without your permission."

It continues like this, the cards making their way in a random pattern around the room, and people reading off bland messages of encouragement that don't apply to them. Eventually the lone red index card is handed off to someone. You remind everyone that before this started you randomly chose a person by tossing the cards over your head into the audience. That person randomly chose a card to be the "final move" card. Since all the white cards have been used you ask the person to read her card to indicate where the red card's final move should be. Her cards says to hand the card two seats to the left. The red card ends up in the hands of a guy in a green sweater and glasses. You point out that if the woman had chosen a different card then the red card might have moved in a number of different directions and distances on this final move.

"Now sir, I don't know you, correct? You chose that seat at random tonight, yes? Would you be shocked if there was an envelope under your seat -- the only envelope under any seat -- and inside that envelope was a sheet of paper inside that predicted you would be holding the red card? You would? Please, take a look.... It should be there... Just under there...Did it maybe get kicked under a nearby chair?... Kurt, you put it there before the show, right? Oh, what the fuck, Kurt. I'm sorry, could everyone look under their chair? There should be an envelope under one of them."

Everyone looks under their chair. On the opposite side of the audience a woman holds up an envelope, nowhere near where the red card ended up. You look angrily offstage at "Kurt" and then turn back to the woman who is holding the envelope. You say, "Please open up the envelope and read what it says."

She opens the envelope and reads:

"I'm sorry, miss. Kurt gave you this envelope by mistake, please disregard it. It was meant for the guy in the green sweater and glasses who is holding the red card."


This presentation was birthed from a combination of a few different things:

  1. Tomas' Konami Code
  2. My love of talking to, and being frustrated by, unseen, non-existent people, which is something I've used before in my real life, and in comedic presentations, but not a magic one. 
  3. The idea of having a prediction that seemingly predicts a mistake that hasn't yet happened.
  4. This time in college when I was really into this girl so I went with her to a meeting of a campus group for minority women. At the start of the meeting we all held hands and had to repeat some oath or something that started with, "I am a beautiful woman of color...." Which is something I still like to say to myself from time to time.
  5. The song Penelope by Of Montreal. An amazing, off-kilter, but catchy indie-pop song that provided the wording for the prediction. 

The moves on the cards are as follows:

  • Hand the cards to the person two seats to your left
  • Hand the cards to the person in front of you
  • Hand the cards to the person two seats on front of you
  • Hand the cards to the person behind you
  • Hand the cards to the person two seats to your left
  • Hand the cards to the person on your right
  • Hand the cards to the person on your left
  • Hand the cards to the person on your right
  • Hand the cards to the person behind you
  • Hand the cards to the person in front of you

No matter what order these are read in, they will force the person two seats ahead, and three seats to the left of whoever starts out with the pack of cards. Then you just have that person described in a prediction under any random person's chair who is not near the predicted person.

I just chose these movements randomly. You may want to choose different moves and incorporate diagonals and people sitting many seats away (i.e., "Hand the cards to the person 5 seats to your left"). It would depend on how big your audience is. This is a simplified version of the effect in the Konami Code pdf attached above. In that trick the spectator cuts off a random number of cards from a packet. In this case they go through the full packet.

I think that's about all. One nice touch that I think helps sell the "randomness" is tossing the pack of cards over your shoulder to select an audience member. When you do this, you should aim for the person in the center of the audience. (Your starting person, and the person you based the relative position of your prediction on.) If you do this, one of three things will happen.

1. It will land with the person you want to start with. Perfect, you let this "random" person be the starting point and hold the final move card.

2. It will land to the left, to the right, in front of, or behind the person you want to start with. In this case have that person remove the final move card and then say, offhandedly, "And hand the rest to the person on your right [or wherever] so we can start the game."

