Using the Cards

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What I do not suggest is that you simply show one of the cards and say 'Look at this interesting optical illusion'. This misses the entire point of the Preludes.

Instead, I suggest you use each of the images as a way of introducing themes pertaining to the mind, perception, mind magic or positive thinking and mind motivation. It only takes a little imagination, and some presentational experience, to exploit the illusions in this manner. You will have your own preferred themes, and hence your own preferred way of exploiting the cards. The crucial point is to give each illusion a context, and to use it as an introduction (a prelude) to something your audience can relate to. I'm going to give you some examples based on my own work, and the kinds of subjects that I like to talk about when I'm performing. Adjust them to suit yourself.

In the examples that follow, let's assume I am in a relatively informal close-up or social setting, chatting with a small group. I am either going to perform some close-up mind magic, or I at least want to entertain people for a short while. I almost always start with the Marilyn illusion, so I'll discuss that one first.

The Marilyn illusion

With my right hand, I hold the card directly in front of the spectator's face, but I cover the card with my left hand so he can't see what it is yet. The photo is in the 'upside down' position so that the distortion is non-obvious.

"I think you'll find this fascinating. In a moment I'm going to show you a photograph of a very famous person, and then I'll ask you who it is. This is not a trick question. She must be one of the most recognisable people of all time, and I promise that if you think you know the answer then you probably do\ So I'll give you three seconds and then you can tell me the answer. It's upside down to make it a bit harder, but trust me, I'm sure you'll get it right".

I then take away my hand for three seconds, counting out loud "One second, two seconds, three seconds" and then I cover the image again. The spectator will say it's a photo of Marilyn Monroe. -

"Well done! Absolutely right. Now your mind has just done something absolutely remarkable. Out of all the millions of faces you have ever seen, your mind has just instantly located the correct label... in this case 'Marilyn Monroe'. And scientists still aren't sure how the mind can do this. But there's something even more fascinating. You have just managed to 'recognise', or stick a label on to, an image you've never seen before in your life."

I then take my hand away, and slowly rotate the card 180 degrees so that people can see how distorted the image appears. Turning the card very slowly is important, because it gives the spectator a nice 'surprise' moment as the "recognised' face becomes the 'hideous' face. I then give this a 'positive thinking' spin, like this:

"I talk to people all the time about how the mind works, and how you can harness your mind's potential, and this [the illusion] actually illustrates an important point. We often stick a label on a situation that we think we recognise. We say "That's something I'd be no good at' or 'I could never achieve that', and we're sticking mental labels on to situations we think we recognise. But we could be mistaken, just like with this.

By changing the label we stick on a given situation, we often change how we approach it, and this can open the door to achieving things we didn't realise we could achieve. So next time you find yourself sticking an unhelpful label on, such as 1 recognise this kind of challenge - it's the sort of thing I could never do', realise that the label might not be accurate. Try sticking a different label on it, one that says, This might be quite a tough challenge, but I'm pretty sure I can cope with it'

If the 'positive thinking' spin isn't appropriate, then I might just use the Marilyn illusion as a prelude to a favourite close-up mentalism item, like this:

"My field is the magic of the mind, and this [the illusion] illustrates some of the ideas that I play with when I entertain people. You see, you look at it one way and your mind sees something fairly normal, fairly ordinary: a picture of a famous movie star. Look at it another way, and it's very extra-ordinary! And my job is to explore that gap, where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, and it all happens here, in the mind. For example..."

And then I segue into whatever close-up mentalism I want to perform.

Clown / Circus illusion

If I have shown the Marilyn illusion, I generally follow it up with the clown illusion on the other side. I present it the same way, by covering it up and revealing it for three seconds. Here's the kind of presentational patter I use:

"Let's try just one more. This time, I'm asking you what job this person does. So I'll show you the picture, and if you think he looks like a doctor then you'll say 'Doctor'; if you think he looks like an acrobat, you'll say 'Acrobat'. It's dead easy. Honestly, I've never known anyone not get this right. Here we go..."

After the three seconds the spectator will say 'Clown' and I cover the image again.

"Absolutely correct. It's a picture of a clown. Where does a clown work, or where would you expect to find several of them?"

The spectator says 'Circus'.

"Correct. And here's a picture of a circus".

i take my hand away and very slowly rotate the image through 90 degrees, so that the 'clown' becomes a 'circus'. I hold it in the circus position for a while, because it takes most people a few seconds to perceive the new picture. Here's my typical positive thinking spiel about this:

"This illustrates a really important point. Sometimes, we only see part of the whole picture, here represented by the clown. It can be really useful to train your mind to look at things in a different way, so that you see the whole picture, or at least a more complete version. This is represented here by the circus.

However, it does sometimes work the other way round! There are times when we're less effective than we could be because we take in too much - the whole circus - and we need to focus on the part or the detail that really matters - here represented by the clown.

