The classic center tear can be a powerful weapon for discovering written information. The best demonstration I ever saw was done by Eddie Fields in a Chicago bar in the 1970s. He treated the folded slip with complete indifference as he ripped it up quickly, and casually dropped the pieces into an ashtray. He then lit a cigarette and went on to reveal my thoughts. There was no fumbling, no apparent opportunity to look at the paper and no nervous patter while stalling for time.
In recent years several people have developed and published clever ways of reading the information without actually stealing away the torn center. As far as I know, all of these methods (Richard Osterlind, Bruce Bernstein, and Lee Earle) involve opening the paper and getting a glimpse of the message in the course of tearing it up. This usually involves either squeezing the small center piece, or else inserting the thumb nail into the folds to secretly open it. I have found problems with doing either. Having a dry skin, the paper does not always "cling" to my fingers well enough to enable a positive execution.
I have been told that Gary Kurtz has a clever method, but I have never seen it. Anthony Blake, the Spanish mentalist, also has a way, but I am told his is based on squeezing. Tim Conover does an amazingly quick tear using a business card. His is a variation of the Bernstein approach, I believe.
My method may not be any better than those that already exist but it works well for me. There is no squeezing or fumbling to insert the thumb nail. The message almost pops open of its own accord (not quite, but almost) and you get a clear view of it as you tear it to bits and destroy the evidence.
The tear can be done with any kind of paper, but, like Tim Conover, I prefer to use a business card. Its extra thickness helps to keep the actions clean and sure.
Two other points before I go on to describe the mechanics. First is that the message is not enclosed in a circle in the center of the slip. You draw a line for the person to write on and their word(s) can occupy up to a third of the card. Secondly, when the moment comes to glimpse the message, it will always be the right way up. You will not have to turn it over, or try to decipher it while upside down.
Fold a business card in half, as in Figure 1. The plain side is inside. The important detail to notice in the drawing is that the card is folded slightly off center, so there is an overlap of roughly one eighth of an inch.
Next fold the card in half lengthwise as in Figure 2. Now unfold it and draw a line on the inside just below the central crease as shown in Figure 3.
This preparation can be carried out in front of the audience. In fact it is probably best done while everyone is watching, as part of the overall presentation.
Hand the card to the spectator and request him or her to write something. Point to the line, making it clear that this is where the message must go, without actually saying so. Turn your back while the writing is done, and ask the person to refold card when they have finished.
The spectator will naturally fold along the existing creases and return the card to you. Take it back, holding it as in Figure 4 and begin to tear the top piece only where the drawing shows. It is vitally important that the slip is held exactly as depicted, i.e., the long folded edge is to the left and the short one farthest away from you.
Do not glance down at your hands as you tear. Just make some remark about not needing the slip any more, the writing only being to help the assistant consolidate his or her thoughts - or similar garbage.
As soon as you have torn off the upper portion, place it below the other, to the right as in Figure 5. Simultaneously, open out the larger/upper segment bookwise as shown. Your fingers obscure what is happening and as you are not looking at your hands, nobody will be paying close attention to them. As soon as the flap has been fully opened, tear the card in half lengthwise. Note that you do not tear along the crease. Rather, use the first torn-off piece as a guide to indicate where the tear should be made.
Once the tear is complete, place the single piece in the left hand on top of the two pieces in the right. Next, twist everything a quarter turn to the right as in Figure 6. (Note that all the folded ends are to the right.)
Because the card was originally folded off center, the left thumb can cleanly duck under the topmost layer and flip it open like a book. The right fingers completely cover it, preventing the audience from seeing. Again, this must be done without glancing down. The position will be that shown in Figure 7.
Now is when you glimpse the message. Do not look down! Rather, as part of the tearing, bring your hands up until you can read the writing out of the corner of your eye. As soon as you have sighted it, tear down the central crease, ripping the message in half. Place the right hand's piece on the bottom of the packet then tear the whole lot in half. Put the pieces in the right hand on top of those in the left, turning them "face down" in the process, so burying the message in the middle of the fragments.
Drop the whole lot into an ash tray or waste basket and you are clean.
With a little practice you will be able to do the glimpse without breaking the tempo of the tearing. This is very important. A smooth, continuous rhythm is essential.
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