Short-term memory loss

This is a thought that I had after watching a variety of online magic and mentalism performances.


Do magicians suffer from some form of short-term memory loss?


In the clip below, Derren Brown is working on the streets, playing a game where he is trying to guess how much money is in random stranger's wallets. Now, Derren Brown is obviously a magic and mentalism icon, and knows what he is doing- but there was a small moment that stuck out to me as less than ideal.


With the first spectator, he writes his prediction on a card, places it in an envelope, and then has the her count the money in her wallet.

He then helps her with the total (it's £35.36.)


As the lady puts her money away, Derren looks contemplative, and says, "I think I'm all right."


They open the prediction, and it's revealed that he was only 4 pence off, and he wins the game.




Maybe there's a reason for this that I don't understand, but to me, I see this a lot from magic performers, and it always sticks out to me as an incongruous moment. Even when it's from Derren Brown!


The magician knows what he just wrote, and the spectator also knows that the magician is aware of what the prediction says. Yet as magicians, we often play dumb, as if we aren't aware of what literally just happened a moment ago.


Sometimes, we play dumb like this to reinforce something in the mind of the spectator, by using them to aid the performer's memory. How many times have you seen a card trick where the magician asks, "And you chose the King of... Diamonds? King of Hearts, sorry, that's right. The King of Hearts." The magician is trying to stress to the audience the importance of their exact selection; but does this not make it all seem less important, since the magician themselves can't be bothered to remember the correct card.


Case in point: another of Derren Brown's videos, where he is supposed to have kept track of all of the cards mentally while shuffling (The video is cued to begin at this point.)


At 7:26 in the video he misremembers a cards suit, despite it being named by the spectator less than twenty seconds prior, and despite the fact that he repeats it aloud initially correctly. In fact, he only says one sentence in between saying the properly named card and then the card with the wrong suit. In my opinion, this miscall doesn't add to the illusion- it looks like the performer wasn't really paying attention.


Listen to the tone in the voice of the spectator correcting him. She doesn't seem that impressed, either- despite all that he's done up to that point.



Lennart Green will often misremember cards, but he can somehow get away with it, as this appearance of inattention aids in the deception of clumsiness and haphazard chaos that he employs to great effect. He has many cards called out by the audience during his act, and he is forgiven easily when he "forgets" which card he is aiming for.


Often, playing dumb like this comes across as a fairly transparent attempt to separate the performer from some specific knowledge that could be damning. For a simple card force followed by a reveal, you often see the magician "forget" the identity of the selected card. This is meant to take heat off of the method (the force), but when it's done in an obvious or transparent way, it may actually point directly to the method.


For prediction effects, it is probably best to have an audience member read out the prediction using the cue, "Please read out what the prediction says for all to hear", as opposed to saying something like "And what does the prediction say?". You should know, you wrote it!


In the first video above, Derren Brown had written his prediction about a minute before the final reveal. There wasn't time for him to forget the value he predicted, especially considering that piece of information is the most important part of the trick. The math wasn't difficult to know he was 4 pence off. Perhaps by taking the time to say "I think I'm all right", his goal was to make the trick seem less important, setting himself up in some way for the next part of a routine not seen. Or maybe he was just trying to fill the dead air while she put her money away.


Is there not a way for magicians to allude to the fact that their prediction is correct, before the reveal? "£35.36? Please open that envelope, and I think you'll find that I was less than 5 pence off..."


Whatever the reason, I think magicians need to consider that there are times when they're not doing themselves any favours by "playing dumb".