Craig Karges, a.k.a. “The Mentalist,” brought his award-winning act to Williams last Friday night. Fifteen minutes before the show, Goodrich Hall was totally packed. The atmosphere in the room was one of anticipation and suspended skepticism; the most common thought was probably “all right, let’s see how well this guy can scam me.” So when The Mentalist finally emerged from the double doors on to the stage of Goodrich, it was to a great burst of applause.
Craig Karges is not a tall man, but he is broad and has the presence of someone much larger. He wore a suit and a t-shirt, and he had a noticeable southern accent. He opened his act by claiming that intuition is the great untapped resource of our minds. He said explicitly that he is neither a magician nor a psychic and that all he does is harness intuition (the 90 percent of our brains that we do not use) to do his tricks. He is, he said frankly, an entertainer â€“ and a very successful one, at that.
For twelve consecutive years, he has been the most popular variety entertainer on the college circuit. He has appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Larry King Live” and “the Late Show with David Letterman,” among others. He also wrote a book, “Ignite your Intuition,” which he sold to Williams students after the show. As his website (www.CraigKarges.com) says, and as he told the audience himself, “Craig Karges has a standing offer of $100,000, payable to charity, if anyone can prove he uses stooges, confederates from the audience or hidden assistants to accomplish his demonstrations.”
Each one of The Mentalist’s tricks seemed more impossible than the last. He guessed the correct serial number on a foreign bill that a randomly selected student, Craig Olshan ’05, brought up on stage. He put his hand up to the bill without touching it, and wore five layers of duct tape and a blindfold over his eyes. He guessed that there was a Bethany in the room, and then, in perhaps his most miraculous trick of the night, guessed that she had been thinking two totally unrelated thoughts: “Captain Kirk is hot,” and “Atomic bombs are great.” He guessed that there was someone in the room with the name of Follansbee, and when there was in fact a Robert Follansbee ’04, he wrote what he thought Follansbee was thinking on a white board that the audience could not see. Follansbee said that he had been thinking “Beat Wesleyan,” and The Mentalist immediately flipped the board around, revealing the words “Beat Wesleyan.” The crowd went crazy.
But his feats were not limited to the mental, despite his name. In what he referred to as his own favorite “physical demonstration,” The Mentalist levitated a wooden table, covered with a scarf, after first getting a member of the audience to verify that its surface was neither spongy nor round nor magnetic.
In his last trick, he almost sacrificed his paycheck; he asked Drew Newman ’04, treasurer of the Student Activities Council, to give him his check. Once he had it, he put it into an envelope, then put two identical slips of paper into two identical envelopes and sealed all three. He then called on a volunteer, Charlie Baschnagel ’05, to shuffle the envelopes, label them with the numbers one, two and three, and choose one of them. Charlie chose envelope number three and, without even looking at it, The Mentalist told someone to shred the other two checks. Then, before opening the remaining envelope and seeing if it contained the check, he told the audience that he had actually lost his paycheck four times, and that if he destroyed it this time, he would flatly refuse a replacement (as he had the other times). After much suspense, he opened the envelope and revealed his paycheck.
After the show, The Mentalist performed one last trick for the small group of students that had circled around him. He took a key out of his bag and placed it down on the palm of his hand. Then, looking at it with great concentration, he slowly made it turn, as though it was in a door, until the flipped over and fell to the other side of his hand. He explained that he could control all of the muscles in his body, both consciously and sub-consciously, when he really concentrated. He said that his physical tricks have a lot to do with the mind-body connection.
He reiterated that he was not a psychic. He said that he just knew how to read a crowd â€“ how to tell who the people were who would respond to a certain demonstration and which people fit into which categories. His work is a combination of psychology, mystery and intuition.
“No matter where I perform, I try to make my audience feel they are a part of something they have never experienced before and hopefully will never forget. My goal is to entertain people through the creation of mystery and to get them to open their minds to greater possibilities,” said Karges. Judging by the number of books that he sold to Williams students, he was very successful on Friday night.