No, actually I can't read your mind, it just means that you're average.
July 5, 2010 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me find neat psychological and other tricks to make people think that I am smarter than I actually am.

Hello, I am looking for tricks to entertain people that I meet. For example, asking people a number between 1 and 10 and writing down the number 7 before hand since on average, most people choose 7. Are there other things like fruits or vegetables that also work like this? What are other statistical tricks?

This is just one example; however, I am looking for anything from card tricks to mind manipulation.

Also, how did this Ted talker make it look like he could unravel his hands while others couldn't?

In the end, when someone asks me if I can read their mind because I am a psychology major, I want to say yes and show them.
posted by Knigel to Human Relations (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you're in a group over 23, there's a greater than 50% chance that two of them have the same birthday. The math seems counter-intuitive at first, but it works.

I knew a math professor who would do this all the time with groups of 30.
posted by resiny at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can enhance that 7 trick, with hand movements. You: "...the numbers 1..." (your hand to the left from his viewpoint) "...and 10...," (your hand to the right from his viewpoint,) "...pick a number in between...", your hand at the position where 7 would be located on that scale.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:15 PM on July 5, 2010

Black's magic sells some pretty good books on mentalism, which is part of what you're looking for. Richard Feyman's books (the autobiographical stuff) like "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" have a number of pranks (including safe cracking) based on this sort of thing. Penn and Teller books.

Also, this David Blaine video is useful: David Blaine's Street Magic Part 2.
posted by mecran01 at 5:24 PM on July 5, 2010

Quick - think of a vegetable!

carrot, right?
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:26 PM on July 5, 2010

Think of a number between 1 and 10. Now multiply by 9. Add the two digits together ... okay, now subtract five.

If 1 is A, 2 is B, and so forth, think of a country that begins with the letter that corresponds to your number. Got it? Now think of a mammal that begins with the second letter of that country. Got it?

I hate to tell you this, but there are no elephants in Denmark!

I don't know if it makes you look smart but it's a good party trick!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:28 PM on July 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

(if you did that 7 on the hand thing to me, I wouldn't think you were smart - I'd feel foolish and think you're a dick).
posted by moxiedoll at 5:34 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you need to meet my friend Scam School.
posted by eafarris at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

these sorts of things don't scream "i'm smart" to me, they scream "look at me, i want attention"
posted by fore at 6:18 PM on July 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

GS bar bets. These don't usually endear you to people, nor do most people want to "realize" that they are dealing with someone more intelligent. Approach it as entertainment, though, and they'll love you.
posted by dhartung at 6:37 PM on July 5, 2010

Also, how did this Ted talker make it look like he could unravel his hands while others couldn't?

Fuck that guy, and fuck the TED people for complicity in editing the video. Note the position of his left elbow before 1:07, where the camera cuts away as he releases his hands to point to the guy in the audience who's supposedly got his fingers interlaced the wrong way; it's bent out to his side, just as his right elbow is. That's because when he was showing us how to reverse our hands, he turned his left hand over in a natural clockwise direction.

Now look at his left elbow when the camera returns to him, at 1:07. It's bent down and in towards his body, because when the camera was off him, he turned that hand 360º counter-clockwise. That's all, there's no mental trick. Supposedly, I guess, the audience was all looking for the idiot with his fingers wrong — but I know I'd have been watching him, so I guess the TED audience was either in on the trick, or their reaction was edited out.
posted by nicwolff at 6:47 PM on July 5, 2010

Correction: the camera cuts away at 1:04.
posted by nicwolff at 6:48 PM on July 5, 2010

The neatest psychological trick in order to impress people is not caring what they think about you.
posted by ovvl at 6:54 PM on July 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Taking this in the fun, non-serious light in which I think you're asking the question, here are a couple tricks that I've paraphrased/quoted from the book Big Secrets by William Poundstone, who attributes them to Kreskin. Like your "7" trick, they have a significant risk of failure but will look like mind reading if you get them right. By the way, I think you'd be interested in the whole chapter I got these from -- chapter 23.

I'll give both setups first so you can try them on yourself if you want. (This is not to imply that you should do both tricks on the same person at once.) In a nice twist, both of these involve you giving instructions to your audience to try to have them read your mind.

1. "I'm thinking of two simple geometric shapes, one inside the other. Try to draw what I'm thinking of." Let the person draw it on a sheet of paper but tell them not to show you.

