The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception - H. Keith Melton, Robert Wallace (2009)


II. Handling of Tablets

In an earlier paragraph it was noted that the reader in performing his tricks need never make any action that he does not now do regularly. This is because he should be able to have his entire mind concentrated upon the performance rather than being diverted by the necessity of having to consider a new manipulative technique. The first illustration will be found to be entirely natural for any person who smokes. Even if the reader is a nonsmoker, he will, most probably, find it to be quite natural. Whether the reader does or does not smoke, he should follow the instructions and actually do the action indicated.

In order that the reader may find exactly what his natural actions are, he should get a packet of paper matches before reading further.

Take the paper matches, open the cover, tear off one match, and close the cover. Then light the match and blow it out.

You will have found that it is natural to do these several actions entirely without using the third or little fingers of either hand. Assuming that the reader is right-handed, he will have held the packet of matches in the left hand and between the thumb, on one edge, and the first and second fingers, on the opposite edge. (If the reader naturally is left-handed, he will find all details are the same in all instructions hereinafter set down and quite usable provided he read “left hand” whenever “right hand” is set down and vice versa.)

Whereas the reader will find that he will use only the thumb and the first and second fingers of the left hand in holding the paper of matches, he may not automatically hold the packet exactly as is required for this first trick. However, he will find that the position of the packet is all that has to be changed and that does not change the grip he naturally uses. Properly held, the thumb is on one side of the edge of the back of the paper cover and the first and second fingers are on the opposite edge. Held in this way, the back of the cover is facing the palm of the hand. This grip makes it possible for the fingers of the right hand to open the front cover, to tear off a match, and to close the front cover, without releasing the grip of the left fingers or changing their position.

To continue the experiment, the reader should insert an ordinary straight pin into the back of the packet of matches. The pin is stuck through the lower-right-hand corner (this assumes that the back of the packet is uppermost), a quarter of an inch from the right side and the same distance from the bottom. The pinpoint should be pointed toward the top of the packet and right along the inside of the back and behind the matches. The pin should be pushed all the way in so that only the head protrudes at the back.

Again the packet of matches should be taken, held as described above, opened, one match torn off, the cover closed, and the match lighted. It will be found in doing these actions that the head of the pin never is touched. It also will be found that it is easy, and not at all noticeable, to rub the tip of the third finger of the left hand over the head of the pin. If the nail of the third finger is used, it will be found easy even to pull the pin out of the paper.

Having tried this experiment, it will be obvious how simple it would be to knock off a small pill which had been stuck to the packet at the position of the pinhead. In handling the matches, it will be seen that it is natural, and easy, always to keep the back of the matches pointing toward the inside of the hand or down toward the floor. In either instance the pinhead (or the pill) always will be kept hidden from the sight of both performer and all spectators.


Showing pill attachment and way matchbook is held to easily release pill.
Phil Franke

The above describes how a small pill may easily be carried and handled (though it is minute) and yet is quickly released indiscernibly and with no effort. Such is the secret and the following are the details of performance. The plot of the trick is to put the pill into the beverage of one particular spectator without his, or any other spectator’s, knowledge. In the situation where there is but one spectator, the trick is extremely simple. The performer should either be facing the spectator or at his left (again these are instructions for a right-handed person). It makes little difference whether both are standing at a bar or are seated at a table. If the table, however, is so wide that the performer cannot easily reach across it, the trick cannot be done when the performer faces the spectator. If, by half rising from his chair, the performer can reach across the table, then it is suitable. The reason for the respective positions of performer and spectator is that the trick is done with the left hand and therefore requires ample space for the movement of the left arm.

This trick, by the way, only can be done for a spectator who is a smoker. Another method will be described for performing for a spectator who does not smoke. If, prior to performance, the performer knows whether the spectator does or does not smoke, he need only be prepared to use one method. If that fact is not known, it will be necessary to be prepared to perform either method.

