The Mark of the Liar
Presentation Part One
On New Years Eve I was at a party of a little over 20 people and I asked them if I could try an "experiment" in human lie-detection. "I just took an online class that was taught by a former FBI investigator and I want to try out some of these techniques," I told them. I asked them to adopt a role in their mind (liar or truth-teller) and to only interact with me in accordance with that role for the next 90 minutes or so. During that time I wouldn't ask them any questions that I already knew the answer to (and if they felt I did, they could just refuse to answer). Everyone was down for this little game, as I knew they would be. (I had been involved with interactive party-games that lasted an entire weekend with many in this group. A group filled with performers and nerds and nerdy performers -- the type of people who like that kind of thing.)
"One of the keys of discerning liars from truth-tellers in a group is playing their interests off of one another. In order to do that you may need to know what role someone else has adopted. You can signal that to each other with a thumbs-down to show you're a liar, or a thumbs-up to show you're a truth-teller. If you are ever signaling to each other what your role is, just make sure my back is turned and that I can't see. You should be honest with each other in regards to your role, but when dealing with me, you should only ever lie or only ever tell the truth depending on the type of person you're choosing to be."
Once everyone understood, the game was underway. Everyone broke off into their own groups and discussions like at any normal party and I would roam around talking to people in groups or as individuals, asking seeming innocuous questions. "If you had to guess, what's the most peaches you ever ate in a day?"
"I don't know. Three?"
"Ohhh!!!!" My eyes light up as if this is the most significant thing they could possibly tell me. "Okay. Okay. I get you. Very interesting. Very interesting."
After about 90 minutes of this I started arranging people amongst the two rooms that everyone was mostly gathered in. I asked some people if they'd move to the kitchen for a moment and others if they'd step into the living room. Once everyone was settled I told them that the game was over and I think I was able to identify all the liars from all truth-tellers. I asked them to raise their hand if they had been lying to me. Every person I had ushered into the kitchen raised their hand. Everyone in the living room kept their hands down (well, except for one). That was the first big climax, but it gets better.
Method Part One
Let's pause things here and talk about how I got to this point. So we have 20 people, all of whom are only thinking about whether they're going to play the role of a liar or a truth-teller. To figure out everyone's role we just need to unlock one person at first (by "unlock" I mean "figure out what role they're playing"). To do this we will ask the the classic logic-puzzle question of one person. So the game starts and you start by asking people random questions. "What was the name of your favorite teacher?" "What was the first concert you ever went to?"
At some point you need to get two people off to the side. They should both be relatively intelligent. Make sure they know each other's roles (turn away while they figure this out). Now you ask one of them this question:
Do you both have the same role?
If he says "yes," the other person is a truth-teller.
If he says "no," the other person is a liar
This is just the way the logic works out regardless if the person you're asking is lying or telling the truth and regardless of what role the other person has.
So now you know one person's role and you are going to use that knowledge to unlock a few other people (about a quarter of the people you're performing for). But because you know that person's role you don't need to ask the more convoluted logic-puzzle question. You just ask, "Is he a liar?" and point to someone in the group. The person you ask finds out, filters the answer through his role, and you just reverse filter it.
You can also choose to figure out some people without asking liar/truth-teller questions at all. Let's say you know someone is a truth-teller. At some point you ask that person if they like olives and they say yes. Later you ask someone whose role you don't know to find out if that person likes olives. They come back and tell you yes or no and now you know that person's role.
Keep in mind, this isn't a performance that everyone is watching at the same time. You're weaving in and out of groups and in and out of conversations. Nobody is seeing the full scope of the questions.
Also keep this in mind, only one person is ever asked the logic question. And only 25% of the people are being asked any questions about other people or their roles. You're using that 25% to unlock everyone else, but 75% of people are only asked these random and weird red-herring questions. So at the end, when you separate the truth-tellers from the liars, a full 75% of them are saying things like, "How the hell did he know I was lying about how many peaches I've eaten in a day?"
You might think that it's a weakness that 25% are being asked questions about other party-goers. It's not. I openly referred to these people as "snitches." And I would say things like, "It's one thing to ask you questions and maybe be able to judge if you're telling the truth or not, but it becomes much more difficult when your answer is filtered through a third party who may be lying or telling the truth. That's why in lie detector tests they never ask you about the actions of a third party, because it's much easier to be deceptive about someone other than yourself." (I have no idea if that's true. But no one else does either, so I'm comfortable saying it.)
Don't try and figure out everyone's role immediately. You have an hour or two to do this, and different opportunities will present themselves. Feel free to use other "which hand" or "liar/truth-teller" effects to figure some people out. At one point I picked up a deck of cards, had three cards freely chosen, asked each person if their card was red or black, nodded wisely, then had the cards shuffled back in the deck (retaining them on top) and then just checked the deck a few minutes later to see who was lying and who wasn't.) Integrating something like that means you actually don't have to do the logic-question at all (and honestly I probably wouldn't in the future). You could spend the first 30 minutes just fucking around, then at some point unlock a small group of people with the deck of cards, and then use those people to unlock everyone else. There's a bunch of ways of going about doing this.
