Three weeks ago, I went to the homes of three different friends and left each of them with a roll of the softest, fluffiest toilet paper I could find. None of that single-ply nonsense. This stuff was a real treat for your bunghole.
I had them place the roll of toilet paper on the toilet paper holder (or whatever that's called). And I put a bright pink post-it note on the wall next to it that said, "Contact me the moment you finish this roll of toilet paper." (I added a piece of tape to secure the post-it, as I wasn't sure it would stay up with the steam from a shower.)
In addition to the note, I told them what I wanted them to do: Use the toilet paper as they normally would. No more or less than usual. And when they got to the end, leave the tube on the spool and call or text me immediately. Any time, day or night.
This took a little convincing, of course. You can be the most trustworthy guy in the world, but saying, "Here, I want you to rub this particular roll of toilet paper against your orifices for the next few days," is kind of sketchy. It smacks of some weird fetish. So I did this with people who know me pretty well.
My friend Nicole was the second person to finish her roll about eight days later. This is the story of her roll.
Around 9:30 pm on August 27th, Nicole texts me to tell me she was finished with her roll of toilet paper.
"I'll be right over," I reply.
Twenty minutes later I enter her apartment. We go into the bathroom together. I give her a Sharpie and aske her to sign the cardboard tube. She does, and I then have her take it off the holder. I begin to tear one side of the TP tube along it's length (in other words, tear it so I could open it flat). I pause after I have put just a small notch in it.
"Wait," I say, "How long after you finished this roll did you text me?"
She thinks for a moment and says, "Maybe two minutes."
"Okay... and do you know what time it was when you texted me?" I ask. I set the TP tube down and pull out my phone. I open it up to my texts and see that her text came in at 9:28.
"So you would have finished the roll around 9:26, yes? August 27th at 9:26 pm."
I reach for the roll again, but then stop myself. "Actually, I should explain this first," I say. "A week ago I had this weird premonition. And I went out and bought this roll of toilet paper for you. And then I took a pencil and wrote something down on the inside of the roll."
I mime the awkwardness of trying to write something with a pencil on the inside of a toilet paper roll.
"I actually had a few other premonitions and left rolls with a few other people around town. I don't remember yours precisely, but I think it's kind of close."
I tell her to take the tube and tear it open. She does, and written on the inside is:
"What!?" she says, looking rattled.
"Don't shit yourself," I say. "You're out of toilet paper."
Okay, it's just a thumb-writer.
But in a way this is the perfect use for that tool. I'll explain in a second.
This idea is based on an email that Noel Qualter sent me:
The effect is you go to a friend's house and a few days later said friend is in the bathroom. They go to pull off the last piece of toilet paper and written on the tube is a message - ‘Hi Sharon, I reckon it’s 12.22pm on Wednesday 3rd. All the best."
All methods rely on you waiting till there’s only a few sheets left and guessing but that’s terrible.
I thought that was a great trick, but I knew there was no real, workable method to it. You can't force people to shit/piss and wipe themselves on a set schedule with a set number of pieces of toilet paper. So your prediction has to be done after the fact. Which means it can't be done without you there.
But I thought I could do something less perfect, but similar, and I dropped off three rolls of toilet paper with three friends so I could try it out.
I dropped those rolls off on August 19th, with only a vague idea of how I was going to finish the trick. If the idea didn't crystalize in a few days, there would be no trick. I would have just gifted some friends toilet paper for no reason.
My original method was to have the time the roll was finished written backwards on a thumbtip in dry-erase marker. And I thought I'd be able to just handle the roll briefly and stamp the time on the inside. This came nowhere near working.
Then I thought I needed something more like an actual stamp. So I spent hours and hours working on turning a thumbtip into something you could use to stamp the time on the inside of a TP roll. It involved little numbers that I formed out of rolled clay, which were then adhered to the thumbtip (barely). It was a huge waste of time. I spent days on this, trying to create this thumbtip stamp thing. And I got a super delicate version of something working right before my friend Chris contacted me to tell me he had finished his roll.
