#3. Win a Chess Game in Just a Few Moves
Chess is the game of geniuses. Hell, if Brain Olympics were a thing, chess would be the only event they have. It's all about strategy, anticipation, and thinking ahead, while mentally tracking the locations and abilities of 32 pieces. While the ultimate object is certainly to kill the opponent's king, the real effort goes toward systematically destroying his loyal subjects or carefully positioning yourself to stealth-murder him in the middle of their protective embrace. There's a lot of planning involved -- often, the game is over several rounds before the eventual checkmate.
"Well goddammit, Jerry, you wouldn't let me build any hotels!"
But, none of that means that there aren't a few easy tricks you can use to really impress novice players (that is, 99 percent of the people you'll ever play against anyway). Most of these tactics involve winning with just a couple of moves, which is great not only because it means you have to play as little as possible (it can get pretty dull), but because they'll think you're such a master that they'll be scared to ever play you again.
See, being a complex game, chess features quite a few ways to mess up your game right at the beginning. This means that, conversely, there are quite a few easy trap openings that you can lay, and most inexperienced players' first impulses will trip them straight into your spiky pit of despair. Take scholar's mate, for instance:
"No, really, it's an easy game to learn, the bishop moves diagonal, the rook moves straight, aaaaaaaaaaand you're dead."
Four moves from white and BOOM! You've dealt your opponent such a crushing defeat that were this a chess tournament, the rules would require you to teabag them. Black doesn't even need to make those exact moves to lose -- it works unless they specifically see what you're doing and stop it. Otherwise the queen winds up face to face with their king, and the king can't do shit about it because your bishop is protecting her. Two pieces render every other piece on the board useless.
And scholar's mate is far from alone: There are plenty of four- and five-move checkmates, some of which require a little more understanding of the game ... but are still a hell of a lot simpler than actually learning to be good at chess.
#2. Do Complicated Math Off the Top of Your Head
We mentioned Good Will Hunting a moment ago, but of course speed reading wasn't his main talent in the film: His genius was that he could do impossible math with ease. Likewise with the autistic savant in Rain Man, who showed that he had a superhuman brain hiding under his weird tics by instantly counting everything from toothpicks to cards.
But even if you suck at math, there are lots of ways you can at least create the impression that you're a human calculator. This won't get you a job with the NSA, but it will win you bets in bars.
Unless the bet involves getting a job with the NSA.
The flashiest, yet easiest way to impress people with numbers is simply to be really fucking quick with them. This, too, is a trick that can be learned with relative ease. There are tons and tons of ways to teach your brain into cheating at math, ranging from ridiculously easy to fairly challenging (but in no way impossible). For instance, if you have to multiply large numbers and one of the numbers is even, you can cheat by subdividing (doubling one figure and halving the other until the numbers make sense). A simple example:
32 x 125 = Wha'?
16 x 250 = Still on the difficult side.
8 x 500 = Almost there ...
4 x 1,000 = 4,000. Hell yes!
Or, if you're in a situation where somebody asks you the value of pi, instead of saying "3.14," rattle off 15 digits. You'll sound like a human supercomputer, when in reality all you need to do is memorize this phrase:
"How I wish a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics."
Congratulations, you've just memorized pi to 15 digits. Memorize that, or any phrase, where the number of letters in each word corresponds to a digit of pi ("How I wish" becomes "3.14," and so forth), and voila! You're pi'd for life.
"So long, suckers!"
What's that? You want an ability that can actually win you money? All right, let's go with the ancient black magic of counting cards in blackjack. That wasn't just the key plot point in Rain Man -- they've made whole movies about how impossible it is. However, there's a trick to it.
Card counting is essentially about assigning values to cards and adding and subtracting those values as the cards are dealt. In the high-low system, for example, you add one point for each 2 through 6 and subtract one point for cards 10 through ace -- cards 7, 8, and 9 are worth 0. High-value cards in blackjack are good for the player, and low-value cards are good for the dealer, so this system lets you keep a rough count of how potentially dangerous or advantageous the deck is. With practice, counting techniques are easy to expand from that starting point -- and before long, you, too, can get the shit kicked out of you in a casino backroom.
"Congratulations! You're about to qualify for much better parking."
#1. Give Someone a Sherlock Holmes Scan
Whether you prefer the movies with Robert Downey Jr., the TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch, or even (hahaha!) the original books, chances are you're well-acquainted with Sherlock Holmes, the great detective. Holmes' most prominent character trait is his deductive reasoning, a semi-superpower of "scanning" people and places for tiny bits of information and turning them into frighteningly accurate facts. The dude is all about reading insanely specific details from mundane observations: In this scene, Cumberbatch Holmes deduces the crap out of Bilbo Baggins based on nothing but a cellphone and a limp. It's kind of horrifying, actually -- there are a dozen reasons why we want to keep the reason behind our limp under wraps. So clearly it would be awesome to be able to do this to other people.
"Judging by the blister on your big toe and the daddy issues in your eyes, you're a stripper."
All you need to do is utilize the Forer effect, named after its inventor, psychologist Bertram Forer. In 1948, he set up an experiment where he gave personality tests to a number of subjects, then used them to see if he could construct an accurate personality summary. He could, too -- the subjects were astonished by his 84 percent overall accuracy in figuring out their innermost workings. Only Forer hadn't actually read their tests at all. He produced all of those super accurate summaries of peoples' personalities with zero prior knowledge of his subjects.
In fact, Forer's wizard-like deduction skills were so powerful that even though he's dead, he can analyze the shit out of you right now. Yeah, you, the person reading this article. Here's what he has to say about you:
"You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic."
"You also smell bad, but sometimes you don't."
Pretty scary, huh?
In reality, that is the exact same analysis Forer gave to every one of his subjects, compiled from a bunch of random horoscopes. Yeah, at this point it's probably worth mentioning that the alternate name for the Forer effect is the Barnum effect, named after the famous showman P.T. Barnum and specifically the "There's a sucker born every minute" quote (falsely) attributed to him. What Forer was really researching was the gullibility of people when reading descriptions of themselves, and what he found was this: We are so good at providing a coherent picture of what we hear and see that we flat out don't mind if the stuff we're told is vague and inconsistent. We're more than happy to fill in the blanks as long as the information is about us.
"And when he was talking about my insecurities, I knew that he meant my crippling fear of Velociraptors!"
And remember, when you do it, you really have to sell it. Stare hard into their eyes. Furrow your brow, as if deep in thought. Rub your chin, and pause between "revelations" as if you are working through them with your genius brain, drawing subtle clues only you can see. With this knowledge and confident behavior, you can join the ranks of many, many fake psychics and other quacks and give people inaccurate but extremely believable Sherlock scans all the damn time. Just don't quit your day job and embark on a brain war against professor Moriarty. Although, hell, he's probably faking it, too.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Amazing Examples of Rock Stars Owning Obnoxious Fans.