Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Amazing on-line psychic trick can read minds and identify which symbol a user selected from a list of many choices.
Origins: An online parlor trick has been befuddling countless netizens who have been left mystified by its uncanny ability to always identify which one symbol they have chosen from a list of many. Many members of the online community have felt unsettled by the apparent proof that something lurking on the Internet could access their thoughts or that through some form of magic or witchcraft, evil-intentioned folks were rendered capable of using their systems against them. Magic seemed to be afoot, and that deeply troubled many. So, after receiving hundreds of messages from readers who were left suspecting their computers and Internet connections of dark doings, we've chosen to write about this leg-pull even though it's merely an old magician's trick updated to appeal to a cyber
It's a trick, of course; "magic" only in the sense that it's an act of misdirection, a skill that is part of every successful magician's repertoire. This is magic of the rabbit-and-hat variety, not of the broomstick-and-cauldron ilk. The key to this trick is the concept of 'forcing' a result
A similar type of forced result is at work here, where the user is asked to select a two-digit number, add its digits together, subtract that total from the original number, then find the symbol corresponding to the final result from a seemingly large chart of symbols. But why does the user have to follow the rigamarole of all these numeric steps rather than simply selecting a symbol from the chart himself? The answer is that the rigamarole is necessary to 'force' the user to select a particular symbol while creating the illusion that he's freely picking one from a large list.
How does it work? In our base ten numbering system, the first digit of a two-digit number represents the number of tens, and the second digit represents the number of ones. For example, the number written as '46' is four tens plus six ones, or
(10X + Y) - (X + Y) = 9X
The key here is that although the value represented by X is variable, the end result is always a multiple of nine — if X is 1, our result is 9; if X is 2, our result is 18, if X is three, our result is 27, etc. Looking carefully at the psychic trick's chart of numbers and symbols, we find that every multiple of nine possible as a result of our operation (9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81) is represented by the same symbol! No matter which number we select initially, the numeric manipulations 'force' us into picking a symbol corresponding to a multiple of nine. And since all the multiples of nine are represented by the same symbol, we're likewise 'forced' into selecting one specific symbol
Last updated: 25 March 2007
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