2. "I'm thinking of a number from 1 to 50 that's made up of two different odd digits. For instance, it could be 15 since 1 is an odd digit and 5 is a different odd digit, but it couldn't be 11 since it uses 1 twice. Try to think of the same number I'm thinking of and write it down." Let them write it down and make sure they don't show you.


1. "It's a triangle in a circle."

(Explanation: The three most obvious shapes are circle, triangle, and square. Of these, the least common choice is a square. There are two possible ways to draw a circle and triangle with one inside the other, but a triangle inside a circle is more common. Perhaps people avoid a circle inside a triangle because it's more awkward to draw.)

2. "I was going to choose 35, but I changed my mind and went with 37."

(Explanation: When you initially say the numbers can go up to 50 that sounds like a wide range, but there are really only 8 possibilities: 13, 15, 17, 19, 31, 35, 37, and 39. People are unlikely to choose 15 since you already gave it as an example. For some reason, 37 is the most common choice and 35 is the second most common. Perhaps people are more likely to choose numbers in the 30s because they seem closer to the "middle" of 1-50, even though that's not strictly true. Those who write down 35 are still impressed to hear you mention it, even though you say you rejected it.)

posted by Jaltcoh at 7:07 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

(if you did that 7 on the hand thing to me, I wouldn't think you were smart - I'd feel foolish and think you're a dick).

Done "right," you wouldn't be aware of it. I agree that this kind of thing is dorky, manipulative, and immature. For me, it belies a strange combination of low self esteem and narcissism. But the asker didn't ask anyone to redefine the terms that he established.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:16 PM on July 5, 2010

(if you did that 7 on the hand thing to me, I wouldn't think you were smart - I'd feel foolish and think you're a dick).

these sorts of things don't scream "i'm smart" to me, they scream "look at me, i want attention"

Ditto. Just plain fucking ditto. If that's what you're after, go for it. Otherwise, maybe try other ways of connecting with your fellow wo/man.
posted by thatone at 7:28 PM on July 5, 2010

People who say less are often taken to be smarter if only because they don't open their mouths and prove otherwise.
posted by stubborn at 7:45 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Offer to give them a personality reading, and then paraphrase this (or parts of it):

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.


posted by UbuRoivas at 7:47 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't do 1 to 10... do 1 to 50 and then choose 37. Most everyone says 37, with 23 running a distant second.
posted by painquale at 8:02 PM on July 5, 2010

Offer to give them a personality reading, and then paraphrase this (or parts of it):

Ha, I know a guy who did something very similar, but only with cute girls. He held their hands and focused on their "solar plexus" to read their energy or something. He was actually just staring at their tits, but all the poor girls ate it up. So gross.
posted by clearlydemon at 8:36 PM on July 5, 2010


I should also have added before that I agree with others above, that having some kind of party trick up your sleeve is not the same thing as seeming more intelligent, so if the question is "teach me some fun tricks to amuse & impress people" then OK, but trying to come off as 'smarter' is a taller order & a different question, really.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:52 PM on July 5, 2010

Okay--this is just from my perspective as an early-thirties woman in the Upper Midwest of the US, so that's the perspective I'm coming from. Also, did your previous question about party tricks not help? Because I see several of the same suggestions between threads.

Anyway, I'm going to assume that you are an engaging, pleasant person who doesn't delight in feeling smug...or at least someone who likes having cordial relations with the people around you. I think the irritation you're getting in some replies has to do with how you titled your post, and wanting to 'look smarter than' other people. My advice to you is that if you have to use tricks as your gimmick, go for the 'treat this as entertainment, and we all tend to do this, joke's on me too' approach, where you are NOT smarter than your audience. If you come from a place of presenting yourself as superior, mind tricks/bar tricks and these kinds of games gain you little except a reputation for being off-putting.

This is because in the real world, for many people, socializing is not the bar scene from Good Will Hunting. A significant number of people neither want nor like dem apples, especially as you get older. Even if the other person seems like s/he deserves a come-uppance, and far more especially if s/he is some innocent though maybe not well-versed in your field-of-interest person and the trick is intended as 'hey, look how cool I am, are you impressed with my tricksiness?'

