The Truth Will Out

Well done, you've found a hidden trick! I hope you give it a go.

Many magicians have devised lie detector tricks using the "Nine Card Problem" principle. One of the first and most popular was "Steinmeyer's Nine Card Problem With Seven Cards" by David Solomon (1997, Solomon's Mind). David decided to use seven cards rather than nine because he disliked that the trick involved spelling the word "of".

While I like David's trick, it often generates conflicting answers. For example, the first question is "was your card red or black" which is followed by "was the suit of your card Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds or Spades?" This can result in a situation where a person tells you that their card was a red Club or Spade or a black Heart or Diamond. While David's script highlights these absurd possibilities, I think this can be confusing for some participants.

By changing the questions, you can avoid such contradictions. As an added bonus, this alternative handling enables you to peek the selected card. Consequently, you can correctly deduce whether the person is lying about the identity of their selected card before locating it.


A card is selected from a seven-card packet. The magician asks his volunteer four questions about the card. She can lie or tell the truth to one, two, three or all four questions. 

The answers to the questions are spelt out by dealing cards to the table for every letter in the word. Regardless of how the questions are answered, the magician can tell whether the participant is lying or telling the truth. The top card of the pile is turned over—it's her selected card!

Background & Credits

The "Nine Card Problem" was invented by Jim Steinmeyer and first published in MAGIC Magazine almost thirty years ago. It appeared in Richard Kaufman's "Inner Workings" column in May of 1993 (page 56) and was later reprinted in Jim's book Impuzzibilities in 2002. 

The underlying principle is related to the trick "Remote Control", also created by Jim Steinmeyer and published in The New Invocation (No. 43) in February 1988. While "Remote Control" requires eighteen cards, not Nine, it uses a very similar method.

A few years later, David Solomon devised his seven-card version of Jim's trick. It was published in 1997 in the book Solomon's Mind by Eugene Burger.

A much earlier application of the same principle can be found in Abbott's Anthology of Card Magic Volume Three, compiled by Gordon Miller. It is used in a trick using the whole pack called "Miracle Mix-Up" by Jack Yates (page 58). Initially, Jack sold the trick as a manuscript in 1953.

The "Deal or Switch" mixing procedure was devised by Paul Curry and first published as part of a trick of his called "A Swindle Of Sorts" in his book Paul Curry Presents, which was first published in 1974.

Dealing the cards into three piles to make the selection is a Bob Farmer idea.

Requirements & Preparation

A regular pack of playing cards.

Method & Presentation

Give the pack to a friendly-looking audience member, ask them to shuffle the cards, and remove seven of them at random.

Instruct your helper to shuffle the cards, then deal three cards in a horizontal row on the table. Next, tell them to deal another card on top of the three already there, forming three piles of two cards. This will leave them holding a single card. This is their "secret card" that they must remember.

Continue the trick by saying, "Drop your selected card on top of the middle pile. Then pick up the pile to your left and drop it on top of the middle pile. Then pick up the pile on your right and drop it on top of the other larger pile."

This sequence ensures that the selection ends up seventh from the top of the packet (or third from the bottom).

Now, you must guide your participant through a "deal or switch shuffle" to reverse the order of the cards; this will relocate the selected card to the third position from the top of the packet (this is where it needs to be for the "Nine Card Problem" principle to work). If your participant says "deal", simply deal the top card to the table. If, however, they shout "switch", spread over the top two cards of the packet and switch their position before dropping them, as a pair, to the table. Continue dealing or switching in this way until all nine cards are in a messy pile on the table. While this shuffle appears to genuinely mix up the cards, all it does is reverse their order.

Note: If you have a compliant participant who follows instructions well, you can let them perform the Deal or Switch Shuffle. However, in most cases, I prefer to do the shuffle myself as my helper dictates the dealing and switching. If your participant goes rogue and starts shuffling the cards in another way, the trick will not work, so I prefer to be cautious in this regard.

"We're going to play a game," you begin. "I will ask you four questions. You can lie or tell the truth. You can lie and try to deceive me for one, two, three or all four questions. Or you can be completely truthful. The choice is yours. Are you ready to play? Here's the first question. Remember, you can lie or tell the truth. Is your card red or black?"

If your participant says "red", instruct them to spell "R-E-D" and to deal one card for each letter of the word to the table. If you are told that the card is black, they are to spell "B-L-A-C-K", dealing one card for each letter of the word to the table. Finally, tell them to drop the rest of the cards in their hand on top of the pile on the table.

"Here's your second question. Again, you can lie or tell the truth. Is it a spot card or face card?"

Your participant replies, for example, that the selection is a spot card. Get them to spell "S-P-O-T" and deal cards to the table as they did before, dropping the remainder on top. Likewise, if they tell you their card is a face card, ask them to spell "F-A-C-E" instead. You'll notice that four cards are dealt to the table either way. Consequently, the selected card is now the top card of the packet.

