Handling of Powders - SOME OPERATIONAL APPLICATIONS OF THE ART OF DECEPTION - The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception - H. Keith Melton, Robert Wallace

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


III. Handling of Powders

Loose material, saltlike in form, can be handled only when it is in some type of container. The container has to have three requisites. 1. The container must safely hold the loose material without the possibility of loss of quantity. 2. It must be constructed so the material can be instantly released. 3. It must not appear to be a container and it must have some common use which makes it an object anyone might be expected to carry. The writer’s instructions were to design tricks in connection with using amounts of a loose solid varying from the volume of one grain of table salt to one teaspoonful.

In order to simplify the instructions, all tricks in which powdered solids are used are based upon using a pencil as the container. Normally, common wooden pencils are not considered as containers and for that very reason excite no suspicion when used for writing in the customary way.

Common objects are not apt to be suspected, especially if the object is not new. This is a psychological point which holds true with things a man ordinarily carries in his pockets. Crumpled and worn paper money (unless the value is so high as to be of interest because such bills are not usually carried) attracts less notice than do crisp new bills. A shiny new penny will be the only coin noticed in a handful of dull worn coins. Taking a cigarette from a partially used pack will pass unheeded while taking a new packet from the pocket is apt to be noticed. A new billfold, watch, etc. will be noticed, while the actions connected with using similar but old objects will not be observed. Therefore, since it is necessary that it attract no attention, the “loaded” pencil should not be new. The difference in appearance between an old and a new pencil is largely a matter of length. A pencil from four to five inches long, seemingly having been sharpened and resharpened, will not attract attention. As in most such rules, this rule against newness can be overdone. A stub of a pencil, only an inch or two long, is noticed because it is awkward to handle so short a writing tool. A torn and ragged wallet, a twisted and crushed pack of cigarettes, or anything so obviously dirty no normal person would carry it are other examples of the overdoing of the lack of newness.

There is a further exception to the above rule. A worried and suspicious person will more readily accept a cigarette from a new package he has just seen purchased than he will from a partially used package taken from someone’s pocket. While it is not the safeguard the suspicious person assumes, it is one of those commonly held beliefs, such as the trust in a newly opened deck of cards, previously mentioned.

According to the amount of loose solid needed to be carried, there are three ways of preparing a pencil. Although it does not make a great deal of difference in two of the methods, a round, rather than a hexagonal, pencil is easier to handle. In the third method a round pencil only can be used. The pencil should be of the usual style, which has a metal band at one end to hold a rubber eraser. Because the performance is the same no matter which pencil is used, descriptions first will be given of the three ways to convert a pencil into a container.

· 1. Container for from one to fifteen grains.

It will be found fairly easy to take the rubber out of the metal tube. Most pencil manufacturers run the metal cap through a machine after the rubber has been inserted. The machine stamps small prongs of metal into the rubber in order to clamp it firmly in the metal. During the same operation, the metal tube similarly is clamped to the wood of the pencil. Usually the rubber can be twisted out of its metal casing so that the rubber remains quite intact. At times the rubber will tear and part of it will be left inside the metal band. In the event of the rubber tearing when it is taken out of the metal, such rubber as remains has to be dug out completely. The rubber, if taken out whole, should have one-eighth of an inch cut off the end so that it is from one to three-eights of an inch less than its original length. If more than that amount of rubber is missing, it is advisable to use another pencil. The eighth-of-an-inch cut off the rubber allows space inside the metal band for a small quantity of powder when the rubber is replaced in the pencil. Prior to pushing the rubber back into the tube, the sides of the rubber should be rubbed lightly with very fine (00 or 000) sandpaper so that it will go easily into the tube and yet still be large enough to stay firmly in place.

· 2. Container for up to a cubic centimeter of a powder.

