My friend asked me to contact the company and try to get more information. First of all, I have to admit that I was very skeptical. But I was also curious to see what would happen if I called the number listed on the site. So I did. To make a story short, I never was able to have an actual conversation with anyone. All the guy ever said was to send him an email. I never had any intention to do so.
Coincidentally, two weeks later I received an email from a CARDSHARK Online member, asking me to comment on some kind of X-ray vision contact lenses. I told him that I was familiar with the site that advertises them, but that I was unable to get in touch with anyone willing to talk on the phone. A few minutes later he sent me a link to a video demo of these contact lenses. I uploaded the video, and here it is.
This video demo is not accessible through the main page that advertises these contact lenses. So, I guess the company sends out an email with the link to anyone inquiring by email.
The video was interesting and it also answered some questions. Now I could see exactly how the ink was visible through the cards. But there was only one problem. I didn't believe a thing. But the video did give me a good idea about the "physics" involved in this latest development in luminous contact lenses.
After seeing the video I had a pretty good idea how these contacts possibly work. Of course, I can never be too sure that my theory is correct, but there's nothing preventing me to do a couple of test and see if I can come up with my own solution. So that's precisely what I did.
It took me about 2 minutes to make my own contact lenses, virtually from scratch, and another 2 minutes to record a video. Then it took me 15 to 20 minutes to edit the video and optimize it for the web. Here's my video. Pretty good, isn't it?
My video also clearly shows how my contact lenses would enable the user to see through playing cards. There's only one problem, though. My video is definitely a complete hoax.
In the next part of this post I will describe exactly how I made my contact lenses and how I shot and edited my video. Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the Chinese distributor did the exact same thing. I am simply explaining how I did it.
First of all, my contact lenses aren't even real contact lenses. I simply took an empty soda bottle, cut out part of the curved side below the neck of the bottle and then placed a dime on top and cut-out a circular segment out around it. The small circular cutout looks more or less like a contact lens, on camera. That's good enough for a video.
Next step was to create a couple of images of playing cards, shown in reverse, as would appear if seen through the back of the cards. I simply scanned two cards and flipped the image, then made a color print. Also, I added a special touch. As you can see I slightly blurred the faces of the cards, thinking this would be how the print would appear if seen through paper.
All the remained was to cut-out the printouts and shoot the damn video. Here's a picture that shows all the props that were uses to produce the video demo.
It took me about 2 minutes to record the video. That was pretty straightforward. I simply dealt down three cards (as in the Chinese demo) and passed a contact lens above the cards so the camera could see through it. But once I put the lens back into the case, I didn't stop the camera. I let the camera run while I placed three additional cards right on top of the three initial ones. The additional cards were the two reversed printouts, plus another card face down. Once the additional cards were in place, exactly on top of the initial cards, I let the camera run for a few seconds, then I hit the stop button.
Once I uploaded the recorded video on my hard drive I split it into two separate video files. The first one was the recording of the action shot, showing my hand passing a contact lens over the cards. There was nothing amazing about that shot, as of yet. The second shot was basically a still video recording of three cards laying flat on the table. There was also nothing spectacular about that shot, but once I'd put the two of them together the result would be... interesting, to say the least.
The editing was pretty simple. I basically placed the still recording on a separate layer, under the action shot. Then I used a round mask over the top video layer and tracked the position and size of the round contact lens. I used 45% opacity to blend the two images together through the mask and I also blurred the edge a bit, to make it look more realistic. Once that was all done I used a noise filter to make the video a bit more grainy. That all took 15 to 20 minutes of my time.
Once again, I am not saying that the Chinese vendor recorded their video in the same way. Perhaps they used a different video filter, or perhaps they used a different contact lens. And perhaps their video is not a hoax, at all. But as a general rule I have to see something with my own eyes before I believe it.
There are a few things that don't add up in the whole product description, including the original video demo.
First of all, this is the first crooked gambling gaff that I cannot explain with physics. Any other gaff I've ever seen or heard of makes sense in the universe we live in. But this one seems to have some kind of properties that simply cannot be explained. That's the first thing that stands out and that's the main reason why I simply can't believe the gaff is real.
But let's imagine the gaff is real. There are still some things that don't quite make sense.
The gaff is listed for $6,800. That's not cheap. Does the original demo video look like the kind of video that would be used to advertise a prop of that price range? Why is that video a hand-held camcorder recording of another video that was originally playing on someone's computer screen? Perhaps there's a logical explanation for that.
First of all, a camera recording of a computer screen will produce a lot of artifacts, such as noise, distortion and Moiré patterns. All those artifacts would be helpful if someone wanted to obfuscate some details that one would prefer not to be seen by attentive viewers.
Second, for most part, the second-generation video crops out the face of the demonstrator. His face is only visible for 21 frames (at 30 frames per second). Furthermore, if you freeze-frame the video and look closely, you will notice that the face of the demonstrator is not really visible in those 21 frames. It actually appears as if his mouth and eyes have been blurred-out. Have a look.
