The Newspaper Prediction has been part of David's repertoire for many years. He has worked it in clubs and theatres on television and even radio. It is the most impossible version of this effect ever performed and it has baffled not only layman but also expert magicians.
The best-known marketed version of this type of effect is Fogel's Headline Hunter but David's routine has its roots elsewhere. His presentation began not with Fogel but with Peter Warlock whom he saw perform a newspaper prediction at a Magic Circle Show in King George's Hall, London, in the mid fifties. Peter tore up a newspaper, had a piece selected and predicted its contents. It was this performance that started David working on a presentation that appeared to be truly impossible. When Peter saw it, some years later, he confessed that he didn't have the slightest idea as to how it was done and was surprised and flattered that his own routine had inspired its creation.
If you haven't seen David perform The Newspaper Prediction, we're sorry you have to read the solution before you have the experience of being baffled. The effect is positively devastating. In cabaret it begins when David hands an envelope to a man in the audience and asks him to take care of it, saying that it is important that no one else touches it. He then recruits the help of another member of the audience, a lady, who joins him on the cabaret floor.
Nearby is a table and on the table are a dozen or so newspapers arranged in a fan and all different. David tells her, "Don't make up your mind beforehand but I would like you to choose one of these papers. Walk over to the table and then point to one."
She does and removes it from the spread. David wants to make clear that it is a free choice and asks the audience, "If we use this newspaper for an experiment tonight would you say this was a fair choice? If not, let's change it now because we won't be able to change it later on."
When they are happy with the choice he shows that all the papers on the table are different then gathers them up and drops them on the floor, close to the audience for later examination.
He asks the lady to read out the name and date of the chosen newspaper. It's The Daily
Telegraph. She is also asked to mention a small number. She calls out the number 4. "Remove that page from the newspaper," says David, adding, "If it is a single page we'll use that. If it's a double page take both out."
It's a double page. She keeps hold of it while David takes the remainder of the newspaper and drops it with those already discarded.
"Will you tear the sheet in half please?" She does. She's now holding two sheets of newspaper. She chooses one and throws the other away. Now she has (say) pages 35 and 36 in her hand. David says, "You now have to make an important decision. Sometimes people feel that I can influence them if I stand right next to them. I will therefore move away and give you complete freedom of choice. Whilst my back is turned, decide whether we are going to use side 35 or 36." With David standing some distance from her, the lady makes her choice. She chooses page 35.
He asks her to tear the page in half, then into quarters and so on. It gets progressively harder as the pieces get smaller and the audience is amused by the lady's struggles. Finally she is holding a thick packet of torn paper squares.
David asks for the assistance of another volunteer, a second lady who stands to his right. He takes the pieces of paper while the lady on his left checks that his jacket pocket is empty. It is.
David says, "I am going to count these pieces into my pocket one at a time until someone calls stop." He looks at the lady on his left and says, "To make sure that I can't cheat you by changing these pieces, especially the last one, please watch my left hand." And to the lady on the right, "And you watch my right hand." Then he looks at the audience and says, "Please call out stop at any point during the counting."
One by one the pieces are cleanly and deliberately counted from the right hand to the left and then into the left pocket. Sooner or later someone from the audience calls out "Stop!"
"Did you mean me or the gentleman sitting next to you?" The audience laughs.
Turning to the lady on his right David says, "As I'm not sure where they called stop, you now have a free choice, one, two or three. If you say one we'll take one of the pieces that is already in my left hand pocket. If you say two we'll take this one (the piece in the left hand). If you say three we'll take one of these in my right hand. Which would you like, one, two or three?"
She makes her choice and the rest are put away. "You still have a free choice of choosing either side of that piece of paper. I can see from here that there is printing on both sides. Which side would you like?" Again she chooses.
"Make a guess how many words there are on either side of that piece of paper." She estimates that there are thirty to forty words on each side. "Choose some words that make sense and read them out aloud," says David. She does. The words are "Once upon a time." "Please remember that," says David, "Once upon a time."
