This effect is not only eccentric, it's one of the funniest mental effects you'll ever perform. Believe me, it could well be one of the hits of your show. At the least, it'll be one of the most entertaining. Here's how it all came about.
Good friend Lee Earle phoned and asked if I wanted to keep him company on a weekend lecture trip to San Diego. Lee was scheduled to lecture at Brad Burt's Magic Shop and conduct one of his dynamite seminars on making more money with mentalism. Lee Earle is one of my favorite people and an outstanding psychic entertainer. His contributions to the art of mentalism have already found their way into many performer's repertoires and his computer graphics expertise is the reason this book is as attractive as it is. Naturally, I eagerly accepted the invitation.
San Diego is a six hour drive from Phoenix. That meant we were destined to spend twelve hours driving and three days in a motel. To say it was a hilarious weekend would be the understatement of the year. It was a blast as I knew it would be.
The inspiration for the "Howard Hughes Headline Prediction" came to me while waiting for Lee to pick up some snacks for his Saturday morning seminar. As we approached the checkout counter, I spotted the headline on one of those idiotic tabloids. You know the ones I'm referring to, the ones with headlines like, "500 Pound Elvis Shows Up at Weight Watchers Meeting." It suddenly occurred to me that predicting a headline in one of these rags could be hilarious. I began to laugh. Lee and the check-out person must have thought I was flipping out. Lee asked what was so funny. I replied, "Imagine doing a headline prediction with a supermarket tabloid." The "Howard Hughes Headline Prediction" was about to be conceived.
Once inside the car, Lee and I began to discuss the idea in earnest. Actually, we were laughing so hard, I could barely jot down the gags and "shtick" that were flying back and forth. As you will shortly see, the methodology for this prediction is quite secondary to the entertainment value; however, it fooled me the first time I saw it used. Several years ago, Ross Johnson blew a lot of minds with a newspaper word test at the P.E.A. "Meeting of the Minds" in St. Louis. At the time, I was quite baffled because the spectator Ross invited to participate in the effect was my wife, April.
Following Ross' performance, I casually inquired if she had any idea how he accomplished the effect. She replied that she was as mystified as I was. Little did I
know that she was a pre-show setup. Even more mind boggling is the fact that it took her years to reveal her involvement. No wonder Ross Johnson has become one of America's psychic superstars. He fooled the hell out of me with my own wife.
This is my revenge. Subjecting an adaptation of Mr. Johnson's ingenious pre-show methodology (which he revealed during several subsequent lectures) to Larry Becker and Lee Earle's guileful humor. The combination is, in my humble opinion, a winning one. Hopefully you'll agree.
The mentalist invites a member of the audience on stage. The volunteer is asked to confirm that prior to the show, he received a sealed envelope. "Do you have that envelope with you?" the performer inquires. The spectator states that he has the envelope. He also confirms that the envelope has not left his possession since he received it. "Will you please read aloud the postmark on that envelope," the performer commandingly requests. "February 15th, 1972," the spectator responds. The envelope is quite soiled and clearly reflects its age.
The performer slowly turns and stares at the audience in true Jack Benny fashion as the audience, realizing that the letter was apparently mailed to the spectator 20 years ago, begins to laugh. "Please keep the letter in your pocket for just a few more minutes," the performer laughingly states.
The performer now invites a second spectator to join him on stage and to bring a newspaper he handed her earlier"This," the performer continues, "is a current copy of a well known and highly respected newspaper!" The audience again laughs. The performer is holding aloft a copy of "The Weekly World News." This publication is sold at supermarket check-out counters. It is, to put it mildly, an outrageous spoof. For instance, the headline in the June 2, 1992 issue reads, "Adam & Eve's Skeletons Found—In Colorado! The Bible's Garden of Eden Discovered South of Denver!"
"Ladies and gentlemen, earlier I gave this newspaper to this young woman and asked her to turn to any page. Is that correct?" The spectator confirms the performer's statement is true. "Further, I asked you to concentrate on any article on that page. Is that correct?" The spectator states that the performer's description is accurate. "Have you discussed that article or revealed it to anyone since you mentally selected it? Have you told anyone which page you were looking at?" the performer asks. The spectator states that she did not reveal which article she was reading to a living soul nor did she tell anyone the page at which she was looking.
"Actually, this is a very interesting and informative newspaper," the performer states as he leafs through the issue. Stopping on a page which appears to interest him, the performers reads aloud one of the headlines. "Woman kills husband with bow and arrow!" Turning towards the audience, the performer quips, "Obviously she didn't want to wake the kids!" Turning to another page, the performer again reads aloud a heading. "Man with wooden leg catches fire (pause) burns to the ground. Says he can't figure out what happened. (pause) Guess he was stumped!" Turning to one final item in the classified section, the performer reads the following aloud. "Reward! Dog missing. Blind in one eye. Missing left ear. Broken tail. Recently castrated. Answers to the name of Lucky!"
