Tag Archives: MN Skeptics

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!

Photos: Minnesota Skeptics Meetup Group!

2 Jun

I thought I’d post some pics of our lovely skeptics at some of our lovely MN Skeptic’s Meetups. [almost] All photos were taken by our resident awesome photographer, Craig Mullenbach.

That’s Jessie, Todd[‘s reflection], and Travis being sugary-sweet, as always.

Todd, giving an impromptu lecture to his one audience member, Casey. Who’s obviously enthralled and apparently genuflecting.

Another group shot of Drinking Skeptically. Seen here: Jessie & Jack imitating the pearl-clutching & pouty behavior creationists are known to exhibit. Jack is also the head of Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group, but he knows where the cool kids r at. 😉  (j/k guys)

We like to talk with our hands a lot.

That chick in the purple: Lead Organizer. (thinks she’s the shiznit)

Halloween 2010 Drinking Skepchickally.
Carrie, Brianne, myself, Erica (eh..boys don’t count)
I LOVED Erica’s costume by the way. She was a ghost hunter. Can you see the little ghost she has rigged up to the back of her costume? That’s so every time she turned her head, she – like the actual ghost hunters – could never quite catch one in her sight.

Nate, Jim, & Jessie. Nate’s demonstrating to Jessie how he does the Vulcan neck-pinch. He also used to be Ray Kurzweil’s roommate at MIT. Show-off.

This one’s my favorite because I took it and it turned out perfect. 😛 You can even see the JREF logo on Travis’ shirt.
Hey, if your going to advertise your stupid woo on your car, don’t park near a skeptics’ meetup.


Many more photos on our meetup site: http://www.minnesotaskeptics.org. Become a member. It’s free!

9/11 Truther Sighting and a MN Skeptics Win

23 May

by Brianne Bilyeu aka biodork

In the Heart of the Beast Theater (HOBT) hosts an annual May Day Parade in Minneapolis. The first part of the parade consists of HOBT-chosen themes and elaborate masks and puppetry, and the second part is reserved for “Free Speech”. Anyone can present any message (as long as it is delivered in a peaceful manner and is appropriate for an audience that has young children present), and this May these guys marched:

Dude’s poster reads:








Which is a whole lot to fit on a tiny poster, so hats off to their designer.

I support their right to march, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get offended when they go by. I am offended on a rational level – the arguments for 9/11 being an inside job, as catalogued by 911truth.org, consist of unsubstantiated assertions, speculation and fallacious claims. And on an admittedly less rational level, as a human being and an American citizen I am offended that Truthers think that anyone – let alone an entire group of our own nation’s leaders – could accept the consequences of the worst terrorist attack on American soil and against the American people as a justifiable means to…shift more spending to military defense? Give us an excuse to attack Iraq? To acquire cheaper gas? To pass the Patriot Act?

I’m not writing to debunk 9/11 Truther claims – that’s been done already by scientists, investigators and awesome websites like Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories,which answers all of the legitimate questions raised by 9/11 Truthers. Rather, I’m writing to point out a local Truther Sighting, and to share a small success for those of us who are against conspiracy wingnuttery:

In April the MN Skeptics had a gentleman stop by who was very interested in 9/11 conspiracy theories. He had seen a movie called Loose Change, which questions the official 9/11 reports, and he came to our MN Skeptics meeting with a bunch of “inside job” ideas. I’m proud to say that he wasn’t heckled or laughed at by any of our members. People were very interested in speaking with him, but did insist that he support his assertions and were quick to point out when his arguments were weak.

I left long before the conversation wound down, and I thought that it was the last I’d see of him. But at our next meetup I learned that the gentleman had come to a MN Skeptics Newbie Night. He said that when he was hanging out with us people had given him lots of resources for looking into the arguments, and that after doing some more research he was rethinking a lot of the assertions made by Loose Change.

Critical thought, evaluating the evidence, and MN Skeptics FTW!