This is the routine for the spectator who smokes. The instant the performer sees the spectator take a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, he takes the packet of matches from his pocket, tears off one match, and holds packet and match ready to ignite the match. He does these things openly because what he does can only be looked upon as a friendly and courteous gesture. As soon as the spectator is ready to light up, the performer should hold the matches close to the spectator and strike the one match. The matches should be held only as close to the spectator as politeness allows but should, if possible, be closer to the spectator than is the mouth of the glass, or cup, into which the pill is to be dropped.


Left hand lowered for action immediately after match is struck.
Phil Franke

The performer should hold the flame of the match so that the spectator best can use it, and, of course, the performer must look at what he is doing. As soon as the spectator has a proper light, the performer should begin to lean backward into his previous position. In doing this, the left hand, which has been held still since the match was struck, is brought over the mouth of the glass or cup, and the pill dropped into the liquid. Three points should be stressed. First, the left hand must be withdrawn with a continuous motion. There can be no hesitation over the liquid. It should be obvious that the slower the left hand is moved the easier it will be to aim accurately. Second, while the left hand is being withdrawn the performer may drop his eyes from the face of the spectator and thereby see the table, but he should not obviously follow the movements of the left hand. Third, the left hand should come as close to the mouth of the glass as possible. This not only ensures the pill going into the liquid but also lessens the chance of the pill making a splash which could be seen or heard.

It will be noticed that the pill is dropped as the arm is brought back to the body rather than at the time the arm is extended. This, chiefly, is because any secret move which is performed as a part of a broader action usually can be made less obvious when done as the arm is brought back to the body. This is because once the obvious action has been completed, the spectator’s mind no longer takes an interest in the movement of that arm.

The psychological basis for this routine is that a small action will not be noticed when it is done while making a broader gesture for which there is an obvious reason. The reason for the broad gesture must, however, be an essential part of a thought entirely disassociated from the purpose of the small action. Again it should be stressed that the obvious action must be completely natural.

In the circumstances that the performer is standing with the spectator at a bar, the trick is done exactly as if at a table except for the movement of the performer’s body. At the bar the performer makes a quarter turn of his body to the right so that he is facing the spectator rather than facing the bar. Otherwise the movements are done entirely with the arms. When at the table, if seated at the left of the spectator, the performer turns at his waist rather than moving his feet, so as to face the spectator.

If the spectator is a nonsmoker, this is the routine suggested. Affix the pill to the back of a wallet, notebook, or small paper pad which would be natural for a person of the character of the performer to carry. Have loosely in the pocket of the wallet, or among the pages of the notebook or pad, a paper with something written on it about which you wish to question the spectator. The writing may be an address, or name, or anything on any subject. Whatever is written only has to be something about which a legitimate question may be asked.

There is an alternative possibility, which is to show something commonly seen about which a remark can be made on a point which it is unlikely the spectator is aware, such as a piece of paper money.


Phil Franke

A few minutes’ study with any piece of paper money ever made will find some oddity about which a remark may be made with the assurance that the spectator never had noticed the detail. Such a detail is the fact that on the U.S. dollar bills issued during the time John W. Snyder was secretary of the treasury there was no period after the W in his signature. The detail need have no importance whatsoever. It need only be something which may be shown and talked about. It is best not to use a detail which may be something the spectator has been asked before, such as, “How many times does the figure 1 and the word one appear on a dollar bill?”

The preparation for using the paper is exactly the same as with the matches. The point at which the pill is affixed to the back of the wallet, notebook, or pad depends upon the size of the object. It is to be stuck at a point where the third finger of the left hand can pick it off easily when the object is held between the thumb on one edge and the first and second fingers on the opposite edge. Naturally, the object used must be of such a size that it may be held in this manner and as if it were a natural way to hold it.

