Banachek Visits the University of Minnesota

4 Dec

by Brianne Bilyeu aka biodork

Banachek is a world-renowed mentalist, magician and skeptic. He is the director of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge. He has helped expose frauds and phonies who prey on people for money and fame. And last Thursday he stopped in at the University of Minnesota for a one-night-only show in the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial. I heard about the event via Facebook, so much thanks to the person who included me on the invite!

Banachek guides the audience into choosing the exact same phone number that he chose before the show – one specific number out of all possible in the entire Minneapolis white pages!

The Hubby and I walked into the hall at about 6:45pm – 15 minutes prior to the show start – to find maybe 30 people in the gigantic hall and Banachek pacing the aisles. We were greeted by Banachek as we came in and were recruited into his opening demonstration – more on that later. By the time the show started, there were maybe 100-200 people in the audience, including a good showing of people from the Minnesota Skeptics, Minnesota Atheists (MNA) and of course, from the host group of the event, Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (CASH).

A heavily blindfolded (yes, that’s black duct tape under the mask) Banachek has just correctly guessed that a seemingly random object provided by a seemingly random audience member being held above his head by a different audience member is a long screw.

The Opening Trick. Fool moi, the skeptic? Surely not!

The opening bit was a card/”body language reading” trick.  Before I tell you the audience’s perspective, I have to go back to when the Hubby and I walked into the auditorium. When Banachek greeted us, he had a deck of cards in his hands. He shuffled the deck and had the Hubby and I flip the middle of the deck up halfway so that we could see one card, but so that Banachek couldn’t. We were told to think very hard about the card, to remember it because he might call on us during the show to try and guess our card. He told us that he was going to use our body language to guess which cards we had drawn.

When the show started, Banachek told the entire audience to think of a card, any card from a deck. Then he picked four people from the audience, who I’m sure appeared random to most observers (BUT: he never claimed we were random – I listened to his language. It’s the audience’s fault for assuming such, if they did!), and then one by one correctly guessed each of our cards.

He made a big show out of reading our body language – how we were holding our hands, our arms, where we were pointing our eyes, etc. He even called me out as probably being with one of the skeptics’ groups because I was trying so hard not to give anything away, which was true. 

Since Banachek explicitly states that he’s not a mind reader, and since how I hold my body or eyes can’t give anything away about which card out of 52 I might be thinking about, and since he didn’t verbally manipulate me into thinking about a certain card (remember I drew my card before the show), it didn’t matter how I held my body. I’m guessing that any little thing I did was enough of a prop for him to work/act with. But I forgot all of that in the heat of the moment. Then and there, standing up among an entire room full of people, with The Magician hemming and hawing as he looked me up and down for any clues he could glean, he made me feel like I was making it hard for him, like he knew that I knew that he was up to trickery and wow, wasn’t I clever, but look – he still managed to read me because he’s The Great Banachek! And that’s where the magic happened.

After the fact I can think back, and I’m assuming the trick was over before the show started – that he did some variation on physically catching a hold of the cards we drew, or cutting our cards to the top of the deck, or  influencing which card we drew… but it looked – and felt – really impressive when he did it! Even to someone who was somewhat in on the trick.

And that was just the first five minutes.

Banachek reassures a dubious Minnesota Skeptics’ Organizer Melissa Lee about his upcoming knife roulette trick.

The rest of the show was even more spectacular than the opening. Banachek is a great performer. He engaged the audience and drew us in with his voice, his arm motions, the way he paced the stage and fiddled with his props. 

At one point he had an audience member hand out 20 sheets of paper to 20 people in the crowd. He had those with paper write down their first name, an interesting fact about themselves and a number from an address or phone number. The papers were collected by an audience member and placed in a bag. Throughout the show he used various methods to accurately guess all three of the pieces of information from several of the papers, including a very odd and obscure fact about one woman who celebrates her fish’s birthday by buying ice cream cake for herself!

Banachek prepares to get “stabbed” in the stomach by an audience member in a tense scene from his knife roulette act.

At the end of the show he spoke about some of his work with the James Randi Educational Foundation. He shared the story of how he and another young man tricked psychical researchers into believing that they had psychic abilities. He spoke about his role in uncovering Peter Popoff’s lucrative faith-healing con (psst…his wife was feeding him information via an earpiece that he then claimed were messages from God).  He gave us time to ask questions, and he took time to answer them.

Banachek helps an audience member bend a spoon with “the power of her mind”!

Throughout the show, Banachek wove in stores and lessons about his act. He emphasized over and over that nothing he did was supernatural. He explicitly showed us how he manipulated us into providing information or how he guided audience members into choosing specific options. On several occasions he’d say “Did that feel like a free choice? It wasn’t.” But he didn’t give away all of his tricks – or even most of them! It was a great show. I would love to see him again, and if you ever have a chance to catch one of his performances, I do recommend you attend!

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2 Responses to “Banachek Visits the University of Minnesota”

  1. Carol December 4, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Excellent write up and photos Brianne! You wrote it exactly how it went that night, and more interesting that he greeted you and Hubby with a deck of cards…aha. But still, all in all it was a fun, fabulous and magical show. Hes great at what he does.

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  1. Banachek Visits University of Minnesota « Biodork - December 4, 2011

    […] read the rest of my article, please go here to the Minnesota Skeptics blog. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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