3. It lands a few seats from the person you want to start with. If this happens, allow that person to take the final move card and then say, "We need to centralize the cards because we need as much room as possible on all sides of the starting point. So could you hand the cards to... hmmm... that person in the blue shirt?" In other words, you just direct them to hand it to the person you want to start with. It's completely logical to want the pack to start in the center, so you lose nothing by doing this.

The Rehearsal Dinner

Digression over.

Now let's loop back around to the effect in the PDF linked above and I will tell you a story of the perfect context to use it in.

A couple weeks ago I was at the rehearsal dinner for my friend's wedding which was occurring the following day. It was a beautiful evening, the food was great, and everyone was in a joyful mood. In a way I think rehearsal dinners are more enjoyable than weddings. Only the closest people are involved, there's 100 times less stress on the bride and groom, people aren't pathological about everything going "perfect", everyone is more low-key and relaxed, and you're not stuffed in some uncomfortable outfit. 

Tomas had written me a couple days before this event and asked if I had any ideas for the Konami Code. I didn't, but it did inspire me to perform something for the bride at her rehearsal dinner.

When to perform at other people's special events. Never. Don't do it. I mean, it can be done respectfully in rare cases, but I don't trust you to figure them out. Someday I will write a post on this but I think your best bet is to avoid performing unless you were specifically asked to.

After the business of the evening was finished, I sat down at a table next to the bride-to-be.

"I have a gift for you," I said. I told her to hold out her hands and I placed a stack of photos in them. They were individual pictures of everyone from the rehearsal dinner -- the family, the friends, the priest, even the waiters and waitresses. All of them had big smiles on their faces and affection in their eyes.

Buying tip: Seriously, go get yourself a Polaroid ZIP Mobile Printer. It's a little bigger than a cellphone, and there are a ton of magic uses and just regular life uses for a thing like this. 

Just seeing the pictures alone made her tear up a little. There isn't usually a photographer on hand to document the rehearsal dinner, so this stack of photos was unexpected and meaningful to her. And having actual, physical photos of an event that just occurred is one of those non-mysterious but still "magical" things that you should strive to be responsible for in life.

"What is everyone pointing at?" she asked.

"Oh," I said, "I wanted to try something with you. It's an old gypsy tradition that they used to do before weddings."

Procedural tricks. Here's the thing, if you have a trick that involves some kind of process, you're a million times better off referring to it as "an old gypsy tradition" or "a custom among carnie folk" or "an old fortune-telling ritual." Anything that suggests there is a history to what you're about to do and it's not a "magic trick." Especially if you're performing on someone's special day, you want to make it clear that what you're doing is something that's centered around them. And not something meant to express what a talented magician or mentalist you are.

I gave her half of the photos to mix up while I (false) mixed the other half (and palmed in a picture into the force position). We combined our photos together and I mixed them up some more. Then we went through the process of the trick in the pdf. She cut off some of the pictures and mixed them up while I dealt the remaining pictures into a face down grid on the table. Then she dealt out her stack of pictures randomly, following the directions the people were pointing in the photos, until she was out of photos and had landed on one face down picture. I recapped what had happened, that she had shuffled up the pictures, and chose what order to deal them in. And here were all her friends and family pointing her along a particular path that seemed random but led her to one specific picture. I told her to turn it over and it was a picture of her husband-to-be with arms outstretched as if getting ready to hug the person looking at the photo.

And... cue the waterworks. For her and for every other girl who had gathered around.

I asked if I could take one picture of her as well and borrow the other photos for a few minutes. Then about five minutes later I came back with a small photo album, like this one, which was made for these types of pictures. All the photos were now in the book and when you went to the last page there was the picture of the groom with his arms open and below that the bride with her arms outstretched, ready to return the embrace.

If you have any thoughts on effects using the Konami Code, email Tomas. He has many more ideas that use it in even more intricate and sneaky ways. And I know he's interested in hearing what other people come up with as well.

Thanks to Tomas, Andi, and Vanishing Inc for sharing the excerpt from Blomberg Laboratories