In this instance the rubber is taken out as before. Then the center of the pencil is drilled out to a depth of an inch or more depending upon the amount of powder to be used. Such drilling should be done in a shop having a small drill press having a clamp with which the pencil can be held firmly. Due to the graphite being harder than the wood of the pencil, it is almost impossible to drill down into the center of a pencil by using a hand drill. Even with the proper drill press, the job of drilling such a hole has to be handled with great care. The amount of powder which such a hole will hold depends, of course, upon the length and the diameter of the hole. It is possible to drill a three-sixteenths-inch hole in a pencil to a depth of two inches and such a size hole will hold a cubic centimeter of a fine-grain loose solid. The rubber is sanded as in the other case and used as a stopper for the container. It is not necessary to shorten the rubber unless more space is needed for the powder.


Removal of eraser from a wooden pencil can create a secret cavity for powders.
Phil Franke

· 3. Container for up to a half teaspoonful of powder.

To make a really sizable container out of a pencil requires using a glazed colored paper. Such paper is sold for a variety of purposes such as gift wrappings, shelf paper, and children’s pinwheels—years ago the usual name for such paper was “pinwheel paper.” Pencils commonly are orange, yellow, blue, green, or red and such paper generally is to be found in these colors. To prepare the pencil, the wood just below the metal band (which holds the rubber) is cut through so that the band is separated from the pencil. The wood and graphite remaining in the metal tube are drilled. Care must be taken not to drill into the rubber, which must be pushed intact out of the metal tube. This is done from the inside of the tube. Next the metal prongs on the inside of the tube are flattened and the metal of the tube stretched a very slight amount. These things are done by using a drill whose shank is a little (but no greater than one-sixty-fourth of an inch) larger than the diameter of the inside of the tube. The drill is reversed in the drill stock so that the shank protrudes. As the end of the shank of the drill is somewhat rounded, it makes an excellent tool for the purpose.

Having prepared the metal band, the next step is to make a tube of the paper. This is done by rolling the paper around the pencil tightly in order to measure the exact amount of paper needed. A mark is made on the paper allowing one-eighth of an inch of overlap. The paper is unrolled and carefully cut so as to have straight and true edges. Glue is brushed along the inside of the paper but only on the portion which will overlap. The paper is rerolled tightly around the pencil and the glued part pressed down. The paper is held in place by winding soft string tightly along the entire length of the paper. The string is tied and the pencil put aside until the glue has had a chance to dry. Most glue used on paper will harden in less than an hour. The string then is taken off the paper and the pencil pushed out of the tube. There should be no difficulty in removing either string or pencil provided the glue had been carefully applied so that none had squeezed out of the edges of the paper.

The pencil then is cut off two inches above the point. This piece of pencil, after having been lightly brushed with glue from the blunt end down almost to the taper, is pushed into the paper tube. The stub of pencil should be pushed into the tube until only the point and the taper protrude. Measuring four and a half inches from the point of the pencil, the paper tube should be cut off. That end should be inserted into the metal band. Glue should be brushed around the end of the paper tube prior to pushing it into the metal band. The rubber eraser will have to be rubbed with fine sandpaper in order to make it fit properly in the metal tube, which now is lined with the paper. While the rubber should go easily into the tube, it should be large enough to stay in and hold the weight of the powdered solid. The reason for the rubber being its original length is to give more surface to hold the rubber more firmly in the tube. The rubber has to stay in place, yet it must not fit so tightly as to cause difficulty in taking it out. This pencil will hold up to 2.5 cc of a powdered solid.

It will be seen that each of the pencils described has a secret compartment and that each compartment is stoppered with an eraser. For each of these pencils there should be a duplicate in outward appearance and lacking the secret compartments. Actually, a duplicate of the first pencil described (with the capacity of fifteen grains) is not essential, although having one may help the confidence of the performer. Each duplicate pencil should have a tiny notch cut in the taper of the wood near the point of the pencil so that by touch it can be distinguished from the matching prepared pencil. This notch should run partway around the circumference of the pencil and cut so that it appears to have been accidentally made when the pencil was sharpened. While the notch should be so small that it never would be noticed by anyone handling the pencil in the ordinary manner, the notch should be deep enough so that it can readily be felt by anyone aware of its existence.

