Archive for the 'Magicians' Category

How Derren Brown Predicted the Lottery Results Live

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I have received a number of e-mails from people who saw Derren Brown on television revealing that he knew the results of the British lottery before the balls were drawn. Even though Brown promised to reveal the secret behind the effect on Friday, people are (understandably) impatient, and since Brown will be revealing the secret anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and spill it to prevent those with a low tolerance for waiting from going into some kind of shock.

For those of you who did not see the effect, here it is in a nutshell: Brown prepared six white balls by writing numbers on them. The balls were placed in a tray with their backs to the audience. As the lottery numbers were picked on live television, Brown wrote them down on a big piece of paper so that he would not forget what they were (which is, by the way, a dead giveaway that this is a trick — if he already had balls with the numbers on them, he wouldn’t forget). When all the balls had been drawn, Brown turned around the rack with his numbers on them, revealing that his prediction was completely correct and that the lottery commission owed him millions of dollars.

But before I reveal the secret, let me dispel a number of rumors. Brown did not:

  • Have an off-screen slide projector project numbers — which were set at the last possible moment — onto the plain white balls.
  • Use slight of hand to replace the original balls with balls that had the right numbers on the (necessitating a pocket full of numbered balls and a set of original balls made of fast-melting sugar for quick disposal in the magician’s mouth).
  • Pay a massive bribe to have the national lottery “fixed.”
  • Pick the wrong numbers and convincingly pretended they were the right ones.
  • “Accidentally” watch a rerun of an old lottery show, the ending of which he had already seen.

Instead the secret (and you’re going to slap yourself in the head when you hear this) is that Brown filmed multiple endings to his routine — each featuring a different prediction — and then used computer technology to beam a different ending into each viewer’s home. Most of those endings showed Brown choosing the wrong numbers, but in one home, he was seen to choose the right numbers. And in that home, the viewers were so amazed that they told all their friends, called the papers, uploaded a video of the event onto YouTube, etc. Because such a fuss was made by that one lucky family, it’s their story that we all remember, giving the impression that Brown got it right.

And what about all the families that complained that they didn’t see a correct prediction? Well, people just naturally assume that these complainers are sore losers, hate magicians, are Nazi-sympathizing cat beaters, or are otherwise not worth listening to.

Clarification on Criss Angel’s lake walk

Monday, September 29th, 2008

A reader writes:

Ok of course I’m gonna be skeptical on how he walked on the lake. But you guys said he had batteries on him and electricity was going, to the bottom of his shoes that had strips of metal. Don’t you see what’s wrong with that,as I recall there was water below his feet where you say there was also electricity below his feet. Water conducts electricity those women would’ve gotten shocked when they touched below his shoes. They would’ve gotten shocked for even being close to him. Those cameramen inside the lake would’ve gotten shocked. What next thing you’re gonna say is the care bears are real. Hey those people in the lake would’ve gotten shocked.

I understand your confusion, but magicians take extreme precautions to make sure that nobody will be injured during the performance of their effects. In the case of the water walk, Angel had the lake’s normal water replaced with ionized water. Because the water had an electrical charge, it was pushed away from the magnets and therefore there was no way for water and electricity to mix! (There was actually a thin bit of space between Angel’s feet and the super-surface-tension water beneath him — he was technically hovering, not walking, across the water.)

Some people have asked whether those in the water beside Angel might be wearing rubber shoes to help ward off electric shock. This would not be effective since they are standing in water; however, I’ve heard a rumor that the women may have had their legs encased in a thick coating of skin-colored rubber, which would indeed do the trick.

Angel Ages a Child

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Finally I’ve received another question! My dear new friend Jordan writes:

how does criss angel turns a little 8 year old to a 20 year old?

I have not personally seen Angel perform this effect, but the secret is well known to television magicians. The secret is simple: an eight-year-old child is selected and filmed. Then the camera is turned off and not turned on again for twelve years. After that period of time, the child is filmed again.

When the resulting film is played, the child seems to instantly age. You see, viewers assume that no time has passed when the camera is not recording, in the same way that a child will assume that you cannot see him when he has his eyes covered and cannot see you. It’s a simple psychological fact.

Don’t believe me? Watch Angel perform the effect again when you have a chance. Notice how his skin tone deteriorates slightly just as the girl ages “instantly”? It’s because a dozen years have passed.


Where’s Presto?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Sorry not to have written in so long! I have been touring the country helping to promote Pixar’s new short film “Presto” which is playing before the wonderful cartoon WALL*E. Although I was not consulted in the creation of this film and neither Pixar nor Disney asked for my assistance in promoting it, the film was clearly named after me so it was the least I could do.

Now some might ask how I knew that I was the “Preso” the filmmakers had in mind. Consider these facts: The magician in the film was a magician, and so am I. He performed the “pulling a rabbit out of a hat” effect, and I have performed that effect (although using a far superior method, as detailed on And the magician in the film looked nothing like me, and the only way he could have looked as little like me would be if an attempt was being made to avoid looking like me at all.

