Thought Vomit #96: ft. Prestidigitation

I wasn’t going to write anything about Derren Brown’s lottery shenanigans, but there are a few thoughts I want to vomit from my brain.

I know it doesn’t need to be said, but at no point did the Bearded Satan predict the lottery numbers. What he did do though was make them appear in plain sight AFTER the draw had been made. And to be honest, that’s still a pretty impressive trick.

I’m sure I could speculate all day as to how he did this using split screens and motion controlled camera wobbles and still be no closer to the actual method; but what is certain is that he did NOT rig the machine, nor did he use the wisdom of crowds.

Mentalists usually use one of two techniques; forcing you the say what they have predicted, or finding a way to write down their prediction after you have revealed the answer. Think pencil lead under the fingernail. Obviously he used the second technique for the draw, and the fun is in figuring out how he got the correct numbered balls in to the rack.

And in fact, he DID reveal how he did it with his final sentence of the show: It Was A Trick.

It’s disappointing that he didn’t say how he actually pulled it off, but then why should he? And the more I thought about it afterwards, the more kudos I gave him for giving us all the Vs and blowing a raspberry. I now consider the whole show to have been an hour long set up for that four word punch line. It. Was. A. Trick.

With all that said, I did come away from the whole thing feeling slightly disappointed, and not because he didn’t reveal his method. What I’ve always liked about the Chin-quiffed Beelzebub is that there are some mind blowing effects in each and every episode. But this one didn’t really have anything that made me feel amazed. I knew straight away that the guy stamping would instinctively avoid cup number 13 for instance.

But the more it’s festered in my craw, the more I realise he performed a pretty brilliant trick right under our noses.

In order for his narrative to work, he needed to show a progression in the success rate of his 24 volunteers. I don’t believe a magician would leave this to chance, and so it’s fun to try and figure out how he got them to *think* they had guessed four correct numbers.

This was an important step in order to get their reaction to the final six ball “prediction” on camera, which was actually pretty good telly.

It’s possible that the correct guessing of one ball was legitimate, and perhaps possible that the next three ball prediction was too, though I suspect not. Thus, the hairy-faced demon managed to con a room full of people in to thinking they had predicted four of the six balls.

It’s interesting that at no point was it said they were watching these earlier draws live, so here the force technique could have been used. Could you honestly look at a list of 24 different numbers and know what their average would be? But you would trust a calculator to tell you. Why would a calculator lie? And it’s interesting that for the four ball correct guess, one single person was using an iPhone to do the adding up. Plus he was interpreting the squiggles as numbers, so the group could not get together and say for sure what he had typed into the phone.

But this narrative progression readied the group to think that it was possible to guess all six numbers correctly, and Derren outright explained that at no point did they see their own “prediction” for the final live draw.

When all’s said and done, it’s worth considering this show an excellent promotional tool for the rest of the series, bringing in a new audience for Derren, and I hope that the next few episodes are going to be a return to his normal brilliance.

One thought on “Thought Vomit #96: ft. Prestidigitation

  • September 12, 2009 at 10:58 am
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    I should add that it’s uncharacteristic of Mr Brown to leave the group believing in some woo woo psychic shenanigans, so I hope he told them the truth, or some version of it later. Or, even better, hopefully he will be telling us more about how he did it in the final show. Who knows?

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