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To the amazement of the crowd nearly one third of them stand up. “I knew it!” shouts the mentalist, “but I almost didn’t pick 37; I thought of 39 at first. How many of you picked 39?” Over half the audience is now standing, to wild applause.
I think I pulled that example from Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, but it’s been so long since I’ve read the book that I’m no longer sure. Let’s figure out the trick. If I asked you to guess a number between one and 50, fair odds say you’d get it right 2% of the time. The mentalist does a great deal better than that. How? He isn’t asking for a number between one and fifty.