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American magician David Blaine has recently stormed the world with his amazing magic tricks/illusions. And it's pretty cool stuff to watch, too. But is it really magic? Or can anyone do it? Is it only limited to a very special few? Of course it isn't. This entry aims to provide the avid h2g2 Researcher with as many cool easy-to-perform magic tricks as you can throw a white bunny at.
An Introduction to the Ways of Magic
It is important to understand that there are only a few basic principles to making stage magic work. Once you understand these principles you can begin to follow what is being done, though that doesn't mean that you will have the skills to pull some of the tricks off.
One basic principle is misdirection. In this case, the magician directs you to look in one place while s/he does something in another place that would be completely obvious if you were watching. For instance, the magician throws sparkly powder in the air or sets off a flash and smoke effect. While you are distracted and watching that, s/he simply puts something into or takes something out of a pocket.
Another principle is sleight of hand. Here the magician gives the impression that s/he is doing something much as a mime performer pretends to be in a glass box, such as passing a coin from one hand to the other. What really happens is that the coin does not change hands but you think it did. There are numerous techniques for appearing to do such things and at the same time to appear to have nothing in the hand that does in fact have something in it. Sleight of hand requires great dexterity and much practice to carry off properly but the actual techniques are very simple and generally depend on having your audience in a position where they cannot see something that would be blatant from another position. Great sleight of hand artists, however, can have people all around them and the trick is still not detectable.
Another technique is preparation. The magician simply has all the possibilities covered. For instance, the magician has you select a card from the deck. Through various tricks, s/he determines which card you have picked. Then s/he reaches into a pocket and takes out a sealed pack of cards, tears off the seal, opens the pack, and the card you selected mysteriously rises out of the deck. The trick simply involves having 52 different prepared decks secreted about their person and pulling the right one out.
Knowing which card is often the result of having a prepared deck of cards. For instance, one trick is to have shaved the deck. This technique involves making the cards a tiny bit narrower at one end than at the other. Then the magician simply arranges for the person to put the card back on the deck with it turned 180° from the rest. The result is that the card is easily detected by feel.
Many common illusions are based on someone having taken the time to carefully prepare a coin, for instance, so that it is not at all what one would expect. And the old trick of hanging a spoon on one's nose depends on having prepared a spoon in a simple way a few minutes ahead of time.
Sensory illusions are the basis for many other tricks. These tricks simply depend on known failings of the human senses. A common illusion depends on what is known as persistence of vision. The magician shows you something in his fingers such as the tip of a scarf that has been tucked into the hand. Then, suddenly, it is gone. Commonly this trick is performed using a device called a pull, which is essentially a tube attached to elastic pulled tight so that when the hand holding it relaxes, it is jerked out of sight. The persistence of vision insures that before you can possibly see what has happened, the scarf is already gone.
Human assumptions also can be used to the magician's advantage. One of the simplest of these tricks involves the clever use of mirrors against bland or repetitive backgrounds. You see what you assume is background but what is actually a mirror image. Commonly such things are used from a stage to make the audience think there is empty space under a table or platform when there is much space hidden by a mirror. Other times, assumptions make the audience believe that there is not enough room for a body when there is actually just enough to make the illusion work.
In point of fact, nearly every successful magic trick makes use of most, if not all, of these principles as well as others which are not listed. One thing you can be certain of, if a trick seems impossible, you have not considered all the possibilities.
The Funniest Card Trick in the World
This should be played on one person at a time, and for this trick you'll need two sets of cards, each with five cards. (The cards should be five different cards, but should resemble each other (for instance, if you had a Jack of spades in one, use a King of spades or Jack of clubs in the other).
Hide the second group, not allowing anyone to see it exists, and spread the five cards. Tell your friend to remember one card. Now, as you collect the cards, you'll need to switch between the two sets, spreading the other set with the backs up. This will be an easy switch after some messy attempts on your sister/close relatives/friends.
