From Anneman's "Fourth Dimentional Telepathy" through Goldstein's "Middle Telepathy" to Cassidy's "Final Three Envelope Test" it is clear that this piece is destined to survive as a classic of psychic entertainment. Essentially, the test is a three part demonstration of psychic skills, each part increasingly more difficult. It can be framed as telepathy (two minds communicate) or clairvoyance (my mind can determine the contents of this envelope).
Why three, and not two or four? Holding aside the argument for the "mystic 3", one of the reasons we seem so attached to the concept of the Three Envelope Test is because that number is the minimum required to do the necessary one-aheads and billet switches; more than three and the test becomes too cumbersome. In fact, the test carries considerable baggage as it is; there is an awful lot of set-up and envelope stuffing before things start to happen.
I have a problem with the way I have seen most performers do this piece. Altogether too much 'heat' is placed directly on the envelopes. Many performers call attention to the envelopes by attaching a great deal of significance to them. The Psychic will hold one up to his forehead and pronounce a vision of the contents. And then, while the person who recorded the information (the easiest source of verification) is ignored, our performer insists on opening the envelope to "confirm that we are correct." A certain inconsistency becomes apparent. Yes, I know that we must open the envelopes to get our one-aheads, but must we insult the audience's intelligence as well?
Increasingly, we seem to be taking extreme liberties with the 'willing suspension of disbelief.' What does the audience think we need the envelopes for, and why do we need to write anything down?
From an audience point of view, the rationale behind our test subject committing his thoughts to paper includes, but is not limited to:
1. Providing an image for better concentration
2. Reinforcing the thought through action
3. Preventing cheating by the entertainer
1) "Of those portions of the brain which scientists have mapped, over 80% is dedicated to optical thruput; processing images. We think in pictures; we visualize in our dreams. Our brains are designed, it seems, as ideal image processing, pattern recognition devices with unlimited storage.
"Lets put that majority of the known brain to use. Project your thought on this little piece of paper (Thanks Bob Cassidy!). Now write it down, right in the middle, and concentrate on the word and what it means. Picture it in your mind right now. Form an image upon which you can concentrate."
Not bad, but where does the envelope fit in?
2) "You know, our first and second grade teachers were right. The science of Psychology has proven that if you passively observe something, you will remember about half of the details later. Should you verbalize that thought, your retention increases by 15%. But when you write it down - employ psychomotor eye/brain/hand coordination - the retention rate zooms to over 85%. It is much the same as far as psychic projection is concerned, as well. So write the thought down, force your synaptic junctions to fire... "
3) To emphasize this reason too strongly would be a mistake. Just as we know better than to say, "...a perfectly ordinary paperback book..." we should be aware of the need to avoid putting other ideas in spectators' minds. I like to cover the topic lightly and slightly from abeam. "I want you to form the first image that comes into your mind. Do you have it? Write it down. A more suitable image will pop into your head in a moment, but I want your first impression. You will be tempted to change your mind because I know you want to succeed in this test as much as I do. By recording your first impression, you 'lock it in'."
"Besides," this is where I pointedly look at my 'skeptic' in the audience, "there are those who might feel that you are just going along with me because you don't want to see me fail. So seal the record in this little envelope; that will prevent tampering."
4) The chutzpah handling. "We are going to observe some rather unbelievable events in a moment or two and I want to head your skepticism off at the pass. I need a permanent, sealed record of the objects of this test so we can establish once and for all the fact that this is not a staged event!"
How's that, again?
Well, at least we have supported the use of envelopes...
Having justified the recording of the data and the use of envelopes, we must now account for the opening of the envelopes in order to get our one-ahead information.
Why would a Psychic Entertainer open the envelope? If he wanted to know if he was correct, we have already established that he could ask the participant. He might open in order to 'prove' to someone else that there was no hanky-panky. Or he might, following a failure, rip open the envelope to determine why he failed ("I can't believe I missed this one!").
