Design Duplication

In 1992 I wanted to create a piece of magic in which an audience member became a mind reader “in training”. It would be a Karnac type routine, wherein the spectator would be placed in the starring role and receive all of the laughs and applause. I needed some type of punch to close the presentation. Perhaps the spectator really could reveal something truly astounding?

Though I generally don’t like having my audience members play dress up, and when it comes to props I’m a confirmed minimalist, I decided that a truly campy presentation was in order. It would begin with the introduction of a magic 8 ball which our apprentice mind reader would use to deliver funny answers to innocuous questions. This would give me the opportunity to write customized material for the company for whom I was working. Prominent people could be placed in the spotlight, and inside jokes would bond the audience together. For a finale, the apprentice would be upgraded to a real crystal ball and actually read someone’s mind.

My opening lines were: Since the dawn of time, man has often turned to the techniques of divination in order to find solutions to his most vexing problems. These oracles, however, were often nothing more than future science disguised as contemporary magic. Whether it was the carbon marks left from the rising embers of the burning fire, or the color of metal as the alchemist heated it to test ones truth, ultimately man’s quest for knowing the unknowable has always led him to the creation of technology. Tonight, I have brought, perhaps the ne plus ultra of contemporary divination, a 20th century oracular tool that has gone without equal. Ladies and gentlemen quake in the power of that which knows all, sees all and tells all….the magic 8 ball.

I created two endings for this comedic device. The first, which is detailed here, was a design duplication effect. This evolved into a stand alone experiment without the Karnac trappings. It is an extremely powerful thought sending effect and, if properly handled, can become a true reputation maker.

For the record, a second ending evolved which was, I thought, a more appropriate conclusion for the Karnac premise. The Magic 8 Ball routine culminated in the Clayton Rawson thought sender effect wherein the entire audience reads the mind of the person onstage.


It occurred to me that most people when asked to draw a specific object would probably draw it much the same way. So, if you could cue the apprentice psychic as to the object the subject had chosen, his drawing would probably match very closely that drawn by the subject. The problem becomes, first, how to know what object the subject has drawn; and second, how to cue the spectator.

My answers to these kinds of problems always result in pre-show work. I believe pre-show work is not only the most expedient means, but if staged properly can be the most deceptive.

One way to know the spectator’s chosen drawing would be to force him to select the object. A rough/smooth or long /short deck of cards works quite nicely. With this method you are guaranteed that the spectator will choose an easily reproducible drawing. A star, Christmas tree, or house are good examples of easily reproducible objects. If you ask most people to draw a house there will be the pointed roof, the door, and one or two windows with or without the panes. Chimneys are both common and great fun for students of Freud. The pre-show force can be very powerful, and is included here for those who would prefer to take that route as opposed to the one preferred by myself.


My preferred method was to have the subject write down the NAME of the object they chose. I tell them to “think of an object, any object in the world, but it needs to be an object that you, and most other people, could draw a picture of if we asked them to, and an object that if I showed you a picture of it, most people would know what it was, just from that picture. DO you have an object in mind?” This limits their range of choices considerably, without seeming to be overly restrictive. (The only time I got in trouble with this was when I was performing for some telecommunication engineers. I was presenting this as a straight design duplication where I would reproduce the subject’s drawing. The subject wrote down some kind of “insert name of specific high tech variety” tower. Not having time to “pre-show” another candidate, I went with what I had. When it was show time, I went more for the tower shape than anything, with some clouds to convey it was outdoors. Interestingly, he too had put in the clouds and that detail is what sold the experiment.)

They write down the name of their object and I either glimpse it as they are writing or switch it after they have turned the card face down. Specifically, as I ask them to take an envelope from a stack on the table, I pick up the card and wave it a bit as if to dry the ink. I am holding a stack of these cards in my other hand, and I top change their card for a blank as I ask them to sign the envelope. As they sign the envelope, I set the blank card on the table and glimpse the object’s name from off the top card in my stack.

I top change the real card back into play and ask that they seal the card inside the envelope. Sometimes an audience member will “peek” at the card as they are sealing it in the envelope. They are surprised to find that everything is fair.

I ask them to put the envelope in a safe place, preferably a pocket or purse, someplace out of sight. I want them to forget about it. In banquet setting I often have a lady place the envelope under the tablecloth beneath her plate. She will completely forget about it ever being there.

I make sure the spectator understands that this is not a secret act of collusion, and that from the stage we will verify everything which happened. I tell them that the reason I have them do this in advance is that many people freeze up on stage and cannot think of anything. This way they have some time to come up with something interesting. That they write it down, of course, is for verification purposes in case they later try and lie and put me on the spot. I tell them that they looked very kind and trustworthy, and that I don’t think that should be an issue. They seem to like hearing that.


Design duplication effects suffer from having to have the audience member actually draw the drawing before hand. If we call attention to this fact, its not too much of a logical leap for them to assume you obtained a glimpse or duplicate sometime during the course of the evening. If you have them draw the object on stage, I believe most audiences simply wonder how you saw it.