Remember, the majority of your questions have nothing to do with anything. They're just there to hide the actual method. So they should be mix of mundane questions:
- What did you have for breakfast today?
- Put your fist in your pocket and extend any any number of fingers. Are you holding out three fingers?
These will mix in with and disguise the mundane questions you're using to actually figure out people's roles.
But then you should ask more intriguing questions too. These will get people talking and laughing and make them forget the questions you're using to figure everything out (or at least blur them together). So questions like:
- Have you shit your pants in the last year?
- Have you ever masturbated to the thought of someone in this circle of people?
As you figure out people's roles you can make notes on your phone or in a notebook. That would be completely logical if you were doing it for real. But I actually found it pretty easy to remember people's roles (and I don't consider myself someone with a great memory).
And that's how you find out everyone's role in a group of truth-tellers and liars. But I wouldn't end things there. Let's go back to that night...
Presentation Part Two
The trick has ended. Everyone is discussing it and asking me what clues I was looking for. The one person I didn't correctly identify is giving me a little shit. Some people realize it has to be some sort of trick, others aren't going down that path. I keep my ears open, listening for someone to start hitting upon the method, if they do I will break out the second climax right then. But no one does, so instead I let things go on for a few more minutes. One girl is asking me a lot of questions about the technique and I pull her in close and say, "You want to know a secret? There is no way to tell if a person is lying or telling the truth based on what they say or how they say it. The questions were bullshit. I was just looking for the 'Mark of the Liar.'" I bring her over behind one of the liars who is engaged in conversation with someone and I point to a small black X near his elbow. Then I bring her over to another person and show a small black X on that person's shoulder. She starts laughing as I continue to show her Xs and eventually we're creating enough of a disturbance that people are wondering what's going on. I then "come clean" to them and admit that I can't do "human lie-detecting," and that all the questions were a sham, and I was just trying to get close enough to them to see which people had the "Mark of the Liar." I point out the Xs on some of the liars and then all the liars start looking for them on themselves and each other. Marks are found on necks, wrists, arms and backs. No marks are on the truth-tellers.
I turn my attention to the girl who was a liar who I didn't identify as one in the initial part of the trick. "Where's your mark?" I asked. She stood up, stretched her arms out, and spun in a circle so we could examine her. Nothing. I lifted her hair to look as close as we could on her neck and behind her ears. Still nothing. She leaned forward a little and flipped her skirt up and flashed her ass at a couple of people. "There it is!" one guy said. And there it was, right at the bottom of her left asscheek, a little black X.
Method Part 2
So this is just Double Cross by Mark Southworth, an effect I wasn't particularly enamored with out of the box. It's a gimmick that allows you to secretly stamp an X on someone. The actual handling of the gimmick never worked well for me. And trying to stamp the X in the exact moment I needed to, in one specific location, was a little sketchy. The gimmick was a little wobbly or something. I don't know. I don't think I read of other people having this complaint, so maybe it was just me.
But while it didn't work for me in that context, using it to stamp someone anywhere they have exposed flesh, at anytime during the evening, was remarkably easy. I would refresh the ink after a couple applications and then mark my liars when the opportunity presented itself. At a party; especially a New Years Eve party; and especially at a New Years Eve party populated by my overly sentimental, effusive friends; human contact is expected. There's plenty of embracing and back-slapping and putting arms around each other's shoulders. That's just the nature of my friends. But I had a built in touch-excuse as well: the last thing I did was usher the liars into the kitchen. In that action I could easily mark the people I hadn't gotten to yet.
As for the girl with the X on her ass. She was sitting next to me on the couch at one point during the night, and she had one of her legs curled under her. Without her knowing it had pushed up her skirt so the bottom of her bottom was exposed. As I went to stand up my hand brushed against her and placed the X. Before the final revelation it occurred to me that leaving her out of the liar group would add some texture to the ending, and it would "make sense" when her mark was found in a seemingly unseeable location.
There you have it. If I was going to do it again I might try and find a small Y stamp and say it represents a forked-tongue or something. But the idea came to me hours before the party and I didn't have time.
You can do this sort of thing on a small scale basis too. You could do it with four people and find a secret mark on the liars in the group. With just one or two people to mark you can actually place the mark on them AS you are manhandling them looking for the X. It's definitely more interesting and fun in a large group but I think there's something to consider with a small group as well. Theoretically you could do this shit in a walk-around gig. It's that practical. And it has to be a more compelling finish than, "And there is the coin," right? Or am I just 1000% disconnected from proper magic thought?
Well, whatever. Have a great weekend, my petals! I'll be back on Tuesday. I'm going to be busy this weekend at The Session convention. (I'm Max Maven.)