The ideal audience for illusion is neither a child’s birthday party nor whatever section of the Luxor in which Criss Angel has his residency; rather, it’s a barstool. Bargoers are skeptical, yet ready to be amazed, in a way that most others are not, making them perfectly primed for the kind of mind tricks Richard Wiseman has up his sleeve. Unlike a magician, who must keep those tricks close to the vest, though, Wiseman’s explanations are readily available on YouTube.
When Wiseman makes a bar bet with you, you are going to lose. The British professor and performer doesn’t leave that kind of thing to chance. His findings in illusion, persuasion, and even self-help have been published in world-class academic journals and cited in textbooks. His own best-selling books on luck and the like have been translated into over 30 languages. But Wiseman is fast becoming best known for his Quirkology series, the YouTube channel of which has racked up over 90 million views, lately on the strength of his Bets You Will Never Lose.
“These kind of bets are designed to impress anyone, but they do especially well at bars,” Wiseman says. “Consider that many of them use bar ephemera such as beer bottles, ice cubes, and match sticks as props.”
No matter the alcoholic underpinnings of picking up a bottle with a straw, or dropping a dollar right through someone’s fingers every time, these illusions actually have a basis in science. Wiseman made a video a few years ago showing off some science stunts he’d either picked up over the years or devised himself. When these proved popular enough to inspire follow-ups, Wiseman’s research lead him to discover the basis for several bar bets, which needed very little refinement.
“Most of them are very, very old,” the performer says. “They date back years and appear in magic magazines and books. I have quite a big library of that kind of material, so I often use that as a source of inspiration.”
Although most entries in the 10 Bets You Will Always Win series require props, what often makes them work is what the person who accepts the bet is bringing to the table. “Nearly all of the bets are based on psychology,” Wiseman says. “Often they work because of lateral thinking, or because you have made an assumption that turns out to be wrong, or some kind of obscure science principle. Either way, it is all about what is going on in people’s minds. I guess that’s why I love them so much—they’re cool ways of exploring what’s going on between your ears right now.” He adds, “People give me three minutes of their time and they get 10 fun ideas. That seems like a good deal to me.”
Watch Professor Wiseman’s best bets so far in the slide show above.