Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Living and Dead Test: Sharp Pencil

Using a keenly sharpened pencil point as the means of determining the first name of several written by a spectator—which is the name of a dead person, while other names are of the living—is a classic and enduring method. Its inventor has gone uncredited, but in the September 1930 issue of The Sphinx, Vol. 29 No. 7, p. 272, Al Baker claims the idea as his. He wrote that the method was “created by myself many years ago, and when I gave it to the late Houdini, he said it was the cleverest idea he had ever seen. I understand it is now being marketed and mention the above so that you may know where the effect originally started.” Further, Baker's idea was recorded in December 1923 in Eugene Bulson's notebooks; see The Secret Ways of Al Baker, edited by Todd Karr, 2003, p. 718.