What was this psychic's trick?
January 1, 2010 9:04 PM   Subscribe

What was this Indian street psychic's trick?

A few years ago, I was traveling in India, when I was stopped on the street in Delhi by one of the many "street psychics" who seem to be everywhere tourists are in India.

This guy had a pretty interesting gimmick - he gave me a piece of paper, asked me to write down the answers to three questions. He turned around while I wrote the answers down. I can't completely remember, but I think the questions were my mother's name, my date of birth, and one other I can't remember.

He then instructed me to keep the piece of paper balled up and clenched in my fist, which I did, while he rambled for a few minutes, giving me a "teaser" psychic reading of things that were obviously vague enough to apply to anyone (ie, "this is not the first time you will come to India, but next time you will come with a man!"). After about 5 minutes of this, he relayed to me the answers to the questions that were written on the piece of paper in my hand (I can't remember if he wrote them down himself or said them out loud). I do remember that he had them exactly right.

A good friend of mine who is from India suggested that the man might just really be psychic, which I suppose is possible, but seems unlikely*. The only other explanation I can think of is that he had some sort of confederate who was able to see what I was writing on the piece of paper, but I didn't see anyone else around, and I was hunched over the paper, shielding it with my hand as I wrote. I'm fairly certain that he himself could not see what I was writing, due to the fact that his back was to me while I was writing.

Is anyone familiar with this trick? Any idea how it works?

* My skepticism was vindicated when I met another girl who encountered this guy - he didn't do this trick but gave her the exact same "you will return to India, but next time with a man!" line he gave to me.
posted by lunasol to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had a guy do this routine on me once in New Delhi, only instead of three questions, he said he would tell me my mother's name. Which he sort-of did, only he told me the fake name that I had written on the paper in place of my mother's real name.

It would've been a sleight-of-hand trick, whereby he got hold of the paper I had written the answer onto, and substituted another piece of crumpled-up paper for a while.

Then, while I was distracted (he made me pay attention to a photo of some holy men - asking if I could work out which one of them was him) he must've secretly read what I had written, before substituting the original bit of paper back to me.

He must've done the substitution at a time when he was all "OK, now I am pressing the paper to your forehead three times; now you press it to your forehead three times & recite this mantra as you do so".

It was vaguely amusing & I had nothing better to do at the time. I refused, however, to give him the few hundred rupees he asked for "for the holy men", and instead paid for his Thums Up drink, told him that he must meet too many stoned & credulous westerners, and bid him goodbye & good luck.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:16 PM on January 1, 2010

(It didn't help the guy's case very much that he was a Sikh, and yet he showed me a photo of Hindu holy men, all saffron-robed, dreadlocked, and with the distinctive Shaivaite or Vaishnavite markings on their foreheads. I asked how it could be that he, a Sikh, could have been a Hindu saddhu, to which he replied some nonsense about how God is One or something similarly silly)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:24 PM on January 1, 2010

Ya, it's a simple switch. (Known among magicians as a "billet switch" of which there are countless methods.) When I used to do this trick, people would "remember" that I never touched the paper, there was no way for me to know, etc.
posted by The Deej at 9:30 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

A bit of a correction, on afterthought:

I don't think he told me upfront that he would tell me my mother's name. The mother's name thing only came up when he asked me to write it down (maybe along with my DOB, as you said; it was over a decade ago) and at that point I thought "Aha - I'll write down false data & see what happens..."

And the switch - more likely he asked me to press the scrunched-up paper to my forehead first, then went "No, you are doing it wrong! Hold it here - like this!" at which point he would've given me the fake, blank paper ball that he had ready. I can't recall how he switched them back, but it was probably something similar.

This was also seated at a table in a cheap eatery, where he had taken me to do the trick - enabling him to read the paper under the table, as I was poring over the photo.

I also had a skinny teenaged Sikh guy in Bangkok (are they always Sikhs?) virtually chasing me down the street one time:

"Sir, sir, wait, listen to me - I am fortune teller! I can tell you about yourself!"

"Really? How nice to hear. Will you tell me stuff I already know? My mother's name, for example?"

Suddenly taken aback: "What? How did you know?"

"Simple - I am psychic!" *head wiggle*
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:38 PM on January 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

He could also have an accomplice who watched what you wrote and communicated it to him.

Jonathan Creek had a version of this in the first episode, where he had someone say the name of a city while holding a balled-up kleenex, then wow! he lifts up a dish from the table and there's the balled-up kleenex with the city written on it.
In that trick, he'd previously taken an identical kleenex from the pack in her bag (because he knew she'd ask him to do a trick) and gave it to the waiter at the restaurant, who he paid to write down whatever she said and then serve the dish with the napkin already under it.
posted by Billegible at 11:48 PM on January 1, 2010

I'm not sure but there was clearly a misdirection in there when he was doing the cold reading to buy time. I just want to mention: If he was really psychic, why did he need you to write anything at all down?
posted by chairface at 12:09 AM on January 2, 2010

If he was really psychic, why did he need you to write anything at all down?

Why is it that psychic powers only work for cheap street performances and not, say, lottery tickets?

posted by device55 at 12:56 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's a trick I learned in 9th grade that was sort of like this. Basically, you asked the person a series of questions, but each time, before they answered your question, you would supposedly write down what their answer would be before they answered. When you asked all the questions, you would show them the piece of paper with all the right answers. The trick was that the last question was something really obvious, ("Would you rather die tomorrow or 20 years from now?") and you would write down that answer first. Obviously not possible in your case, but it was the first thing that came to mind. :P
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 2:52 AM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

fizzzzzzzzzzzy's trick is called the "one-ahead" method of billet reading, and when done properly is quite mind-blowing.
posted by The Deej at 7:44 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I seem to remember that some magicians can tell what you are writing by watching the movement of the top of the pen. Couldn't find supporting evidence for this online though, in my brief search.
posted by w0mbat at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2010

I'm guessing an accomplice....or Blue Tooth. Was it crowded where you were?

Also, I'd be very nervous about answering what he was asking - that data is used in identity theft a LOT.
posted by medea42 at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2010

I'm thinking UbuRoivas has it. Actually, your experience was pretty much the exact same as mine, complete with the forehead-holding, which I completely forgot about. I wonder if it was the same guy - was yours near Connaught Place?
posted by lunasol at 11:27 PM on January 2, 2010

« Older A spider with a taste for brrainssss....   |   Fun multiplayer experience that doesn't feel like... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.