It's not as hard as you might think to learn mentalism. Mentalism is the art of performing magic tricks using nothing but the power of your mind! With enough practice, you can amaze and impress your friends, family, and even strangers with a variety of simple yet powerful tricks that require no props or special skills.
In this guide, I will teach you how to do 8 simple mentalist tricks that are perfect for beginners.
Mentalism Tricks for Beginners
Mentalists are entertainers who use their minds and bodies to perform magic tricks that seem impossible. They appear to read thoughts and predict what will happen in the future without any special equipment or unnatural abilities.
Some of these mind-reading techniques include telepathy (the power of sending messages to someone else's brain), clairvoyance (the ability to see things happening in other places), and precognition (knowing something before it happens).
Prediction Always Matches
In this simple trick, the mentalist makes a prediction of a card from a deck, and it ALWAYS matches the card the volunteer chooses.
The deception for this trick doesn't rely on technique, so it's particularly great for beginners who haven't had much practice.
- Write “prediction” on the back of a single card and place it in a dark-colored, 5×7 envelope in front of the audience. Don't show what the card is. Show the audience that there is nothing else in that envelope.
- Take a full deck of shuffled cards and show the audience that the cards are all different before the next step.
- Place them one at a time, face down in a pile, and ask the volunteer to tell you when they would like you to stop. When they say “stop,” take that card in your hand and place it into the envelope, as well – without looking at it.
They will match, and the mentalist looks like he was able to predict the exact card the volunteer would choose.
What no one knows is that you will have pre-made a simple envelope with a fake back on it so you can hide the card you are going to predict (which will, of course, match your prediction), and you are going to hide the card the volunteer chose behind that false back. Voila! Want to see it in action?
What it looks like: Prediction
How it works: Trickery!
Gray Elephant in Denmark
This trick is infused with a little numerology and creates the illusion of mind-reading by making the spectator or audience believe they have choices. In reality, their choices are spoon-fed by the mentalist, who is leading them to one, inescapable answer: gray elephant in Denmark. It works like this.
First, write down “Gray elephant in Denmark” on a sheet of paper, without letting anyone see it. Fold it up and hand it to a member of the audience, swearing them not to peek.
Now, ask the audience this series of questions – telling them not to speak any of it out loud:
- Think of a number between 1 and 10 and multiply it by 9. If you now have a two-digit number, add those two numbers together. For instance, if your number is 3, you multiply by 9 to get 27. Now you add those two digits together: 2 + 7 = 9. (The secret is: everyone gets 9!)
- Now, subtract 5. (The answer everyone in the room will get is 4 – but only you know that. Thank the math!)
- Take that number and associate it with a letter of the alphabet: 1 being “a” and 26 being “z.” (Everyone, of course, gets “d” because everyone had the number 4).
- Think of a country that begins with that letter. (Most people will say Denmark.)
- Take the second letter of that country name and think of an animal. (Everyone will get “e,” and most will think of an elephant.)
- Think of the color of that elephant. (Yep, gray.)
When everyone is ready, ask your audience helper to reveal the answer. And, thanks to a little basic math, everyone will be in awe!
What it looks like: Mind-reading
How it works: Math!
Triangle Inside Circle
This is another trick that leads most audience members to the same answer, but in this case, it's less about math and more about the power of suggestion.
Ask a participant to think of a simple shape that is like a square but not a square. This will lead most people to “triangle” since not many will jump to “rhombus.”
Then, ask them to think of another shape around this shape. Just the suggestion of “around,” sounding like “round,” will lead most people to think of a circle around their triangle. (For extra effect, you may want to casually move your hands in a circular motion to illustrate “around.” But don't be too obvious.)
Boom! Amaze them when you reveal that you have read their minds!
What it looks like: Mind-reading.
How it works: The power of suggestion.
This trick will have your spectator select a card from the deck and place it back without you seeing what card they chose.
- Fan out the cards
- Instruct the volunteer to select a card, memorize it and place it back into the deck, and cut the deck.
- The spectator then points at any random card, which you will immediately take out and show (to the audience only) the one they selected.
Then tell her to telepathically communicate which one is hers so you can read her mind and pinpoint the correct card.
When the spectator is choosing their card, you will be secretly looking at its position and memorizing it as it goes into the deck. Or you can keep your finger in the deck. It's the usual card trick, but with a mentalist, “mind-reading” twist.
Pretend to read your volunteer's mind as you hover your hand over the cards, gauging which one she is telepathically communicating to be hers. Raise the drama by feigning to nearly pick the wrong one, study her face again and move to the correct card, picking it up and taking credit for reading her mind.
What it looks like: Mind-reading
How it works: Memorization and concentration
The Red Hammer
This is a trick involving a prediction. Write down this prediction: You will say “red hammer” and keep it secret. Request a volunteer from the audience and ask them a rapid-fire series of mathematical questions to get their brain in problem-solving mode and then drop the final question, which is designed to make you look like a mind reader.
- What is 5 x 12?
- If you were born 10 years ago, how old would you be in 5 years?
- How many sides do 4 squares have?
- What date is 3 days after Christmas?
- Quickly: Think of a color and a tool!
An estimated 98% of people are expected to say, “red hammer.” Then you show your prediction, and everyone is amazed!
What if your volunteer is in the other 2%? Then, you take the route of letting them know that they have a very unusual brain!
What it looks like: Prediction
How it works: Psychology, how the brain works
Paper Napkin Mind Reading
The mentalist uses a paper napkin and marker for this one and makes it appear as if they are reading the mind of their volunteer.
- Hand the volunteer a paper napkin and a marker.
- Ask them to write down any word in the world, and you will predict it.