The performance, using the paper, is almost the same as the trick with the matches. These are the details of the routine of the performance. First, something is said about the subject mentioned on the paper. Then the wallet, notebook or pad is taken from the pocket. It is brought in front of, and close to, the spectator as it is opened and the paper is taken out. The majority of people in doing this action would open the wallet and extract the paper while the wallet was held close to their own bodies and then reach out only with the hand holding the paper. The point is that there are some people who naturally would do the action the other way. That fact makes it possible for the performer to do it in such manner. He need only remember that it is a perfectly natural action even though it might not be the way he normally would do it. It does not in the least change the manipulations he normally uses. By holding that thought in mind and then going ahead and opening the wallet close to the spectator, the performer will find that the action seems natural even for him.

The psychological point here is that all that is required is, no matter what the action, that action must be a natural one and appear so. It is not necessary that the action be the one customarily followed by the performer. Any action natural for one person can be performed easily by another person provided no new techniques are involved.

Once the paper has been taken with the right hand and handed to the spectator, the left hand is brought back to the body. In the motion the left hand is brought over the mouth of the glass or cup, and the pill is dropped in.

The character of the performer, or the character he has assumed, plays a major part in this trick and its performance. For instance, if it is in character for the performer to carry a cigarette case, the pill may be stuck to it. After offering a cigarette to the spectator the pill is picked off as the performer brings back the case prior to returning it to his pocket.

If the performance is to take place in a country where paper matches are not commonly used, the trick may be done quite as readily with any size box of matches which may be carried in the pocket. One accustomed to performing tricks could do the trick by using a lighter but, due to the fact that only one hand is needed to operate a lighter, the trick becomes more difficult to do. It is more than twice as hard for a spectator to observe the simultaneous, though varied, actions of two hands as it is to follow the movements of one hand. This is a factor of which it is advisable to take advantage.

No matter what the object to which the pill is attached, precaution has to be taken that the pill is not scraped off the object during the time it is in the performer’s pocket. The most certain way to prevent having the pill accidentally loosened in the pocket is to have a stiff box in the pocket in which the object may be put. The box must be open at the top in order that there will be no fumbling in extracting the object. The box must be shallow enough so that part of the object will extend above the edges and will be easy to grasp. The box should be only so long and so wide as to ensure that the object goes in and can be withdrawn easily. Such a box often can be made from some small container by cutting away a part. A proper box can also be made by cutting and folding a piece of cardboard and pasting paper around the outside.


Phil Franke


Types of boxes used to hold prepared objects so that pills will not become dislodged while objects are carried in pockets.
Phil Franke

The above trick, even with its variations, is intended for use only in connection with a solid pill no more than 2.5 mm in diameter. Other methods are more practical when using objects of larger size, or objects in other form. Methods for achieving the same objective but using pills of larger size, a powder, or a liquid will be described later. It is not the task of the writer, nor is it within his knowledge, to indicate whether a solid or a liquid form should be used, nor the size or quantity of either. Such information will be given the reader by other sources. The writer’s single job is to supply the tricks by which the object may be handled. The writer does not recommend one method above another. The method indicated for a specific performance is the one having details most suitable in the situation and which will appear most natural.


Left: Normal expression of face. Right: Exaggerated expression of dumbness. The more facial muscles are relaxed and eyes thrown out of focus, the greater the effect. Doing these actions to a mild degree merely shows a lack of alertness or disinterest.
Phil Franke

A psychological-physical fact which applies to the performance of the above trick in all its variations, as well as in the performance of all other tricks, must be noted because of its great importance. The fact is that physically, at the moment of doing any action requiring concentrated thought, there is an alertness of appearance which is very noticeable.

