If you ever watched Criss Angel, then you know exactly what mind games are—they’re jaw-dropping, confusion-inducing tricks that truly shock your audience.
But how do mind game tricks work?
That’s an entirely different story. There’s a lot of reading your guest, sleight of hand and directing or misleading attention.
Mind games aren’t for the novice – they’re for someone with dedication, somebody that wants to learn more than your average magician. I think that could be you.
There’s a long road of practice ahead, but I know that you can turn all these answers into a smooth performance. Are you ready to go?
How do Magicians Predict Sealed Envelopes?
Well, if we’re being 100% honest, nobody really knows for certain how every single individual sealed envelope trick is done.
Some of them are left up to mystery, like Copperfield’s famous sealed envelope trick.
However, it’s not like every single unidentified sealed envelope trick in history could have been done the exact same way, otherwise, we would have all the secrets by now.
It’s safe to assume that you have plenty of magicians throughout history doing it differently, but I want to explain how these tricks are done using a specific example of Mark Edwards, a magician who uses misdirection by using other people to do his dirty work for him, such as audience members.
He has a video where he calls on a total of five audience members to come up and partake in this trick.
The voice-over says that Mark had put a number on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, then in another envelope, and had that stamped and sent to the directors of the show weeks before the filmed event.
In the studio, he pulls out a notepad. He calls one person up to write on the note pad, picking a number between 1 and 1,000. They do this.
He calls up another, and then another, and soon he has three numbers. He calls up another studio audience member to add them up and say the number out loud for the audience to hear.
Then a fifth audience member opens up the envelopes, reads the piece of paper, and it matches the number on that notepad added up by audience member #4.
Do I think he planted all five of those people?
No! He didn’t have to. Instead, he used layers of misdirection to make you and I think “What is he pulling here?” when in reality it’s right in front of us the entire time.
The notepad. It’s the notepad.
The number on the inside is something he already knows.
Those three people who came up and filled out their numbers on the same sheet of paper in the notebook each put down random numbers that he didn’t really care about because they didn’t matter.
When he hands the notebook off to audience member #4, it’s while doing a joke that draws attention. He puts the pad of paper on a page where he previously wrote all the numbers that add up to the number in the envelope.
This woman adds them up, thinking it’s some mystical event.
The fifth person opens up the envelope and reads the number, which matches the sum of the numbers that audience member #4 read off. The whole thing looks like a big fantastic prediction trick.
But it’s not!
The only person who could have spoiled this trick is the third person who filled out numbers because if they were wise enough, they could have added up the first two numbers with their own very quickly to find out a false answer.
But that’s why he chooses higher numbers in the hundreds because most people aren’t going to be able to add all those up at the same time.
Mark is quick to get the notepad back from her and hand it off because he doesn’t want he catching on.
The trick works because while nobody thinks of the notepad being rigged, it’s the perfect misdirection. It’s hiding in plain sight.
You and I are busy assuming a conspiracy theory about paid audience members, but Mark is standing there with all the answers.
We never see the notepad after that. We don’t get a chance to flip through the pages to the other numbers that the audience members put on.
It’s a tight-knit setup that has the prop switching hands so many times, we would never even think that it could be rigged. It’s pretty intelligent.
Even when you look at David Copperfield, he had an envelope sealing trick that went for almost an entire year where he predicted specific news that we could never have known about.
It was then left in the hands of trusted people in a notary lockbox, but was never really identified as actually being notarized, which is a legal process.
It’s likely that Copperfield just had someone else write the note and slip it inside the box after putting a false notary stamp on the envelope.
When Copperfield was asked why he didn’t use these number predictions to play the lottery, he simply stated that he wasn’t a gambling man [paraphrase].
It gives this false bravado instead of explaining why someone wouldn’t rig the lottery in their favor.
4 Mind Game Tricks Explained
You might not have the option to try all of these right now, because they will come up at random times, but let’s explain them until they’re beaten into the ground so that we can understand the way that most magicians work.
1. From Beyond
This super simple trick involves three volunteers. The magician will take a piece of paper, and in front of the crowd, they will ask for three volunteers.
When the volunteers make themselves known, the magician will call them up, and hand each of them a pen.
The magician tears the paper into three, remembering which paper has two tear marks on each edge
As they hand off the paper, they instruct the first person to write down the name of someone who is alive, the second to write down the name of someone who is dead, and the third to write down the name of a person who is alive.
The magician then leaves the room, turns their back, blindfolds themselves, or anything else to let the audience know there’s no smoke in mirrors.
The magician then instructs each guest to put the names into a hat. The hat is then passed to the magician, who cannot look at it.
The magician will reach into the hat, and after feeling the pieces of paper, pull out the double ripped piece of paper.
Hold it up for everyone to see, turn and view the audience. Look at the paper and say, “X is the one who is dead.”
2. Four Down
This is a card trick that isn’t even a mathematical equation, it’s just a big shell game where the magician needs to remember which card is which.
To start, the magician is going to flip all the cards upside-down and go through them with the spectator. While doing this, the magician remembers the fourth card down from the top.
Here, you’re showing that it’s not a rigged deck, there’s no funny business; they’re just normal playing cards.