In my opinion, if someone had such an amazing product they should also be competent enough to produce a decent video that really shows what their product can do. At least that's the usual way people do business. But what this vendor is doing just happens to be the classic textbook approach how crooks that sell snake oil would traditionally do a presentation of a bogus product. They don't let you see much. instead they let your imagination fill in the blanks. Most people will not like it. But sooner or later a sucker is bound to show up and believe what he wants to believe, just because he's desperate to believe in something that doesn't exist. Smoke and mirrors.
There are some details in the video that don't quite make sense, apart from the fact that there's not physical explanation for X-ray contact lenses. Speaking of, why don't these contact lenses also see through the fabric cover on top of the table?
Nowadays contact lenses are soft. I tried to pick up a couple of regular contact lenses using a pair of tweezers and I was not able to do it quite as seen in the video. Soft contacts simply warp, especially when there's also contact lens solution stuck to the surface. In fact, that's the reason why I made my contact lens out of rigid plastic cut out from a soda bottle.
Also, contact lenses are curved and reflective. Nowhere in the original video am I able to spot a reflection that would give the impression that the surface is curved. The contact lens looks like a round cutout window through which we can see the bottom layer, just like the special effect editing I produced (in fact my editing looks better).
Furthermore, when you remove a contact lens from a liquid a lot of that liquid remains stuck on the lens. When I was recording my video I was having trouble getting the liquid to slide off the lens. As a result I noticed that droplets of water were stuck to the contact lens, creating additional "lenses" that were creating distortions as I looked through it. That's not present in the original video, although I was able to preserve some of that natural effect in my video.
If you watch the original video frame by frame you may be able to see that some red spots show up on the tip of the tweezers, as they pass over the center card (which appears to be the 8 of hearts). If special effects were used the red hearts may have bled through parts of the upper payer. A sloppy editor may be too lazy to fix it.
I could continue this list, but the most important thing is that the whole thing doesn't really make sense. What kind of illumination goes through the card, then bounces back from the printed ink at the face of the card and then passed through the card again on its way up and makes a clear picture of an image printed with ink. If that illumination can go through paper why doesn't it also just go through the print, too? After all, it seems to be passing though the print of the back design without any trouble.
Also, if illumination that can be seen with human eyes passes though cards, how come it doesn't get filtered while passing through paper? If it did get filtered the images would not show up exactly red and black.
If one wanted to give these guys the benefit of a doubt one may say that they could have produced a video simulation of what these contact lenses do in real life. One may say that the company didn't want to reveal too much, so they chose to make a fake video and that the video is just fake to protect the secret. That is a theoretical possibility.
However, Chinese crooked gambling distributors have some history with their web sites. Many years ago I found a Chinese site that advertised luminous contact lenses and some other gaffs. The images they used on their site, supposedly to show their own products, were images they lifted from my site, without my permission. They also used images of my prism shoes to advertise prism shoes that they supposedly sold. One should wonder, if they really sold these products, wouldn't they be able to just take their own pictures of their own products? Why lift images from the web?
That site eventually disappeared and another site appeared, under a different URL. That new site bore a striking resemblance to the former site. But this one didn't use my images. Instead they used generic images of contact lenses that could easily be found through Google. And this time they used eBay images of dealing shoes to advertise prism shoes. The images were of clear shoes; meaning the faceplate was 100% clear. The idea of a prism shoe (i.e. second dealing shoe) with a clear faceplate is simply ludicrous.
There were other instances with other sites that looked more or less the same, but I stopped paying attention. Every now and then someone would send me an email, letting me know that my materials were showing up on Chinese sites. I didn't care.
Back to the X-ray contact lenses.
We have to ask the question, what could anyone possibly stand to gain by making a hoax presentation of a product that doesn't exist? The answer to that one is very simple.
One of the greatest con men of all times, Victor Lustig, made a name for himself after it became known that he had managed to sell the Eiffel Tower, not once but twice. The Eiffel Tower did exist, it just wasn't his to sell. But good old uncle Victor also managed to sell a money duplicating machine, also more than once. That machine never existed, but that didn't stop him from collecting a few payments from a few clients that really wanted to have it.
If the Chinese site is a hoax the logical explanation would be that the site is very likely to disappear without a trace, as soon as too many suckers get mad and put the word out that they've been had. Whom would they complain to, anyway? Would they report the site to the Chinese authorities, explaining that they've been cheated while trying to buy cheating equipment to cheat others?
I really have no proof that the Chinese site is a hoax and I am not saying that it is. But if it is a hoax they probably do sell some of the other products that they advertise. After all, I do own a Chinese crooked mahjong set that came from one of those distributors.
I don't know why I'm such a skeptic, but I never believed in the impossible. So, I don't believe in this product either, especially when there are too many other explanation that are anything but impossible.
I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to add a set of X-ray vision contacts to your collection of crooked gambling gaffs. But for $6,800 you might as well spend a couple of thousand dollars more and visit the Great Wall of China, and arrange for a live demo. I definitely wouldn't recommend sending that kind of cash via Western Union, to some guy that sells cheating equipment, for a product that sounds too good to be true.
PS - I also put together a video that shows my original video recording next to the doctored version, X-Ray Vision Contacts... Exposé of Hoax Video.