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How Derren Brown predicted the National Lottery numbers…

How Derren Brown predicted the National Lottery numbers…

Like seemingly half the country last night, I was quite amazed when master illusionist Derren Brown managed to predict the National Lottery numbers live, and was wondering how he did that.

Thanks to Diobach and Jonathan Creek (a BBC TV show about a magician solving crimes), I think I have part of the answer.

Diobach pointed out that in a particular Jonathan Creek episode, a magician was seen on stage predicting a random number, and it was pointed out that said magician could have been told the number by someone in the audience, and then the message conveyed to the magician on stage, perhaps through a series of pulses on the microphone.

The stage setup was an empty studio, where Derren’s predictions were on a series of balls to the left of the screen, and Derren Brown was on the right of the screen watching a television set was tuned into the BBC, watching the National Lottery numbers being revealed live on air. Most people flicking between Channel 4 and BBC One would have seen the same simultaneous live output.

EXCEPT: most of us are on digital TV these days, via Sky, Virgin Media or Freeview. And digital TV is on a slight delay from analogue TV – about five seconds, if memory serves. So someone backstage, behind the camera, would have known the lottery numbers at least five seconds before it popped up on the majority of most people’s TV screens. And there was at least ten seconds between the numbers being revealed on digital TV, and Derren going to his balls.

Of course, there’s then the vexed question of how anyone could get to the balls in 15 seconds, write the numbers and disappear – while the balls are in full view of the TV viewer during almost the whole programme. So I can only suggest a bit of green-screen TV camera trickery while a runner stands there, ready to put the actual numbers on the balls.

Unless, of course, you’ve got any better ideas?

8 Comments

  • I agree with the green screen idea.
    However, the easiest implementation of this would not require a runner, simply painting the balls green, and doing some real-time computer graphics on top of this.

  • One other thought… that whole rubbish about not being allowed to show the numbers before the BBC did was… just that. A very good trick would of course be to show the lottery numbers before the BBC revealed them. 🙂

  • No, the delay's not that long – less than a second or so.

    I think it's fairly simple: the left-hand side of the screen was frozen electronically. During the draw, an assistant simply put the correct balls down. At the end of the draw, the left-hand side was un-frozen, and Darren walked over to it and did the big reveal.

    The camera used wasn't locked down on a tripod, which was confusing, but aided the illusion – don't forget that computer trickery could easily cope with the slight wobbles of the handheld camera, and it means that the replacement balls didn't need to totally and completely line up, since the picture was a little wobbly.

    And don't forget that the 'camera at the back' was never used. It will be on Friday, as you see what really happened.

    That's my prediction, anyway. Thanks for posting the video, It was good to watch.

  • I think the perspective of the relative positions of the balls on the stands and the TV to the wall behind are not quite as we are led to believe.

    James is right that clever motion controlled split-screen techniques are possible. But someone in HD would still be able to spot them.

    I'm inclined to think that there was some kind of printer built into the set somewhere. Perhaps in the stand, or perhaps from the wall behind.

    What's clear is that we won't be able to do this "prediction" at home.

    There was plenty of distraction going on with nonsense about meetings with Camelot and a year's worth of preparation (I suspect that these specials were commissioned/dreamt up about that long ago – no more).

    I suspect that in reality it'll be a disappointingly mundane solution. Perhaps we'll find out on Friday.

    As always with Derren Brown, it's a great 21st century sheen on 19th and 20th century conjuring tricks.

  • Something I noticed while watching (as an ex-cameraman) was how the handheld camera was 'jerky' and not the normal smooth shakes that you get with a shoulder-mounted handheld. I put this down to camera-stabilization technology, where handheld cameras can be made to appear locked off on a tripod, but 'jump' when the camera is moved more than the tolerance amount.

    No conclusions but thought it worth pointing out.

    The point about the 2nd camera is interesting.

    I guess electronic ink displays on the balls is another option but this would be very clever technically at this point. Although they are finding their way into watches… see http://www.phosphorwatches.com

  • Lets just say if he could predict it like that, what is he doing a Channel4 and not on his own self funded continent and his own satalite channel like say SKY1!!!! He would have won every week since week 1and be a Gazillionare.

  • The locked off camera and digitally added shake is the one that a lot of people are going for.
    Here is a plausible video showing how it could have been done

  • Yes–I think Paul Webster is correct. Watch this:


    Between 5:50 and 5:52, just as he confirms the number 23, the camera stops shaking and the left-most ball edges slightly higher, indicating that someone else had been fiddling with his balls (as it were) and at that point the live camera feed starts back running instead of the spoofed left-hand side. Also, you'll notice the shaky camera stops for a bit right then too.

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