Psuedo-psychometry is an eftect popularized by Theodore Annemann, who presented it with great success in his shows. Through the years many magicians and mentalists have explored the possibilities inherent in this effect. Dozens of versions are available on the market, hundreds are in the literature.
The effect, as I’m sure you know, is that several spectators receive an envelope (or some other type of container) from the mentalist. They are asked to put a personal object into it. The envelopes are mixed by another spectator and returned to the performer. As he removes the objects from the envelopes one by one, the performer senses the personal vibrations of the owner and returns the objects to the correct person.
The secret is simple and functional: The envelopes are secretly marked and are distributed in a known order. Thus, their markings automatically identify the owners of their contents.
This effect has become a classic, but as far as I’m concerned its no longer suitable for today’s audiences. Let me explain. If Pseudo-psychometry is presented as a genuine feat of psychometry, in which you give each lender of an object a cold reading, the effect becomes too long-winded for modern audiences seeking entertainment (which mine are). And if the presentation is stripped down to a simple test of what belongs to whom, it becomes a mere puzzle with a solution that is not terribly difficult to guess.
There is another flaw, as I see it, in the idea of using Pseudo- psychometry as a platform for cold readings: In the context of theater corporate and banquet shows it is seldom believable. In these venues you do not receive many family heirlooms and long-held personal items. Instead you get lipsticks, combs, mascaras, purse mirrors, pills, lighters, coins and other incidental items. (I have even received condoms and tampons, and if you perform Pseudo-psychometry for long, you will too. Be prepared to deal with them.) Few thinking persons will actually believe that such transitory items can carry meaningful psychometric vibrations that could provide you with deep insights into the lender’s history and personality. Of course, if a truly interesting item comes my way, I will certainly capitalize on it – but most of the time the objects are going to be trivial.
Over the years I have developed a presentation based on one by Tony Griffith,(1) which discards cold reading while it dresses up – and therefore conceals – the identification of the owners of the lent objects. I have five objects collected. More would make the routine repetitious. For the first test I take one of the objects and pass it before each of the five lenders, watching their expressions. From “tiny subconscious responses” I determine the owner of the object. For the second test, I have each of the four remaining subjects say the name of the object. Subtle inflections in their voices tell me the owner of this item. For the third test, I have each of the remaining lenders say “No” after which I detect the individual who has lied. This brings me to the last two items. To avoid the pitfall of having the last item become anti-climactic, I take the remaining objects, one in each hand, and ask their owners to look at them. Then, from their gazes I am able to divine which object belongs to whom.
This series of varied presentation premises keep things interesting and entertaining–as long as the pace is brisk and a bit of humor is applied. While I feel that this flurry of presentation ploys misdirects strongly from the simple method behind it all, over the years I have sought for better ways to conceal the identification method, making it impossible for even a critical audience to discover the secret. Spectators know more about magic and are much shrewder than they once were. Many intelligent people who take the time after the performance to think about the Pseudo-psychometry effect can arrive at the correct solution – and that’s a pity. Here I offer two easy, yet very deceptive methods that have worked extremely well for me.
Here we employ a presentational plot by L. Vosburgh Lyons, in which graphology rather than psychometry is represented as the operative phenomenon.(2)
The performer holds a small basket (like a simple bread-basket), which contains at least fifty correspondence cards and envelopes. These are not neatly arranged, but lie scattered in the basket. Five felt-tip pens are attached by their clips to the outer rim of the basket.
Five spectators, preferably women, are each asked to remove from the basket a card, a pen and an envelope. (The envelopes are of the self-sealing type, for considerations of hygiene and convenience.) The performer humorously compares the selections to a lottery, emphasizing that the spectators can remove any card, any envelope and any pen they wish; and he holds the basket in a way that makes it easy for them to do so.
Each of the five spectators is asked to write a few words on her card, then insert the card into the envelope and seal it. Another spectator is recruited to collect the envelopes and bring them to the performer on stage. Once there he is asked to mix them.
The performer now opens one envelope after another, studies the different handwritings and, through his graphological knowledge, dramatically reveals various characteristics about each of the five persons, eventually identifying each individual from her handwriting!
PREPARATION AND PERFORMANCE
This handling would seem to leave no possibility for identification through secret marks on the cards or envelopes, and has been designed to deceive well-posted magicians as well as the public. The method is uncomplicated and utterly simple: Neither the cards nor the envelopes are prepared – but the pens are.
They look identical but each has a different color of ink! Certain brands of felt-tip pens can be found whose caps and cartridge tips alone indicate the color of ink they contain. The bodies of the pens are identical. With a black permanent marker, color the caps and cartridge tips to match. There is now only one way to tell the pens apart: by writing with them. Fasten these prepared pens around the mouth of the basket in a known order, such as red, green, blue, purple and black.
