Review: The Chrysalis of a Polymath

Published on Thursday, March 25, 2010 in , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chrysalis of a Polymath bookLast June, Paul Brook released a book called The Chrysalis of a Polymath (COAP, for short). I recently sprung for a copy, and decided to review it, because it's right down the alley of Grey Matters readers.

First, to help clear up the title itself, here's some links to explanations of the words chrysalis and polymath.

COAP starts off with the classic Knight's Tour. It is intended as a stand-alone piece, usually taking up much of an hour to build the interest and the challenge. Instead of simply describing the method behind the presentation, Paul spends quite a bit of time on the mistakes he first made when putting this presentation together. This helps greatly, so you can understand what's effective and what is not. Why, oh why, aren't more magic books written like this?

Every step of this presentation goes into detail about why it is being done, even to the point of important aspects of the script. Besides giving a more complete understanding, it also is a wonderful example of raising what could be presented as a simple puzzle into an engaging piece that focuses on the challenge.

There is certain information in this presentation that is required to be memorized. In a rather unusual approach, there are no mnemonic approaches used here. It's rote, but again, with a reason. The apparent downside is that this information, once memorized, can really only be used for this one presentation, right? Wrong!

The very next section contains 3 mentalism routines, all of which used the memorized Knight's Tour information in ingenious ways. In Impossible Memory, which Paul often used as a closer, the performer memorizes a 120-digit number randomly chosen by an audience member.

The second routine, Rainbow Memory, involves the audience more through the classic problem of using phone numbers. However, the impact is better suited to a lasting impression moment, rather than a showstopper.

The final routine in this group, Tossed Out Thoughts, may lead some knowledgeable performers to think they know what's coming. You divine multiple numbers that were randomly chosen by the audience. This routine requires a bit more study than the others, but the impact is the greatest of these 3 routines.

Not only do these routines show you how to “break open” the Knight's Tour, but the tips at the end show you how to break open other memorized sequences, such as a memorized deck.

The next section, as Grey Matters readers will quickly understand, focuses on a personal favorite of mine, the Day of the Week For Any Date feat. If you've ever performed this for someone (or even just tried), you know there are 2 main stumbling blocks: generating the interest, and dealing with the time needed to work out the weekday.

The approach used here is largely based on John Conway's doomsday algorithm, which is familiar to regular readers of this blog. The way Paul teaches it, however, is a manner that takes you slowly by the hand, and builds confidence as you build your ability. If you've already learned this feat here on Grey Matters, you're already one step ahead of the game (and use this site's quiz to pratcice either way)!

There are several exercises included in the book, so you can develop your ability as you go. Once you have the method down, the presentation becomes the important question. Three presentations are given here, which are varied enough that you'll find a suitable approach, depending on your performing persona. One presentational tip at the end is particularly worth its weight it gold, as it lets you do more dates at once, which helps maximize the time and focus required, while apparently minimizing the time from the audience's point of view.

Much of the remainder of the book deals with presenting mathematical feats in a manner that can an engage an audience. I've learned mathematical shortcuts, but finding approaches of engaging presentation for them is rare. In the first example, you quickly multiply many numbers two-digit number by 11. The first question is, how to bring 11 into it in the first place? I absolutely love that the author describes many approaches he took before finally settling on the smart and direct approach used in COAP.

Another notable routine here, Data Spaced, is worth special mention because it employs several of the routines in the book, becoming a demonstration of multiple amazing mental abilities in a very short space of time.

The books closes with some math-related routines, but where the focus isn't so much on math in the presentation. These are more along the lines of not-quite impossible feats made more accessible by math. Intriguingly, this section closes with a few such routines that you can pass on to your audience members for them to use, as well.

Already, COAP is an incredible value for those who are interested in the type of things we talk about here on Grey Matters. However, there are several free additional bonuses available in the form of downloads, most notably Kevin Sheldrake's notes Growth Hormones and Teething Troubles which gives many additional important tips that help improve many of the feats. You can only access them by going into the keyword-protected COAP section of the Paul Brook forum.

All in all, if you enjoy Grey Matters, and especially if you've ever wondered how to present mental feats effectively, The Chrysalis of a Polymath should most definitely be on your bookshelf.

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