The Real Secrets: Improving Your Memory (pt. 1)

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Do you have a photographic memory?” It’s a question that I’m asked after every show, and the simple answer is absolutely not. And gladly so. Here’s a Scientific American article that explores the burden of having a perfect memory:


This month, we’ll explore a method used to memorize lists of information. In future installments, we’ll cover a few more tricks for remembering names, speeches and even where you left the keys (hint: they are probably exactly where they belong — it’s the only place you didn’t check).

Exercise: Take about 45 seconds and look over this list, trying to memorize as many items as you can:

  1. Leather Jacket
  2. Pillow
  3. Business Card
  4. Television
  5. Coffee Maker
  6. Spider Monkey
  7. Lamp
  8. Curtain
  9. Door Handle
  10. Briefcase

These are all items that are around my hotel room as I’m writing this (except, unfortunately, for the spider monkey). Now, without cheating, try to recite as many of the items from memory as possible. If you’re like most of us, you will get between six and eight of the items correct, but it may take you a while. That’s because the human brain can hold approximately seven pieces of information at a given time in short-term memory. And why remembering a seven-digit phone number isn’t that hard, but remembering a full ten digits becomes a challenge.

By the time you finish what I’m about to teach you, you’ll know this list inside and out, backwards and forwards, AND you’ll even be able to remember it tomorrow. It’s based on the idea that our brain remembers images far better than words and numbers. That’s why stories and plots in films are memorable. They move seamlessly from one idea to the next, creating links and a story that take the viewer on a journey. We’re going to do the same thing with this list.

Start with the leather jacket. See it and involve your senses. What color is it? What does it smell like? How does it feel? Now that you can picture it, we are going to LINK it to the next item on the list, the pillow. But here’s the catch. The jacket needs to AFFECT the pillow somehow. And the crazier and zanier the image, the better. So let’s exaggerate. What if the pillow was humungous and shaped like a person, the jacket went over the pillow to keep it warm. When you try zipping the zipper on the jacket, the pillow starts spilling out all over the place. That’s the kind of detail we want.

Now we link the pillow to a business card. How so? Well, maybe there are thousands of business cards (exaggeration is key), and the huge pillow is trying to gather them all together. It can’t hold them, so it strips off its pillow case and stuffs itself full of business cards (a bit of a silly image, but it does the trick).

Now we link the business card to the television. Take a second and figure out how to do that. I decided that the business card looked like a model of an old TV set, antenna, knobs and all. By pressing a button on the business card, the TV turns on.

On to the TV and coffee maker. Remember, we want to affect the coffee maker with the TV somehow. How might we do that? What if the TV had a specific channel (like QVC) that sold coffee makers and all you had to do was turn the TV to that channel, tip it on its side and coffee would pour out? But the spout was broken so coffee got ALL OVER THE PLACE! Once again, use your senses to see the mess and smell the coffee.

You get the hint at this point, so try the next few on your own without my help. And we are halfway through. So starting at leather jacket, think how easy it is to move from one item to the next mentally!

Spider monkeys don’t typically know how to use a coffee maker. So the Keurig (or whatever brand you like) traps the monkey’s fingers in it. The monkey screams and knocks the hot cup out of the machine, burning its arm. In a fit of uncontrollable rage, the spider monkey starts flailing around uncontrollably and breaks EVERY lamp in the room, putting it into total darkness.

Now we link the lamp to a curtain. Imagine that the curtain in the room is really a giant LED lamp wall, and you use it both to brighten the room AND turn it off for darkness at night. Or imagine that a lamp breaks underneath a 100-foot-tall curtain and starts a fire. Or you could imagine that the lamp has giant legs and runs over to close the curtains because it’s trying to turn off all the lights including itself!

The curtain wraps itself around the door handle so that whenever you shut it, it throws the door wide open. The door looks like a gigantic briefcase, and you notice that when you open it, there are tons of papers and pens inside, like a gigantic version of an attaché case.

So even though that took a while to type, in practice the associations happen instantly. I’ve rehearsed to the point where I can have somebody slowly read me a list, make the associations in real time, and store the information in memory. It’s beyond helpful for grocery lists :). Next month, I’ll explain some other uses for linking.

Now that you’ve read this, try to recall the list.

  • Start with the jacket — what is wearing the jacket?
  • Now the pillow — what is the pillow stuffing inside of it?
  • Now the business cards — what happens when you turn the card “on?”

You should be at 10/10 on this. If you want to take on a challenge, use the linking method to memorize the below list. I’ll explain its significance next month. And if you can get ahead of me and guess, please email me!

  1. Teacup
  2. Indian
  3. US Flag
  4. Mud Coffee
  5. Brazil Nut
  6. Pack of Music Stands
  7. Niger River
  8. Bang on a Desk
  9. Nesting Dolls
  10. Ramen
  11. Sombrero
  12. Phillips Screwdriver
  13. Eating Opal
  14. Vietnam War
  15. Pyramid
  16. A Turkey
  17. Hefeweizen Beer
  18. Running Quickly
  19. Gorilla
  20. Tying Shoes


Have fun and practice!

