In advance, secretly explain to one person (referred to as the mind-reader) a unique system behind your trick, eg the object after you point at something that is black will be the nominated object.
Later, gather your group including the mind-reader.
Invite a volunteer to step out of the room. Purposefully select the mind-reader you spoke to earlier.
Ask the rest of the group to nominate any random object that can be seen in the room, eg a guitar sitting in the corner.
Invite the mind-reader to re-enter the space.
Announce that you will start to point at a series of objects and the mind-reader must correctly identify which object was secretly nominated by the group, ie they respond with “NO” or “YES.”
After pointing to one or more objects, you deliberately point to any object in the room that is black.
Thus, when you point to the next item, the mind-reader will know that this is the nominated object.
Repeat this trick for multiple rounds.
Gradually provide more and more obvious clues with each round until everyone in the group understands the source of the ‘magic.’
How To Play Narrative
This ‘black magic’ exercise can be so much fun and will fill many idle minutes of your program. Here’s the most basic version I know.
Gather your group and seat them comfortably – they could be there for a while. Announce that you would like one person – a colleague, or one of your group members – to leave the area so that they can not see or hear what is about to transpire.
Upon their departure, explain to the rest of your group that you would like them to nominate any random object (that everyone can see) for this volunteer to identify when they return. Let’s say they pick the guitar sitting in the corner of the room. Cool.
The volunteer returns – you could refer to them as a mind-reader to build intrigue if you wish. Their task is to correctly identify the object that the group has just picked.
Now, what the group does not know is that in advance of the group assembling, you and this volunteer have discussed what the ‘trick’ is going to be. You are only limited by your imagination, but for now, I’ll use the ‘object-suggested-directly-after-a-black-object’ trick.
Here’s how it works. You welcome the ‘volunteer’ back into the group and announce that an object has been chosen. Then explain that you will suggest a particular item and their task is to confirm or deny if this is it.
For example, I might say, “IS IT THIS CHAIR?” and the volunteer will shake their head. “IS IT THE PLATE?” and again they shake their head. ‘IS IT THE SHOE?” again negative. But, this time, the volunteer mind-reader notes that the shoe is black, so this indicates that the next object will be ‘it.’
Pointing next at the chosen object, I say “IS IT MY GUITAR?” and the mind-reader will respond with an emphatic “YES.” Voila, and your group will sit there amazed with ‘How-did-they-do-that?’ written all over their faces.
In case you missed it, this is the trick.
The item pointed at directly after the first (and any) black item has been proffered is the secret item (nominated by the group.) Get it?
Repeat this process over and over. After several rounds, some folks will start to catch on. If so, test their new-found magical powers and invite them to become a mind-reader too.
However, if you are like me, and do not enjoy being left in the dark for too long, I will gradually provide more and more obvious clues to the group (so that they may catch on to the trick) until, at the very end, I explicitly describe what’s happening.
Perhaps you think that this ‘trick’ is too easy to pick? If so, try another ‘What’s The Key’ idea from the Variations tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
To help the mind-reader, be sure to choose an object that is mostly or wholly black, lest a little doubt may creep into their mind.
The beauty of this ‘trick’ is that you do not need a lot of time to prep your volunteer. In its most basic form, they simply need to know they should select the object directly after you have pointed at any black object. Give a couple of examples, and you’re done. Thirty seconds, max.
Please note, the point of lateral-thinking types of activities should not be to frustrate your group beyond enjoyment. They are designed to be fun but don’t play for more than 30 or 40 minutes. Gradually introduce more and more obvious clues so that, eventually, everyone gets the ‘key.’
Some groups may have an aversion to referring to this exercise as ‘black magic.’ The name is irrelevant, so if you think this could be an issue, use another name such as Garry’s Trick, intriguing Illusions or Mind-Reading Lesson 101.
Want to know more about the traditional understanding of Black Magic? Check out this article about the use of supernatural powers for evil or selfish purposes.
You could integrate Black Magic as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage healthy social interactions as much as expand their emotional literacy.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Recognising Strengths, Prejudices & Biases
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of enjoying a short brain teaser.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully identify the key speaks to the benefits of being mindful as much as tapping into one’s emotional intelligence. For example, you could also invite your group to reflect on a variety of social cues that may have been exhibited during the game that, if they had been observed, would have made the key easier to identify.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Black Magic could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Two After: As above, the nominated object is the second item pointed to after the black object is identified.
Red Magic: Agree (in advance) to identify any object of any colour to alert your ‘volunteer’ mind-reader to be aware that the next object pointed at will be the nominated object.
First Letter Matters: The first letter of the first word uttered to the mind-reader (as they re-enter the space) will inform the mind-reader that the nominated object starts with this letter. For example, I may say “GREAT, YOU’RE BACK, I WANT YOU…. “ blah blah blah, if the object in question starts with the letter G.
Agreed Signal: The mind-reader will be attuned to an agreed verbal or non-verbal signal from the leader directly before they point at the nominated object, eg clearing your throat (little cough) or crossing one’s arms on their chest, rubbing one’s eye, etc.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, viewing the backgrounds of each of your participants, identify one object that is coloured black and communicate this (secretly, via chat room facility) to your mind-reader. The game continues per normal.
As above, but identify one object or quirky design element that you can spy in the background of one of your participants. Challenge your group to identify the person whose background features this object. Start simple with something like “FIND THE RUBBER CHICKEN” or “FIND THE BOOK WITH A RED SPINE” and then progress to more difficult challenges such as “THE OBJECT WITH A GEOMETRIC SHAPE” or “OBJECT THAT ORIGINATES FROM INDIA.”
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Useful Framing Ideas
Everyone loves a bit of magic. In this next activity, you’ll be spell-bound for a short while, but I guarantee all of you will be able to work out what’s going on by the end…
A magician never reveals their tricks or illusions. But, if you listen and watch carefully, you might just work out what’s going on…
Can you perform a magic trick or illusion? I have a few tricks up my sleeve, watch this…
As much as we want to believe in magic, it’s not really true, is it? The illusion of the trick or magic is simply the physical and mental representation of a particular strategy that occurs as a result of a series of steps. Let’s see if you can work out what’s going on with this trick…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this intriguing group game:
Did you work out the ‘trick’ quickly? How did that feel?
What was the clue that helped you work out what was happening?
How did the group respond to those who did not work out the trick quickly?
What is the likely outcome when one or more people do not feel a part of the group?
What magic can you perform, in regards to a skill or talent that amazes other people?
Every person has a little bit of magic in them. What’s yours?
The inspiration for Black Magic, and many more lateral-thinking exercises, was sourced from the following publication: