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February 1945
Popular Science

Mystic “Spirit” Board Spells Out Messages
The subconscious mind is said to be the guiding force behind operation of the ouija board, which is believed to have first made its appearance around the middle of the last century during a wave of spiritualism. Two persons sit beside the board, their fingers resting on a “planchette” and their arms unsupported. Soon the planchette begins to move, and eventually it comes to rest pointing at a letter on the board. Often it will spell out a word.

What really happens, according to Dr. Robert S. Woodworth, professor emeritus of psychology at Columbia University, is that muscular tension in the arms sets the planchette in motion. It may come to rest at first on any letter just by accident, or subjective expectancy on the part of one or both of the players may guide it. This first letter may then may then suggest a word that the players may finish spelling out without realizing that their act is subconscious. The fact that four hands apply pressure in different directions helps create the illusion of independent movement.

A simple ouija board for providing entertainment at parties can be made from 16” by 24” sheet of stiff cardboard lettered on 1/4” squares as shown in the drawing, or you can use plywood of the same size. Letter cardboard with India ink for a black-and-white finish, or use show-card colors having a sharp contrast: the apply a coat of clear lacquer or varnish to both sides. Be sure to put the coat on both sides so the cardboard won’t curl. If you use plywood, sand it lightly, use oil paints, and finish with lacquer or varnish. Avoid water stains that may raise the grain and spoil the smoothness essential for easy movement of the planchette.

This planchette, or pointer, is made of wood or pressed composition board, as indicated in the drawing. The retainer blocks, which act as bearings for the steel balls, should be hardwood. A countersink hole in the board over each ball helps to make the movement smoother.

In using a ouija board, the two players put both hands on the planchette and wait for muscular tension to cause it to move. Sometimes, in the midst or a semiserious session, laughter can be provoked if you are skillful enough to guide your partner’s hand to letters that provide a comical answer to some spoken question.