- Look away while they write and have them put it into your hand with the word facing down. Make it very clear that you cannot see the word.
- Crumple the napkin in your fist and appear to be “looking” into it and reading it with your mind.
Then, you'll ask questions and make statements about the word to give the illusion that you are getting closer, getting warmer, as you actively read the volunteer's mind by possessing the napkin.
Then reveal the word. The audience will be floored!
This trick uses a shiny surface to reflect and reveal the word as it is being handed to you face-down. A pair of sunglasses on the table or a cell phone that is turned off works perfectly for this trick or any reflective object you can get away with having underneath you in this setup.
What it looks like: Mind-reading
How it works: Trickery! Reflection.
1089 – A Mathematical Force Trick
This is another trick with numbers that makes it appear as if you are magically predicting or mind-reading the number a volunteer has selected. Like other mathematical force tricks, you will ask the volunteer to pick a number, manipulate it with math, and – miraculously end up at the number you predicted! Pick a volunteer and have them:
- Pick a 3-digit number whose digits are decreasing. We'll use 431 for our example.
- Reverse it: 134
- Subtract the second number from the original: 431-134=297
- Take that number (297) and add it to the reverse of itself (792)
- The answer will be 1089, no matter what 3-digit number is originally chosen.
What it looks like: Mind-reading
How it is done: Math!
Smash the Egg Under the Cup
Now, some mentalists may choose to put a large metal spike under a cup in place of the egg in this trick, but we've chosen a “risk” that is less cringe-worthy in this version.
- Take a raw egg and place it under a cup. (You may have to secure it with a square of duct tape to ensure it doesn't roll and clumsily ruin the trick.)
- Place two other identical cups next to the cup with the egg.
- You will allow an audience member to decide which cup you will smash with your fist.
- The spectator will always choose a safe cup, thanks to the “magician's choice.”
And you look like you have risked it all for the sake of magic!
This trick is controlled by the mentalist forcing the choice. You tell the volunteer to select two cups. Say the egg is under A, so you want him to pick B or C. If he picks A and C, you remove those two cups, leaving B to be smashed. If he picks B and C, you remove A from the cups to be smashed. And so on. The mentalist is always carefully controlling the choices, though the volunteer feels in control.
Note: This is also sometimes called “Pick two, eliminate one force,” or Pateo Force, and it is used widely in mentalism.
What it looks like: Courage, and maybe even mind-control
How it is done: Deception
Easy, Three-Card Mentalism Trick
Start with three cards and make them simple, perhaps the Ace, King, and Queen of Hearts. Tell a volunteer that you can read her mind and direct her to choose the card you want her to choose.
Place the three cards face-up in a fan before the volunteer. Ask her to choose one. If she chooses the Queen of Hearts, confirm that this is indeed her choice. When she confirms her choice, thank her for receiving your message and show her the note you wrote on the bottom of the card box: “You will choose the Queen of Hearts.” Another shocker!
In reality, you will have two other messages available to you that the volunteer never sees:
- On the inside of the lid/flap: “You will choose the King of Hearts.”
- On the back of the Ace of Hearts card (remember, you only showed them to the volunteer face-up), you will have a large, black X.
You are prepared for whatever choice, so you can provide proof of the mental message you sent the volunteer.
What it looks like: Telepathic message, mind-reading
How it is done: Trickery!
Important Mentalism Tricks and Tips for Beginners
Mentalists have the power to make people think they are doing something impossible when in reality, all mentalists do it through trickery, misdirection, and a fair bit of acting! To help you pull off some of the tricks above, we’ll cover some techniques to help the beginner.
For beginners, being self-assured is among the most important traits for pulling off a good illusion. When performing tricks to an audience or doing magic in front of someone, it is important that you not only believe what you are saying but also seem confident and self-assured (even if this isn't always the case).
It is possible for anyone to build confidence and be able to perform good tricks with enough practice, some effort, and the commitment necessary. Some ideas to boost your self-assurance:
- Get used to speaking in public. Take a class, if needed.
- Start small by practicing sleight of hand and card tricks. Pick one or two you want to master and work on just those as you practice.
- Practice in front of a friend or family member. Work up to a small group.
- Record yourself doing the trick as you practice. Then record the delivery of the trick with a volunteer. Watch your performance and take notes about what you need to work on.
As with anything new, especially those things that will be in front of an audience, practice and getting comfortable with the act is essential for beginning mentalists.
A lot of the trick is in the “show” of it all. Reading someone’s mind shouldn’t look dull or easy. It should look like it’s an effort; it should be clear to the audience that these things are being “revealed” to you as your mentalist mind communicates with the mind of the volunteers.
That is where the dramatic flair comes in. Mentalism involves some intrigue and some spectacle!
As you practice more, you’ll start to develop your act, including your acting. Until that point, you may want to work on your expressiveness, your showmanship, and your presentation. If you don’t have much experience in these categories, consider:
- Taking a community theater class.
- Recording yourself and getting comfortable turning up the drama and intrigue with each take.
- Watch other mentalists! See how they bring on the flair, how they pace their timing, etc.
Being confident and putting on a great show are two of the biggest characteristics an aspiring mentalist can strive to bring to the stage or screen. When you are dazzling people with feats of mind-reading, prediction, and illusion, you are doing something, well – magical. Let the magic shine!
Mentalism tricks are not just for professional magicians. They can be a great way to get started with mentalism as a beginner. The best thing about these illusions is that they don't need many props. Many rely on age-old deceptive tactics that make it appear that predictions and mind-readings are at play.
If you want to start practicing some of these new skills right away, try some of these easy tricks with a friend or a small audience. With a bit of practice – and a lot of showmanship – your mentalism act will be well on its way in no time.