Sunday, January 27, 2008

REVEALED: E-mail Sent to "The System" Participants By Derren Brown's Producers

A volunteer who participated in Derren Brown's "The System" special has posted a copy of the 25 January 2008 e-mail she received from Objective Productions (the company that produces Derren Brown's shows). The accompanying blog entry reveals details of the production:

1. participants were selected by responding to a newspaper advertisement (about 4 months ago);
2. respondents went through an audition process including on-camera interviews;
3. they were not informed that Derren Brown was involved; and
4. participants received an e-mail with a tip on a horserace, and instructions that they should not place a bet on the race.

All of this is consistent with a comment left on this blog by another participant in the show, and with my own prediction about the upcoming special (see The Secret of Derren Brown's "The System" -- A Friendly Wager).

The show airs this Friday (February 1, 2008) at 9 PM on Channel 4.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Newspapers Ask Derren Brown About Upcoming Special

With Derren Brown's new special less than one week away, media attention has finally turned his way. In the past 24 hours, several news sources have discussed the upcoming program:

The Times reported DB's comments about the System.
The Telegraph ran a similar piece.
The Daily Record had a short write-up about the show.

Each article asks the big question: How does Derren Brown do it?

If you want the answer, read this statement by an anonymous participant in The System who left a comment on my recent entry entitled The Secret of Derren Brown's "The System" -- A Friendly Wager.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Drawing Moral Lessons from Derren Brown

Derren Brown once said: "I don't think magic is about meaning,...the moment magicians try and slap some kind of dramatic meaning on it, they miss the point. It should be about magic, not preaching."

Despite DB's anti-meaning stance, reporters frequently use his performances as the basis of moral analogies. This week, an article about soccer used one of DB's cold reading routines as a lesson in human vanity. Nicely done.

On a completely different note --

As of this writing, 25 people have signed up for my free challenge relating to DB's upcoming special, The System. There are 75 slots remaining -- see prior blog post for entry instructions -- with one week to go before the broadcast.

For those who have already entered: the prize (a DB autobiography) is coming along nicely, and will definitely be worth your while.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Change of Broadcast Date for Derren Brown's "The System"

The date of Derren Brown's new special, "The System," has apparently changed. I previously reported that it would be shown on January 25, 2008, and as of yesterday Derren's official site still listed that date in its News section.

The excellent magic site, iTricks, tipped me off to the fact that the date had been changed. Derren's site now lists February 1 as the big day. Yahoo also listed February 1 in a recent announcement of the show, as did today's Daily Mail interview of Derren Brown.

So U.K. viewers will have to wait until February 1, 9 PM for their next Derren fix (while those of us in the U.S. wait even longer).

The upside is that you have a few more days to join in my wager. If my prediction about Derren's show is wrong, you get a free copy of his biography.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Secret of Derren Brown's "The System" -- A Friendly Wager

I will give out free copies of Derren Brown's biography if I do not correctly predict the secret behind The System, Derren's new TV special. Read on to see how to qualify for the free book. But first, my prediction:

The Prediction

In my prior entry I made some predictions about what Derren Brown's upcoming special, "The System," might be about. In a comment to that entry, Zing kindly pointed me to a press release which reveals the following:

Derren Brown has a system for winning at the horses. In this one-hour special, the maestro of mind control anonymously tells a single mum from London which horse will win at the next day’s races – again and again – culminating in a final, massive bet…. As Derren reveals: “I took a random member of the public and I told her which horse would win in a certain race; when it did win she was intrigued and I did it again and again and she started to bet more and more money according to my system. She's scraped together every last penny she could find and she is risking it all on one final race. Is it really possible to predict every time which horse will win? Welcome to The System."

After reading this passage, I realized how Derren could accomplish the feat of correctly predicting horse races. I wrote up my prediction and posted it in a comment. Here is the essence of it:

The woman referenced above will receive predictions from Derren about which horse will win at the tracks. She will receive several consecutive predictions, and each prediction will be correct. She will therefore come to believe that the person giving her the predictions has a system for predicting future winners. She will then have to decide whether to stake her entire financial future on the outcome of his next prediction by betting her life savings on a race.