By having the subject write the name of the object, we allow ourselves a verbal deception that will deceive not only the audience, but even our subject.


During the show, I tell the audience that I have asked someone to think of an object, any object in the world, and to hold onto that thought until now. I ask the subject if that is true, and I hand them a pad of paper. I ask them if they would draw the object they merely thought of. I have them verify that I did not ask them to draw the object before the show, that this is the first time that they have ever done so. I also get them to verify that they never told me, or anyone, what that object was; that I did not give a list of objects they had to choose from, or force them to think of an particular object; and that even now they may not know exactly how their drawing will end up looking.

(I was once performing this routine for a bar association; the lawyers, not the drinkers. These people make their livings creating questions to which very specific answers are desired. Be VERY careful working for these groups. Your questions will be answered exactly as stated. Take advantage of their proclivities, and don’t let carelessness skewer you unexpectedly.)

To everyone in the audience it appears as if there is no way for you to know ANYTHING about the subject’s drawing, let alone chosen object. To the subject, it seems as if you are going to be picking up something about the drawing more so than the object itself.

The drawing of the object must be performed in an EXCEEDLINGLY fair manner. I prefer to have her make the drawing from her own notepad, from her seat in the audience. I do not want anything to be shared by myself, the apprentice mind reader, or the audience member. In other words, I do not want to use the same pad or the same marker as my spectator. I want a true “white line” situation, where there is no way that the audience can explain away the proceedings with carbon papers, mirrors, electronics, or what have you.

We now ask our spectator-psychic to open themselves to receiving images and to draw whatever object comes to them, or presents itself. If we have established enough rapport with our psychic, they will gladly pick up our cue and draw the object in question.

How to cue the psychic? My initial approach was to have the name of the object written inside a turban which we would have them don for the final test. Though I have a genuine distaste for having my guests play “dress up” it was taken in good stride following the fun we had with the magic 8 ball. Unfortunately it often looked as if they were reading something inside their hat. Not a good thing.

You could use a wireless transmitter inside the turban ala Alexander, or the classic ruse of having an image press up against the crystal ball. The latter works well as it makes sense for them to stare deeply into the crystal. Unfortunately it is harder to get a good image to come through than you would think. I do encourage, however, further experimentation along these lines.

I eventually made up a faux book called “Magic 8 Ball for Dummies” which was used as a visual joke throughout the routine. A final reference to it brought our psychic’s eyes to the back cover where, in very large letters, I had the name of the object written. The book was resting on the table, and as I placed the ball onto the book it was easy enough to point to the word written on it’s back.

Though I enjoyed using the audience member as a psychic, I discovered that the Clayton Rawson thought sender was a more appropriate ending to the comical atmosphere we created. I could get a stronger reaction performing the design duplication as a stand alone piece.

When you make your drawing, try to think of certain details which, though not necessary for the drawing to be complete, would be something many people would think of.

For example, I once had a woman choose a refrigerator. In my drawing I made the ice box on top of the fridge, a gave it a handle, and I placed a little square in the upper right corner, where a magnet or maker’s label would be.

Her drawing matched perfectly, and she was totally flipped out about the magnet.

These little details added to the drawing (motion lines, shading, dimensional representations) convince them that you read their mind, not the piece of paper hidden in their pocket. The subject who I had pre-showed was perhaps more deceived than the rest of the audience.

Further, call their attention to the process of the mind reading itself. How am I supposed to be doing it? Am I reading her thoughts? Am I seeing the image she last looked at burned in her retina? Am I picking up on the neuromuscular energy waves sent out by her moving forearm and am I translating these into a reproduction of her drawing?

After they have drawn the image and are holding it against their chest, I ask them to imagine they are telling me, in very bold directions, what I need to do in order that I might draw what they are imagining. I place the marker on the pad and ask them to tell me, in their mind, whether I should move up, down, left or right. I try to imagine how I would tell someone to draw the picture, and that’s how I move the pen. Sometimes a perceptive subject will “pencil read” parts of the drawing. This acts as a confirmation to them that you were indeed reading their thoughts. How else could you know that they wanted you to stop right where you did?

But what if the details don’t match? No worries. As long as the audience can tell they are both refrigerators, you have a hit.

A note on revelations. Always have the subject share her drawing with the audience first. If the psychic went first, only the subject would experience the revelation; and depending on how close your drawings are and how skeptical they are, their reaction may or may not be stunning. Besides this is a private revelation and only one person gets to be in on the fun.

Instead, have them reveal theirs and begin making comments to call the audiences’ attention to those details you want them to notice are replicated in your drawing. This allows you to build a little suspense, and neither success nor failure has been telegraphed by the facial reactions of the subject. Finally reveal your drawing and while the applause is going, hold them side by side and point to the uncanny similarities between the two.

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