Make some magic impression (some like words, some movements... this Researcher usually just bulls**ts about magic energies for a couple of seconds) and remove a card from the deck. (A more extravagant version will be to tear it up. Just be careful doing that; you won't show the card while doing it). Now, just reveal the remaining cards. The lack of 'remembering the other cards not chosen' and simple 'process of elimination' thoughts will cause the subject of the magic to believe that the card gone is his/hers. And this is 'the funniest card trick in the world'. Mmmm...
First Some Silly Ones...
Find a friend who smokes and challenge them to make a cigarette lighter. (Not just produce one they might already have). Wait till they give up. Now, either take a cigarette from them and break off the end; It's now 'lighter'. Or take one cigarette from their pack; the pack is now 'a cigarette lighter'...
Bet a friend that you can make them open their hands just through the hypnotic power of your influence. Ask them to ball both their hands into fists. As soon as they do, if they've put their thumbs inside the fists say 'No, thumbs outside' or vice versa, if they're already outside. They should now open their fists to move their thumbs and you've already won! Try not to gloat too much...
Now a Less Silly One...
You will need the following props:
- A wine bottle with cork
- A silk head scarf/handkerchief
Get hold of an empty bottle of wine, complete with cork. Better still, get a full bottle of wine and drink it first. Get a willing volunteer from the audience and get then to sign the cork to make it identifiable. Now push the cork completely into the bottle. The challenge for the evening is now to remove the cork, without breaking the bottle.
Let people try for as long as they like before you agree to devote your deep psychic powers to the problem. Explain that to properly commune with the spirits you have to have to be alone with the spirits (the ancient guru who taught you the secret was most insistent on this point). Remove yourself and the bottle to somewhere private.
Now, take your scarf and hold on to two diagonally opposite corners, working the centre loop into the bottle. Do not let go of the corners! Hold the bottle horizontally and jiggle the cork into the loop of the scarf. Now, pull firmly and the scarf, complete with cork, should come out of the bottle again. Pocket the scarf and return in triumph.
A trick which this Researcher has actually seen David Blaine do...
You will need the following props:
- A cigarette (you actually just need some ash)
- A volunteer
- A lot of cheek
Before the trick, place a little ash on the middle finger of your right hand. Running it round an ashtray (yuk) should do the trick.
Explain to your volunteer that you have recently returned from Haiti, where a local witch doctor initiated you into the mysteries of voodoo, where actions which happen to one person or thing can be magically transferred to another. Offer to demonstrate.
Ask them to hold out their hands, palms down in front of them. When they comply, say 'No, slightly higher/lower', taking hold of their hands with your fingers underneath and moving them up or down. Remember the ash on your middle finger? As you move their hands, rub a little onto their palm. Now ask them to close their fists, rubbing off any excess ash from your finger surreptitiously.
Take a match/cigarette, light it and blow it out, making sure it's burned enough to generate some ash, but is cold enough so you don't burn yourself! Rub some of the ash onto the palm of your other (non-ashed) hand. Explain that you've established a unique spirit bond with them, transferring the impression of the ash from your hand to theirs. Ask them if they can feel anything inside their palm. (You never know! Imagination is a powerful thing.) Now ask them to open their hands...
A Great Mind Reading Trick
OK, here's a slightly more complicated trick - there's some maths involved.
- Pick a number between 1 and 10
- Multiply it by 9
- If it's a 2 digit number, add them together
- Now subtract 5
- Right, now map the result to a letter of the alphabet, where A=1, B=2 and so on
- Think of a country which begins with that letter.
- Take the second letter of the country and think of an animal which begins with that letter
- Think of the colour of that animal...
You're thinking of a grey elephant from Denmark, right?
