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Thread: Word help with a mind reading trick (fun)!

  1. #1
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    Sep 2007

    Word help with a mind reading trick (fun)!

    Hello, everyone.

    I posted this on a linguistics forum, but apparantly it doesn't receive much traffic. I've decided to repost it here because I figure there must be plenty of people in a forum like this who would be good with such a problem:

    Hello, folks.

    Sorry to barge in on your forum for a single purpose, but my 11 year-old son and I have a fantastic mind reading trick we have been performing as part of a magic act, and I'd really like to improve on it. After giving it some thought, I thought the best person to turn to for this help would be a linguist.

    Let me explain the premise of the trick:

    A spectator and I lock ourselves in a room with a deck of cards, while my son, Ethan, stays in another room with a different spectator. I open a deck of cards and turn them all face up, and my spectator chooses any one of those cards, and replaces it in the deck, and closes the deck back up. I tell the spectator that we both need to concentrate very hard on our chosen card. After concentrating on the card for about a minute, I yell, "Okay. Come in, Ethan."

    Ethan, still in the next room with his spectator, appears to concentrate very hard, and finally declares, "I don't need to come in, Dad. It's the Jack of Hearts" And he is right. The Jack of Hearts was the chosen card.

    Now, a good magician never explains his tricks -- but as I said, I'm looking for a little improvement here from some expert wordsmiths, so here's how it works:

    In the above example, Ethan knows the chosen card is the Jack of Hearts because of a word-code we both share. Also, we remove the 4 aces from any deck that we use, so that there are only 12 cards (two through king) in each of the four suits instead of 13. This is is so that we can divide the deck into equal halves repeatedly using our word code. With this in mind, I'll show you the code words we are currently using and what they mean within our little system.

    "Okay" = Dominant suit (Spade or Heart)
    "We're ready" = Black
    "Ethan" = Top 6 cards (8 through King)
    "Come in" = Top 3 cards (either 5-7, or Jack -king, depending on whether "Ethan" was spoken.
    "Come on in" = 2nd card in the final group of 3 cards.
    "Now" = 3rd card in the final group of 3 cards.

    As you can surmise from this code, the key to using it is the process of elimination. Both the spoken and the unspoken provides all the clues needed to determine any specific card from the deck of 48 cards using only a few words, and sometimes as few as one word is enough to give away the card.

    If I yelled simply, "Come in!" for instance, we can reason thus:

    The card is neither a heart nor a spade, and the card is not black; therefore it MUST be a diamond. The card is not in the 8-king group, and therefore must be in the 2-7 group. "Come in" tells us the card is in the top 3 of our group, which narrows it down to 3 cards: the 5, 6 and 7. Since I did not follow "Come in!" with "Come on in!" it is not the 2nd card in our 3 card group, eliminating the 6. And since I did not use the word "now," as in "Come in, now!" we know the card is not the 3rd card in our group, the 7. And so we have narrowed it down to the 5. Namely the 5 of diamonds.

    Ok, now that out little system is hopefully understood here among the linguists, allow me to point out some obvious flaws in it, so that any interested linguists might offer their kind aid:

    1. In a few instances, the phraseology can be a tad awkward. For instance in our last example, had the card been a 6 of diamonds and not a 5, I would have had to say, "Come in... come on in!" Which sounds odd - to me at least.

    2. I actually don't like the whole "Come in," bit, because in some instances, we may not be "in" at all. We may perform this outdoors with Ethan hiding around a corner when I call to him.

    3. I don't like "we're ready," because it is Ethan who needs to be ready in the spectators' mind, not me and my assisting spectator.

    For the most part, you can see that the code we have now seems pretty natural in most cases, and that the different combinations make sense in any case:

    "Ethan, come in!"
    "We're ready now!"
    "Ethan, Come on in!"
    "Come in, now. We're ready!"
    "Now, son!" (notice here that the word "son," is not part of the code, and is simply a "dummy" word, only included in the declaration to make the whole thing sound more natural).

    And that is how the codes need to work. Each part must stand together or apart in any combination (spoken order is not important) and should avoid the draw of suspicion. Also, each part should be comprised with as few words as possible - no more than 3 words each; preferably just one or two.

    What I would really like is to create the impression that I am merely "checking in" with Ethan, to see how his "mental impressions" are coming along, or something along those lines, so that the words I speak do not seem so much an announcement of the end of the feat, but more a quick, casual assesment as to how things are going so far. A declaration of impatience on my part would even be acceptable here. In any case, the main concern in improving this effect is the impression my spoken words will have on the audience - to arouse as little suspicon as possible, etc. I'm sure the key to this will be words that indicate I am merely "checking in" on Ethan's progress in some way.

    Okay, then! With all of that in mind, and if anyone here is inclined to help Ethan and I improve our mind reading act, here's an easy blueprint for you to work with.

    1. Six word/prases, all of which must sound natural when spoken on their own, or with a "dummy" word that can be used universally within the code.

    2. Each word/phrase should also sound natural when spoken together in any combination (the order in which they are spoken is not important).

    3. The final result of any combination of these words/phrases should create the impression of something said 'In passing," "by way of conversation," "checking the progress," etc, and not as any kind of announcement or declaration.

    With these rules in mind, simply fill in the blanks:


    I want eveyone who takes the time to involve themselves in this little project to know that there are two magicians who really appreciate you for doing so.

    Sincerely: thank you.

    --Ethan and Dan Williams

    P.S. Have fun!

  2. #2
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Sep 2004
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    Hope I got this right...

    "Okay" = Dominant suit (Spade or Heart)

    "All set" = Black

    "Ethan" = Top 6 cards (8 through King)

    "You can" = Top 3 cards (either 5-7, or Jack -king, depending on whether "Ethan" was spoken.

    "Join us" = 2nd card in the final group of 3 cards.

    "Now" = 3rd card in the final group of 3 cards.
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”

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