Thoughts On Progressive and Branching Anagrams

Ken DyneBlog6 Comments

First of all I want you to know that this is an activity in me trying to deal with my thoughts and figure out my own thinking regarding the various types of Anagrams available to us.

Towards the end of this (unapologetically lengthy) post I seemed to come to a conclusion about how I might be able to perform Anagrams in a way that I feel is deceptive, looks like the ‘right kind of process’ and fits my ‘character’ as well as performing scenarios.

Rather than just post my solution I thought it might be of interest to post my thought process – many people are interested in how others think and create, so why not share it warts and all. I will contradict myself, I will get excited and passionate, and yes I’ll lament with a solution.

If you’re not interested in how I got there and just want to read my approach then slide yourself down to the area on My Solution.

Let the fun begin…

My First Time

My introduction to Progressive Anagrams was a local magician in Newcastle asking me to think of my Star Sign.

After having done so, he then proceeded to ask me to spell it out in my mind.

That was strange. Star Signs by their very nature are personal, which is why we mentalists are attracted to them. Now, suddenly he is asking me to think about the literal spelling of the word. The moment changed from emotional and personal revelations about my spirituality and personal insight, in to a spelling bee.

That’s a different emotion – one that as a dyslexic had me panicking.

He then went on to guess which letters were in the spelling of my star sign. The first letter missed, so he knew there wasn’t an S in the word – so in star-signs that’s Aquarius, Taurus, Sagittarious, Scorpio, Pisces and Aries he knows are elimenated. There’s not many of the 12 left really.

So now he only has to figure out which one of the remaining 6 spells my star sign,

The next letter, for example was an ‘N’ – and because for the first 12 years of my life I thought I was a Leo (for some reason) and was disappointed to find out that rather than being a strong, ferocious, king of the jungle character that I was instead a terminal illness that was killing my beloved relatives, I realised that Leo didn’t have an N in it, so while I said ‘yes’ to it, I knew he’d at least knocked Leo out of the running, if not others.

By this point I realised that this was just a game of elimination, and there was nothing mystical, magical or mental going on. It was a guessing game.

That’s how my disappointment for anagrams began.

And it stayed with me.

One day I heard about this fella with a name that (surely) couldn’t be real, Atlas Brookings.

Apparently this chap had not only come up with the best ‘anagram-type’ effect (so I thought it was) ever, but he was moving from the States to my country.

I was ready to call bullshit on this globe-trotting dude.

We arranged a Skype call, as I had in the past with others who were flaunting the latest in the Emperer’s New Clothes, and after some nice friendly chat asked him if he’d ‘do Train Tracking on me’.

The first surprise was that he said ‘yes’ where others had pulled their caps over their faces and mumbled about being too tired (staying up all night writing BS e-books is going to weigh on your conscience).

Not only did Atlas perform Train Tracking on me – it was un-be-lievable. It was the closest thing to mind reading I had seen.

The guy got my word right in the end and he knew how I was thinking and the choices I was making in my mind.

That’s what mentalism is about isn’t it? It’s about showing people that you know what is happening in their minds – and Train Tracking did this.

Since then many people have worked very hard on creating deceptive Anagram-type effects. Many of them friends of mine but the problems often remained the same.

The Two Times To Get Caught – In Any Magic or Mentalism Performance

In all mystery performances there are two times we can get ‘caught out’.

The first is during the show, while you perform the effect.

In Anagram and heavily linguistic, or process driven effects that is when a smart, logical person who is paying attention simply follows through what we say or do and can logically deduce similar information to you. At a far less smart level, this was me when I first had my star-sign deduced.

In Cards Across this is the equivolent to you flashing the palmed cards.

The second is after the performance.

This is where someone who is keen to ‘figure you out’ and has an incling that there is a logical explanation for the things they saw/heard can sit down and roughly reconstruct what we did.

The Importance Of Legacy

I strongly feel that we have to be leaving a legacy of mystery with every person who sees us perform.

That’s why I no longer do some of the routines I used to perform when I was younger.

I’ve dropped all that heavy dual reality stuff, clever as it may have been in my eyes.

Right now I don’t have a solution to pre-show that leaves the pre-showed person’s mystery intact, so am not doing any in my performances.

I don’t do any stooging or instant stooging.

And I won’t do anything that doesn’t have a guaranteed method.

To me, where I work (private parties, company events and cruise ships) if I do any of these things I am disillusioning someone and ruining their memory of the mystery.