"And now for the third question. Is your card odd or even?" you continue. Let's assume your participant tells you that their card is odd. Instruct them to spell "O-D-D", and ask them to deal one card to the table for each letter of the word.

However, if the answer to the previous question is that it is a face card, I don't ask the odd or even question. Instead, ask, "Is it a male or female card?"Again, get them to spell either "M-A-L-E" or "F-E-M-A-L-E" and deal and drop the cards as before.

Regardless of whether your participant lies or tells the truth, the selected card will always be on the packet's bottom. Perform an all-around square up and peek the identity of the card. 

"And now your final question. This is the most important one."

Drop two cards to the table without reversing their order. Then drop another pair. Finally, drop the three cards remaining in your hand to the table, forming a messy pile. This action should feel like a casual cutting action. However, its secret purpose is to position the selected card third from the top of the packet again.

Once you've dropped the cards to the table, lean forward and say, "Were your answers all true, all lies or a bit of both?"

Pick up the packet and spell the relevant phrase: either "all true", "all lies", or "a bit of both". Remember to drop the leftover cards in your hand on top of the pile after each word is spelt out. The first two phrases will result in the selected card ending on top of the pile. 

However, the "a bit of both" phrase needs to be handled differently. Spell the words, dropping the remaining cards on top until you spell the word "both". Turn over the last card dealt to the pile on the table to reveal the selected playing card.

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

As you know the card's identity before you locate it, you can tell your participant if their answers were true, false or a mixture of the two before making the final reveal. You can even announce the card's identity before you turn the selected card face up. 

Here's an alternative, more consistent and potentially better way to handle the ending. Leave the card on the bottom of the packet while you ask the final question. For example, if your participant answers "all true" or "all lies", then drop cards to the table in a two-two-three pattern. Then ask your helper to spell the phrase, dealing one card to the table for each letter. Remember to drop any remaining cards on top of the pile after each word is spelt out. The selected card will always end up on top of the pile.

If, however, your participant says, "a bit of both", then drop the cards to the table in a three-two-two pattern. Next, instruct your participant to spell out the words "A", "B-I-T", "O-F", and "B-O-T-H", dealing and dropping cards in the usual manner. Again, the selected card will end up on top of the packet thanks to the subtle displacement. The easiest way to remember how to displace the cards is to remind yourself that "bit" has three letters in it, so you start by dropping three cards on the table

If you don't like the phrase "a bit of both", you can skip the displacement and spell the word "mixture" because it spells with seven letters. Alternatively, you can cut four cards to the table and drop the rest on top. Then you can spell "true", "lies" or "both", all of which contain four letters. This approach also works with the original script found in Solomon's Mind.

In fact, you can use any word you prefer. Simply cut the required number of cards to the table. For example, if you want to spell the word "false", spread the packet and, as you square up, establish a little finger break below the top five cards of the packet. Cut all the cards above the break to the table and drop the ones in your hand on top.

Cutting the cards to the table is justified by asking your participant to pick up the packet and perform the final spelling sequence (rather than doing it yourself). This has the added bonus of making your participant the focus of attention at the end of the routine.

If you don't want to perform any kind of displacement, you can skip the last question and do a Duck and Deal Shuffle (Under-Down Deal) instead. The last card remaining in your hand will be the selection (the original bottom card of the packet). As you put cards under the packet, say the word "true" and, as you deal cards to the table, say the word "false". This legitimises the procedure and connects it to the presentation. 

Another way to keep the handling closer to the original is to spell "number" or "picture" instead of "spot" and "face". This means that the card will end up third from the top, not on the bottom of the packet before you ask the fourth question.

In fact, you can increase David's original script to six questions, if you want to make the trick longer. These are the questions and the order in which you need to ask them:

  1. "Is your card red or black?"
  2. "Is it a number card or a picture card?
  3. "Is it an odd or even card?" or "Is it a male or female card?"
  4. "What is the suit of your card. Is it Clubs, Hearts, Spades or Diamonds?"
  5. "What is the value of your card? Ace, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, SevenEight, Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen or King."
  6. "Were your answers true, false or a bit of both?" (Or substitute "false" with "lies" or "liar" if you always want to finish the trick in the same way.)


The big advantage of this handling is that the card ends up on the bottom of the packet, making it very easy to peek at the identity of the card. Although I prefer this handling, you might like David Solomon's original better. People do seem to like to make up ridiculous lies; when I performed this trick for my six-year-old daughter, she said the colour of her card was "rainbow"; she was very impressed when the trick still worked! I encourage you to study both handings and decide for yourself which works best for you.

I'd also encourage you to "jazz it up" and blend ideas from both "The Truth Will Out" and "Steinmeyer's Nine Card Problem with Seven Cards".