How is this magic trick done?

I’ve been watching Penn and Teller: Fool Us and this trick not only blew my mind, but it clearly blew Penn and Teller’s minds. The had zero clue how he did it, though to be fair, they do not have an hour or more to discuss it.

You can watch the trick here. It’s quite nice and has a great presentation to it, too.

Penn says the lady was most likely random and I agree. She chose:

The tables the food goes on - he would know the food in each tray.

Three men from the crowd - he could not have known their names in advance

Three different color envelopes to go to the men…and she was allowed to swap their order(which she did)

What tables for the men to sit at…and she could switch(she didn’t…but could).
He did not touch the envelopes after handing them to the men.

How could this trick be done?

Well, perhaps next time I should actually do research before posting. The internet has looked into this and concluded(via HD screenshots) that:

the cards have fill in the blank slots for their names?

Wow, if that is actually true, it massively relies on the men to not read out, “Uh, it says ‘say my name’ here.”

Look at the comment section at your link.

Link please?

Just a guess, but …

Just before he removed the lids from the plates, he seemed to pause for a bit from the time he put his hand on the dish until the time he removed the lid. I wonder if he might have used that time to somehow select the contents of the dish.

After all, he never showed the inside of the lids. Maybe there was some mechanism that enabled him to choose which meal he wanted to appear when he removed the lid?

I’m guessing that the three men were persuaded to participate in the trick based on some unspoken language that was written on the cards they read that were in the envelopes. Thus the trick depended on all three of them playing along with the magician, which, given the circumstances, I would think would have been a pretty good bet to make as most people would play along under those circumstances.

When it is time for the performer to lift the 3 lids on the plates to reveal the meals, if all 3 plates were setup to contain the same meal (say pizza) then he would only have to lift the lid when one of the men read the card that said “pizza” but he would have to do something else for the other two plates. In other words, if it were possible that he could select which meal was to be shown when he lifted the lid, he would only have to do that in 2 of the 3 cases.

Now, looking closely at the video, you will see that before the men read the cards, he puts his hand on the backs of 2 of the 3 men and could give them a signal provided they were in on the trick. The third man would not have to be given any kind of a signal because his plate would already contain the dish that he read from the card.

This is not a solution but it is a way to get closer to the way it might have been done.

One other clue is that the tables are covered by a long table cloth so that the audience cannot see what goes on under the table and if there was some mechanism in operation under the table that could select which dish would be shown when the lid was lifted, that would be another way to get closer to the secret as to how this was done.

I’m not claiming to have figured this out. I’m just thinking out loud that the following two things are two possible clues as to how it was done:

  1. he puts his hand on the back of 2 of the 3 men and lets it linger there for a second or two before he lifts the lid. That could be a way for him to give a signal to 2 of the 3 men. He would only need to signal 2 of them. The one who was seated at the table where the pizza (or whichever dish was preselcected) was preset to appear when the lid was lifted.

  2. The big table cloth hides whatever could happen under the table and to the bottom of the 3 dishes. So there could be someone or something going on under the dishes that arranged to change whatever dish was there.

I’m suggesting these two factors may be a way to get closer to the solution to this trick and if anyone else can think of any similar factors, we may be able to figure this thing out.

Just another thought.

How difficult would it be to select one of the three meals to place under the lid by someone or some device under the table?

It’s not really the difficulty that is important. It’s the length of time it would take.

I don’t think it would take very long. After all, it would only have to be done in 2 of the 3 cases and I’m thinking we just need one other factor and once we get that, it would only need to be done in one case.

This selecting of the tables and where the men will sit is very likely a key factor. That could determine just how many “selections” would have to be made. I’m thinking it would probably only have to be done at one of the three tables.

It wouldn’t be too difficult for someone sitting under a table (and hidden from view by a table cloth) to gain access to the dish under the lid from beneath the table and place a meal under the lid. They would not have to remove any existing dish. The lids could well be covering “nothing” when the trick starts and then the accomplice would only have do place one dish under the lid at their table.

This is getting interesting. If there is a way to figure this out, I would guess it would be by narrowing in on the number of choices. The next step should be to figure out how this would only have to be done at one of the tables instead of two.

This is becoming very enjoyable. Thank you to Mahaloth for providing us with this puzzle.

The three men must be playing along, judging from their expressions and lack of reaction.

The cards must instruct them to insert their names, the number of the table,** and the name of the dish, which must be printed on the plate or its cover in script too small and faint for the audience to read.**

As noted above, the trick hinges on their playing along without giving anything away—a kind of risky move, IMHO.

This is the simplest and only logical explanation I can think of.

It would, of course, be even simpler if all four people in the audience were in on the trick beforehand, but I’m going to assume that wasn’t the case: I believe they all really were picked at random, and not parts of a team.

I think she’s the key. She picks everything and “swaps” things around. If she knows who the guys are and where they should be then she is the one who puts everyone in the right place with the right food. Changing her mind is just pure hocus pocus misdirection.

I would imagine they spy on the audience beforehand to overhear a few names being used and pre-designate them to be selected. That way the guys are not in on it and the magician and his compatriot can pre-write the cards. So the guys are reading their names and they are reading the dish as it’s written. But she’s the one who put them in the right spot to make it work.

If you like this check out on youtube Derren Brown’s Enigma. It’s over an hour of elaborate similar trickery with an amazing conclusion.

I agree with Doctor Who’s conclusion: if the magician picks her and she picks everything else, the only difficulty is getting the guys’ names into the envelopes. I was thinking he might have used carbon paper but the idea of just having the woman mingle until she heard three readily identifiable people addressed by name works too.

This might be over-thinking things, but based on their reactions, I think the three on stage were not in on it. They showed almost no surprise. If you’re going to go through all the trouble of setting up the trick, why wouldn’t you instruct the actors to act surprised?

Fool Us does not allow plants to be used, so whatever happened, the audience volunteers had to be convinced to play their part during the performance of the trick.

The screengrabs do seem to prove it. That is ballsy as hell. If that is how it was done, and it’s true that the guys were truly random and not in on the trick beforehand (meaning that the manipulation to make them play along all happens after they come on stage), and this method actually works consistently enough that the guy is willing to risk taking it on the P&T show, well… that blows my mind. I see some comments that complain that what he’s doing amounts to the same thing as using stooges, but I think that misses the point completely. Using stooges is an ugly method, obviously. This is completely different, this is a method that is as surprising and baffling as the result, at least to this layman.

Volunteers from the audience often learn the secret of how an illusion is done (they’re witness to the process) and are usually delighted to help the magician. So it wouldn’t be all that difficult for them to play along. Once on stage, they’d look foolish if they didn’t.

Yeah, but would you risk that? The fact that he does risk it can only mean that he’s tested it and found it to work close enough to 100% of the time. If he presses the right mental buttons and primes the volounteers in just the right way, then his desired response will pop out. That those buttons are there isn’t just an explanation of a magic trick, it says something really cool about the human mind.

From reading about mentalism, I’ve come to the conclusion that any time it looks like an audience member has played along with a trick, that’s all part of the illusion, and the audience member never had a choice in the first place. After all, it only takes 1 jerk to ruin a career. So color me flabbergasted when I googled for that screenshot

and saw where the card clearly says, “Please say your name” under the “Table 3” option, for the guy sitting at table 1. The only element of the trick is to get the right food at the right table, which seems like a trivial task for a skilled magician. The rest of it is just to have 3 phrases on each card and count on the audience members to read the right one while inserting their name. I’m floored. It makes me think they were stooges.

I’ve searched but cannot find it. Link please?