For me at least, it comes down to reputation and what you want people to say after you leave.

I want everyone who has seen me to how no idea how I knew the things I knew. I don’t want anyone in that room to be ‘in on it’ or have any less of an experience.

The reason is, the moment I sacrifice that I feel like I ruin that mystery for that person. And that isn’t fair.

Look, if my method is to tap someone’s foot to make them play along with me, to them I don’t think I’m a mind reader or anything special at all. Instead I’m a regular guy who gets people to play along.

What’s worse still is that stooging is perpetuating the very thing that skeptical audience members think, which is that people are just playing along. And when that is the truth as well as what they suspect, then there is no mystery any more.

My Solution

I’m a fixer.

I don’t like to leave a problem alone until I can fix it to some degree. Or at least offer some steps forward.

So over the past few years I’ve been thinking about how I could perform an anagram-type effect in a way that is less easy to back-track, sounds less logic-based and is as impressive as the stuff I am already confident in performing.

As with any ‘solution’ this is just one solution, it’s my solution, and it’s only my current solution. I’ll probably read this back in a few months’ time and write another post about being an idiot 😉 But that’s what is so lovely about what we do and growing, isn’t it?

There are a few elements to this solution:

The first is that the ‘set’ that is being thought from needs to appear unrestricted, for example, I’d never do a star sign divination.

A great solution I read just recently is Matt Mello’s Triangulation in his book Origin. This is confusing, complex and difficult to follow along with in real time, for those logical people sitting in the audience.

The second, and most important one to me is how it is included in the show itself.

I am going to play with it this way; After my opening effect sometime I’ll have someone think of something that I will be deciphering using some kind of Anagram.

Let’s say I’m having them think of any object (I’ve not decided on which anagram I’ll be using yet so this is just for sake of explanation), I’ll ask the person if they are naturally a visual person, or not?

If they say ‘no’: “Okay, in that case don’t visualise the object just imagine the letters used to spell it. I want to play with your strengths”

If they say ‘yes’: “So if your conscious mind is very visual, because for this we need to use your subconscious mind, which in your case is going to be analytical we will have to ask you to resist visualising the object itself and imagine the letters. This will force your subconscious to work – which is a shame really because I’m a more creative visual person too so the other way round would have been easier for me, not to worry. Imagine the letters and we’ll see what we can do…”

That’s the first step. I’ve got to rationalise why we are taking something that is more than just letters, and ask them to think about the letters – if that’s how this particular anagram works.

Thirdly I want to muddy the waters, so am going to try doing this in a way that is theatrically exciting, or at least interesting.

Now the person is thinking of their word you have them focus on the letters and see them in the air or whatever.

Now move on to something audiences love to see…you struggle.

Like the tightrope walker who wobbles, and the unicyclist who is afraid of heights, they want to feel like what you do isn’t easy. So now say ‘You’re really difficult to read, let me come back to you’.

And move on with the next effect in the show.

The plan from here on in is that you perform each phase of the anagram between other effects.

So in the case of a Star Sign divination (to keep this explanation simple), I might have just done my three coloured envelope routine, as the applause/booing fades, turn to the lady thinking of the word and say, ‘that’s an S I just picked up in your word isn’t it?’

If she says ‘yes’, applause.

If she says ‘no’ I’d abruptly turn my back on her and say ‘Next!’ and get a laugh before proceeding with the next effect, perhaps a booktest or something.

After the booktest go back to the lady again and do the next phase of the Anagram.

For my character this would end up looking like a process with humour and tension.

This means that at the end when you do get it right, since there has been a constant tension – the applause and reaction will be much greater.

Not only that, because of so much other process happening with the other effects, so long as the anagram is a good one, it will be hard for anyone to backtrack it real time, and even harder to do so afterwards.

Most anagrams are solved after 2-4 questions, so a good way of muddying the water is to sprinkle in other questions that are not reletive to the outcome. So for example, the first question may be related and ask if there is an ‘N’ in the word (in a subtle way). Next you go on with another effect with someone else, then you come back and ask for something that could not possibly help you, for example if you’re doing Star Signs you might ask “Would you please think about how many consonants are in the word, don’t count them out loud”, or if it’s relevant, “if this word has another meaning, think of it”, or anything else at all that doesn’t take you any steps forward but muddies the waters for those trying to back-track.

