"one of the essential books in every mentalists library"
The 13 Steps to Mentalism is possibly the most famous mentalism book around. There is debate as to whether Tony Corinda actually wrote the 13 steps, with more than a passing rumour that both Jon Tremain and David Berglas had a hand in it. Irrespective of the controversy, the 13 Steps (along with Annemanns “Practical Mental Magic”) remains one of the essential books in every mentalists library.
Originally published as 13 separate booklets and sold at Corinda’s shop in London in the 60’s, it is now more common to purchase it as one (sizable) book. Each of the steps covers a different technique that the master mentalist can use to devastating effect. I have the third edition, printed in 1968, but I understand the later publications are largely unchanged.
Step One – Swami Gimmick
This first step covers use of the mentalists favourite tool: the Swami Gimmick. He begins by discussing the different types available, and suitability of each for different circumstances and a recommendation of the type he would use. Corinda moves on to talking about technique: how to use the gimmick safely and convincingly. How to minimise use, and reduce possibilities of detection. This section also covers use of other props and misdirection techniques. Finally he moves onto to detailing a number of distinct effects making use of the swami.
Step Two – Pencil, Lip, Sound, Touch and Muscle Reading
This step could be summarised as using your senses to gain information from your target. He covers use of pencil reading, and how to amplify the movements of the pencil to make your job easier, moving on to lip-reading, sound reading (including sound reading of the written word), touch reading and finally the muscle reading of the spectator. Each of these sections includes examples of effects that can be performed with these techniques.
Step Three – Mnemonics and Mental Systems
This step covers a number techniques that can be used to help you perform seemingly impossible mental feats. Corinda begins with methods for memorising lists of objects. Next he gives some techniques for performing speedy mathematic calculations such has squaring, cubing and calculation of roots followed by a method of rapidly filling a 5 by 5 magic square. The step carries on in the same vein including some ideas for memorising and using stacked decks.
Step Four – Predictions
Corinda begins by explaining the value and nature of predictions, then moves on to covering a large number of techniques that could be employed by the mentalist to achieve the desired effect including switches, forces and even use of stooges. We then look at a number of effects designed for the stage and finally the drawing room.
Step Five – Blindfolds and X-Ray Eyes
This section begins with a humerous quote:
Child: “Mummy, what’s that man doing up there?”
Mother: “He’s putting on a Blindfold, my dear”
Child: “What’s a Blindfold, Mummy?”
Mother: “Something you wear so that you cannot see”
Child: “Why’s he wearing one, Mummy?”
Mother: “So that he can tell us what he’s looking at…”
Corinda begins by discussing different types of blindfolds that could be used: masks, silks, bags and even dough. After introducing us to methods of restricting our vision, he then let’s us in on techniques that can be used to glean information despite the blindfolds, including a section on “Patter and Movement During Performance”. The third section of the step details a number of tricks that can be performed using the techniques previously discussed including the heart stopping blindfolded driving of a car.
Step Six – Billets
This step is split into two sections. The first covers a number of techniques that can be used to obtain information from billets (a small piece of paper with undisclosed information on it – either folded or sealed in an envelope). This is generally through some form of switch or tear. The second section details a number of routines that can be performed including tricks by Stanley Jaks and Al Koran.
Step Seven – Book Tests
This step is different in style to previous steps as it describes ten different tricks that could come under the category “book tests”. It ends with an interview with Maurice Fogel discussing his work as a mentalist and some interesting performance tips.
Step Eight – Two Person Telepathy
As Corinda points out himself, this is a huge topic, and Corinda does a great job at covering the subject. He has two sections detailing a number of techniques to be employed under the headings “Major Systems” and “Minor Systems”. This includes use of verbal systems as well as electronic gimmickry. The final section has eight different routines that can be employed, each showing how difficult and time consuming this sort of act is too learn.
Step Nine – Mediumistic Stunts
Of all the steps – this is perhaps the most outdated one. I’m not sure anyone could really get away with ectoplasm production today – it is really a sign of the times. This basically covers the sort of effects mediums were performing turn of the century: spirit writing, ouija boards and the like. Interesting in a historical context, but personally not as useful as other steps in the series.
Step Ten – Card Tricks
Despite Corinda’s plea that card tricks do have a place in a mentalists act, I’m not entirely convinced. Despite this, there are a number of interesting card tricks detailed here, but to be honest if you want card tricks there are better books to be had.
Step Eleven – Question and Answer (Readings)
Now we are back on track with a step totally relevent to a mentalist act. It is split into two sections: dealing with questions that are known, and dealing with questions that are unknown. In “dealing with questions that are known” a number of techniques are supplied that can be used to obtain information. Much reference to previous steps is made (such as pencil reading and billet switching) along with a number of new (and very sneaky) techniques.
When “dealing with questions unknown”, again a number of techniques are described including a good introduction to cold reading.
Step Twelve – Publicity Stunts
As we reach the penultimate step, Corinda moves into a section that really covers the marketing of a mentalist. He discusses a number of ideas to create interest both in you and your act, then moves onto a number of large scale stunts and tricks that can be used to increase exposure. Again this step is perhaps beginning to show it’s age, but with a bit of imagination the same techniques can be updated and made relevant to today.
Step Thirteen – Patter and Presentation
The final step covers the following areas: the essentials of good performance, personal appearance, manner and speach, patter, good effects, handling, misdirection, co-ordination and finally an interview with Claude Chandler the vice-president of the Magic Circle at the time of publication. It is really a sequence of rules to making a good performance, and like all rules: once learned the skill is to know which ones to break.
Look, if you are interested in mentalism you have to read this book. You will disagree with some of it, already know some of it, and be inspired by other parts. One things for sure the 13 steps is one of the definitive tomes for a mentalist and will equip you with a wealth of techniques you can make use of in your own act. Buy it and I guarantee you will return to it again and again.