A sudden alertness on the part of the performer causes wariness on the part of the spectator. The opposite of an alert appearance is a stupid one. Assuming a mildly stupid appearance during a trick will give the appearance of disinterest. Naturally this should be done to a mild degree, for suddenly having an imbecilic expression also is warranted to attract attention. Stupidity in appearance is affected by relaxing the facial muscles and throwing the eyes out of focus. To learn to relax the facial muscles one should practice in front of a mirror. When one finds, in this manner, which muscle controls which part of the face, it becomes a matter of very little practice to relax the indicated muscles when away from a mirror. To learn to throw the eyes out of focus, look at some object about a foot distant and then hold that focus when looking at a person several feet away. This skill, too, requires only a little practice. When, earlier, the writer promised the reader that he never would be asked to do any action he did not regularly perform, it escaped the writer’s memory that the reader would at times need to appear stupid. This is the single exception and the writer apologizes to the reader. However, to be able to appear stupid purposely in order to enhance one’s work shows a considerable degree of intelligence as well as an appreciation of the art of acting. In such cases it is quite a different matter than it is with that individual to whom such an expression is not only uncontrollable but usual.

The instructions above are for performing a trick in which a small pill is used. Whereas the method was devised for pills ranging in size from one-sixteenth of an inch in diameter to a pill as large as three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, it will be found that the method is suitable for pills of greater size. In doing the trick with larger pills (up to three-eighths of an inch and even more) extra care must be taken in sticking the pill to its carrier. First, the position on the object at which the pill is attached must be such that the pill can be removed with ease. Second, its position must be such that the pill is masked from the sight of the spectators. This means that the pill must be far enough away from the edges of the object that it does not stick out where it may be seen—even when the object is held as has been described. A little experimenting will show the spot at which the pill is to be attached. Third, extra care must be taken in using the exact amount of paste in sticking the larger pill to the carrier. Due to the greater weight of a large pill, more paste will be needed than for a small pill. Experimenting, here, too, will show just how much paste to use.

The paste used must fulfill several requirements. It must be simple to apply, hold firmly, dissolve quickly in any beverage and without leaving a noticeable residue, and it should be easily obtained. Powdered gum arabic (available in any drugstore) makes an excellent adhesive when mixed with water and fulfills all the requirements. A drop of water and a minute quantity of the powder, mixed together with a toothpick, will make enough paste to hold even a large pill. When mixed to the consistency of a fairly thick gruel, a small quantity of the paste is taken on the point of the toothpick and put on the proper position on the carrier. The pill then is pressed onto the paste.

In using a large pill (three-eighths of an inch in diameter and over), it probably will be found as easy, if not easier, to hold the pill in the fingers and merely drop it at the proper time rather than carrying it on an object from which it has to be picked off.

The easiest and most natural way secretly to hold a pill is at the base of the third and little fingers and curling those fingers so that the tips touch the palm of the hand. It will be found, even with those two fingers held in that manner, that there is no lack of freedom of movement of the thumb and the first and second fingers. When the third and little fingers are curled as described, there is a crease between the base of the fingers and the palm. The pill is held by the fold of flesh which forms the crease. The center of the pill should be at the crack between the two fingers. In this position there is enough flesh on all sides of the pill so that it is completely masked from sight. Some individuals, because of the formation of their hands, have a space between the fingers which is impossible to close and, therefore, cannot hold anything in this manner so that it cannot be seen. However, even they will find it is possible to adjust the position of the pill so that it will be hidden.


Position in hand for holding large pill in fingers. This action can be masked by holding some object such as a paper of matches. Object held is immaterial.
Phil Franke

In using this “grip” method, all the details of performance are identical with the methods described above with two exceptions. The pill is released by opening the fingers instead of picking it off the carrier as is done in the other method. The second difference is that the pill has to be in position in the fingers before the packet of matches (or whatever other object is used) is taken in the hand. It is advisable to have some small container with an open end to carry the pill when it is in the pocket. Using a container ensures that there is no chance of having the pill crushed, or chipped, and thereby rendering the pill so that it is entirely useless or lacking its full strength. The container also keeps the pill from picking up any lint, etc., in the pocket.

The pill is tipped from the container into the hand and pushed into position by the thumb. This action takes place in the performer’s pocket. The fingers then are curled to hold the pill. When the pill is gripped firmly, the matches or other object is taken by the thumb and first two fingers.

