# How did Derren Brown perform the Red Envelope trick?

(Performed recently on BBC’s “One Show”).

I reject the idea that Derren’s drawing was in the red envelope the whole time. I think he would have let the hosts keep hold of his envelope if that was the case.

So how did he do it?

Besides telling the guy ahead of time to draw a picture of a kite?

I find this explanation dubious. Magicians (and show hosts) are subtler than that.

Without seeing it, the obvious answer would be that either the envelope had another opening, the paper wasn’t really in the envelope, there is more than one item in the envelope, or the envelope was switched. I really can’t think of any other way to do it besides some really esoteric ones–like paper with carbon paper in it.

Having seen it, the camera is not kind, and it’s really hard to see what he’s doing, so he really could have done anything. The real question is whether her had some predesigned drawings or if he was able to somehow make a new drawing quickly enough for that usage. I do know he often intentionally makes things less exact so they are more believable, so it doesn’t matter that they weren’t exactly the same thing.

I take it you have never seen Chris Angel.

I don’t know how that trick was performed, but the camera left the magician so many times that I’m not very curious about the mechanism.

However, while at YouTube I watched another video featuring Mr. Brown. He asked a group of financial professionals to guess the number of gumballs in a jar.

Brown claims the actual number to be 136, however the close-up of the jar at the 1:24 point shows at least 70 gumballs visible from just that one angle. I’ve done no experiments, but would be surprised if you can see over half of the balls in a cylindrical jar from one angle. Particularly an angle that doesn’t show much of the top.

He suggest the kite in a subliminal manner. He holds the envelop rotated showing not a rectangle but more of a diamond shape to him as he is told to look at it and then picture a shape.

Here is a video of him doing something similar and he explains it.

Too risky. There’s a fair chance that someone would draw something unexpected.

OK. That’s quite impressive, but…I don’t buy it. “Subliminal messages” are overrated. The likelihood that she would actually buy a stuffed giraffe amongst thousands of toys, despite the patterns and such is way too low. Also this doesn’t explain how he guessed the name “Frank”.

I think he’s misleading us and giving a false explanation. I suspect that, had she chosen a doll house, he would show similar patterns related to a doll house, letters spelling “doll house” somewhere, and so on.

I don’t have an answer, but just want to say that Derren Brown is awesome. I love his approach to magic.

The thing about Brown and some others, you only see this amazing stuff on video. You don’t know many times it didn’t work out as well. Alternate endings are a mainstay of mentalism anyway. You don’t know how the trick was supposed to work out before hand, so what you see is one of the alternates based on responses from the subject. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of skill involved in these acts, but it is just entertainment.

If you watch a lot of Brown, he gives this explanation and performs this basic trick dozens of times. He is really into this subtle manipulations and people thinking they made a free choice when they didn’t.

There is one where he makes Simon Peg choose a bike. It’s pretty interesting.

I’ve seen him live three times, and trust me, he is just as amazing live. I even went to see what was effectively exactly the same show, a year apart, and it still left me speechless as to how he achieved most of what he did.

I didn’t say he wasn’t amazing. He’s very skilled, and entertaining. It’s just that some of the tricks he does on video are ones that he wouldn’t do live, and we don’t know what’s edited out. He’s very clever, but I don’t think his explanations are really always what he’s doing. He make a lot out of the subliminal clues, but that’s not always the basis of his tricks. Still, he’s a skilled and entertaining magician. A lot better in my mind than some of the big names out there.

He could see the shape the host was drawing. He mimicked the shape with his thumb on the outside of the red envelope. The inside of the envelope was carbon paper that could be pressed against the white sheet inside the envelope to make a shape. He incorrectly assumed that the host was trying to draw a kite, not realizing just how vapid and uncreative the host really was.

Well obviously. For example if you watch the haunted special episode he (from memory) tells the particiapnts (or it might even be viewers at home) to choose any person from a load of pictures… then he gives some instructions on how to find the person he wanted you to look at by following a bizarre list of instructions (I forget) - anyway whichever one of those pictures you started with, if you followed these instructions you would always end up with the same picture.

(a bit like me saying:

think of any number

square that number

subtract 49 frpm that number

now divide that number by (the number you thought of plus 7 )

now subtract the number that you thought of, from the number you’ve got

And I bet your result is -7, isn’t it?

except more artfully)

[if you don’t understand why this is then just call your number x and do the maffs for each step]

No, actually, they aren’t. The concept of a ringer or a plant is well-known in magic.

The “trick” would be lameness beyond lameness itself if the BBC host was a stooge, merely playing along. I give Brown, the host and the BBC enough credit to at least believe that the secret is not that simple (yes, I am aware that Criss Angel is an example of a “magician” who has basically made a career out of using TV edits and stooges).

I know that Brown does claim to be able to subtley influence people’s decisions and thoughts through the use of clever wording, subliminal cues, etc. While I used to believe he was pretty good at this, I think the hit/miss ratio for this kind of psychological technique is far more heavily weighted to the “miss” column than Brown would have audiences believe.

Simon Singh did an expose on one such trick performed by Brown, where Brown was clearly implying the effect he was producing was the result of his mastery of psychology and mentalism techniques (read it here).

I also reject the idea that Brown was watching the host’s movement of the pen. It’s way too risky to rely on something like that on live television, Brown couldn’t be sure enough that the anchorman would expose the moving pen tip.

I am 99% sure that the image that came out of the envelope was not already in there when the host started drawing. Magicians always try and maximise the “wow factor” of their tricks, and if Brown really was good enough to already know what the drawn image was going to be, he would let the show’s hosts hold the envelope the entire time.

The use of carbon paper etc is an interesting one, but as mentioned up thread, it’s a shame about the sleuth-unfriendly camera editing.