The scenario I developed depends upon a couple of givens:
1) I prefer to work with a single participant. It flows nicely into my 'tuning in' approach and repeated sets of instructions (as well as possible mistakes by additional spectators) are avoided. Also, blocking is much simpler when only one helper is used.
2) Not all of the audience is going to buy into the concept of telepathy. I can overcome some of that resistance by using a pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological approach which lends an "It just might be possible..." flavor. There are still a few who will always be skeptics in every audience. I don't know about you, but I refuse to concede whatever percentage of my audience that may be. I want to appeal to EVERYONE in the audience, on one level or another.
By acknowledging and appearing to enjoy the presence of a 'representative skeptic', the critically minded in the audience are somewhat disarmed. I employ a variation of the old 'deaf man' gag. Early in my program I stop and look at some guy whose arms and legs are crossed, exhibiting all the body language of someone who isn't aboard the bandwagon, and say in a very good-natured way, "You aren't buying this, are you?" Later, after the success of the next piece, I approach him and ask, "How am I doing so far?" In a few minutes I will once again come up to him and comment, "I'm gaining on you!", and later, "Gotcha!"
So, borrowing from Cassidy's "The Art of Mentalism" and Goldstein's "The Blue Book of Mentalism" (both are required reading), here is the presentation I use. I have in my hand a stack of 5 or 6 coin envelopes, each containing a 3" square paper billet, folded in quarters.
"Television is such a pervasive advertising medium that many times the image of a product stays with us long after the message in the commercial has been forgotten. I want to take advantage of that image retention. Please picture in your mind a product you have seen advertised on television. The first one which flashes into your mind's eye. It can be a bank or a brillo pad; anything from nail polish to floor polish. Fix that image in your mind, then mentally project that image on this imaginary TV screen (I pull the billet from the envelope, open it and hand it to her with a pen). Now fill in that image, sketching the product as best you can. Refold the paper. Hold it up to the light...can you see through it? No?" I take the folded billet in my left hand and 'attempt' to see through the paper for myself. In my right hand is the stack of envelopes and a duplicate folded billet on top of the stack, under my thumb.. At this point I fix my gaze upon my 'skeptic' (stage right), "throwing focus" in his direction. By this time, I have had a little fun with him and the audience is anticipating a little more of the same, looking at him to observe his reaction. With the larger motion of my turn covering the smaller motion of the switch, I exchange billets behind the stack of envelopes as I approach the 'skeptic.' He is given an opportunity to hold the billet up to the light to determine its opacity and then slips it into a coin envelope which I offer, mouth open, toward him. The envelope is carried on stage and dropped on a table, chair, etc. Yes, it is gutsy handing a switched billet to a skeptic, but I have never had one opened. If anything, the skeptic is interested in holding the billet closed so I can't see in!
The stack of envelopes (and the billet, which the audience thinks went in the first envelope) go in my coat pocket for a moment as I take out my trusty ESP deck and explain, briefly, its origin and uses. As I display the symbols on the cards, I say something like, "Rhine and Zenner of Duke University would use such a series of symbols to test for ESP. They would randomize the symbols (I give the deck a series of running cuts here, simulating a slow overhand shuffle) and then mentally transmit them in sequence (showing the top few cards, one at a time, to the audience) to a target participant. My purpose in using these symbols is to limit the participant's thought to a random selection of one in five; not much of a feat as far as detecting a thought is concerned, but it will allow me to 'warm up' with a simple test." Of course the pack is arranged in the standard circle, cross, lines, square, star rotation.
As I hold the cards in my outstretched hand I turn my head away and say, "Cut off a block of cards and look at the symbol on the face of the block. That way no one can see the back of the one upon which you will concentrate." Still looking away I continue, "Now mix all of the cards (I demonstrate with the balance of the deck, using a real overhand shuffle, running the top card to the bottom). Here, mix these in as well (and I hand my portion of the pack to the participant, tilting the packet for a bottom peek)." Now I know the card in the stack rotation AFTER the one she is thinking of, and due to the circular stack, her symbol.
