So, wow — there were more than 90 psychic guesses from people hoping to win the grand prize of taking me out on a date (or alternately, if the winner was too far from Boston or just not that into me, he or she could just mail me a sandwich and a milkshake). There were a multitude of ways for people to figure out the item, including remote viewing, seeing into the future when I opened the lid, seeing into the past when I placed the item, reading my mind, astral projection, breaking and entering, praying for Jesus to reveal the answer, dream interpretation, careful analysis of my known personality traits to deduce what the object might be, or outright guessing. I believe the latter two were the most popular tactics.
Guesses made in comments on this blog, on the MySpace blog, and mailed in to me included:
Don Knotts doll
Shrunken head (cute, Stella)
Naked photo of Perry Deangelis
Amazing Randi doll
And a lot of other great ideas. There were a few creative intangibles guessed such as “truth” and “Schroedinger’s cat.” My favorite guess was probably an appletini-drinking woodchuck named Phineus the Skepchuck. That appeared to be the joint effort of N.R. Miller, GreenNeck2, and Expatria (who apparently shares a birthday with my brother).
There was quite a lot of serious investigative work going on in the comments thread. I found this entertaining in part because you were all doing exactly what a “psychic” would do in the same situation — searching out even the tiniest clue to help zero in on what the object could be.
In the past I’ve discussed the cold reading tactics that psychics such as Sylvia Browne use, in which generalities are tossed out until the person being read offers some feedback. Cold reading in a case like this Lunch Box Experiment is difficult — you could all throw out generalities, but I offered very little feedback. People did, however, seize upon what feedback I did offer (telling you that one person was rather close to guessing the item). There are also two other forms of reading, known as “warm reading” and “hot reading.” With a hot reading, the “psychic” knows the key information beforehand. If you had visited my apartment and happened to take a peek inside the lunch box when I wasn’t paying attention, you could do a really great hot reading.
“Warm readings” occur when the “psychic” knows a little bit of key information beforehand, using it as a launching point. That’s what most of you were doing. You already know some things about me — Skyelight figured that I would probably choose something quirky, and a lot of people guessed skeptical or science-related objects. One of you, exarch, has even been in my apartment, giving him an even “warmer” starting point.
All of that hard detective work, though, failed to produce an accurate guess. As I mentioned in the thread, one person did come eerily close. That person is Blake Stacey, who wrote:
Ooh ooh, I know! Itâ€™s the squid youâ€™re going to use in PZ Myersâ€™s skepdude calendar photo!
It is not a squid, and I did not have any plans to incorporate the object into PZ’s photo. However, the object is . . .
A stuffed octopus bathtub scrubbie.
I would have accepted “octopus” or “bathtub scrubbie” (or some very similar variant). “Squid” is damned close, but alas, not close enough. Still, Blake deserves something for being so very nearly psychic-like. So, here is Blake’s prize:
The Blasphemy Challenge video made me realize that it’s really quite easy to do a video blog, so I’d like to do some more. However, I am indecisive and unable to choose a suitable topic. Blake can choose any skeptical or science-y theme — it could be something in the news, a question he has, a blog entry he’d like me to expand upon, just about anything — and I will film a short video on it and upload it to YouTube, probably next week. Blake, feel free to solicit ideas from other readers in the comments section and then let me know your decision by posting here. Congratulations Blake!