It's a matter of learning to look at things in the right way, the appropriate way, to get the results you want. Sometimes, we need to re-train ourselves to see the whole picture [circus], and sometimes we need to screen out the larger picture and focus on the specifics that matter [clown]. This is all part of using your mind effectively".

Or you can simply segue into a mind magic effect.

I hope these two examples give you the basic idea. Each illusion can be used as a springboard either to talk about various aspects of the mind, positive thinking and mind training, or just to set up various themes and faux-explanations which we tend to work with in mind magic. Now that you have the basic idea, let me deal with the remaining illusions more briefly.


This illusion is more well-known than some of the others. Nonetheless, it is still a delightful image which most people tend to like seeing. The fact that it seems to be one thing, and then on closer inspection is revealed to be something quite different, provides scope for any number of different presentational possibilities.

I have adopted the artwork slightly so that the image incorporates a small card, the two of spades. This tends not to be noticed until it is pointed out. The presence of this card means you can perform Chuck Smith's stunning effect called 'Imagination' from his book 'What if?'. It's a great piece of mental magic, and.worth buying the book for.


This is the best example I know of apparent motion generated from a static image. All you have to do is hold the card up, stare at the centre dot and move your head back and forth. The circles not only seem to rotate, but they do so in opposite directions.

As with all of the Preludes cards, this lends itself to several presentational themes - learning to see a different way / seeing what isn't there / not seeing what is there / the same opportunity being viewed two different ways / the results you see being changed by the way you choose to see... and so on.

Cow's Head

This is a 'puzzle picture'. If you don't know what it's a picture of, it can look like random splodges. After a time, your brain does its magic and fits the splodges together to make a cow's head. Once you do know what it is, it's impossible not to see it.

All you do is give the card to the spectator and ask him if he can see what it is. It's up to you whether you help him by at least telling him the correct orientation.

I sometimes perform the reveal like this. I hold the card in the correct orientation and say

"Behold, one two three! {snap fingers] The amazing appearing cow! Look, it's a cow and she's turned her head to the side to look straight at you. Here's an ear, here's another. Here's her eyes, the front of her face, her dark nose."

Once you point everything out in this way, most people will see the cow's head straight away. You just made a cow appear from nowhere right in front of their eyes! This is quite a piece of close-up magic. If I were you I would encourage people to tell their friends about the amazing performer who made a cow appear from nowhere1. It's the kind of story that enhances one's reputation.

How you use this to segue into some mind chat or mind magic is, as ever, up to you. My usual line goes something like this:

"We are all swimming in a sea of great opportunities all the time, but most of us just don't see them. The difference between successful people and the rest is not that the successful people get opportunities that the rest of us don't. It's that they train themselves to see these opportunities. And the funny thing is that opportunities can be as big and as obvious as cow, standing right in front of us, but we just don't notice them! So... that's the secret of success... keep your eyes open for cows!"

Adelson illusion

Also known as the chequerboard illusion. Invented by Edward Adelson, whose website (at the time of writing) is:

I simply show the picture to the spectator and let her look at it for a while. She will not see anything very strange about it. Then I explain that the two squares marked with an X are exactly the same shade and colour. I generally try to encourage a certain amount of healthy debate and discussion about this, before I provide the 'mask' card to prove that this is true. Most people instinctively want to try it for themselves several times - without mask, with mask - before they can bring themselves to believe it.

I find this illusion generates a lot of discussion and interest. The way I generally 'tweak it' is to say,

'The important thing here is not just that your mind could make a mistake. The point is that your mind can see it both ways. You can still see how the squares look as if they're different, and yet with just a little help [the paper or cardboard mask] you can see they're in fact the same. Sometimes, that's all the mind needs to see things in a new and more accurate way. It can be a business problem, a fresh challenge... whatever. When you face something that looks daunting or difficult, you can often help your own mind to see it differently. And when you see differently, you think differently, and when you think differently you can achieve different - and more positive - results."

Or in a more magic-related style,

"I specialise in magic of the mind, and I don't mean 'magic' as in tricks so much as 'magic' as in wonder, amazement. Because the mind really is amazing. This [the illusion] is a simple example of the way that your mind can perceive the same thing in two ways, 'different' or 'same'. In my work, I explore a similar difference between 'possible' and 'impossible'. Very often, what might seem impossible is possible if you just look at it a different way... and I've had lots of practice at looking at things in a different way! Let me show you what I mean..."

and I'm away into my next close-up miracle.

Hour Youth Income

I made this up some time ago for a lecture on critical thinking and problem solving. All I do is say to someone, "I'm interested in your opinion. Please read this to yourself and tell me if you agree or not."

The aim here is to get people trying to read it to themselves silently, using their inner mental voice, rather than reading it out loud. Most people will try to make sense of it and get absolutely nowhere. Indeed, so long as they concentrate on the words as words, it remains utterly incomprehensible. They only need a little coaxing, however, to read it out loud and to hear the words as sounds, which yield the message, 'How you think makes a difference to what you think*. Which is a lesson in itself.

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