best of my knowledge it was Craig Karges who first suggested doing Tom Sellers' Just Chance plot with the performer's pay check.7 His idea was excellent, as it took an effect that most often leaves the audience feeling as if they have lost something valuable in a game that was rigged, and turned it into a struggle for the performer, in which he must try under difficult circumstances to retain something that is rightfully his.
In my interpretation of the plot I've added the visually dramatic element of fire, capitalizing on an idea borrowed from Maurice Fogel's "Fantasy in Flames"8 while avoiding its major pitfall: During performance, I have an envelope with
7Magick, No. 265, pp. 1322 and 1324; also The Craig Karges Connection (1986), pp. 17.
'Originally marketed by Corinda's Magic Studio.
my fee for the show mixed with four identical envelopes. Then four of the five envelopes are irretrievably burnt. No one could seriously believe that anybody would incinerate four times his fee in cash just to make an impression!
When I perform "Pay Blaze", it is either as the penultimate piece in my act, or as an encore item. As such, it always proves a highly entertaining and distinctly memorable feat.
The performer's fee for the performance is sealed by a spectator into an opaque envelope, then mixed by the helper with four identical envelopes that contain pieces of newspaper. The spectator points to someone in the audience, who is asked to designate one of the five envelopes while the performer attempts to guide her psychically in her choice. When the envelope has been chosen, the spectator sets it aside, in clear view of everyone.
He next drops the remaining four envelopes, one by one, into a large bowl of fire, where they are immediately consumed in flame. If the spectator in the audience has made an error, the performer is out a considerable sum of money. It is, then, with great relief that he finds, on the spectator's opening the one remaining envelope, that his stack of bills is inside!
Aside from the sheer entertainment that is reaped from this effect, astute spectators will be impressed by the fact that the performer, from start to finish, never handles the envelopes.
You will require five heavy envelopes that are completely opaque. I use bright yellow security envelopes with dark blue linings—yellow because it is the most visible color from platform and stage. These envelopes should be of the self-sealing variety.
You will also need ten stage bills and ten to fifteen flash bills for each performance. The stage bills must be the best replicas you can legally obtain; good enough to pass visually for the genuine article at a glance. I now must make a dark confession. I make color photocopies of real bills for this trick—but the reader undoubtedly knows that the Treasury Department takes a very dim view of such practices, and I certainly don't suggest you run off unaltered photocopies of currency. Indeed, making such copies falls under the heading of counterfeiting, and is a serious crime. However, it is my understanding that one can make certain alterations in duplications of currency that will keep one on the right side of the law. First, copy only one side of the bill, leaving the opposite side blank. Second, when you make your copies, remove a quarter inch strip from the center width of the original bill. You can do this without destroying the bill by making a simple trough-like fold in it, as shown in the illustration. Removing this center section from the photocopies makes them obviously bogus, should you ever find yourself explaining your forgeries to an intrigued Treasury agent. Yet, if these bills are folded in half, as they are during your performances, the missing section is not obvious. The entire
idea here is to serve the purpose of entertainment without taunting the federal government. Indeed, it may prove more difficult to explain your wholly innocent purposes to the photocopy shop staff, who generally, and wisely enough, will want no part of such business. You will have to find a color photocopier in a quiet corner where you can make your stage bills unobserved.
Flash bills, on the other hand, seem to come and go in the magic market. During times when I cannot obtain them, I cut regular flash paper into bill-sized pieces and decorate them with colored pencil to resemble currency. The likeness wasn't terribly good, but then these hand-drawn flash bills are barely seen, if they are seen at all, by the audience.
To prepare for performance, place two or three flash bills between two of the stage bills (trimming the lengths if necessary, so that they match), then fold the stack in half along its width and seal it in one of the envelopes. Similarly stuff three more envelopes. Place a fifth folded stack of stage money and flash bills in your left-front trousers pocket; and the fifth envelope, unsealed and empty, in the inner left breast pocket of your jacket.
Have the four sealed envelopes lying on your table, along with a broad-tipped marker, a letter opener and a glass tumbler or display easel. On another small table or stand, sitting roughly eight to ten feet to the right, you have a large metal fire bowl. My bowl contains a remote-controlled ignition system and a hinged metal lid that can be used to contain and smother the flames.
Several days previous to the show, you must contact the entertainment chairperson or company manager who hired you and ask that he bring your fee in cash to the performance. Request that it be in large denomination bills, as you plan to use it in a dramatic test you've prepared specially for the show. You should specify the bills you require, so that their number is reasonably close to that of the stacks of false bills sealed in the envelopes.
Tell the audience that you have requested a special favor from the person who booked you for this performance: You have asked that he bring your fee for the show to the theater in cash. Ask the booker to stand in the audience, so that you can identify him. Make your way up the aisle to him and thank him for his cooperation as you receive the stack of bills.9 The exact amount is left discreetly vague, but you make it clear to the audience that it is a substantial sum in the form of several large bills. Fold the bills in half, so that they match the appearance of the packets of false bills.