Knocking the Chalk Marks through the Table
For this you will need:
- One piece of white chalk (possibly from a pub dartboard)
- A pub table
- One or more credulous onlookers
Tell the onlookers that with a thump, you can knock two chalk marks through the pub table. When they are looking, show them, Doubting-Thomas style, your hands to show that they are not already marked with chalk. When they are not looking, or with your hands under the table while you are giving the introductory spiel, 'colour in' the nails of your index and middle finger on your left hand with the chalk. Ask them to inspect the underside of the table. Now, put two chalk marks on top of the table about a centimetre apart. Press your left hand flat under the table, give a look of extreme concentration and bang your right fist violently, Khrushchev-style on top of the table onto the marks. As you do this, make a fist of your left hand thereby transferring the chalk marks to its palm. Show your audience both your palms, and your newly acquired chalk stigmata. Remove the chalk from your fingernails by rubbing when no one is looking.
This one can have them going for ages.
A Quick and Easy Card Trick
This is just about the simplest card trick of all time. What you do is spread a deck out in your hands and have someone pick a card at random (you know, one of those good ol' 'pick a card any card' deals). Have them remember what card it was but do not look at it. Square the deck off and sneak a peak at the bottom card. Have the person place the card on the bottom of the deck. Cut the deck and start going through cards. Their's will be the one just after the one that was on the bottom. With practice you can even shuffle the deck and keep the two cards together. The person's card will always be the one after the one on the bottom if the two stay together.
The 21-Card Trick
This one is very easy, as the trick performs itself more or less. Take 21 cards and lay them out on a table in three columns. Ask someone to pick a card (without saying which one, of course) and indicate which column it's in. Gather up the cards column by column, making sure to sandwich the indicated column between the other two. Lay the cards out again in three columns, but do it row by row. Now ask again which column the chosen card is in. Gather up the cards, sandwiching the indicated column between the others. Now lay out the cards row by row in three columns yet again, and you'll find that the chosen card is in the middle column, four rows down, ie, the exact middle.
This trick works with any odd number of cards in each column, and it seems to work with any odd number of columns as well, although this doesn't necessarily guarantee anything. When picking up the cards in a column, do it the way anyone would ie, by either taking the card farthest from you first and then the one nearer to you etc, or the one nearest to you first and then the one farther away and so on. The key thing is to preserve the relative order of the cards in the indicated column; it doesn't matter if that order is reversed. Another important thing is to try and make it look as if you're just gathering up the cards in any old way; the audience mustn't notice that there's some kind of system. Just play it cool, chat a bit and try to give the impression that you're not even paying any attention to the cards. One last note; if you think columns take up too much space, do it in rows instead.
Please note: you have to perform the process of asking which column the card is in (and sandwich that column between the other two) three times for 3x5 and 3x7 grids, but only two times for 3x3 grids. Don't do this trick with only one card in each column! It gets painfully obvious...
Good luck, although you'll hardly need it with this trick.
OK, this is an easy trick but it does take some luck and practice. The aim is to make your audience think you can levitate so give it some razzle-dazzle and don't repeat the trick once you've done it or they'll cotton-on to its secret.
Put everybody who is watching slightly behind you to one side, let's say your right side.
Then put your feet together with your left foot slightly in front of the other so that the left foot is masked from the audience by your right. Now very slowly and with great pomp and circumstance lift your self up with your left foot till you are on tippy-toes; from you audience's perspective it will look like you are hovering above the floor.
The two keys are practising till you can do it smoothly and keeping your audience in such as position that your left leg stays out of their view for the entire trick. This is known as the Balducci levitation and you might have seen David Blaine performing it on one of his TV specials (although what you actually see is the audience reaction to him performing it, the levitation he actually does on camera uses wires and a portable rig...). The key point is really in the angle your audience are watching from. Get that wrong and you're just going to look stupid.
The World's Easiest Card Trick
Are you ready? Good, we'll begin...
Shuffle a deck and get your victim to select a card.
They look at the card and pass it to you face down.
You take the card with your right hand, thumb at the bottom, fingers at the top and hold it at a natural sort-of-half-arm's-length-distance.
By bending the card very slightly, you can see the suit and number printed on the bottom right corner of the card, although your victim will not realise you can do so.
Repeat as necessary.