As you will quickly understand, this method is suitable only for a large group, as the spectators you use must be widely separated. This prevents the secret of the different colored inks from being accidentally discovered. Of course the spectators can select any pen, since you know the order of the pens and can mentally link the colors with the spectators. Such memory word is not difficult, but if it seems so, you can hold the pens in a known order against the side of the basket, and hand them to the spectators in that order. That may seem a bit bold, but I assure you, no one will think a thing about it.
Of course the cards must not be returned to the spectators afterward. Instead, casually pocket them after you have done each psychometric reading.
Variant presentations are possible using this method. For instance, one can use Gene Gloye’s Doodles theme,(3) having the spectators draw simple pictures or scribbles on the cards, which you then relate to the proper spectator. You cannot, of course, display the doodles as you analyze them, for reasons of both size and secret. However, you can duplicate them on a large sketch pad as you talk about them.
In this version we return to the principle of marked envelopes – but even the best-informed onlooker will swear that marks could not account for what they have seen. The result is a method that will convince any audience that you are truly gifted.
Each of five spectators seated in the audience freely takes a normal, self-sealing, padded mailer from the ten to fifteen offered by the performer. They are then asked to insert some personal object into their mailer and seal it. The mailers are mixed by yet another spectator and brought on stage. This spectator proceeds to blindfold the performer thoroughly, after which the volunteer opens the mailers and puts their contents on a tray. The performer does not touch the objects. Nevertheless, as he passes his fingertips over each item, sensing the vibrations it emits, he describes the object and its owner!
The mailers are unmarked, so it doesn’t matter which of them are selected. However, I have forgotten to mention one detail of the procedure, a detail that the audience fails to remember as well: You helpfully gather the mailers from the spectators in the audience and hand them to the sixth spectator for mixing. It is crucial that this be done with an air of innocent helpfulness; that is, in an entirely unsuspicious fashion–for it is this polite gesture on your part that provides the cover under which you mark the mailers, after the fact. On your thumb you have a thumb tip to which you have securely glued the tip from a darning needle. This piece of needle should be less than a quarter of an inch long.
In collecting the mailers you take them from left to right, thinking of them as one through five. Remember as many details as possible about each spectator as you take his or her sealed mailer, and use the thumb tip to mark the mailers with an invisible line at their bottom ends, which are quite thick due to the folded and glued end seam. Each mark is placed in a different location along the bottom, and must be heavy enough to allow you to identify it by touch. You need mark only four of the five mailers. The absence of a mark identifies the fifth one for you.
The blindfold the spectator you is faked to permit you to see. Whatever type you use,it should be convincing. I use and recommend Richard Blindfold(4) in combination with the Band-Aid preparation explained in the instructions that accompany this prop.
As has been remarked by several psychometry presentations offen suffers from one weakness: When you reach the last object, the identification of the final spectator is too obvious, creating an anticlimax when you wish to intensify the effect. He problem in this context:
After you have been blindfolded, pick up the first of the mixed mailers and hand it to your helper. It is at this instant that you feel the mark and identify the spectator to whom the sealed object belongs. Have your helper open the mailer and place its contents on a tray. You should try to be some distance from him at this time, yet dose enough to recognize the object and remember as many details about it as possible. You must manage this in an instant. (One reason I use the Osterlind blindfold is that it enables you to glimpse the object with a sidewise glance, without turning your head.) Immediately upon recognizing the object, turn your back to your helper. Next extend one hand behind you and hold it over the object, pretending to sense its vibrational pattem. Then proceed to describe the item and its owner. When you have gone as far as you can with your reading, have your helper return the object to its lender.
Hand your helper the next mailer and have him open it and place its contents on the tray. As this is done, secretly read the mark on the mailer and glimpse the object. Pretend to strain for some sense of the item, but after an apparent effort admit that the aura of the object is too strong and confused for you to get anything meaningful from it. Ask your helper to replace the item in its mailer, seal it shut and put it aside for the moment.
Continue with the remaining three items, having the spectator place each on the tray for you to read it, then returning it to its owner. One mailer remains: that with which you experienced difficulty. Ask your helper to take this last mailer (which is still closed) to its owner in the audience, then to take his seat again with your thanks. You, now alone on stage, ask the person to concentrate on his object without taking it from the mailer – and you proceed to describe the person and the object correctly. Removing your blindfold, request that the spectator take the object from the mailer and hold it high in the air, so that everyone can see that you have successfully solved this difficult final challenge!
So much has occurred between the time the second object was placed on the tray and the time you correctly identify it, the audience will most often forget that it was ever out of the mailer, or that the mailer was in your hands.
If you practice this experiment well and present it correctly, I promise you that it can be one of the strongest effects in your program.
(1) See “Pseudo Psychometry” in Griff on Close-up (1967), pp. 35-40.
(2) See The Jinx, No. 74, Jan. 6, 1940, p. 493.
(3) Published in Linking Ring, Vol. 36, No. 11, Jan. 1957, p. 76.
(4) Distributed by Jeff Busby in the United States.