Presentation: Limitless Ahead

This is a presentation for a one-ahead style routine. These routines are so basic that they're often included in beginner's books. It's a classic close-up mentalism effect, but it has a few inherent weaknesses:

  1. You have to force something
  2. The last thing you predict is often the least impressive. (Since the others are free choices and the last one is generally a force.)
  3. People will balk at the idea that they have to tell you what they're thinking of in the midst of the routine. After all, you're the mindreader. And when you prefer to perform one-on-one like I do you can't use the excuse, "Okay, tell everyone here what you're thinking." And I think even when they don't know the exact choreography of the effect, they understand that you asking for information you supposedly already know is somehow part of the secret.

As I've said before, coming up with new methods is not my strength, so whenever there is an issue with an effect I try and address it presentationally. This presentation for the one-ahead routine eliminates the need for a force, justifies any weakness in the final prediction (and is perhaps strengthened by that weakness), eliminates any hesitation on the part of the spectator to give their answers out loud, and is more interesting and affecting to the spectator than any other presentation I've seen for this type of effect.

Below is a transcription of how the effect played out for me in one specific instance in the past. It will never play out this way for you because this is specific to me, the person I was showing this to, the items I had on hand, the layout of my apartment, etc. Let me reiterate, this is not intended as a script, but just an example of this presentational framework.

Limitless Ahead

"Do you trust me?" I ask.

"No. Not even a little bit," she deadpans.

I take a tiny ziploc bag with one red pill in it and toss it on the coffee table.

"I want you to take that. I promise it's completely safe. It's going to do something to you, but nothing bad. Once they begin, the effects wear off after a few minutes."

She picks up the little bag and looks at the pill. "What's it going to do to me?"

"Well, it gives you heightened senses. You'll be able to sense things on almost an unconscious level. But I promise you, it's very safe and there are no long-term..."

She's already taking it. She's my friend, she trusts me, she knows I'm not giving her roofies. And she probably understands this is just a little bit of interactive theater she's about to take part in.

"I don't feel anything," she says.

"It takes a while to kick in. And it's not going to feel like much, just a tingle in your head. It's not going to be this overwhelming rush of sensations. Everything will be heightened but your brain has a governor to make sure it's not overwhelmed with input from your senses. It's almost like hooking up a blu-ray DVD player to a shitty old tv. No matter how powerful and clear the information coming in is, the tv can only interpret that information and broadcast it at the level it was manufactured to."

"So my brain is a shitty old tv?" she asks.

"Precisely. Now you're going to be taking in a lot more information than you're used to, and in different ways than you are accustomed to. I'm going to be asking you some questions and when you answer I just want you to go with the first thought that comes to your mind. It will almost feel like you're guessing, but as long as you don't question yourself, you'll be fine. It's going to take a few minutes before it's in your system and once it is we don't have a lot of time, so I'm going to go get some stuff ready now. Watch some tv until I come back."

I then go into the next room and she can hear me rummaging through some things. After a few minutes I come out and toss some business cards, a pen, and some stickers on the table. I ask her to hold up her hand to me and place my hand against hers. "I'm thinking of one of my fingers," I say. "Which one is it?" She says the ring finger. I say, "No. It's not ready yet," and leave again. She hears me in the other room counting out change. After a few more minutes I return again and again put my hand against hers. "What finger am I thinking of?" She says the pinky and I nod and say, "Ok, let's get started."

Test One

I write something on one of the business cards, fold it up and put it in the front pocket of her jeans.

"In a moment I'm going to go into the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and whisper a word. I want you to sit here and just be still and see if you can pick up on the word. Don't stress about it. Just sit and let it come into your mind."

I go out and come back. She sits there looking uncertain.

"Don't question yourself. What word do you think I whispered?

"Uhm... pavement?" she says.

"Great! Let's try another one."

Test Two

This time I write something significantly longer on the card, fold it, and put it in her pocket.

"Okay. I've got an emotion in my mind. In a moment I'm going to turn my back to you and think about this emotion. More specifically I'm going to think about a time I felt that emotion. Give me a little while to get into the right state of mind, but when I say 'Okay' I want you to name the emotion that you believe I'm feeling."

I turn my back and after 30 seconds I say, "Okay."

"I think you're... happy," she says.

Test Three

"I got these scratch and sniff stickers at the dollar store at the end of the block. Take a look, we have all these different fruits. I'm going to step into the other room, put a sticker on one of these cards, scratch it very gently and then wave the card into the air. When I come back I just want you to tell me the first thing you thought you smelled."

I leave and come back after a short while. I have a folded card in my hand which I then tuck into her pocket with the others. 

"What sticker do you think is on that card?" I ask, pointing at her pocket.

"It's banana, definitely." 

"Such confidence!" I say. "You're on a roll, let's try another."

Test Four

I go to the other room and come back with a glass full of pennies and an empty glass. 

"Okay, I counted these earlier. In a moment I'm going to pour the pennies from one glass to another. I want you to watch them as they fall and hear them as they land in the other glass." 

I write down something on a business card and put it in her pocket with the rest. Then I pour the pennies from one glass to another. 

"How many pennies are there?"

"64," she says.

"Hmmm, no. That's way off. Let's try again." I pour the coins back into the original glass. "What do you think?" I ask.


