How many men have tried and failed? Could Derren Brown, the self-styled master illusionist, finally prove that the house could be broken?
Apparently not. Let’s set the scene:
Brown has managed some pretty extraordinary and straight-up outlandish feats: hypnotizing men and women out of money, compelling them to sit hard and fast on their chairs unable to move. One of his most outlandish experiments was a nationwide exercise in remote viewing manipulation. Brown asked the curator of the Science Museum to paint a canvas that would subsequently be covered and placed on display in the museum (with the cover). Visitors were invited to drawwhat they thought was on the canvas behind the shroud, an exercise repeated with the show’s viewers at home on the day of Brown’s televised premiere. Both the live museum audience and the at-home viewers drew trains, Stonehenge, horses and concentric circles. The latter image (concentric circles) comprised the majority of drawings and sure enough, this is what was drawn on the canvas upon the great reveal. How did he do it? Brown said that he had arranged for adverts to be placed in all the major newspapers with subliminal directives to draw concentric circles on the day of the great reveal. Although it wouldn’t guarantee a 100% success rate, as many as 35% of people drew concentric circles of some kind.
Mad skills on the roulette table
The next month, Brown decided that he was going to attempt to beat the odds at the roulette table by taking into account the speed and trajectory of the ball and wheel interaction. So he garnered £5000 from on-the-street public money (acquired, supposedly from hypnosis) and vowed to his hypnotized subjects that he would win them £175 000. The result? A failure for Brown – he made an incorrect prediction, alas, wagering the full £5000 on black 8 while the winning number was in red 30. Red 30 was directly adjacent to Brown’s original prediction. It’s hard to call it a “complete failure” as many commentators did, because Brown’s prediction was still uncannily close to the actual number that was selected. Certainly, it was an anti-climax of epic proportions, and even the stage hand with a large cheque for £180 000 had to sheepishly step back into the shadows when it was realized that Brown had been wrong and no amount of illusion could change the selected number.
Men have tried. Men have failed. There exist a handful of stories of men who have been successful at roulette but they are in the huge minority. Charles Wells, the man credited with “breaking the bank” using a lucky streak and a high-risk grand martingale won a million francs in 11 hours in the late nineteenth century. Joseph Jagger found a kink in one of the roulette wheels at Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo, scamming $300 000 over four days. But these stories are exceptional because they’re so rare, and almost always stand as either an event anomaly or a case of being at the right place at the right time. Let Derren Brown stick to hypnosis. Roulette is still king for another day.