This can be combined with silly patter about stroking the back of the card 'to feel the secret raised printing' or listening very carefully as you bend it to 'hear the tell-tale crack of the glaze'. Your victim will never know how easy it is until they try it for themselves!
Another simple card trick - although it may sound a little complicated.
You need to prepare the deck of cards - remove the four aces, and keep them separate. Turn the deck face up, and then turn the top card face down. To perform the trick, select a volunteer. Hold the deck of cards firmly, and ask your volunteer to push the aces into it, one by one, each the same way up as the deck appears to be (ie, face down). Square up the cards, so that no edges are sticking out (this is only for show really). Then pass the deck behind your back, from one hand to the other. As you do so, secretly turn over the top card, and then turn the whole deck over.
Done well, it will just look like you passed the deck behind your back. But when you fan slowly through the cards, you will find that the aces have all mysteriously turned themselves face up...
Aces - Dog Tricks
You can also do this trick with any card, not reserved, and in plain sight.
Prepare the deck by turning the bottom card over.
Fan the deck but make sure not to expose the upside-down bottom card.
Have the mark pick any card.
While they show it to everyone, turn over the top card, and flip the entire deck, keeping it square.
Have them hold the picked card from the other end, face down, and push it edge-on into the deck.
Tell then you can teach that card a dog trick, to jump up to the top...
With a flourish, say 'jump!' - pick off the reversed top card, and as you do hold the deck in your hand vertically, so they can't see the way it's facing. Of course this will be wrong, and you'll get a small laugh.
Explain that it's an old deck, and like an old dog etc, then try 'lie down!' and with another flourish, pull off the reversed bottom card, and show it. Again, it's wrong. Dejected, ask for one last chance.
This time, explain that 'roll over' is your last chance. Shout 'roll over' to the exposed, (now innocent) face-down deck, and start slowly and dramatically fanning the deck to see that - to everyone's amazement - their card has obeyed and is face up!
The Disappearing Coin
There are many ways to make a coin disappear. This is one. You place your elbow down on a table, your hand hugging your neck. Now, with the other hand you rub a coin, flat, against your arm. The coin is covered and not visible to your audience. You rub and rub until 'accidentally' you drop it. So, you pick it up with the arm you were rubbing it against and pretend to pass it to the other hand. You put yourself in the previous position and continue to do that trick. The coin should, however, be on your neck now. You show your hands and the coin is magically gone!
A Cheap Trick
Approach someone in a bar or pub who is sitting down with a nice-looking spirit, say a good whisky or a double vodka. Tell them you are going to do a trick. Place a beer mat over the top of their glass. Now offer them a bet. Say you bet them 50 pence you can drink their drink without moving of touching their glass or the beer mat. Wait for them to accept this very safe bet. Now quickly remove the beer mat and drink their drink. You lost the bet, so hand over the 50 pence. That was a cheap drink.
Alternatively, bet someone the cost of the drinks that you can drink two pints of beer before they can drink a glass of spirits. The only conditions are neither of you are allowed to touch the other's glasses and you get a pint head start. Drink your pint, then put your empty glass over their glass of spirits... Cheers!
Match Stick in a Hanky Trick
It goes something like this. You give the person you are performing the trick to a single match stick. (They can provide their own if they happen to have one). Next you hold out a handkerchief and ask them to place the match stick in the middle with which you then wrap the match stick up in the hanky. Keeping a hold of the hanky, you let them grasp the match through the cloth and then tell them to snap the match in half. They do this. You then unfold the hanky to reveal the match that they broke which is magically not broken and in one piece.
To do this you need the type of cloth hanky that has a sewn hem all the way around. Into the hem you previously secrete another match stick prior to performing the trick. When you then wrap the match stick from your 'victim' up in the hanky, you make sure that the stick they grasp and break is the one securely in the hem. This broken stick then stays in the hem when you un-wrap the hanky revealing the victim's intact match. Provided you do not let them examine the hanky, the trick works well.