6 out of 6 – well done Mr Brown

Last night, as I’m sure everyone knows, Derren Brown appeared live on Channel 4 and appeared to predict the lottery numbers before they were drawn.

I thought it was a great trick.  I’ve read a lot of rubbish online today in which people express their feeling of “having been cheated” because it was only a trick.  Of course it was.

He didn’t actually know all six lottery numbers before they were drawn, he just appeared to.  And appeared to quick convincingly, I think.

I went to bed thinking about it last night, and on the walk to work this morning I was thinking about it again.  I have worked out a few ways in which the effect could’ve been achieved – but of course I’ll tune in on Friday to find out how he actually did it.  That is presuming that he does actually tell us how he did it, rather than just telling us how he wants us to think he did it.

The front-runner on the internet today suggests that camera trickery was involved.  It’s certainly possible to use the technique suggested in order to achieve the effect, but I do hope that’s not how it’s done.

I’ve been an admired of illusionists for years.  I still recall, as a child, Paul Daniel’s “Camera Trick”.  Camera goes into wooden crate, live pictures shown out of the side of the box as it’s lifted into the air, big puff of smoke, camera gone.  I still don’t know exactly how it was achieved, but it’s still my favourite illusion. 

For Derren Brown to use a camera trick to achieve the lottery stunt would disappoint me.  The skill in being an illusionist is to master sleight of hand, misdirection and showmanship – not in employing a good cameraman.  To see how a magic trick is done can be almost as thrilling as seeing the trick when you are unaware.  If you don’t mind spoilers, then Google for Penn and Teller doing the “cups and balls” routine with see-through cups.  Of course, there is no mystery in the trick anymore, but the choreography of it is still beautiful to watch.

If, when I watch the follow-up on Friday, one of the methods I’ve imagined for the trick was used, then I shall be disappointed.  Whichever method was used, the execution of it was wonderful, but I really want to be astonished – I really want to be impressed by the ingenuity of the trick rather than be shown how video effects were applied to the live feed.

On the subject of Paul Daniels – I know it’s fashionable to mock him – but I refuse to.  A few years ago, we went to see him in Edinburgh performing “The Magic of Max Mellini” (spelling?).  It was stunning.  No pyrotechnics were used, no large wooden boxes were wheeled out, and Debbie was not cut in two.  The biggest trick of the night involved the production of a block of ice from a hat.  It was amazing.

And then, afterwards, we were down in the cafe below the venue having a drink, and there was Paul (and Debbie!) just playing with a pack of cards at a table.  The one thing I can recall is Paul Daniels just idly playing with the cards – a perfect one handed riffle shuffle whilst looking in completely the opposite direction is not easy to do.

Anyone can pop to a magic shop and pick up a pack of marked cards, or a magic box which makes a penny disappear.  But the true genius of an illusionist is to make something appear to happen which is not only impossible, but also something we have never seen before.

And I don’t know about you – but however it was achieved – I’ve never seen anyone appear to predict a national lottery on live TV before.  I shall be disappointed if the revealed method used was a rather mundane one – but I still applaud the trick as one of the stand-out illusions of modern times.

So much better than pretending to sit in a glass box for a month, anyway…

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