The Randi Prize

Peter could make coins disappear by snapping his fingers.

It seemed to follow some rules. One snap of the fingers made one coin vanish. The first test he’d done, after discovering this ability, was to set coins out in front of him and repeatedly snap his fingers to watch what order they were vanished in. Higher denomination coins went first. Coins that were closer to him went first. After getting out a ruler, Peter found that “close” was mostly determined by how far away the coin was from his heart. He tested snapping upside down, and on his back, but that didn’t seem to matter. He tested to see what happened when a higher denomination coin was more distant than a lower denomination, and eventually found out what governed it; a penny would be vanished if it was more than five times closer than a nickel, and a nickel would be vanished if it was five times closer than a quarter.

By the end of the first day, Peter had blown through thirty dollars in change. His change jar was empty, and his thumb and middle finger were both sore. He had no idea where it was the coins were going. There were more questions beyond that, like what would happen with Canadian coins or the coins from the car wash, but Peter had a bona fide superpower. The only thing left to do was turn it to his advantage.

James Randi was a skeptic, who established a prize in 1964 which would go towards anyone with the ability to demonstrate a supernatural ability. Currently, the prize was a million dollars. Vanishing coins with a snap of the fingers didn’t seem to be all that useful, and it didn’t need to be something kept secret, so trying for the Randi Prize first (before anything else) seemed to be the way to go. Peter carefully filled out his application, got a signature from his (completely shocked) brother Kris who worked as a physicist, sent it off through the mail, and got his response back a few days later.

The protocol was carefully agreed on. Peter had snapped away more than a hundred dollars by now, many of them in Kris’s lab under close observation. The biggest practical application seemed to be in waste disposal; if it was possible for the power to recognize nuclear waste as a coin, perhaps by having it minted, then Peter could slowly clear the world of it. The largest coin in the world weighed a ton, and Peter was fairly sure that he would be able to vanish it just as easily as a simple penny. If the United States could declare their nuclear coins to be worth a trillion dollars each, then he might even be able to vanish them from the safety of his home. (Peter’s own knowledge didn’t seem to enter into it. They’d done double-blind tests.)

On the day of the preliminary test, Peter was stunned to see that Randi himself had shown up. He had a thick white beard and large glasses; at age 86, it was a surprise to see him out and about. Peter shook his hand, and Randi smiled.

“I won’t interfere with the protocol,” said Randi. “I won’t touch the materials, or offer any objections. We’ve read what you claimed, and seen the video evidence, so all that’s left is to prove it for real. If you’re the genuine article, we’ll know soon enough.”

They had cordoned off a field, at Peter’s expense. Everyone attending — about a dozen people in total — had taken away all of their coins. Peter had been out in the field snapping his fingers earlier in the day, to make sure that there were no coins buried underground or laying in the grass. He’d run through the protocol six times before Randi and the proctor had shown up.

The proctor came forward and placed a single quarter on a small black table. The table had been examined beforehand. The quarter had been brought by the proctor from a bank, and there were many more outside the cordoned area as replacements or backups.

Everyone stared at the quarter. Peter raised his hand slowly. He had to work to keep it from trembling. He snapped his fingers, and nothing happened.

He snapped his fingers again. The quarter remained in place. There were a million dollars on the line. Peter had already begun spending the money in his head. He snapped a third time, and a fourth, and kept going until Kris stepped forward and told him to stop. They had a brief conversation as they tried to figure out what the problem might be, but the only thing they could think was that there were other, valuable coins too close by. Peter resumed snapping again, and got as close to the quarter as the proctor and the protocols would allow, but after a hundred snaps, the test was marked as a failure. Randi left, and Peter was left wondering what happened.

The power never came back, no matter how long and how hard Peter snapped his fingers. The brief few days of magic seemed almost like a dream. Peter might have been able to believe that it was a temporary delusion, if not for the videotapes.

Weeks later, Peter got a knock on his door. When he opened it, James Randi stood in front of him, with his thick white beard and a black suit with a red tie.

“I wasn’t a fraud,” said Peter. “It really was happening.”

“May I come in?” asked Randi. Peter nodded, and they moved into the living room. Randi sat down in a chair and massaged his knees. “Peter, do you know how many people have come to me over the years?”

“Uh, three hundred and sixty?” asked Peter. “That’s what the internet said. I tried to cover my bases. But I had a real power,” said Peter. “It wasn’t all in my head. Other people saw it too.”

“Do you think that you are unique?” asked Randi. “In the history of the world, do you think that you are the single person to have ever displayed or discovered a supernatural power?”

“I … no,” said Peter. “I suppose not. But then why has the prize been around for so long? Why hasn’t someone claimed it?”

Randi pulled a quarter from his pocket, balanced it on his thumb for a moment, and then flicked it into the air. It spun around, making a shimmering sphere as it traced a parabolic arc. When it reached the apex, Randi snapped his fingers, and the coin disappeared.

“Three hundred and sixty tests,” said Randi. “None of them passed. The common denominator was me.” He smiled, revealing his teeth.

“How?” asked Peter. “*Why?*”

“I’ve never been able to explain how,” said Randi. “The why should be obvious though. If you could take that power from someone, why wouldn’t you? The prize draws them in like moths to a flame. All it takes is a shake of the hand.”

“I’ll,” Peter began. “I’ll expose you. You stole from me!”

“You haven’t been listening,” said Randi. He stood up slowly. “Psychics come to me, and I take their powers. Do you understand why I’m here? It’s not to gloat. This is cleanup.”

And then Peter was alone. He was feeling sad, and tried to remember why. The videotapes, that was it. He’d carefully edited them to make it seem like a coin was disappearing. It had taken hours of his time, and all for nothing. Why had he thought that he could cheat Randi like that?

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The Randi Prize

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