On your way back to the stage, grip the bills in your right hand, holding them above your head, so that they are always visible to the crowd. At the same time, casually place your left hand into your trousers pocket and palm the folded packet of fake bills. When you reach the front row, indicate someone seated there, on your right, and ask if he can assist you with a test of unusual importance. As you make this request, pretend to transfer the folded bills from your right hand to your left. Actually, nothing changes. You simply turn the right hand palm down, concealing the real bills behind your fingers, as you turn the left hand palm up below it, bringing the packet of fakes into view. You do not look at your hands as they execute this switch. The action is treated as innocent and incidental, its motivation being to free your right hand to help
This trick has a wonderful side-benefit. In Germany, when working for large companies, it is the rule rather than the exception, when you are paid by check, that the company's bookkeeping department will take three weeks or more to issue and post it. Perhaps this corporate practice is known in other countries as well. With this effect you have an excellent reason to receive your fee at the performance, thus expediting business matters in a most agreeable fashion.
the spectator from his seat. You do not carry through with the action, of course, but its intention is clear. This switch is bold and admittedly inelegant, but it is nonetheless deceptive for all that, and it is well-covered when you are in the audience, as the majority of spectators can't see below your waist, where the switch takes place.
Hold your left hand with the fake packet over your head as you step back on stage with the spectator. Once there, reach into your left inner breast pocket and leave the palmed packet of bills behind as you bring out the empty envelope. Hand this to the spectator and ask that he hold it open. You then deposit the fake packet in the envelope and ask that he immediately seal down the flap. It is important that you perform these actions cleanly and clearly, leaving no room for doubt that the spectator has sealed your money in the envelope.
Now point out a table just behind you, on which rest the four identical sealed envelopes. Explain that these contain bill-sized pieces of newspaper to make them look and feel exactly like the envelope holding the cash. Have him pick them up, adding them to the envelope of money. Then tell him to mix all five envelopes behind his back, until no one, himself included, can tell which one is which.
Next hand him the broad-tipped marker from the table and ask him to number the envelopes from one through five.10 Once he has done that, request that he point out an attractive lady in the first few rows of the audience. Ask this woman to concentrate for a moment, then call out any number from one to five. Explain that you will try to guide her psychically to the right choice.
When she names a number, have your on-stage helper place that envelope on the table, propping it up against the glass there, so that everyone can keep an eye on it. Point out
'"This is an idea I have lifted from Terry Seabrooke's hilarious "Burnt Note in Wallet" presentation.
that, throughout the test, you have not touched any of the sealed envelopes, and that you will continue that practice to the end.
Indicate the metal bowl standing off to your right and ask your helper to go over to it, swing back the lid and step a few feet away from the open bowl. As soon as he does that, use the remote control to ignite the fire in the bowl. (In my case, my behind-the-scenes assistant does this.) The sudden blaze from the bowl draws surprised gasps and laughter from the audience. Of course, if you are using a bowl without an ignition system, simply step over to it and drop in a lit match. Then walk well away from it as it begins to flame.
Important: Never perform this trick in a room with an active fire-sprinkler or smoke-detection system. Doing so would prove disastrous. If such a system is present, ask that it be shut off during your performance, and if this can't be done, don't do this effect! Also make sure that the room and stage area are well-ventilated, as burning paper creates a large amount of smoke that, if left to hang in the air, can make even a large room most unpleasant.
We are now ready to have some fun. Ask your helper to name any of the numbers on the four envelopes he holds. Then tell him to walk over to the blazing bowl and drop that envelope into the flames. Make the most of the situation as he does this. He then chooses a second envelope, which he also drops into the fire. This is continued until all four envelopes have been burnt, with plenty of amusing by-play between each. By using heavy security envelopes filled with flash bills, you can be assured that the stage money will be consumed in the flames before it can be seen by the spectator.
Once the envelopes have been burnt, walk over the bowl and slam the lid closed on it, extinguishing the fire. Then walk with the spectator over to the one remaining envelope on the table. Turn to the woman in the audience who chose this envelope and say, "I hope, madam, that you have made the right decision, because I really need the money. If not..." Here you reach into your jacket pocket and remove a stage pistol.
"... then..." Look down at it for a moment, then look meaningfully out at the lady. This should bring a nice laugh. Next, slowly raise the gun to your own temple and hold it there for a bigger laugh.
"But let's hope for the best. Sir, on the table with the lady's envelope is a letter opener. I haven't touched the envelope and I will not touch it now. Please open it and let's see how we've done." Let the spectator slit open the envelope and extract the folded packet of stage bills. The instant the packet is drawn from the envelope, take it from him and exclaim, "We did it!" as you hold the packet in the air, displaying it while the audience applauds.
To clean up: As the ovation subsides, bring out your wallet and open it. Turn to your helper and say, "I'll keep this, if you don't mind," and tuck the packet safely away. This is fully motivated, as everyone understands that you don't wish the spectator to learn the amount of your fee. "But you and the sensitive lady in the audience have my undying gratitude for a job well done." With this, you send him back to his seat with another round of applause.
And there you have it; a fully entertaining Just Chance effect that leaves you a victor over adversity instead of a miserly adversary—and a dramatic handling during which the sealed envelopes never enter your possession!
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Today I'm going to teach you a fundamental Mentalism technique known as 'cold reading'. Cold reading is a technique employed by mentalists and charlatans and by charlatan I refer to psychics, mediums, fortune tellers or anyone that claims false abilities that is used to give the illusion that the person has some form of super natural power.