How Doug Segal made me a mentalist

The mind-manipulating Fringe performer pulls prediction stunt with The List


This article is from 2013.

How Doug Segal made me a mentalist

There are two sealed envelopes in front of me, both signed and dated as shown above. Mentalist Doug Segal brought Envelope One to List HQ last week – it contains a prediction of something that's going to appear on page 18 of the next issue of The List (out today). It's written on a piece of paper that's been folded, folded and re-folded until there's no risk of being able to see what it might say (Envelope One is hardly see through anyway).

When he came to visit, Doug also coached me in making a prediction of my own. After a brief chat (during which he may or may not have implanted suggestions in my brain), he turned his back and told me to write a word on a scrap of paper. After writing it, I folded, folded and re-folded it, then put it in Envelope Two. The idea is that my secret word in Envelope Two will match a word written on the back of Doug's List prediction in Envelope One.

Some quick assurances: Doug had no way of knowing, last Thursday, what was going to be on page 18 of our new issue (we weren't entirely sure ourselves until the day before). Both envelopes have been kept safely secured in List HQ, and Doug has not been back in the building. I am in no way affiliated with Doug, nor is he with anyone else at The List.

The big reveal is today. Come back this afternoon to find out how things went down.


The envelopes have been opened, and the results are gob-smacking.


First, Doug got my prediction (Envelope Two) out of the way. He theorised that I had picked alligator because, during our initial conversation, he'd brought up the Jungian archetype of the 'Ouroboros', or dragon (and what with dragons being quite thin on the ground in common Western thought, an alligator or crocodile would be a close enough match). My knowledge of Jungian archetypes not being quite as extensive as Doug's, I'll simply believe that he told me to think of a word beginning with the first letter that came into my head (which, because I'm unimaginative, was A).

Secondly, and much more impressive (to my mind anyway), were his Envelope One predictions about the content on page 18. I've posted picture below in which you can see how his predictions of topic, headline and keywords have panned out. What I'd draw attention to, however, is his mention of the word 'ordinary' – even if he had supposed that we would cover the Granta event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival; and even if he had guessed that we'd go for a headline mentioning the words 'old' and 'new'; and even if he'd taken a fairly confident punt at which book jackets we'd use to best illustrate the piece – how did he know that the page would be laid out in such a way that 'extraordinary' would be cut to read 'ordinary'?

While you ponder that, I'll add a few more disclaimers: I opened the envelopes myself (these envelopes bearing my signature, mind), and at no point did I see Doug add or remove anything from them. If you have any theories on how he did it, you're welcome to add them below, but me? I'm flummoxed. And happily so.

This article is from 2013.

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