I’d like to tell you about something deliciously ingenious.
I haven’t been this excited about a mentalism item since I discovered n**l w**t**s.
It’s practical, very useful and opens up a world of tantalising possibilities.

The story starts at the most recent Blackpool Magic Festival.

Stephen kindly proceeded to demonstrate something he calls his Pho-Psy-Pro deck (which I’ll shorten to PPP for this article), and I could instantly see it was superb, practical and brilliant. So, what exactly is it? It’s a prop, a system and a breathtakingly beautiful idea, beautifully executed by someone who has ‘quality control’ flowing through his veins. It consists of 65 photo cards the same size as a Bicycle Poker deck. The cards are all good quality. The face of each card bears a photo that was taken by Stephen himself, so there are no copyright problems and no chance of the photos being recognised from another source. The photos have deliberately been chosen to embody certain key words and themes, but at the same time to allow plenty of latitude for subjective interpretation.

The back of each card consists of a black and grey typographical array of typical themes that crop up in readings, such as travel, health, education, sex, money and so on. This back design, though quite pleasing on the eye, is intentionally rather uninteresting in its own right, and certainly a lot less interesting than the photos on the faces of the cards.
The cards also contain several secret features. I won’t say what they are because the only people who need to know about them are those smart enough to buy the deck. I will say they are pleasingly and deceptively subtle.
The deck was originally called the Psychological Profile deck, and the basic presentational idea goes like this. A spectator takes the cards, looks through the photos, chooses three or four that appeal to her for any reason or none and places them face down on the table. You then proceed to give her a detailed psychological reading which happens to refer to the kinds of themes and images you think she would most likely be drawn to. Your reading turns out to be remarkably accurate — almost as if you are psychically sensing the pictures she selected (even though they are face down and you genuinely have not seen them).
At the end of your reading, if you want to have your magical ‘Aha!’ moment and reduce the whole thing to the level of a card trick, you could turn over the chosen cards and remind the spectator that you mentioned themes and images that match them very closely. This is the weakest, most tedious and least inspired way to use the PPP deck. More sensibly, you could just give the reading and leave the cards as they are. The spectator will appreciate that whatever other merits your reading may have had, you also happened to mention themes that tally with the photos she chose, in a pleasantly surprising and mysterious way.
That’s the basic idea. However, this only scratches the surface of the amazing effects possible with this very ingenious deck of photo cards.
Einstein Level
As well as cards themselves, Stephen provides you with a wonderful set of instructions (in pdf form). These consist of 105 pages of such searing intellectual brilliance that on a cold day you could warm your hands on them. The amount of smart thinking that has gone into the instructions is truly amazing. I don’t know if Stephen has ever had an IQ test, but I reckon he could be up there with Einstein or even, dare I say it… Carol Vorderman.
Yes, his work is that impressive!

In the instructions, Stephen provide a comprehensive account of how and why he created the PPP deck, specific points to note about every single photo in the set, how to use the cards to give readings, how to use them for different mentalism effects and also — if you have such a curiously unambitious soul — how to use the cards to perform adaptations of classic card tricks like ‘Out Of This World’.
I think there are several great reasons to use the PPP deck. First of all, it gets away from all the misgivings that many people have about using either regular cards (too much like a magic trick) or tarot cards (which many regard as too macabre or intimidating). With the PPP deck, there are no unhelpful associations or preconceptions to get in the way.

Secondly, it’s versatile. You don’t have to use all 65 cards, and it’s probably a good idea not to do so. You could use the ‘core set’ of 28 cards and you’d have everything you need. You can use the cards to give psychological profile readings, or readings quite close in style to tarot, or make up your own style. Stephen outlines four different styles of readings that use the deck to its full potential.

Thirdly, if readings just aren’t your thing, you can use the cards for many different mentalism effects. You can do ESP Matching effects with five pairs of cards, or anything involving a stack, or variations on Kenton Knepper’s ‘Backlash’ principle or a drawing dupe. It is one of those props where half the fun is just exploring the possibilities and dreaming up your own ideas.

Fourthly, you can, if you wish, load all of the photos on to your phone, which opens up many more possibilities. I don’t do a lot of phone-based mentalism, but I know a lot of the younger, trendier guys do, and this set of photographic images, and the thought that has gone into them, should prompt all but the most creatively barren mentalist to start devising many new and wonderful ideas.

I think the PPP deck, with all its ingenious secret features, is simply wonderful. It will last a lifetime, enables you to give a new kind of ‘psychological’ reading anywhere and everywhere, and also lends itself to hundreds of mentalism effects. Interested parties should contact Steve via his website: www.thoughtillusions.com .

One of Stephen’s favourite lines is, ‘The eyes can only look... it's the mind that truly sees.’ This is very true. Not everyone will appreciate the potential of the PPP deck, but I think it’s one of the best things to have come along in mentalism for a very long time.

Ian Rowland
Transcript of an article written about Pho Psy Pro by Ian Rowland
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