Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?

A JAMM subscriber sent me footage of him performing Mind-Reading, My Sweet from issue #1. Or, at least, the end of that trick where the prediction is revealed. It's very enjoyable to me to see someone other than myself try out one of these more oddly structured effects. That trick is a good example of what I discussed last Friday, where structural weaknesses of a trick are subsumed by the presentation. There will be more discussion on that trick in the Letters to the Editor section of Issue #2.

I'm mentioning it today because the ideas that follow are related to that effect. One of them (the one I don't particularly like) was the precursor to that effect. And one of them (the one I really like) evolved along side of it. Neither of the ideas I'm about to discuss are actually possible at this time because they would require apps that don't exist. However, they might be interesting ideas to think about just in a brainstorming sort of way. 

I have a gazillion ideas for apps. Hell, I've been coming up with ideas for computer software and stuff like that since I was in 6th grade and wrote up a parody version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego called Who In the Fuck Is Sherman Sanfrancisco. That is a good example of the issue with my app ideas, they really only appeal to me and maybe 6 other people. The Jerx App is the one idea I had with a more universal appeal, and that's because it's so simple and can do so many things. But most of my ideas are more along the lines of Breakfart, the app you fart into and it tells you what you had for breakfast.

So let's talk a little about the common ancestor that Mind-Reading, My Sweet and the effect that ends this post have in common. 

I had an idea where you would be able to predict anything a spectator names. Well, not you, but an incredible Chinese mentalist that you've been corresponding with. You could call him the great Foo Ling Yu. Congrats, now you're a comedy magician.

So you have a sealed envelope that this mentalist has sent you and you ask your friend to think of anything. For example, you ask her to think of a gift she once received. The best one, the worst one, or just any memorable gift. Your friend names a stuffed-animal turtle her dad gave her before he committed suicide.

"Ooooohhh sheeeee-it...," you say as you slink backwards out of the room.

I'm just kidding. She just says it was a stuffed turtle her dad got her for Valentine's day when she was 8.

You hand her the envelope and ask her to open it.

She does and finds a letter printed in Chinese characters.

"Oh crap," you say. "Normally we correspond over email and it automatically translates everything. Uhm... do you have a translation app on your phone?" She doesn't, so you open one on yours that translates whatever it sees through the camera. You set it to translate from Chinese to English and have her hold it over the letter. It translates it and the letter says, "I'm having a premonition of you meeting with a beautiful red-haired girl [or whatever describes your spectator]. When asked to think of a gift from her past, she will think of a turtle. I am very confident in this. Please use this information wisely."

At the end of the night she can take the letter with her and anyone who reads Chinese can verify what it says.

So, if it's not obvious, it's essentially a fake translation app. You print out a letter that has everything except the thought of object written in Chinese. Then when you open the app you secretly code what the thought of word is when you set the app to translate into English. Your spectator can watch you do this and see nothing suspicious. If you don't understand what I'm getting at, you can see this kind of covert input in this old Google trick

So the app asks you what language to translate into and you, apparently, type English. The app now knows the object the person is thinking of and inserts that into the translation that it overlays on the letter.

Ideally what would also happen when you secretly input their word is that a duplicate letter would print off, wirelessly, from your printer in another room. Then it's just a matter of swapping the letters at some point in the evening so she can take the letter home with her.

As far as ideas go, it's not that great. It lacks the charm of the non-app presentation used in Mind-Reading, My Sweet. I've seen the reaction that trick gets first hand, and now I've seen the reaction another person has had with it. And while it's not a particularly satisfying method for magicians, I find it to be a very satisfying unfolding of events for the spectator, and completely baffling assuming you handle the one move invisibly.

But it did lead to another idea which I really like, but again, it would require a custom app that would probably have limited appeal.

Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?

Imagine this, a friend is visiting your house, he notices a new framed poster hanging in your living room. It's a paragraph of Chinese characters. He asks what it's all about.

You ask him if he can read Chinese at all, he says he can't. That's okay, you tell him, and you ask him to stare at the poster while you have him imagine the following scenario. 

"I want you to imagine you're an 8-year-old boy. You live in a rural part of southern China. One day you are walking home from school and off in the distance you see a clearing with an object sitting all by itself in the middle of it. You walk up closer and closer to the object until finally you can see what it is. What is it?"

"I don't know," he says.

"Just name the first thing that comes to your mind," you say.

"Uhm... a pickle," he says.

"Great." You ask him to stand next to the poster and you take a picture of him with it and text it or email it to him.

"I want you to find someone who can read Chinese and ask them what that says," you tell him.

A couple days later he reaches out to a professor at a local university and sends her the picture and asks her what the poster says. 

She writes back...

It says, "I was an 8-year-old boy. I lived in a rural part of southern China. One day I was walking home from school and off in the distance I saw a clearing with an object sitting all by itself in the middle. I walked up closer and closer to the object until finally I could see what it was. It was a pickle. While it did not seem like the most significant incident of my youth, I decided to print it up and put it on a poster because you never know what will turn out to be a magical moment."


This would be a variation on Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app. Essentially you can tell your camera to replace any object with another object when you're using it to take a picture. So, for example, you could set it up so anytime you have your camera aimed at a Bicycle joker, it would replace the image of the joker with the three of spades (or whatever). That's just a dumb card trick example. 

Here you would set it up so the image to be replaced would be the poster image, and it would replace it with an identical image except with the symbol for whatever word the spectator chose included in the text. Or, perhaps it could just replace a single Chinese character from the poster with the appropriate one to make the "prediction" accurate. Whichever looks better. You would need an app for this, of course.

So, your friend comes by, notices the poster. You tell them the story and have them say what they see in their imagination. Then you take a picture of him with the poster. As you go to take the picture you would type in whatever word he said into the app. Then the app would swap in the appropriate character for the incorrect character in the poster--augmented reality style (and ideally feather the image and balance the colors so it blended in well).

You take a picture, send it to your friend's phone and let him take it from there. I always like a trick that concludes when you're not around.