Dealing with a Heckler

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I like to think of myself as a pretty nice guy, who treats spectators kindly and respectfully, and tries to avoid aggravation at all costs. But sometimes people just can’t take a good mentalist. The only way to really enjoy this type of performance art is to let go and suspend your disbelief a bit. At it’s best, magic and mentalism is a well executed piece of theater. So it always strikes me as odd on the rare occasion that somebody feels the need to directly challenge me in a show. At a corporate event, there isn’t much that you can do about it, except smile and grin. Fortunately, I’ve NEVER been heckled at a corporate event :).

Flash back to 2013, when I was working a week at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it is an upscale private, invitation-only, 21+ club that caters to magicians and the lucky members of the general public who can score a guest pass. Dinner, drinks, and magic — it’s definitely a fun night that you’ll remember for a long time.

On this particular Wednesday night, I was working with my good friend and colleague Nathan Gibson, performing a two man show in the Peller Theater downstairs. The room seats about 70, making for a nice, intimate crowd. The second routine involves a spectator’s dollar bill, and I guess the serial number from across the room.

Almost as quickly as I can have him pull out a bill, he informs me that he is going to make this “difficult.” A performer really only has two choices here. The smart choice is to pick somebody else. I went for the challenge. “Give Mark a round of applause as he comes onstage!” BIG MISTAKE. I correctly guess the number, and Mark gets angry. “Do it again!” 


No such luck, I politely inform him. To which he responds “If it’s real magic, you could do it again.


Without breaking a beat, he yells across the room to his wife, “Honey, grab another $20.” She declines, slightly embarrassed, and now he gets REALLY angry. “I said, grab another $20!” I’m uncomfortable, and worse, my entire audience is uncomfortable. So I get a round of applause to send him back, and he responds “No. Do it again.” To which I responded with a line that I hope I never have to use again:


He begrudgingly retreats to his seat in the back of the room, and at this point I just couldn’t help myself:


And then one of the greatest moments of my career happens. He yanks his wife up by the arm, yells “Honey, let’s go!,” and storms out in a fit of rage to the rowdy applause of the crowd. There is literally no better outcome than causing a heckler to storm out on their own volition!

My closing remarks for the show:


Houdini Fans Band Together to Renovate Harry Houdini’s Gravesite

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In his time, the Hungarian magician Harry Houdini was lauded as one of the best professional magicians in the world. Houdini’s ability to craft mystery around each of his tricks and maintain a certain level of mystique only added to his legend. Houdini’s legend is such that it’s not unusual for his name to be uttered alongside that of Merlin, one of the original magicians from the Medieval Age. Today, Houdini enjoys a certain type of immortality that has kept his spirit alive, even after his unfortunate death following a punch to the gut in 1926.

According to a new report from New York Daily News, a coalition of Houdini’s biggest fans are coming together to make sure Houdini’s gravesite is restored and his memory never forgotten. The Houdini Museum, based in Pennsylvania, and the Society of American Magicians have partnered to fund the restoration of Houdini’s grave in Queens, New York. Costs for repairs are said to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but for the first big professional magician who helped inspired many of today’s popular trade show magicians, it’s a small price to pay to preserve the man’s legacy.

88 Years Later, Houdini is Just as Popular as Ever

The coming together of so many corporate magicians, private party entertainers, and fans of Houdini speaks to just how popular the late sorcerer remains to this day. A movement to restore the godfather of professional magicians’ grave is relatively tame when compared to many of the ways his fans try to keep his spirit alive.

As USA Today reports, a corporate mentalist brought together a number of fans in Danvers, Massachusetts on Halloween to call Houdini’s ghostly form through a séance. The location is significant, as Danvers is considered the epicenter of the witch-hunts and the resulting Salem Witch Trials that occurred in 1692. Unfortunately for the mentalist and his congregation, Houdini chose not to make an appearance.

Hoping to take advantage of the near palpable, enduring fame of the beloved magician, the History Channel recently paired with Hollywood actor Adrien Brody as Houdini to create a mini-series based on his origins, life, and eventual death. Reviewers have not been kind to the series, but fans still flocked to it in droves.

Houdini’s fame clearly remains intact. With the combined efforts of the Houdini Museum and the Society of American Magicians, it will doubtlessly remain that way for many years to come.

Are you one of the people helping to restore Houdini’s grave? What is it about the magician that keeps you interested? Let us know in the comments below.

Fun Thanksgiving Myths and Facts

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As a magician, I’m always seeking the truth in everything that I hear. This has lead me to a few interesting facts and answers to Thanksgiving myths. Enjoy, and have a pleasant, turkey-filled holiday!

1) Tryptophan, an organic amino acid found in most turkeys, does not actually cause drowsiness. It can in large quantities, but the amount found in most birds is negligible. Instead, scientists attribute the drowsiness to alcohol and the sheer amount of food consumed.

2) 20% of all Turkeys raised for human consumption annually (approximately 244 million) are eaten on Thanksgiving.

3) Colonists probably did not eat turkey on the first Thanksgiving. Instead, anthropologists and historians think that it is more likely that they enjoyed venison, seafood, and vegetables.

4) Each year, 2 turkeys are pardoned for the annual presidential photo shoot (1 is back-up in case the presidential turkey cannot perform its duties).

5) Wonder why Thanksgiving traffic is always terrible? According to the AAA, 42.5 million of about 308 million US citizens will drive over 50 miles from their homes to celebrate Thanksgiving.