Before I go over his place I create the thumbtip stamp to match the time he contacted me. I have a little ink pad in my pocket so I can ink it up right before it's needed. It's kind of an awkward mess. But I go over to his place, just briefly handle the tube while I'm taking it off the holder, stamp in the time, and hand it to my friend. He tears open the tube and is momentarily flummoxed but then says, "Was this stamped?" While the numbers of the stamp were "hand-made" and imperfect, they didn't look like they were drawn with marker. They looked stamped. And then he kind of unravelled the whole method, realizing I must have stamped it in quickly post facto. Then he said, "If it had been written in there, I would have lost my shit."
Then it hit me: what am I thinking? We already have a tool to write with that attaches to the thumb. Why was I avoiding it in hopes of something more clever? This trick is actually perfect to use with a thumb-writer.
Your thumb is completely covered from all angles.
Messy writing is 10,000% justified. Writing with a full-size pencil on the inside of small tube would be messy.
Unless your spectator specifically knows about thumb-writers, there's no possible explanation for how the writing could have got inside there in the brief moment you held the roll. What I mean is, if you're using a thumb-writer with a post-it pad, it's possible they could hit on the idea that maybe you wrote your prediction later than they thought with a small pencil. But even with a tiny piece of lead it would be so awkward to put two fingers inside the tube to hold it and write something. It would be way too obvious.
So here's the choreography. I'm pretty happy with it.
1. I have a Sharpie in my shirt pocket and my thumb-writer is in the watch pocket of my jeans. And in my head I have the exact time I got their text (or phone call).
2. With otherwise empty hands, I hand the Sharpie to the person to sign the TP roll.
- Why do this? Because the only explanation will be that I somehow switched the roll. And the only way around that explanation is to make it unswitchable (have it signed), or to draw extra close attention to the roll during the whole procedure, which is not something I want to do when I'm going to be thumb-writing in it.
Plus, when the writing implement in play is a Sharpie, and the prediction is in pencil, I think that subtly suggests the prediction was not done just recently.
3. While she does this, I slip on the thumb-writer.
4. I have her remove the roll from the holder and I take it as if I'm going to tear it. Notice my thumb (and the secret writer) are naturally hidden in the tube exactly as it would be if I was doing this action for real.
5. I pause here as if to shift gears, because I want to clarify something before we go further. Remember at this point they have no idea where this is going. Both hands rest on the tube in preparation for the writing to come. You can also do it just holding the tube in the hand with the thumb-writer on it, but this feels more natural to me to pause with both hands on it.
6. I'm going to write the two pieces of information (date and time) under the cover of two completely logical—not just logical, but necessary—questions.
7. "Wait... how long after you finished this roll did you text me?" During the time I ask, they think, and they answer, I write the date with the thumb-writer.
8. "Okay, so do you know exactly when you texted me?" Again, during the time I ask, they think, and they reply (or they go to their phone to figure out). I have plenty of time to write the time I know they texted, minus the number of minutes they just said.
The truth is both of these secret writings will likely be done as you ask the questions, but you have much more time than that if you need it.
9. I set the tube down and remove my phone, or I shift over to look at my spectator's phone to see the time of the text. I walk through the math with them. "Okay, so you texted at 9:28. And you said that was, like, two minutes after you finished the roll? So you would have finished it around 9:26." Here it feels like I'm just putting this all together now. But actually, that time is already written in the roll that I am no longer holding and don't need to touch again. As I do this, I slip the thumb-writer into my pocket.
10. I talk about my premonition and mime awkwardly writing inside a roll of toilet paper with a full sized pencil. This has them anticipating messy writing.
11. I reach for the tube but stop myself. I have the other person take it and continue the tear I started to reveal the prediction.
I really like this effect. It's super personal and fun to do. I like that nobody really knows when it's going to end, so it feels very spontaneous. (You don't have to immediately go over the person's house when they call, you can stop by the next day or whenever.) It almost has a headline prediction feel. Like when you leave an envelope with a person for a week and say, "I'll be back to open this with you." That sort of thing, where you establish a little anticipation early on and let it build over the course of a few days.
Thanks again to Noel Qualter for the idea.