So thank you, Pixar, for allowing me to be your inspiration!

And speaking of inspiration, I want to invite you to visit my dear friend Nathan Allen at his wonderful Web site Nathan and I have been dear friends ever since he sent me a nice e-mail earlier today, and I hope you will give him all of your love, support, and — where possible — money.

Mayne Events

Monday, April 21st, 2008

I would like to share with you a few things you might not know about one of my favorite illusionists, Andrew Mayne. Mayne is the creator of such memorable body-deformation effects as Chest Burster, Painful Dislocation, and — as made famous by The Amazing Johnathan — Jump Rope with Your Own Intestines.

Mayne has been performing personal transformations for as long as anyone can remember. One of his first effects involved doubling his own height over the course of only a few years, much to the delight of his parents.

He began performing publicly for large audiences as a teenager, and soon learned that he could perform more frequently — and cut down on his medical expenses — if he found ways of creating the illusion that he was (for example) smashing his own skull with a sledgehammer, rather than performing in a more direct manner. This is what led him to create Skullcrusher, the only published effect in which a magician destroys and restores a spectator’s signed, borrowed head.

Which reminds me, Mayne recently released an effect called Tear Down. At first, I was quite curious to learn what it was all about, in that I assumed (as you likely did) that the effect’s name was a reference to Ronald Regan’s famous suggestion that Gorbachev tear down the Berlin wall.

Well, it turns out that the effect has little to do with walls, politics, or the former Soviet Union. Instead, it is a torn-and-restored newspaper effect that can be performed with a borrowed, signed newspaper, regardless of what language it’s written in or how much more it focuses on Britney Spears than world hunger.

This is quite an evolutionary effect. I am in a position to know, in that I used to perform a similar bit of prestidigitation back in the day. I’d borrow a sheet of newspaper from a member of the audience (they were always reading the newspaper during my act), have another member of the audience sign their name in big letters across it, and then proceed to carefully, openly, and visibly tear it into tiny pieces before their very eyes.

Mayne’s effect takes this a step further by actually restoring the newspaper after all that tearing is done, and I have to admit that it is a big improvement over my old method. It makes me wonder if a restoration phase might have improved other segments of my act, such as when I would borrow a spectator’s watch and smash it with a hammer.

I’ll have to give that a try.

Derren Brown’s next big thing

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

The SciFi channel has announced that mentalist Derren Brown’s show “Mind Control” will return for a second season, and that the first episode will feature, “an event so amazing it will make you amazingly amazed.”

I’ve spoken to a number of insiders, and apparently the reason that they are not being more forthcoming about the exact nature of the performance is that they are still in the process of deciding what it will be. Current top contenders are:

  • Guess how much money is in the pocket of someone standing on the other side of the Great Wall of China.
  • Make hundreds of WalMart customers simultaneously believe that beer has been made illegal — without causing a riot.
  • Win 1,000 consecutive games of Rock, Paper, Scissors while sealed in a block of ice.
  • Hypnotize American Democrats so that they forget to count votes from Florida and Michigan primaries.
  • Convince the light atop the Luxor hotel that it’s the light atop the Stratosphere hotel.
  • Use subconscious hints and clues to get Osama bin Laden to deliver a pizza to the Pentagon.
  • Get SciFi channel producers to sign up for Mind Control season three.

Jay Sankey magic now free!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

It is with mixed emotions that I learned today that Jay Sankey is no longer charging magicians an annual fee for the right to purchase magic through his Web site. I suppose that this is fine for young magicians and those who do not have a large magic “war chest,” but to those of us who have spent decades trying to keep our secrets safe from the undeserving, it feels like Sankey has thrown the gates of heaven open and let the golden clouds pour out upon the heads of those below.

Sankey was nice enough to send me a $20 gift certificate to help make up for the annual dues I paid some time ago. This was a fine gesture, but the fact of the matter is that I paid more than $12,000 for the right to purchase merchandise through his site. I was assured that this was a deeply discounted price by Gerald, my local Web access guy (he works in an abandoned crack house two blocks from my mansion and is the same guy who sold me a license to shop at for only $4,000), and I still remember the difficulty in getting the funds together because Gerald says that Web access fees can only be paid in cash.

Not that I feel ripped off in the slightest. Sankey is a hero amongst magicians — possibly the only magician in the history of magic who could have possibly showed David Copperfield how he could make the Statue of Liberty disappear using only a paper clip and sly misdirection. I’ll certainly continue to purchase products from Sankey and write about him at, but it will be with a tear in my eye and a remembrance of the day when only those who were willing to pony up big bucks could be part of the Sankey-DVD-purchasing fraternity.

Greatest magician

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Who is the greatest magician of all time?

Presto is the greatest magician of all time.

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