The final thing I like about using the Anagram as the ‘thread’ throughout the show is the opportunity it affords us for an ‘out’ if it misses.

What If It Misses?

They could have anyone on stage and they could get it wrong, but they’re paying you to get it right.

I say that a lot when it comes to risky effects.

And many of my friends who perform more socially will say they don’t mind things going wrong. I think this may be a mistake, mainly because of a conversation I had with someone a little while ago:

I was speaking to someone who was looking for an entertainer for an event and was showing what I could do along with examples of what I’ve done for others, my experience etc.

However the lady’s response was quite telling, she said that she wasn’t sure about having a mind reader because it’s unrealiable. When I asked her what I meant she went on to tell a story about someone they were out to dinner with in a group of friends who does a bit of ‘that sort of thing’ who ‘went through a whole bit’ and then at the end he just got it wrong.

I know I am overly sensitive on this issue, so please forgive me, but I think we all have a duty to do the best we can to give a great impression of our art.

Just like anything, I know there are people who are good and people who are less so and that we shouldn’t all be judged based on that – after all we don’t judge the crappy singer down the pub and think that means Adele must be bad, do we? No we don’t but people have seen many singers, they are popular – many people have never seen a mind reader yet.

For that reason, if I am going to perform any effect that relies on a member of the audience doing any kind of mental process, such as telling me whether there’s a particular letter in their word, or if they could hold it in their hand or anything like that, there is a wide margin for error.

There has to be. We are dealing with people.

These are the same people who open a book which you ask them to think of a word from, and make up words that aren’t there.

The same people who write on the wrong side of our business cards because they can’t follow instructions.

The lady who doesn’t know what a Club card is, and the guys who think it’s funny to say ‘no’ when it’s a yes.

There is margin for error.

So I want an out.

And I think this presentational ploy of the through-line to your show allows for that.

Imagine you get to the point in your Anagram where you realise this person has thought of something that is not covered in your system, or they have forgotten that there isn’t a letter Q in the word ‘Orange’.

You’re up the creek.

But you don’t have to be.

You’ve just found out that she isn’t thinking of Aqua Marine Blue, so you’re screwed. The way you reveal this is by writing something down on your big pad of paper, and having her call out her answer. You’ve written Aqua Marine Blue, she yells out Orange.

After calling her names in your mind you calmly say ‘now if it had the Q in that you mentioned, many people here might have thought you were thinking of Aqua Marine Blue but I knew you were different, some might even say annoying. (smile, that’s a joke people).

You move on with your next effect, during which you have choreographed a logical time for you to secretly write down whatever word she called out, in this case Orange (with a silent, invisible Q).

You are now in a place to still complete this penultimate effect and then finish your show on a high that reveals what she was thinking, the thing you’ve been teasing the audience with the whole show, as a prediction that you have had sealed in an envelope in your pocket the whole show long.

You end on a win, no matter what.

6 Comments on “Thoughts On Progressive and Branching Anagrams”

  1. Brian Johnson

    Totally agree with all the above. My effects have sometime gone wrong. ALL ABOUT EVE an advertised sure fire winner…I went through the routine perfectly….I got the first letter and then through in some misdirection…I announced the only word it could possibly be….NO….said the spectator and informed the audience what his word from the book was….The word he said is NOT even printed in the book !!!! B*****D
    Another time I used an anagram (I am aware that this effect is not 100% guaranteed is is new on the market) The spectator thinks of a simple drawing and thinks of the name it is like a house, a car, a tree, a flower ect. I went through the system and got it wrong. If she had named her drawing a FLOWER I would have got it. She called it a DAISY….that was so annoying.

  2. Eric Henning

    Brilliant analysis I’ve never liked PA and BA methods either, but had trouble articulating why you’ve summed it up quite neatly. I like the idea of setting it up as one would a running gag. This could also add some wonderful lightness and comedy to what can easily become a very serious show. It also adds texture and variety.

    Of course one should always have something like a nail writer or some such as an out, but I really like the idea of being able to set up the out right in front of the audience while doing another routine. His bears more thought.

  3. jim barron

    Ken,
    This is some really good thinking. I especially like justifying to the spectator why you’re asking them to spell the word in their mind in the first place.

    You’re right about having an out too. Anyone who has worked with the public for any length of time knows if the outcome depends on the participant doing everything exactly right, you’re walking on thin ice.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your attention to details makes the difference between mystery and a puzzle.

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