Both ladies return to their seats, one still clutching the selected piece of paper, and David recaps the events that have taken place. "Ladies and Gentlemen, as you saw, we arrived at one newspaper out of many. We had a free choice of page, had that torn into small pieces and one of those pieces selected. Finally, we arrived at the words "Once Upon a Time." I feel sure that at this moment you think nobody could have possibly known beforehand what those words would be." The audience agrees.
The man with the envelope is asked to come forward. He confirms that no one has touched it during the performance. The envelope is opened. "Inside you will find a photograph," says David, "I have to apologise it's one of me, I couldn't find one of you." A little humour to lighten the moment.
"Would you please read out everything that is on the back of that photograph." The man does. It contains a note of the venue, the date and a prediction, which says, "The words will be 'Once upon a time.'" It is a cue for lots of applause.
The man goes back to his seat and David takes a bow. Most routines would finish here but not this one. When the applause has subsided David says, "Now I don't make any claims of being able to predict the future, have precognition or premonitions. In fact I don't know anyone who can do that precisely. So there must be some logical explanation as to how I knew which words to write down beforehand."
"Normally I would take my applause and walk off but people always have theories. They say he must have done this or that. So instead of talking about it later, if you've got any ideas at all how you think I could have achieved this, let's talk about it now."
And, to the horror of any magicians in the audience who haven't seen this routine before, the audience do offer suggestions.
Was the lady a relation or a friend? David asks the lady to confirm she had never met him before.
Were the pages all the same? "Well it would be fantastic to get a newspaper printed like that," says David, "But the papers are still there and you can look at them later on."
Eventually someone suggests that maybe he changed the last piece of paper. "Well if I had done that it would certainly have been easier because I would only be restricted to the 30 or 40 words on each side." Which in itself would still mean he had managed some kind of prediction.
David continues speculating on whether he could have made a switch at the last moment. "There is just one problem. If I had changed that piece of paper then it wouldn't come from page 35 of yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, would it? If some of you read The Daily Telegraph, and you've got a copy at home, you'll be able to check. If you don't find those words on that page in your paper then you will know that I must have done something suspicious."
"Now I didn't expect any of you to come here tonight with a duplicate newspaper to check—but I did."
David points to a large envelope on the table. "You will have noticed that lying in front of you all this time, in full view, was another envelope. And those of you who didn't see it would certainly have known if someone had tiptoed on and placed it there during the show, after the words had been read out."
He checks with the lady who assisted him earlier. She admits that she had noticed it on the table whilst she was tearing up the newspaper. Other people in the front row of the audience saw it as well.
David takes the envelope and slowly opens it. Inside is a folded newspaper. He unfolds it to reveal it is yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, a duplicate of the chosen paper. The audience applauds. They don't know where this routine is headed but they are sure it is in the right direction.
He surprises them by opening the newspaper to reveal that it is nothing more than the front and back page, sandwiching a single sheet inside. "And this page, you may or may not be surprised to hear by now, is page 35 and 36, the pages that you chose." More applause.
"And if you took the piece of paper which the lady is still holding, and looked up and down the columns, you would eventually find the words, 'Once upon a time.'" He looks at the page but can't see the words. Then says, "Sorry, wrong side," and turns the sheet over.
There, obvious to everyone, is a large thick circle drawn with a felt pen. Inside the circle are the words, "Once upon a time."
David hands the sheet of paper to the audience and as they applaud he finishes by saying, "So I must have known the paper, the page, the side of the page, the piece of paper, the side of the piece of paper and the words. But that's not possible. Or is it?"
Revelations: So how did David know what was on the chosen piece of paper? The answer is that the piece of paper was forced. So was the page it came from and the newspaper itself. But the forces are so subtly handled that they go undetected even by magicians. And the final "Proof'—the newspaper in the envelope— is guaranteed to throw everyone off the scent.
The Newspaper Prediction requires not only extensive preparation but also a comprehensive mastery of Magician's Choice, the this-or-that technique that is often performed badly and usually seen as an "out" rather than an integrated piece of the routine. We've discussed the ramifications of this technique in a previous chapter.
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