But Derren's accurate predictions will not be as miraculous as they seem. Say there are six horses in a typical race (I know nothing about horse-racing, so my choice of six is arbitrary). Derren Brown will send race "predictions" anonymously to a large number of people (thousands, probably). His predictions will be random, so that one-sixth of the recipients receive each of the predictions.

Consequently, one in six of the prediction recipients will find that the prediction was correct. Derren will then contact these "winners" with predictions for the next race. And he will repeat this process, contacting only the winners each time, until he gets down to a single person who has received numerous correct predictions in a row.

He will then give her a prediction on the next race. We all know that the final prediction will have only a one-in-six (or however many horses there are) chance of being correct, but after receiving several correct predictions she might trust DB's ability to pick winners. We will have to wait and see.

Obviously, other Derren Brown tricks will be featured in the program, but this will be the big one. I do not have any inside source of information. I have not received any tips or anything like that. But after reading the above press release, I am quite confident that I have figured out The System.

I am not going to simply wait to see if I'm right, though. I am willing to make a bet.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Currently, I am in the process of writing an unauthorized biography of DB. This was not my intent when I began this blog, but as I researched his life, I became sufficiently interested to write a full-length biography.

If I am wrong about my prediction, I will give a free copy of the e-book version of this biography to the first 100 people who leave a comment on this blog entry. You do not have to leave an actual message – just your e-mail address. The comment must be left prior to the January 25, 2008 broadcast of The System. [broadcast date has changed to February 1, 2008]

I obviously cannot e-mail you the free e-book until it is released. I expect it to be completed (and available for purchase on this blog) no later than March 25, 2008, but I cannot guarantee that date.

This little wager hopefully will make the wait for Derren Brown's new special even more suspenseful.

[UPDATE: So obviously I won the bet. But I did eventually write an e-book about Derren Brown, which you can read about at my Mind Stunts blog entry.]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Derren Brown - The System -- Preview and Predictions

The latest Derren Brown special, entitled "The System," is less than two weeks away. It will air on January 25th, 2008 on Channel 4 in the UK. Tragically, I will not have access to this broadcast because DB specials are net yet shown in the U.S.

But I am still excited to find out what the new special is about. DB's official website currently gives no clues. Neither does Channel 4's site.

I am going to make a few predictions. First, though, let's review Derren's past specials:

1. Russian Roulette, broadcast October 5, 2003, was the most sensational. For months in advance, Channel 4 advertised that DB would risk death by playing Russian roulette on TV. And the trick was preceded by a nationwide search for a suitable volunteer.
By way of contrast, there has been very little advance buzz for "The System" and no disclosure (to my knowledge) of the special's subject matter.

2. Seance aired on May 31, 2004. DB held a live seance on television and encouraged viewers at home to join in. After various supernatural manifestations, he revealed that it was all a sham. Like Russian Roulette, Seance was hyped for months in advance. Also like Russian Roulette, the name of the "Seance" special made obvious what the show was about.
The current special, vaguely titled "the System," gives no hint of its content.

3. Messiah debuted January 7, 2005. DB attempted to convince five authorities in religious/new-age fields that he possessed supernatural powers. Four of the five accepted his claims. Although the title "Messiah" was ambiguous, it at least hinted at the show's subject matter. Anyone aware of DB's atheism and penchant for debunking the supernatural might have guessed what the special would be about.

4. The Gathering was broadcast May 29, 2005. Unlike the prior specials, this one was actually a stage show. It was peformed before a limited audience eleven days prior to the broadcast.

5. The Heist (January 4, 2006) was perhaps Derren's most intriguing special. Through various forms of influence, he conditioned ordinary people to commit armed robbery. The broadcast was very theatrical and polished.


Does the above list of past broadcasts point toward an obvious choice for DB's next special? Mmm... if it does, I'm missing the pattern.

Here are my thoughts on possible meanings for "The System":

1. I think it is likely that DB is going to teach a system of some kind to one or more volunteers (and/or to the viewing audience).
I hope the special is about a system for beating casinos. Remember the episode where DB taught an elderly woman to beat world-class poker players? What if he taught a basically inept person how to clean out casinos in various different games? I would like to see that. He might be criticized for repeating an old trick, though.