Handing the newspaper to the spectator, the performer turns his back and moves several feet away. "Do you give your word of honor that there has absolutely been no collusion between us? (The spectator states that there has been none). Please turn to the article you're concentrating upon. Hold the paper open fully so that you're looking at two pages. Let your eyes scan both pages." As the spectator looks at the newspaper, the performer proceeds to roughly describe the contents, i.e., photos, advertisements, etc. "Now, look at the article you selected earlier. Please read it word for word, silently." The performer stops the spectator and in general terms describes what the article is about. The spectator confirms that the performer is correct.
"There's one word in that article that stands out in your mind, isn't there? One that you've been thinking about. Yes? Good! Have you told anyone about it? Have you told anyone the word that you're thinking of?" the performer asks. "No," responds the spectator. "What is the word?" the performer continues. For example, the spectator replies, "Cheating!" The performer retrieves the newspaper.
The performer turns to the gentleman holding the envelope. "Please open the sealed envelope that you've been guarding night and day for the past 20 years," the performer states. The spectator does so and removes a tattered letter, discolored around the edges and obviously, quite old. The performer takes the letter and blows on it. A cloud of dust fills the air. So does the sound of laughter as the letter is returned to the spectator. "Please read aloud what I wrote on the night of February 15th, 1972," the performer states. The spectator reads the following message:
"On this, the 15th of February 1972, I, Larry Becker predict that the headline in the February 15th, 1992 edition of the Weekly World News will read, "Farmer Cooks His Mother-in-Law To Cure Her Arthritis!" "Look," the performer exclaims. Holding up the front page of the newspaper, everyone sees that the headline does, in fact, read exactly as the miracle worker has predicted. Naturally, the audience laughs at the obvious. "Please continue reading what I wrote 20 years ago," the performer states, ignoring the audience's skepticism. "Further, I predict that a young woman will concentrate on the word CHEATING!" Now, the audience applauds. The performer has in fact, correctly predicted a word merely thought of by the spectator. A word he couldn't possibly have known about in advance.
The description of the effect literally tells the whole story. A small amount of pre-show work sets up the entire swindle. Simply corner a spectator prior to showtime and hand her the newspaper. Instruct her that after you turn your back she's to turn to any page in the newspaper, select any article on that page and think of any word in the heading to the article. Preferably a rather long word consisting of more than four or five letters. Tell her to memorize both the word and the page number. To help her remember both, have her write them down on a slip of paper. When she's finished, tell her to keep the slip and refer to it every so often until she's memorized the information. The performer retrieves the newspaper and retires to an area of privacy.
Using any one of the many information getting devices that are so readily available (i.e., Lee Earle's Micro Thin clipboard, any center tear or the one I prefer, Millard Longman's "Acidus Novus" in Al Mann's manuscript, "Acidus Plus." - See "The Berlin Bears" elsewhere in this book for a description) you learn both the word and the page number the young woman has freely selected. Once you're alone, write the prediction as outlined on an artificially aged (try soaking it in tea and drying it in bright sunlight) piece of parchment, filling in the headline on the newspaper and the word the spectator has selected. Sprinkle some dusting or talcum powder on the paper. Fold and seal it in an equally worn envelope. (Note: Using the artwork provided in the title of this chapter, have a rubber stamp made, reduced to normal size, that will appear from a distance of a few feet to be a postmark). Cancel a postage stamp on the envelope with the fake postmark and a red inkpad.
Find a male spectator who will be in attendance and ask that he hold the envelope until it's needed during your performance. Ask him his name and address and print same on the front of the envelope. You can even tell him that in a few minutes you will give a young woman a copy of the newspaper you're holding under your arm and ask her to select any article. State that you want him to remember that you gave him the envelope before you handed out the newspaper to have the article selected at random. Naturally you're prevaricating.
Prior to the show, look over the page the spectator selected and also the page facing it. Memorize some of the more obvious articles, headings, advertisements or photos in the four corners of the two page spread, remembering where they are located. You don't have to remember anything word for word, just the essence. Also, check all the headings on the selected page until you find the word the spectator selected and wrote down. Memorize a few pertinent things about the article. Just before the show begins, find the young woman and hand her the newspaper to hold until you call her on stage.
Later, as previously outlined under "THE EFFECT," you guide the spectator's gaze to the memorized items as you describe them with your back turned. Naturally, the gags you pretend to read throughout the newspaper are actually memorized. Use the ones I've provided or substitute your own. Finally have the spectator reveal the word she is thinking of. The way the patter is handled, the audience will believe she thought of the word at that very moment. Finish by having the envelope opened (don't forget to blow off the dust) and your prediction read aloud, as described.
The "Howard Hughes Headline Prediction" is 100% entertainment with a baffling climax thrown in for good measure. Give it a try.
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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.