Progressive anagrams are certainly one of the most powerful tools that a mentalist can employ in the performances. (If you don’t know about progressive anagrams – sorry, this will all be very confusing).
If you’ve spent any time using them, you’ll know they can take ages to create. I’ve made a little tool that automates the process and produces pretty decent anagram trees. Just enter the list of words you want to use:
One of the drawbacks of progressive anagrams as they are often performed is that they use quite small sets of data. It might be star signs, months of the year and so on – but you can get really good results by widening out the number of choices.
So rather than having the 12 months of the year – you could ask someone to think of a popular fruit, a name of a friend, a make of car or any other “big group” of things.
Obviously it isn’t practical to have a list of 1000 words in your anagram tree – but using some psychological principles and other tricks you can significantly shorten these near “unlimited” categories into something more manageable. Once you have this more manageable list – you need to put it into the anagram maker to build your tree. You probably won’t cover 100% of choices with your shortened list – but if you can cover 70%-90% of the choices that is pretty amazing. Here’s how you can build you lists – and I’ve love to hear about any good lists you’ve managed to make.
First of all you can play statistics. If you are asking people to think of a fruit you know that most of the time people will think of common things like apples, oranges, bananas and pears. They are less likely to think of dragon fruit or passion fruit because they simply aren’t very common.
Second you can verbally eliminate – asking someone to think of a make of car “something like a Ford or a Toyota” has the effect of eliminating Ford and Toyota from the available choices and therefore reduces the size of your list.
Third you can play tricks with the names of the things in the list – so if you asked someone to think of a name, you could ask them to shorten the name to the usual “short form” of the name. This means that Alex stays as Alex, Alexander becomes Alex, Alexandra becomes Alex, Alexi becomes Alex, Alexa becomes Alex and so on. This means that you can have “Alex” on your anagram list, but actually use it to cover half a dozen variants. With 30 or so names on your anagram list you can cover a lot of ground here.
Fourth, you can use the word the person is thinking of to jump to another ‘shorter’ list. So if you ask someone to think of a surname (with really unlimited possibilities) you can then ask them to look at how many letters there are in that surname, or the first letter of the surname, or the last letter, or the first syllabal etc – and use that information to think of something else which doesn’t have unlimited possibilities. You can reveal this second thing they are thinking of using your progressive anagram and then use a nail writer to show that you also knew what they were thinking of originally.