The best place to carry the pencils (a prepared one and its duplicate) is in the right, outside pocket of the coat. In that pocket the pencils can be carried in a horizontal position. However, when a coat is not worn, the pencils may be carried in any pocket which will make them instantly available. The pocket should be large enough to permit the entire pencil to go inside. Were the pencils to protrude, it would be obvious that two were carried.

In performance, the routine is very much like that with the pills. Again it is assumed that the action takes place either at a bar or at a table. Again the purpose is secretly to put something into the beverage of a particular spectator. The respective positions of performer and spectator are changed when at a bar. In this trick the performer stands at the right of the spectator.

The best way to introduce the pencil (and at the beginning the duplicate is used) is to bring into the conversation some subject which becomes clearer, or less confusing, using a diagram, for example the streets to follow and the turns to be made in order to get from here to there. If the performer has the ability to sketch, the subjects which may be brought up are limitless. If he cannot draw recognizable pictures, he will find many subjects in connection with which he can draw simple diagrams.

While the performer should have some piece of paper with him in case it is needed, it is better to use something for the drawing which is picked up at the moment. Menus, beer coasters, etc. are all good for the purpose. Anything at all may be used which readily will take pencil marking and may be passed to the spectator. Because its position cannot be changed, a tablecloth cannot be used.

The routine in sequence is: first, the subject is brought up about which the diagram or picture may be used. It is preferable if a picture can be thought of in connection with some subject which the spectator has introduced. Then the paper, or whatever, is located and the performer places it on the table or bar in position to make his sketch. He takes the pencil from his pocket and makes his drawing. If, when the performer first sits at the table or stands at the bar, he makes certain (by touch) of the respective positions of the two pencils in his pocket, he will avoid either fumbling or error when it is time to draw.

During the drawing, the performer acts as if he were concentrating upon his picture—which may well not call for any acting. At any rate, during the drawing, he says nothing. When the sketch has been completed, he places it on the table or bar in position for the spectator best to see it. He replaces the pencil in his pocket and lets his hand remain in the pocket as he starts to describe the details of the sketch. It not only is natural, but far easier, to point to the details as they are mentioned. So the pencil again is taken from the pocket and the details of the sketch indicated with the point of the pencil.

“The pencil again is taken” is what the very close observer will believe. Very few people would notice that the pencil had gone back in the pocket at all. No one will suspect the existence of a second pencil. The pencil makes an excellent pointer and its use is so natural that no thought is given to its being used in that manner. The eraser is left in the “loaded” pencil while the pointing is going on.

An easy and natural way to hold the pencil while using it as a pointer is between the first and second fingers as a cigarette is held. That is, the pencil goes on top of the side of the second finger right at the first joint, and the first finger goes on the pencil. There is this difference: the ball of the thumb is pressed against the rubber at the end of the pencil. The thumb on the end of the pencil will be found to be necessary in order properly to point with the pencil. While at the beginning of using the pencil as a pointer, holding the pencil in that manner is not essential, it is best to hold it so, for later it must be held that way.

After two, or more, details have been indicated with the pencil point, the performer brings his hands back to his body and, without releasing the grip on the pencil with the first and second fingers, moves his thumb away from the rubber. As the thumb leaves the rubber, the thumb and first finger of the left hand grasp the eraser. This appears to be, as it actually is, a very natural thing to do. Because it is so natural a thing to do, there is very small chance of anyone noticing the action and, even if it should be observed, there is nothing out of the way to see. The performer should continue talking about the subject and either look directly at the face of the spectator, or at the sketch, as would be natural in the circumstance. He should not look at the pencil he holds and, of course, there is no reason to do so.