"You're actually really close," I say, "but I think it's starting to wear off. There were 86 coins in the glass. But you did amazing. So much better than I did when I took the pill.  Here, take the cards out of your pocket."

She dumps the cards on the table. I open the last one which says 86. "I don't know if your last one was a guess or not, but if it was, you were actually strangely close."

The next one I open has a banana sticker on it. "You nailed that one. But you already knew that."

The next one says pavement on it.

The final one I open up says Happy (I was thinking of the first time we met on the subway). She melts a little because I'm a sweetheart, then looks at all the cards and says, "This is crazy!"


You already know the method. Or at least you should. If you don't know how to do a one-ahead routine, I'm not sure how much of this blog makes any sense to you. But because there are a couple twists in this particular routine (the use of a sticker, leaving the room), I'll give you the quick rundown.

  • The first card into her pocket says 86 on it.
  • For the second card I write pavement but then pretend like I'm writing a lot more.
  • For the third card, when I leave the room to apparently put the sticker on the card, I actually write the emotion she said and then a context for that emotion in parenthesis.
  • For the fourth card, when I leave to get the pennies I put the correct sticker on the card and then just pretend to write on that card when I'm back in front of her.


1. You really need to label the cards with the category you're ostensibly testing as you give them to the spectator. In the above example those categories would be: whisper-emotion-scent-coins or something like that. This labeling procedure is probably standard, something that goes back to Corinda, but just for completeness, the way I do it is as follows: I have a stack of business cards in my hand, blank side up. On the opposite side of the top card, in one of the corners, it has the category for the last test (in this case "coins.") I do a double-turnover and say something like, "We'll label these to make things clear later." And I openly write "Whisper" in one of the corners of the card. Then I do another double-turnover, tip the cards toward me, write 86 on the card, then fold it into quarters with 86 on the inside and the word coins (where she would expect to see "whisper") on the folded-in part of the outside. If that makes any sense. Now you're set up to continue this ruse for the rest of the routine.

Okay, you don't need to label the cards, but I do it for four reasons. 1. It makes the effect bulletproof. 2. Some non-magicians are familiar with the one-ahead principle, but labeling the cards is an extra bit of deception that makes this something different. 3. It clarifies the effect. It makes sense that if you're going to put all the predictions (or "target ideas" or whatever they are) in one place together that you'd differentiate them from each other on both sides. 4. It allows you to open them in the order that is the most dramatically pleasing.

2. What do I use for a pill? A vitamin. A tic-tac. Whatever. One time I wanted to do this and I was at a place where I didn't have anything with me that could serve as a pill, so I did it like this... I went and filled up two paper cups with water. I came back and said to my friend, "Choose one for me to drink and one for you to drink." She did and we drank some. I said, "Don't freak out, but I did something to one of these cups of water. It's nothing gross or dangerous, don't worry. If it was I wouldn't have given you the choice of which one you would drink." I then lift the cups up and there is an X on the bottom of one of them. Regardless of which one it's on I say, "Okay, you drank the spiked one. That's good. It's more fun that way." And then I go on to explain the premise to her.

3. I have no issue putting something in the pocket of my friend's pants, man or woman. Maybe that doesn't fly if you're working tables at Dave and Busters, but otherwise you should be good. If you do this and come off creepy, then you're a creep. You need to work on that.

4. There is a very good opportunity for a hit on the final test if you use the coin test I mention above. If you tell someone there is less than 100 coins, and they can see there are a significant amount, their guess is likely to be between 60 and 90, I've found. And if you give them two chances with some leeway on either side to be close, you almost always end with a pseudo hit. But I don't do it that way anymore. I actually like them to be way off on the last one. To me it emphasizes that there was something affecting her in the previous tests. Plus I enjoy the humor of a completely incorrect guess on the last one more than I do the impossibility of four perfect or near-perfect predictions.

5. I go with four tests total (as opposed to the three predictions you usually see in these types of effects) knowing that the last one won't work. 

6. The idea of writing not just the emotion, but also the memory you were drawing on for that emotion is a good one. Not only does it further camouflage the method, but it's just more compelling. If the card says "Jealousy," that's fine, but if it says, "Jealousy (8th-grade dance)," there's more depth and interest to that reveal.

7. Again, what I delineated above was just an example. If you were to perform this you would come up with your own tests and scenarios. Part of the fun of this is coming up with these ideas in the moment, because they can literally be pretty much anything. Just try and make it so they appeal to different senses. That's much more interesting than "Read my mind three times in a row," or something like that. Some of the other tests I've done in this Limitless framework are:

  • Gone outside with a person and flashed them a word written on a card from 100 feet away which she successfully read.
  • Said, "I want you to imagine an invisible keyboard hanging in the air between us. It goes from here to here. I'm going to type a short sentence in the air at normal typing speed. I want you to try and pick up on what it is I'm typing. Remember, the keyboard is backwards from your perspective, so you'll have to flip it around in your mind." She "correctly" determined I had typed "Joy to the world."
  • Had her wave her hand over my body and determine what part of my body I was thinking of. (It was my right wrist, you sicko.)
  • Brushed my teeth and rinsed with mouthwash and then made-out with a girl I was seeing to test if she could taste what I had for lunch. (Kind of the reverse of my Breakfart app).