It is possible that the reader will find this method to be so easy and natural that he will wonder why the other method was suggested. Holding the pill in the fingers only is indicated for use with the larger pills. The reasons for this statement are: 1. Few men have hands with flesh so soft as to be able properly to feel a small pill and to be certain that they are holding it. 2. The natural moisture of the hands is apt to make a small pill adhere to the flesh and not be released when the fingers are opened. 3. The fingers have to be closed so tightly to hold a small pill that the hand is noticeably cramped and unnatural.

One additional suggestion for a way secretly to handle a pill is set down only because circumstances in a particular situation may make it more suitable. In this method the pill is stuck to the center of one side of a coin. This coin is taken by the performer from his pocket along with two or three other coins. The “loaded” coin, however, in being brought out of the pocket is held between the thumb and first finger and the other coins are gripped between the rest of the fingers and the palm. The loaded coin is so held that the pill is kept from the sight of the spectators.


Underneath view of pill attached to coin.
Phil Franke

The loaded coin is placed on the center of the palm of the other hand (pill side down) and the rest of the coins dropped upon it. Due to the concave shape of the palm of the hand, the pill will be completely hidden from sight.

The purpose of taking the coins from the pocket is, ostensibly, to make some minor purchase such as a package of cigarettes. There should be enough coins left on the hand after making the purchase so that two or more may be put on the bar or table and yet still have two of the same size left on the hand. One of these two coins is the one to which the pill is attached. One of these coins is taken in each hand and held, with one flat surface facing the ceiling, between the thumb and first finger. The second finger of the hand holding the loaded coin will readily and naturally hide the pill from being seen from the side, and also is in position to pick off the pill.


Phil Franke

The coins are held in front of the spectator and some remark made as to how much, or how little, the coins have worn, or that one is worn far more than the other. The remark is unimportant as to substance. It has only to express a reason, seemingly of interest or amusement to the performer, which makes it natural to show the coins. As soon as the remark is made the extra coin is handed to the spectator or dropped on the table or bar. According to what has first been said, the performer asks the spectator to feel the surface of the coin, or its weight, or to listen to its “ring.”

As these things are done and said, the loaded coin is brought back to the performer’s body. In the movement the coin is carried over the spectator’s drink and the pill is released.

As was the case with the paper of matches, the coin to which the pill is attached is carried edgewise in a box in the performer’s pocket. The box is so made that the coin may easily be taken out.

While several variations have been given in the mechanics of carrying and disposing of the pill, it will be apparent that the psychological background for the performance does not change. There is no change in the thinking behind the actions of the performer, nor in the way in which the mind of the spectator is led to thoughts apart from the secret action. What the performer says and what he handles may be varied from the suggested topics and articles as long as no change is made in the psychological pattern of the performance.

An important point is that these tricks, as is true with almost everything one does well, must be practiced. That does not mean countless repetitions such as a pianist does in learning the scales. It means slowly going through all the details of performance, physically as well as mentally, until confidence comes so that there will be nothing awkward nor hesitant in word or action. The first few times the routine is gone through, it should be done extremely slowly in the manner of the movement in slowed-action moving pictures. Rehearsing slowly at the beginning ensures that no detail will be overlooked. As soon as the routine can be done smoothly and evenly, it may be practiced at a natural tempo. Learning the details of performance by practicing slowly at the beginning reduces the overall rehearsal time materially.

If a matter of weeks, or longer, occurs between rehearsals and the time of performance, it is advisable to run through the routine prior to attempting it. Provided it had been thoroughly learned during the original rehearsals, it is not absolutely necessary to do the trick at later rehearsals if one is able mentally slowly to go through each detail of speech and action that the performance requires. If there is any hesitancy in recalling details, the trick should be practiced further. Forgetting details is more apt to be caused by not having learned the trick thoroughly in the beginning than from being possessed of a faulty memory.