2. DB could be debunking a system of belief. He has been quite preachy about his atheism, and I would not be surprised to see him devote an hour to attacking supernatural powers of some kind. That would be a lot like the Messiah special, though. Let's hope he has come up with something completely new.

3. It could be another stage show (e.g., to promote his new tour). I doubt it, though, because the prior live show was called "the Gathering," which seems much more applicable than "the System."

O.K., that's enough speculating for now. We will all know what the special is about very soon. In the meantime, let me know if you have any guesses of your own.

*** Be sure to read the comments (below) which add significant information to my predictions ***

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Be Like Derren, Part 4: Speed-Reading People

The better you understand people, the better you are at manipulating them -- 0r reading their minds. In a 2003 interview, Derren Brown revealed that one of the skills he uses as a mentalist is an ability to read people:

I'm looking for their [ psychological] triggers, what filters they have for the outside world, what buttons to press,... If I do that quickly I know I can get a response.

DB does not explain how he reads people, but there are many books on the subject.

I recommend The Art of Speed Reading People by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. It is based on the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a psychology-based personality test. I have been interested in the Keirsey test for years and have read many books on the subject. The Tieger book is by far the easiest to understand.

The book teaches you to categorize people in four areas:

Introvert vs. Extrovert
iNtuitive vs. Sensing
Thinking vs. Feeling
Judging vs. Perceiving

Once you know a person's type (e.g., my type is INTJ), you can make certain accurate generalizations about them. The Tieger book teaches you specific phrases to use with the different types, and they work well for me. [By the way, if you have never taken the Keirsey test yourself, you should -- you can even do it on-line.]

I just looked this Tieger book up on On the product page there is a section entitled, "What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing Items Like This?" Four items were listed -- the book itself, a book on body language, one on NLP, and one on mentalism tricks. Clearly, I am not the only one who thinks this book is helpful for aspiring mentalists.

I do not know what system(s) Derren Brown uses to read people. The Kiersey test is useful, but there are plenty of other approaches. The important principle is that to be like DB, one must focus on other people and learn to make intelligent judgments about them, and specifically about what type of persuasion will be effective with them.

For more "Be Like Derren" info, see the list of Recommended Materials.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sense About Science Praises Derren Brown

Following up its 2007 report about how celebrities mislead the public on scientific issues, Sense About Science has issued a report praising Derren Brown for providing correct scientific information to his audiences.

O.K., the report actually focuses on celebrity blunders and only notes DB in passing. But it's a positive note. The full report can be found here.

And here is the excerpt about Derren (from page 2):

...some people in the public eye have been active in promoting stronger public understanding of science. For example Derren Brown provided information on peer reviewed science to his audience. But a small group of people in the public eye promote pseudoscience without embarrassment and cannot be dissuaded from it.

It is ironic that a mentalist/illusionist (i.e., someone who misleads people as a form of entertainment) is praised for the accuracy of his information -- but there it is.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Interviews with Derren Brown

I regularly cite to Derren Brown interviews but have difficulty finding them. To remedy this problem, I am creating the definitive list of DB interviews (with links) on this page.

Go ahead -- set your bookmark. This is a humble beginning, but the list will expand over time:


2003-02-01 - Guardian
2003-02-23 - Guardian
2003 -06-01 - London Times (a day-in-the-life piece by Derren Brown)
2003-06-03 - This is London
2003-06-29 - Jamy Ian Swiss
2003-10-04 - Times On-Line
2003-10-13 - London Times (click on the "print" button to view this one)
2004-04-15 - The Independent
2004-07-?? - Fortean Times
2004-09-17 - Magic Cafe -- responses to various posted questions
2005-02-28 - Telegraph
2005-03-26 - New York Times
2005-06-02 - Official London Theatre Guide
2005-07-23 - Bad Psychics
2006-03-01 - Model Magazine
2007-07-30 - Sci Fi Weekly (
2007-08-08 - Quick Stop Entertainment

Unknown date

??? - BBC Video Interview
??? - Magic Week
??? - Grand Theatre Blackpool (pdf format)