(Investigator 83, 2002 March)

Some people claiming the facility of Extra Sensory Perception demonstrate their powers through public performances, mystifying their audiences with seemingly impossible feats by using the power of their mind alone. They are known as 'mentalists'. One such personality is George Kiesge Jr., of New Jersey, USA, better known by his stage name, Kreskin.

Although in his book, The Amazing World of Kreskin, he claims not to be a psychic, mind reader or medium, he does admit to picking up information through a kind of telepathy, by concentrating deeply, "tuning in" and "receiving" pictures of inanimate objects and the thoughts of others. In other words, using ESP as a form of communication. In addition to thought transference, Kreskin also claims to have sensitized his hearing to the extent where he can pick up the sound of a pin being dropped in a 3,000 seat auditorium, and then indicate its location.

Typical of Kreskin's amazing mind feats are those revolving around his ability to plant a suggestion in the mind of another. For example, he would select a name or word from a book, write it down on a piece of paper and put it in his pocket. Then he would have someone from the audience select a book at random from a large pile of books, open it at a specific page and put their finger on a specific word. Removing the paper from his pocket, Kreskin would display the word written on it and which would match exactly that chosen by the audience member.

How did he do it? How is the subject mentally commanded to target that specific word out of hundreds of thousands? Kreskin explains:

"Throughout the roughly two minutes, I acknowledge that I have some control over the subject's mind as each step is accomplished. I am sending positive, unmistakable mental signals. To explain the best I can, I create an intensive communication with the subject, causing him to respond involuntarily to my sent thought, ordering him to the correct book and the correct page. It is a type of telepathy in reverse ... I stand with my back to him, mentally visualizing where his hand will stop, or should stop. If successful, it will be at the word selected ... of course, he didn't select it at all, he was directed, guided, commanded, suggested into one specific line of type. He is never aware that this nonverbal control has been exercised."

In addition to his mind feats, Kreskin also demonstrates psychokinesis - the physically unaided movement of inanimate objects; table tilting, levitation and automatic writing. On one occasion in 1969, he was contacted by Robert Houghton, chief of detectives of the Los Angeles police department to assist in the Sharon Tate murders. Although Kreskin explained that he was not a psychic he would be willing to make any contribution he could.

Mentalism, or mental magic as it is sometimes called, is just as much trickery as any other form of conjuring, but because phenomena such as mind reading, ESP and clairvoyance are so widely accepted and believed to be psychic phenomena, those using mentalism for purposes other than entertainment, often claim and are erroneously credited with, psychic powers. Kreskin is one of them.

Kreskin contradicts his claim that he is not a psychic in his autobiography, The Amazing World of Kreskin, and again in his Fun Way to Mind Expansion, where he says, "I use both thought projection and suggestibility." He goes on to say, "Perhaps some of what I do fits into the category of 'psychic'," and "I would love to tell you how I do it, but I honestly don't know," all three implying that paranormal powers are at work rather than mundane magic entertainment.

How he and others claiming extraordinary abilities do it can be gleaned from any one of the hundreds of "mental magic" handbooks on the market, some of which I have included in the further reading list. The methods used in mental communication are quite basic. An assistant or a "plant" in the audience and a code system to signal information or techniques known as "forcing" and "billet switching". The simplest and most basic example, one I used to play as a child, is where the performer leaves the room or stage and in his absence an object is chosen, when he returns the assistant points to various objects asking whether it is this or that, using the word "this" when it is not the object and the word "that" when it is. The same parlour trick can be performed without words by pointing with the left hand when it is not the object and with the right hand when it is. Alternatively, the required object could be the first named after say a four legged piece of furniture. Numerous other variations can be employed along similar lines.

Although these examples are probably well known to most readers, the only difference between them and the more professional and baffling tricks is the employment of a much more sophisticated means of covert communication, in some cases a combination of words and gestures and even periods of silence, all amounting to a language of its own.

Kreskin's claim to have extra sensitive hearing is also achieved by surreptitious signalling by an assistant.

"Forcing" is a method whereby the mentalist leads an unsuspecting member of the audience to select a predetermined card, word, object or whatever, by subterfuge. For example: Take any book and underline the ninth word on the eighth line on page ten, write the word on a piece of paper, seal it in an envelope and give it to anyone with a caution not to open it or disclose the contents. Put the book to one side. Now ask anyone for a three digit number which you write up on a whiteboard, reverse the number and subtract the smaller from the greater, reverse this answer and add the two, the result will be the number 1089. (See Fig. 1) Divide this into 10, 8 and 9 and ask a member of the audience to locate the ninth word on line 8 on page 10 and read it out aloud or write it on a whiteboard. Then instruct the person holding the envelope to open it and do the same.

 735          198        10/8/9    10 = page.    8 = line.    9 = word.
-537         +891
 198         1089

Step l.      Step 2.       Step 3.
                                                      (Fig. 1)

Then there is the "One Ahead" method, whereby the mentalist appears to be reading a message concealed in a sealed envelope, this relies on simple sleight of hand, substituting the mentalist's own billet for one written by the spectator. It works like this:

Ten pieces of paper and ten envelopes are handed out to the audience including one to a 'plant'. The participants are requested to write a name, place or short sentence on the paper and seal it in the envelope and hand them back, they are then placed in a box. The plant's envelope is marked in some way, a tiny mark or say a bent corner, this is placed at the bottom of the pile. The envelopes are taken out one by one, held unopened to the mentalist's forehead and the message read out, each member of the audience confirms that the message originated with them when they hear it.

The trick is that the first message read out is the one contained in the plant's envelope left unopened at the bottom of the pile and which has been memorized by the mentalist. When the first envelope is opened (without showing the contents to the audience), the plant confirms that the mentalist was correct. At the same time the mentalist memorizes the message in the first envelope and so on through the remaining nine envelopes. After each reading the messages are screwed up and dropped back into the box, should anyone be suspicious enough to check, they will only discover that the messages were correct but not the order in which they were revealed.


Dunninger, J. 1987. Dunninger's Complete Encyclopedia of Magic. Gramercy Publishing Co. NY.
Kreskin. 1974. The Amazing World of Kreskin. Coronet. NY.
Kurtz, P. (Ed.) 1985. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books.
Manning, M. 1978. In the Minds of Millions. W.H. Allen & Co Ltd.
Marks, D., and Kamman, R. 1980. The Psychology of the Psychic. Prometheus Books.
Nickell, J. 1988. Secrets of the Supernatural. Prometheus Books.
Randi, J. 1988. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York.
Thurston, H. 1986. My Life of Magic. Dorrance. Philadelphia. Prometheus.
Sinclair, U. 1971. Mental Radio. Collier. NY
Smith, S. 1971. Confessions of a Psychic. MacMillan. NY

[From: Edwards, H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]