How to perform surgery on your friends

It certainly looks gruesome, but remember folks: it’s NOT REAL!

Would you let someone operate on you with their bare hands, even if you were totally relaxed and told you wouldn’t feel a thing? Nor me – but weirdly, some people believe ‘psychic surgery’ is real. It’s one of the few daft practices that is genuinely dangerous; if the patient believed the practitioner really had removed a tumour, for example, they could miss out on life-saving surgery and get very ill indeed.

It can look quite convincing. But as realistic as the blood and guts might seem when the ‘surgeon’ apparently plunges their hand deep into the subject’s abdomen, I can assure you it’s all sleight of hand!

And it can make a powerful impression even if you know it’s faked. Watch the effect I had on some of the onlookers in this video:
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How to beat the house

Everyone knows the house always wins – but it doesn’t always play fair!

It’s not so common these days, but in the past corrupt casinos have attempted to rig roulette tables by putting magnets under certain numbers. If the dealer wanted to ensure no one won, he could swap the ball for a steel one to force it to land on his magnetic numbers. If bets were then placed on his magnetised numbers, he could simply swap the ball back! Other dealers would ‘spring’ the ball by creating a diversion and blowing it or ‘springing’ it off certain numbers, using tiny spring-loaded pins built into the wheel.

You can even buy devices that time the spin and predict where the ball will fall. (There’s a really cool book about how this was invented, called The Eudaemonic Pie).

But if you really want to beat the house, check this out – this is why people like me aren’t allowed in casinos!

How to make animals talk

How amazing is this? A beluga whale has learned to make sounds that are freakily like human speech. Give it a listen – I promise, it is so weird!
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Could you do the firewalk?

You’ve probably seen performers doing the ancient firewalk routine – they get a bed of coals burning hot, then stroll over it like it’s nothing. It’s one of those tropes that turns up everywhere and has almost become a corporate team-building cliche. Remember this, on The (US) Office?


It was an empowering experience from Pam, just as it’s still a rite of passage for dozens of cultures around the globe.

But what’s really going on? There’s quite a lot of debate about how firewalking works. Some scientists say it’s all about water: if your feet are wetted before the walk, you could get ash building up to create a protective barrier. Or maybe years of practice just make for hard calloused feet that can’t feel pain. However it works, it’s definitely not one to try at home! Look at this Mythbusters clip – and weep! Continue reading

When magic tricks go badly wrong

Magic tricks can be genuinely dangerous, and do sometimes go wrong! In the spike and cups trick, for example, a spectator conceals a metal spike under one of three polystyrene cups while the magician’s back is turned. The magician then slams his hand down on the two empty cups, leaving only the one with the dangerous blade inside. That’s the plan, anyway. This clip has some real footage (not for the squeamish!) Who’s that handsome fellow?

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The easy way to read minds

Little Britain’s resident psychic could have benefitted from some of these tips

In some ways, people are quite predictable. A recent study found that one in 10 people are using the PIN ‘1234’! If your PIN is 1234, 1111, or 0000, you’re in good company – nearly one in five people have chosen those numbers. Don’t feel too bad if you choose terrible passwords and codes though: during the Cold War,  the “secret unlocking code” for America’s nuclear missiles was 00000000!

More and more things seem to demand new passwords from us all the time. Most of the Linkedin passwords leaked earlier this year were “Link” and “work”. It’s always a bad idea to include personal, publicly-available details like birthdates and home addresses in your passwords.

OK, let’s see how predictable you are. Think of these three things: a number between 1 and 10; a country starting with ‘D’; an animal starting with ‘E’. Got them? OK, let’s see if I can guess them…

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Magic’s great seducers

TOWIE’s Mark Wright is a modern day Casanova

Why do birds suddenly appear every time Lance Burton is near? (There are some videos around of me doing worse things to doves). Magic and romance have often gone together, and the results are usually pretty cheesy I have to say… from David Copperfield’s billowing blouses and wind machines to pick-up artists with their ‘peacocking’ mantra, which seems to involve wearing a giant hat and dressing like a pirate while doing conjuring tricks.

Luckily it is just about possible to create enchanting and mysterious art without being (too) weird and creepy. Check out Lance Burton’s amazing dove work in this video…

How pickpockets work

Bresson’s Pickpocket had panache

I’m playing a pickpocket in a film that’s coming out soon called Get Lucky, so I thought I’d share a few tips to help you to stay vigilant against these opportunistic thieves.

1. Don’t make it easy for them. Thieves are looking for an easy mark – they’ll spot a wallet poking out of a pocket or an unzipped bag from a mile off.
2. Beware of Beware of Pickpockets signs! Thieves know that people self-consciously pat their pockets when they see these signs; it gives the game away immediately. Similarly, if you hear someone shout “I’ve been pickpocketed”, don’t touch your wallet!
3. Be vigilant against people who bump into you or spill things on you. Both are classic misdirection tactics.
4. Take extra care in busy areas and around ATMs. Fitting in, and looking like you know where you’re going will make you less appealing to thieves.
5. If you see a £20 note on the ground, ask yourself who’s watching. Whenever you bend down to pick up money, or help someone with dropped shopping, make sure you know where your valuables are.

I’ll be writing more about Get Lucky as we get nearer to the release date, but in the meantime, I really love this trailer from the old Robert Bresson film, Pickpocket.

Prove you’re psychic, win $1M

Uri Gellar’s powers didn’t stand a chance against James Randi

Have you heard about James Randi’s paranormal challenge? Randi used to be a magician, “The Amazing Randi”, but since the 60s, he has been offering more and more money to anyone who can provide proof of the paranormal under controlled conditions. Right now the prize stands at $1,000,000, and although 1,000 applicants have taken up the challenge so far, none have even passed the first round. If you fancy your chances, you can apply here.

One person who was exposed by Randi back in the 80s was James Hydrick, a self-described psychic who claimed to have telekinetic powers. He admitted he was a fraud after this episode of That’s My Line. It’s long but bear in mind this was an hour and a half of a man staring at a book, edited down! Watch the whole thing if you can, I promise it’s worth it.

How to make anyone trust you

Go and see master imposter Frederic Bourdin’s amazing story

I went to see The Imposter the other day. It’s a fantastic documentary so I won’t give anything away if you haven’t seen it (you should), but as you can probably guess, it’s about someone pretending to be someone else.

The Imposter of the film, Frederic Bourdin, exploits the human instinct to protect and in fact con artists can often seem vulnerable. They make you trust them by showing how much they trust you – just like when a magician hands an audience member a prop to examine. They’ll make you feel special or helpful… and before you know it you’re handing over the money.

You can’t go through life being wary of everyone who needs your help, though! Trust, but verify. Victims of cons don’t dig too much even when they are suspicious, because they strongly need to believe that they’re doing the right thing (for a great aunt, or whatever the story is). Always check out claims that seem too good to be true ­– they usually are.

There are lots of neat little ‘short cons’ in the excellent David Mamet film House of Games. This one has it all: watch how he gains trust and rapport.