While the pencil is held between the two hands, the sides of the hands should be resting on the table or bar. A few trials will show whether it is more natural for the reader to twist the rubber out of the pencil in one move, or to loosen it gradually. Most people find the first move easier. Whichever way it is done, the pencil must be held so that the point is lower than the rubber. The pencil need be held only enough off the horizontal so that the contents will not be lost. The instant the rubber is out of the band, the right thumb goes back to its previous position, but this time it acts as a stopper as well as holding the pencil more firmly.

This is an important point: the right hand moves away from the left hand which holds the rubber. The left hand does not move. As has been mentioned, movement attracts attention, and if any attention is paid to the action, it should fall upon the right hand, about which there is nothing changed. The movement of removing the rubber is so small that there is scant likelihood of anyone noticing it at all. As the rubber is so small it will be almost, if not entirely, hidden between the first finger and thumb of the left hand. Even on the off chance of the rubber being noticed, the spectator will suppose that in fiddling with the pencil that the rubber accidentally was twisted off. There is no need to stress hiding the rubber for the matter is of little consequence. However, if the left hand were the one moved away from the pencil and the rubber were noticed, it would, because of the movement, gain importance in the mind of the spectator.

At this stage of the routine, the performer again reaches out with the pencil and indicates a point in the sketch. The point should be one about which a question can be asked. The question, naturally, depends upon the subject of the sketch but should be one asking for help. Such a question could be, “Is there a better way to go?” or “Is there an easier way to make it?” The question should never, at this point, be in the form of seeming to doubt the spectator’s understanding of the subject. As the question is made, the performer looks directly at the face of the spectator.


Showing how thumb and first finger mask the container with the rubber eraser removed.
Phil Franke

As he raises his eyes, the performer brings his right hand over the mouth of the glass or cup containing the spectator’s beverage. The movement of the arm should not be great, and will not be provided the sketch was properly placed before the spectator at the beginning when it first was laid down. As soon as the spectator looks at the performer and begins to answer this question, the performer, by twisting his wrist, turns the point of the pencil toward the ceiling. Simultaneously, he takes his thumb away from the open end of the pencil. The instant the powder falls out of the pencil and into the liquid (which is practically instantaneously and one second is more than ample time to allow), the performer without haste, and most casually, returns the pencil to his pocket. In his pocket he drops the prepared pencil and picks up the duplicate. When he brings his hand out of the pocket, he “still” holds the pencil. This hand and the pencil are rested on the table. After a few seconds the pencil is released. This last part of substituting the pencils is not of great importance. The only reason it is suggested is, on the chance that he wants to make alterations in the sketch or to use a pointer, the spectator can pick up the pencil without needing to ask for it. Having to ask for the pencil would call more attention to the pencil than were it available to pick up. The less the pencil is considered the better the situation.

The point may come to the reader’s mind that he would be in great difficulty in performing the trick were the spectator to ask for the pencil at the point where the powder is only held in the hollow pencil by means of the thumb. This situation will not arise provided the spectator has been asked the proper question. The purpose of the question is to get the spectator to talk; that is, to answer the question with words, not pictures. As soon as he begins to talk, the powder is dropped and the pencil exchanged. If, in answering the question, the spectator seems at all hesitant, or that it might be easier for him to make use of the diagram in making his answer, he should be asked another question. There should be no difficulty at all in keeping the conversation going by this method for the five to ten seconds needed to drop the powder and pocket the pencil. This is one of the instances where confidence of manner is of the utmost importance. Actually confidence or assurance of manner is the real basis for the trick.

Even though again being guilty of repetition, the writer wishes to stress that each of the actions done throughout the routine must be performed without haste, jerks, or exaggeration.

Using the first and second pencils described (with their lesser contents), the trick may be done successfully before a number of people. The contents of the third pencil are so great that the dumping cannot be depended upon to be unseen when shown to more than two persons. It always is possible to notice the direction of attention of two people at the same time. Simultaneously watching the focus of attention of more than two people becomes most uncertain.