Few tricks have caused more general wonderment than this one. It is presented in various ways; but the original form, to which the reader may make what variations circumstances and ingenuity may suggest, is as follows: The performer advances with several pieces of paper, all blank. These are folded and thrown into a hat. One is selected by a spectator, and left in custody of the company. Several dictionaries are now produced, and handed round for subsequent reference. A paper-knife is placed in the hands of a spectator, who is desired to thrust it at will into the dictionary which the performer presents to him. The book is opened at the place thus indicated, the performer announcing the pages, to which the holders of the other dictionaries at once turn. The audience select which page and which of the two columns upon it shall be employed; and then, in order to ascertain which word shall be selected, a bag containing numbered counters, shown to be all different, is presented to another spectator, who draws one, and is asked to announce it. The word corresponding to that number, counting from the top of the page, is then read out, and on the paper previously chosen being opened, the word is found written upon it.
The working of this trick is as follows: The dictionary which is presented by the performer to the holder of the paper-knife is composed of two pages only, repeated over and over again, throughout the book. Thus, it makes no difference where the knife may be thrust. Say that the thirteenth word on the right-hand column of the left-hand page of the book is the one selected by the performer. He would first ask someone which page he should take. If the right hand were said, the performer immediately ejaculates, "Your right hand; thank you!" and immediately proceeds to have the right-hand column selected by someone else, in the same one-sided manner. The selection of the proper word is thus managed. The bag is a double one, and in one side are numbers running in proper arithmetical progression. These are shown and replaced. In the other side are a quantity of counters, but each is numbered "thirteen," so the drawer is bound to draw that number, the performer taking care to open that side for the insertion of his hand. The corresponding word has been previously written upon the paper. This may be forced upon the selector by being placed upon the crown of a hat in a circle with other pieces, the hat being adroitly turned at the proper moment, so that the desired piece of paper comes to the hand of the chooser. This force must not be insisted upon if the chooser be at all unwilling, and the performer must resort to the alternate ruse (which many prefer entirely to the force) of a change. For this, the prepared paper is held in the left hand, and a plain paper apparently put into it by the right, it being, of course, retained there, and the one in the left hand exhibited. When performed many times before the same company, different arrangements of pages will have to be adopted, or the recurrence of the same page may easily lead to detection of the fraud.