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Tony Corinda’s classic work, 13 Steps to Mentalism, is generally considered to be a foundational text for mentalism. The book, published in 1961, is made up of thirteen sections, each of which details one mentalist technique or concept. This article is a detailed '13 Steps to Mentalism' review.
13 Steps to Mentalism is written as a “how-to” guide for aspiring mentalists to learn the secrets behind mentalist performances and perfect them for audiences. The book provides guidance for new and advanced mentalists alike and describes how mentalist tricks work and provides tips for each one.
This post outlines each of the 13 steps described in the book, and describes some of the tricks that you’ll learn in 13 Steps to Mentalism. Read on for details about the techniques included in the seminal work on mentalism.
About the Book
The technical nature of the book is likely to be helpful for those who are dedicated to mastering the art of mentalism and want an explanation of every nuance of the tricks being described.
The book includes:
- Detailed instructions for performing each trick
- Suggestions for interacting with the audience
- An analysis of the psychology of mentalism
- Historical background on many of the tricks described
- Advice for promoting yourself as a mentalist
- Interviews and advice from several famous mentalists and magicians
The tricks and techniques outlined in the book are:
- The Swami Gimmick
- Pencil, Lip, Touch, Sound and Reading Muscles
- Mnemonics and Mental Systems
- Blindfolds and X-rays
- Book Tests and Fogel Interview
- Two Person Telepathy
- Mediumistic Stunts
- Card Tricks
- Question and Answer
- Publicity Stunts
- Patter and Presentation
Each of these sections will bring you closer to understanding the secrets behind mentalist tricks and techniques.
The Mentalist Tricks
This section explains each of the mentalist tricks explained in the book.
The Swami Gimmick
The Swami Gimmick is one of the most well-known mentalist tricks. It involves writing down audience information undetected using a hidden pen or pencil. Corinda describes the types of implements that can be used, techniques for concealing the implement, and instructions for 24 different tricks that mentalists can use to fool audiences.
Corinda also explains when it is appropriate to use each of the various tricks depending on the type of audience and the setting.
Pencil, Lip, Touch, Sound and Reading Muscles
This section teaches how to observe an audience member’s words, actions, or body language. These tricks hinge on the mentalist’s ability to pick up on small movements; for example the mentalist might ask an audience member to write a meaningful name or date. The mentalist can then detect what was written by observing hand movements.
Corinda also describes both favorable and unfavorable conditions for reading audience members’ gestures and actions. These tricks are most optimal in close quarters with the audience and when the audience doesn’t suspect any sort of specific effect.
Mnemonics and Mental Systems
Having a great memory is an indispensable skill for an aspiring mentalist. This section explains how to improve memory and use mnemonic tools in performances. Tricks and tools covered include:
- An Amazing Memory System
- Quick Calculations
- The Magic Square
- The Knight’s Tour
- Chess Trickery
- A Day for Any Date
- Simple Card Systems
- The Mnemonic Number Code
These mnemonics are helpful for the mentalist to learn how to improve memory and use memory tricks during performances.
Making accurate predictions (or appearing to make predictions) is an important strategy for a mentalist. This section describes overall techniques for convincing your audience that you’ve accurately anticipated an event. Corinda also describes tricks that work well on a stage and those that are effective with a more intimate audience.
Blindfolds and X-rays
Corinda describes how blindfolded tricks can be a dramatic way to convince your audience of your mental or psychic powers. He describes several blindfold techniques, including:
- The Unfaked Mask
- The Reverse Crease Blindfold
- The Felt Mask (Faked)
- The Folded Silk Blindfold
- The Bag Blindfold
- Sheet or Blanket Cover
- The Bucket
These tricks create impact and interest when used in front of a live audience.
Billet tricks typically involve an audience participant writing down personal information on a small bit of paper, after which the mentalist burns, tears, or otherwise destroys the paper and restores it. These tricks can also involve the mentalist trying to discern what is written on the billet without actually reading it.
Corinda includes several classic billet tricks created by other mentalists and includes detailed instructions on how to achieve them.
Book Tests and Fogel Interview
Book tests involve an audience participant reading a section of a book, after which the mentalist relays some type of information about the reading, often a concept or a specific page number. Corinda provides detailed scripts for performing several book test tricks and provides theatrical recommendations for making the trick as dramatic as possible.
As a supplement, this section also includes an interview with mentalist Maurice Fogel, which covers the future of mentalism, what makes a great mentalist, the nuances of magic and mentalism, audience interactions, presenting yourself as a mentalist, the purpose of props, and creating an act as a mentalist.
Two Person Telepathy
In this section, Corinda outlines how a two-person team can perform an act that achieves the appearance of telepathy. This trick often involves:
- Verbal cues
- Radio equipment
- Electrical communication
- Light communication
- Action signal
- Sound reading
This section outlines detailed routines in which the mentalist can work with a partner to demonstrate the illusion of telepathy.
Corinda details how the illusion of certain physical phenomena can be created, including communication with spirits, ectoplasm, levitation, and fire balls. He also covers how to invoke mental phenomena, such as mind control, telepathy, telekinesis, and mind reading.
He describes how to create the proper atmosphere and theatrical setting in the seance room using lighting, incense, and music.
While card tricks are generally considered to be more magic than mentalism, Corinda has included a chapter outlining how cards can be used for certain mentalist performances.
This section suggests that the mentalist use some reverse psychology on the audience by feigning a lack of skill with cards. Corinda recommends that you should register “psychologically with your audience that to you a pack of cards is a foreign thing” so the audience doesn't assume that you are manipulating the cards.
Question and Answer (Readings)
This section describes how the mentalist can appear to tell the future and to read minds. Corinda advises that one of the best ways to engage someone in this way is to determine what it is they want, and then indicate that you see this outcome in their future.
This advanced section covers primarily the psychology of mentalism: how to use perception and logic to determine what people want and why, and how to provide compelling answers to the audience’s questions.
Corinda also addresses the ethics of advice-giving as a medium: “If harm can be done, fall back on the old friend to the medium—deliver a warning carefully worded, but above all shroud the answer in ambiguity.”
This section is fundamentally a primer on marketing yourself as a mentalist. Topics covered include:
- Creating a demand for your services as a mentalist
- Personal advertising, such as brochures, business cards, and other branded items
- Obtaining professional headshots
- Publicity campaigns
- Ideas for publicity stunts
This section is helpful for the aspiring mentalist to understand how to create publicity and hype around mentalist performances.
Patter and Presentation
Although presentation advice is sprinkled throughout the rest of the book, the final section provides detailed guidance in this area for the aspiring mentalist.
Corinda explains best practices in each of the following areas:
- The essentials of good performance
- Personal appearance
- Manner and speech
- Good effects
This final chapter concludes with an interview with Claude Chandler, the Vice President of London’s Magic Circle. While Chandler was not a mentalist, this section includes his advice on providing great stage performances through his work as an actor, producer, and magician.
With comprehensive advice on how to achieve compelling mentalist tricks and stunts, 13 Steps to Mentalism proves to be the most comprehensive book available on the subject. Whether you are new to mentalism, looking to hone your technique, or just interested in the history of the topic, you’ll find 13 Steps to Mentalism is the best source for detailed information and direction.