People who 'out-smart' others ...these are not fun people to be around. And the people you trick won't always take it well, and they'll remember the time you showed them how clever you were at some future point when you really, genuinely wish they wouldn't. Remember that time someone acted clever about some trick or bit of knowledge that bested you? Were you impressed by their wit? Was everyone else impressed? Because in my experience there's a lot of 'oh, well...I guess that's sure got me, buddy' and general silence and awkwardness, and the people who keep it up eventually get kicked out of the social group.

So my recommendation is 'try something else.' If you can't do that, let everyone be a part of the joke/trick, and make sure it's on you, too. Besides, given that plenty of people here know these tricks, it's possible the other party already knows them, too. If you're looking at things as if everyone's on the same side, and just geekily enjoying the concept of mind/party tricks, you have a way to move the conversation along. Otherwise...either they'll humor you, or they'll turn the tables/wreck the trick.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:56 PM on July 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Midnight writing fail in the first sentence. I work in academia...a world rife with Departments of Redundancy Departments.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:58 PM on July 5, 2010

If someone asks if you can read their mind because you are a psychology major, say "yes and you should be ashamed of yourself".
posted by lilnublet at 9:13 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do agree with the snarkers and if my own words were true to my personality, I would hope that your words would change me.
posted by Knigel at 11:02 PM on July 5, 2010

For some additional information: I am also looking for many similar mind games that can cross cultures and language barriers. I am actually living in South Korea where these kinds of games really go over well when building rapport and sharing culture. They are a fun way to connect with people. I would encourage any travelers to learn these kinds of things because they really help in breaking down social walls. Of course, as many have already said, intention is important.

For those of you who have gone into different cultures, what worked for you? Also, are there any tricks that didn't work based on the culture you were with? The seven trick seems to work in Canada, Korea, and China; however, I am curious if it works in other countries just as well. What other tricks fail a culture test?

Anyone know of any good tricks that don't need many words?

There have already been so many great responses in this thread~
posted by Knigel at 11:09 PM on July 5, 2010

The best way I know of to seem smarter than you are is not to venture opinions about things you know little or nothing about, and in general keeping quiet. No psychological tricks involved, just simple common sense.
posted by motown missile at 11:28 PM on July 5, 2010

Motown, it seems to me that that would make many quiet and uninteresting people.
posted by Knigel at 11:52 PM on July 5, 2010

People tend to think I'm smart. I'm not entirely sure why.

But one thing I do, that may tend to confirm their belief in my intelligence, is that I answer simple questions quickly, but (more importantly), I answer complicated questions slowly. I hem and haw and look up and and screw my face up and extend my hands and shrug and then incline my head left then right, making a point of thinking before I answer. I think that makes me look stupid, but most people (apparently) think otherwise. People appreciate the (apparent) effort, and impute to it a depth of mind.
posted by orthogonality at 12:17 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Take a look at anything and everything by Derren Brown. You would have to be in the UK to know about him, but he would probably be of interest to you and also show the extremes that you can go to with this kind of thing. Website here: which contains a list of TV shows. The older ones are probably the ones that would interest you the most.
posted by BinarySolo at 12:50 AM on July 6, 2010

The best way I know of to seem smarter than you are is not to venture opinions about things you know little or nothing about

Absolutely true. It's better to keep your mouth shut and risk being suspected a nong than to open it and remove all doubt.
posted by flabdablet at 1:17 AM on July 6, 2010

I agree with motown. Quiet, elusive and mysterious people always seem intelligent. The problem is if you really want to get to know any of these people you're being quiet around, they may be disappointed that you're not the silent genius they thought you were.
posted by whalebreath at 6:13 AM on July 6, 2010

I'm surprised that many people agree with Motown. I talk to a lot of people and the one's who are willing to make a few mistakes seem much more interesting and intelligent than those who are more reserved. It seems to me that trying to follow people's formation of opinion is much better than the opinion itself; therefore, those who are unwilling to share their thinking come off rather intellectually understimulating. There is much to be said against those who are a constant exhalation of hot air; however, I would propose that there is much that can also be said against those who are so selfish with their breath. Introverts and extroverts should participate in discussions and take risks in being wrong. If someone doesn't talk much, I suspect them as much as someone who talks too much.

With this said, I love people who ask more questions than give answers. I'm not usually one I love, however.
posted by Knigel at 8:34 AM on July 6, 2010

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