I take back the pack and return it to my pocket, fishing out the envelopes and the switched billet. Pretending to extract that billet from the top envelope, I open it (seeing for the first time her imagined product) and reprise the earlier instructions, "Project the image of that symbol on this little television screen. Then draw it in, refold the paper (I refold the paper) and seal it in this envelope." I pretend to insert the billet in the top envelope (it really goes under my thumb which is centered on the envelope). Retaining her billet under my thumb, I pull the envelope (which contains a blank billet) off the stack by its flap, and hand it to her
The switched out billet (the product) goes back in my coat pocket with the remainder of the envelopes. It will be switched back in later. The second envelope goes atop the first one on the chair.
"Let's do one more and make it a tough one. This time, think of the name of anyone associated with television; a character, an actor, a talk show host, a news anchor - a name the rest of us would recognize. Have you done that? Good, now reinforce that image...write it down. You don't have to draw the person, just record the name. Now fold and seal as before." Take the envelope and place it on the other two.
Calling attention to what I am doing, I say, "We will attempt the simple symbol first. That is the second envelope we sealed, correct?" At that time I take the middle envelope out of the stack of three and place it on top.
At this point, I am two-ahead, knowing the symbol due to the stacked deck and the product because of the peek at the switched billet.
I ask the participant to visualize the symbol as I attempt to sketch it on a drawing pad. After my drawing is complete I ASK the participant to name the design she was projecting. She does and I show my drawing to her and to the audience. Then I pick up the top envelope and, smiling, walk it over to the 'skeptic' and say something like, "Here, check it out." Then I more or less ignore him and turn back to my helper on stage for the next test.
In my attempt to draw the next projected image (that of the product) I manage to achieve a 'near hit'. I appear confused about the target image and inquisitive about how my participant drew it. When I put the marking pen with which I have been drawing in my coat pocket I withdraw, finger palmed, the billet. Apparently unable to restrain my curiosity following my failure, I open the envelope, withdraw the billet and unfold it (learning the name of the TV personality) and saying, "Oh, that's why I was so confused. You were thinking of an S.O.S. pad and I kept getting the image of a pillow (or whatever I attempted to sketch in my 'near hit')." Turning to the audience I ask, "That's pretty close. Will you give me that one?"
In a hurry to make amends, I take the drawing pad in hand and begin working on the third image, the TV personality. In the middle of asking the participant to concentrate, I absent-mindedly hand the billet to the 'skeptic', switching it for the product billet in the process.
Actually the billet is switched during the very off-beat. In the same off-hand manner that a smoker might pick up his cigarette, take a puff, and return it to the ashtray while carrying on a stimulating conversation. While apparently giving all of my attention to the participant, I take the billet from one hand (where it has been in view all this time) into the other, switching in the process and handing it - almost indifferently - to the 'skeptic'.
After struggling to receive an image, I take the last envelope, tear open the flap and pretend to withdraw the billet within. Actually I just pull the billet in my hand into view, the one I just switched a moment before. I hand the still folded billet to the 'skeptic' and ask him to help concentrate. I position the participant next to the 'skeptic' and after minimal delay, complete the test successfully, drawing the third test object. I turn to the 'skeptic' and say something like, "Thanks, I needed that", and lead the applause for both the participant and the 'skeptic'. An extra note...
Reject any justification or misdirection which won't hold up in repeat performances. For example, the seemingly accidental dropping of an item might prove the ideal distraction for a billet switch, but then wouldn't you appear just a bit predictable in your clumsiness when others observe that you only drop things when you hold important papers in your other hand?
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To do this successfully you need to build a clear path of action by using tools if necessary. These tools would be facts, evidence and stories which you know they can relate to. Plus you always want to have their best interests at heart, in other words, you know what is good for them