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Tricks OF THE Mind

Bob Lawson says Russian roulette was big with mentalists years ago. So he tried it twice in his shows, using blanks in the revolver he put to his temple.

Both times, he was successful in predicting which chamber held the blank _ and terrified when he pulled the trigger. Even a blank can do some serious brain damage, he said, and "you don't want to screw up."

So in his show Sunday at the Largo Cultural Center, he will use a different weapon: A dagger with a 7-inch, razor-sharp blade.

He brought it out to show a reporter this week. It was a shiny and scary-looking blade that could cut through a frozen grouper like it was so much jellyfish.

This is what he'll do with it:

He'll bring out a 2- by 6-foot board suspended on two blocks of glass. There are five plastic foam cups on the board. He'll ask an audience member to put one of the cups over the blade, which will be set tip up, covering it, while he's not looking. He'll ask the audience member to visualize a symbol near the cup.

Lawson, reading the thoughts of the participant, will try to see the symbol he or she is imagining. Then he'll take his hand and crush each one with his palm except, hopefully, the one with the blade.

His mother, who will be in the audience Sunday, probably will turn her head.

"She says, "You aren't going to be doing that thing with the knife, are you?' " Lawson said, laughing. "She can't stand it."

She knows what Lawson knows.

"This is not an exact science," said Lawson. "(An accident) re-enforces this is not a trick."

But Lawson is successful most of the time.

He does not call himself a psychic, but rather a "mentalist" who uses his shows as testing ground for experiments with ESP. He reads minds, does thought-transfer exercises and makes predictions.

Lawson is a friendly, outgoing man who is a trained stage actor. He and his longtime partner, Mark Sutton, have performed around the world.

He started to hone his craft as a child, playing ESP-type games with his brother.

If he is blindfolded, he can sense whether an item has been in his possession, a technique called psychometry.

He routinely recites phone numbers of strangers.

Here's another experiment he'll try Sunday: He'll ask an audience member to join him on stage and call someone on a cell phone, someone who is not in the theater. He'll have the person on the other end of the line picture a deck of cards and visualize one of them. Then he will try and determine which one the person selected.

But that's not the exciting part.

This is: The answer will be written down hours earlier on a piece of paper already on the stage.

Years ago the Times asked Lawson who was going to win the Super Bowl and he drew a blank.

But not this year. He had a prediction.

"I'd go with the Patriots," he said, laughing.

_ Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or