At this point, the magician asks the spectator if they can split the deck for them.
The spectator should go for about halfway in the deck, but so long as they take more than four cards off the top, you’re doing okay. The magician knows what the fourth card down in that deck is.
Now, from the half of the deck you have, the magician is going to count four cards down and look at the card without showing the spectator.
Then, the magician will say “This card is telling me what the fourth card down from the other pile is.”
Since the magician already knows the answer, they can say “The fourth card down is the X of X,” and then pull four cards from the deck half that the spectator took, and show that they knew what that card was.
The great thing about this is that without the spectator knowing, the magician already knows the fourth card down from the next deck.
At this point, the trick can be repeated again and again. It’s all a numbers game with some sleight of hand.
3. Itchy Nose Trick
Popularized by David Blaine, this trick was debunked by a British teenager on YouTube, and Blaine never reached out to comment on the debunking.
You have two people stand across from one another, two people who know each other well, and you have one of them close their eyes.
The other person does not close their eyes.
At this point, the magician will put their hands about a foot apart, and state that they’re only going to be doing something to the person with their eyes open.
The magician puts their hands with that one foot of space in front of the person with their eyes open. They then shift their hands to the other person with their eyes closed, and do the same maneuver.
After dropping their hands by their side and turning around to grab a prop (usually a playing card), they turn back.
The gently drag the edge of that playing card down the nose of the person with their eyes open. Then they wait five seconds while looking at the person with their eyes closed.
They ask the person to open their eyes, and if they felt anything.
They will always say that yes, they felt something scrape across their nose. This can be done with total strangers, mind you because it’s not a trick where people have to be in on it.
Instead, the magician had a piece of string delicately clutched between the creases of their hands, and in that negative space between their hands, they let it gently touch the nose of the person who had their eyes closed.
When they release their hands after this, they’re pulling the string out and putting it on the table where they retrieve the playing card from.
They may also try to put it in their pocket at this time. It messes with everybody’s minds.
4. Lucky Hat
This one is a bit cheap, but it’s good fun. It gets people wondering for a little while.
With a pad and a pen, you’re going to ask your crowd what their names are, one by one. You’re going to write down their name on a piece of paper, tear it off, fold it in half, and drop it in your hat.
The magician in this instance is just writing down the name of the first person to answer over and over again on each piece of paper.
They fill the hat with the same names, and then at the end, they shuffle the hat around and run their hand around the ring without looking down.
If the first name was Charlie, they say “I can guarantee Charlie is the lucky person in this room.”
Charlie comes up, removes his name from the hat, reads the paper and flips out. While he’s reading it, you put the hat somewhere that the audience can’t see it.
It doesn’t take long for them to figure out, but it’s effective in the meantime.
The Difference Between Magic and Mentalism
The truth is, there’s not much difference except execution. Mentalism is going to be primarily about performance, about evoking emotions that you have built up extremely high.
Magic involves messing with somebody’s sense of “This cannot be done because it is scientifically impossible.” Seeing is believing.
Mentalists rely on being able to freak you out. We can think of Criss Angel as a mix of a street magician and a mentalist (hence his show title Mindfreak).
They can absolutely work in tandem, because either way, you are deceiving the emotions of a person who was otherwise uncompromised before they viewed your act.
Some Mentalists Use Psychology
People will spend years studying the verbal and non-verbal cues that a person gives off when they have a specific emotion.
There are even cues when you lie that someone can just tell by looking at you.
These forms of mentalists are basically just edgy psychologists, and they can tell if you lie about something based on your eyes, the movement of muscles in your face, and how long you pause when you respond to something.
They can tell if you’re entranced or interested by the pitch in your voice. Basically, we give away a lot more information than we think about by using our body language.
So are these people actually mentalists, magicians or street performers?
They could be, but the knowledge here comes straight from science, a science that isn’t easy to explain, and that many people don’t believe in.
In a way, that makes it hilarious, because even if you wanted to explain it on a fundamental level, it sounds like crazy talk.
How to Get Better at Mind Tricks
Confidence is going to be your number one commodity.
People aren’t going to trust a magician who isn’t 100% fully certain that they have the ability to fool you and pull of the trick without a hitch.
Confidence isn’t something you just make though, it’s something you build on over time.
You have to already have your mechanisms in place to ensure nobody knows you’re going to set them up on a mind game trip.
Practice makes perfect, so you are definitely going to need to test this out as often as possible.
I wouldn’t recommend just doing it to people on the street, but you can test it with your friend and let them in on the secret so that you can at least make sure it works. Do it with someone you trust.
I know that sounds weird, but if you can’t sell the emotions or the feeling to the crowd, then they’re not going to be interested in what you’re doing. They’re just going to want to walk away.
Focus on One Magician Skill at a Time
Mind tricks aren’t simple, but they’re certainly worthwhile.
This is what separates the amateur magician that can only do card and coin tricks (which are still impressive, by the way) from everybody else.
It’s a mark of a truly great and dedicated magician.
The hardest part is going to be focusing on what you’re doing while making it look flawless, and not letting that concentration show on your face for the audience to see.
Part of the magic is that you’re going to look unphased by what’s going on, which is only going to make your mind tricks that much more effective.