To: Subject: End of a project.... Drat! Date: Thu, 29 Feb

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From: James Randi --- Wizard To: Subject: End of a project.... Drat! Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 23:44:20 -0500 OKAY, I ADMIT IT: I WAS WORN DOWN BY ENDLESS QUESTIONS AND CHANGES OF PROTOCOL.... The Takahashi project in Japan is officially off. She's the Wonder Girl who totally fooled the parapsientists in Taiwan and in Japan with a ridiculously simple peeking trick that she said was ESP. She's 14 years old, cute as you can imagine, and as cunning as a tanuki. You should know the genesis of this development. Three nights ago I called to cancel the event -- for the first time -- simply because the producer had sent me an unacceptable contract which had all of the "psychic's" demands spelled out, and I don't do a test when the performer calls the shots. This operating priciple of mine was suggested by the dreadful fiasco that took place as a result of the modus operandi adopted by the Stanford Research Institute, where Geller was "tested" in 1971-2. We all know how that comedy of errors launched his transient rise to psychic stardom. Of course, the protocol I'd designed to test and trap Takahashi had to be kept secret, but in fear of losing the "psychic" and her miracles, the TV producers bowed to her every whim. They demanded to know how I was going to catch her, I'm sure so that she could be informed in advance. Well, I'm not about to reveal my methodology, which was worked out with the technicians at MIT, who are disappointed that they now won't be able to see a really clever bit of scientific technology at work to expose a "psychic" performance as a simple trick. Yesterday the Japanese producer called to tell me that Takahashi had agreed to all my requirements for a proper scientific examination of her powers, and I agreed to go through with the encounter -- though I told him that I was sure it was not Takahashi herself who had agreed to all this. She, alone, would know that she could not succeed in the tests. This morning, that fact became quite evident. I received a call saying that it was all "off" again, and that the former decision had been made by Takahashi's father, who apparently believes that his daughter can really do the trick by real psychic powers. So, no second confrontation will take place, though the Japanese producer has announced that he'll try to find another performer who will confront me.... Fat chance. HOW IT'S DONE -- WHEN SHE'S NOT CONTROLLED. Mai Takahashi's trick is done simply by wearing out her observers. She sits at a table with her forearms resting on the surface. A "target" is prepared by drawing a caligraph on a 2" X 3" piece of paper, then folding it in half once, and again at right-angles to the first fold. A piece of transparent sticky tape is wrapped in one direction around this twice-folded target paper. It is placed in the palm of her right hand, and a soft cloth bag (from a Crown Royal bottle!) is slipped over that hand and tied with the drawstring around her forearm, nearly at the elbow. Mai insists that the paper target never leaves the hand in which it is placed. But it does. When I was in Japan in November last, to do the first (and now probably the last, ever, test of her) we concealed a video camera among the overhead studio lights, directly over the girl. That camera was on continuously, recording. On the resulting videotape, the viewer sees that over a 20-minute period, the girl casually used her left hand to pluck at the side of the soft cloth bag, starting up near the area where her right hand held the concealed target, and slowly moved the plucking motion down the arm toward the opening in the bag, where it was tied shut, though not tightly. In small increments, Takahashi was moving the target along toward the opening. At the same time, she was slowly working the bag partly off her arm, almost to the point where the wrist was visible. Since her arm tapers, the gap between the bag and her arm was now very wide, and when she had brought the folded target to the opening where she could glimpse it, she did so. But we said that the target has been folded and taped. I ask you to do the following experiment: prepare a target as described, making a clear geometrical drawing. You will find that by squeezing the packet in the direction that the tape is wrapped, the free end opens up. There are three "pockets" produced. The center one just looks out the other side of the packet, but when you peek down into the other two, you see 50% of the drawing in each pocket. It takes only a little imagination to put the two halfs together in your mind. (Mind you, usually Takahashi uses targets with no tape at all; this makes her task much easier and much faster!) The only thing that remained now to complete her trick was for her to slowly work the target packet back up the length of the bag, along her arm, until it was back in her hand and folded up again, at which point she announced that she knew what the target drawing was, reproduced it with a pen on another piece of paper, and allowed the bag to be removed from her arm. The target packet was found, of course, in her hand where it had started its adventure 20 minutes earlier. (When that overhead tape is speeded up about 6 times, the whole operation is condensed into about 3 minutes, and it's very obvious what was being done.) When we prepared targets as described above and instituted no controls, Mai Takahashi was always successful in determining the contents; that's what we expected. But when we placed tape in TWO directions around the packet -- without telling her in advance -- she failed. There's a message here somewhere, but the parapsychologists didn't see it then, and will probably never see it. I want to thank the three Japanese scientists, Dr. Kazuhiro Yazawa (expert on oriental medicine), Kazuo Terakado (managing editor of "Newton" science magazine), and Prof. Yoshihiko Ohtsuki (professor of physics, Waseda University), who not only agreed with me on the modus of Takahashi's trick, but who served as expert witnesses in her failed test with me in November. Also, my friend Jun Jugaku is a prominent Japanese skeptic who participated in designing the protocol whereby Takahashi was controlled from doing her trick. I'll keep you all informed on any further developments in this typically strange drama... James Randi


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