Earn the Elements

“I want you to write down the initials of the person who was your first kiss.”

I’ve been seeing this a lot in mentalism routines lately (or some variation: first crush, first boyfriend). It makes sense because it’s a subject that has strong ties to the “emotional elements” as I’ve been talking about this week. So you would think I’d be all for this sort of thing. And I am. But the problem is, it’s almost always used devoid of any other context.

Imagine this… You operate a train yard. You’ve been having a problem with some assholes coming in and tagging some vile shit on the outside of the train cars.


I sell a product that easily removes the paint and protects the surface so that it can’t be painted on again. I come to visit you to demonstrate my product. We walk out to one of the train cars and I hand you a can of spray paint. “I’ll show you how it works. Here… I want you to spray paint the initials of your first kiss on the side of this car.” Why would I do that? If I’m demonstrating my paint cleaning product, why does it matter what you paint on the car?

Ok, we get that. Now, following that logic, if I’m demonstrating my mind reading abilities, why does it matter what you’re thinking of?

Well… because… you know, a first kiss is an important moment… so that’s ingrained in someone’s memory… so that would make it easier to read that information from their mind.

Ok., great… just fucking say that then!

But it’s implied.

Maybe. But why leave it that way? If you fully explore why you’re asking for a specific piece of information, that can turn out to be the most interesting part of the presentation. In fact, that can be the presentation.

For example…

“Think of a random four digit number and I’ll read your mind.”

That would be impressive, but because it’s kind of generic, it’s likely not going to stick with an audience in the long term.

“Think of the passcode to your phone and I’ll read your mind.”

Better. This has some stakes to it. But why the passcode to their phone as opposed to just a four digit number? Is it just because it has some stakes to it? If that’s really the only reason it may seem unearned. But if we further explore why the passcode as opposed to a random set of four digits, we might steer ourselves into something more interesting.

“Think of the passcode to your phone and I’ll read your mind.

“You’d think a phone passcode or an ATM pin number or something like that would be the hardest thing to guess because it’s something we put effort in to keeping secret. But actually the act of trying to keep things secret is what creates physical, emotional and psychic clues to information.

“Think of if this way… If you’re cheating on your wife, she may find out about it because of the actions you take to keep it a secret. Maybe your behavior or your attitude changes; you become overly complimentary and generous towards her. Maybe she finds one of those secret text apps on your phone. Maybe you’ve been showering at the hotel after your mid-day encounters and you smell different when you come home. Or whatever. It could be any number of things. But it’s evidence that exists because you were trying to keep something secret.

“On the other hand, think about something you weren’t trying to keep secret. Say… what you had for lunch on the fifth of February. This is something you haven’t been trying to hide, so there are no residual clues from your deception. And therefore it would likely be very difficult for someone to learn that information.

“This happens on the level of the mind as well. The information we’ve spent much of our life guarding becomes some of the easiest information for others to discern because we leave clues .”

That’s written as a soliloquy, but you can imagine how it could easily be a conversation. And not only is it more interesting, conceptually, for someone to think about than a similar trick with no rationale, but it also naturally leads to some other demonstrations if you follow the logic presented in it. (A three-part routine based on this idea will be included in the next book.)

Now, if you’re performing trade show magic, then maybe you don’t have time for a multi-paragraph explanation for why you’re asking for the information you’re asking for. but you can certainly come up with a couple of lines to give things more context. (And if you’re a social magician, then there are a lot of benefits to not interacting with your friends/family the same way a magician would interact with a stranger at a trade-show. )

So we’ve gone from reading their mind of a random four digit number to reading their mind of their phone passcode to providing a much richer explanation of the how and why behind that effect. Each step taken expands the trick

Don’t want to stop there? Okay, here’s a final “emotional element” you can add to a phone passcode reveal. You have to know the person you’re performing for pretty well, and you have to not be considered a creep, generally. Before you start the trick you tell the person to go to the bathroom and take a picture of their dick or tits. That’s it. No, you don’t do this for grandma’s pastor. You do it for people you know who aren’t going to get all shocked and appalled with magic that deals with some mild sexiness. Don’t force someone to do this, of course. With the type of people I hang out with I have multiple options if I ask someone in a social situation to go do this.

It’s not 100% gratuitous (only, like, 85%). I tell them that I’ll read their mind and figure out their passcode. The recent nude in their camera roll is an extra pressure point for them to not want me to gain that access. And—as I explain in the presentation above—that increased pressure to keep the information a secret is what I’ll use to discover their “psychic weakspots” or whatever.

With the right person, or the right crowd, this is wonderfully entertaining. Certainly more so than an identical trick where you discern a random four digit number.

If you don’t know if you’re with the right person or the right crowd, or you don’t know if you’re the sort of person to pull off this kind of interaction, then you’re not. Don’t try it.