Magic Trick: A Spherical Paradox, Not so Clear as It Seems

This was a favorite trick of Robert Heller's, and in his hands was a gem. The "properties" needed for its successful accomplishment are:

1. A rectangular board measuring, say, twelve inches from side to side and nine inches from top to bottom, and standing with a tilt, somewhat like an easel. See Fig. 106. It is hinged at its lower front edge to a second board of its own width, but not so high, which lies flat. Two straight, narrow legs, hinged at the back, support the upright board at any desired angle. The face of the board is covered with black velvet and ornamented with a narrow gilt braid, which divides it into diamonds and also forms a frame round the edges, as shown in the illustration. At the points A and B are holes cut through the board. These holes are large enough to admit the largest ball used in the trick to pass in and out easily. The edges of these holes are carefully covered with the velvet, and back of each is a deep pocket of the same material. At C and D, are cavities in the board; these are loosely covered by the velvet, so that a ball will stand on one without rolling off. In addition, there is a semicircle of pins or "brads" under each cavity, as a rest for a ball. Hanging at the back of the board, near the top, is a wire holder of the shape shown in Fig. 107. This holds a ball firmly and yet allows it to be taken away by a mere touch of the fingers.

Fig. 106 The velvet board.

Fig. 107 The wire holder, with a safety pin at the top.

2. A clear glass decanter. In the bottom of this a hole is cut, and in it is inserted (and cemented with white lead) the inverted bowl of a wineglass, large enough to hold the ruby glass ball, described below. The stem and base of the wineglass are cut off. This forms a "kick," that is, the hollow usually found in the bottom of a molded glass bottle.

3. A solid ivory or wooden ball, an inch and a half in diameter and stained red.

4. Two thin brass shells in the shape of a half-ball, each large enough to admit a little more than half of the solid ball. These are japanned red; they are made like a box and its lid, so as to shut together closely and yet not be too tight to open easily. A tiny bit of chamois leather glued on the inside center of each shell deadens any sound that might be heard when the solid ball is placed inside.

5. A clear glass or crystal ball, an inch and three-eighths in diameter.

6. A ruby glass ball of the same size as the crystal ball.

7. A small, clear glass ball, half-an-inch in diameter.

When the performer begins the trick, the velvet board is standing, slightly tilted, on the table; the large crystal glass ball is in the wire holder at the back. The two shells, one over the other, are under the front of the performer's waistcoat at the right of the center. The ruby ball and the small glass ball are each in a separate little pocket sewed on the back of the trousers leg, where the right hand can easily reach them. They are hidden by the coat tails. The solid wooden ball is in the right sleeve.

The decanter, which stands on a second table, is filled with a solution of extract of logwood.

The performer holds one end of his wand in his right hand, the other end resting lightly in his left palm. Addressing his audience, he says:—"I have here my wand," holding it up, "which many imagine is only for show. I assure you that is a mistake. When I want anything I squeeze the end of this magic stick, and I get what I want." As he says this, he holds up the wand with his left hand, and, simultaneously dropping his right, the ball in his sleeve drops into his palm, where it is held concealed. Then bringing that hand, with the back toward the audience, to the wand, he slides the thumb and fingers along the stick to the other end and at the same time rolls the ball with his thumb to the finger tips, so that just as the end of the wand is reached the ball will come in sight, making it appear to the audience as if he had just taken it out, as shown in Fig. 108. "See," he continues, "a solid ball. Examine it, please." When it has been examined to the satisfaction of the audience, the performer takes it back with his right hand, and as he returns to his stage his left hand reaches under his vest and takes out the two shells; then his hands are brought together and he inserts the ball into the lower shell.

Fig. 108

When he reaches the stage he faces his audience. "See," he says, "I take this ball, and by a simple movement break it in half, as you see, for both balls are the same size." As he pretends to do this, the performer moves his hands from side to side, lifts off the top shell with his left hand and encircles it with the thumb and forefinger, holding the convex side of the shell toward the audience. The right hand takes the second shell, with the solid ball still inside, and holds it in the same position as the first shell. They look like two solid balls. "See," he says, "what one may come to, if handled properly. Again, another twist, and a third will come forth." Once more moving his hands from side to side, he gets out the solid ball and holds the three together in a triangular shape. "This position," he continues, "suggests the symbolic sign, My Uncle. Again, pass one this way and one that way, and we have only the original ball remaining." As he moves his hands right and left in front of his body, he slips the solid ball into one shell and then, bringing the two shells together, closes them. "I will stand this here," he says, as he places the ball at C. "Can you see it distinctly?" he asks. "Let me tilt the board more." As his hand goes behind the board, he grasps the large glass ball and holds it concealed. "Again I take this solid ball, and squeezing it just a little, produce this ball of solid crystal." Here he lets the glass ball come in sight and replaces the shells containing the solid ball on the board, at C. "It is as though the ball had wept and this were a tear. I will stand it here." He places the glass ball on the board at D, and turns to his audience.

"So far," he says, "everything has gone along all right. Now for another effect. I take this ball in my left hand and close the hand around it." As he pretends to do this he drops the shells with the ball into the hole at A. "The crystal ball," he continues, "I place on top of my fist over the other ball," suiting the action to the word, "and opening my hand a little, I allow the crystal ball to pass down into the other. You naturally imagine that the larger will absorb the smaller. On the contrary, the crystal ball has swallowed the other. Just the reverse of what you expected." He shows the glass ball and his empty hands.

"On this table," he says, pointing to the side table, "I have a decanter of port—the real Ottoman Porte, you've read about. The wine inside is proof that the decanter is perfect. No traps in that. I now propose to show you how to make one solid body pass through another; the crystal ball through the neck of the decanter into the wine." While the attention of the audience is directed to the decanter, the performer takes the small glass ball from his back pocket and holds it concealed in his right hand, just at the root of his second and third fingers, by slightly closing those fingers. He picks up the large glass ball. "Ah, it is too large," he says: "I will break off a piece." He pretends to do so, and shows the small ball. "Ah, I fear the sphere is now too small. I can not keep the piece. I shall put it back." Palming the small ball in his right hand, he presses his finger tips on the larger one, and as the small ball has disappeared the audience imagine it has gone whence it came. "Ah, that is better," he says as he places the glass ball on the board at D. Picking up the decanter as an excuse for so placing the ball, he merely moves it. "And now to pass the ball into the decanter." He apparently takes the glass ball from the board, but as his left hand covers it, he lets it drop into B. Placing his closed, but empty, hand over the mouth of the decanter, he exclaims, "Pass!" All eyes are on the decanter, and this gives him an opportunity to get the ruby ball from his pocket. "Yes, there it is," he says, "blushing with the life-blood of the wine. Come out, I say." Lifting the decanter with his left hand, his right goes to the bottom of the bottle and inserts the ball, shaking the decanter so that if a sound be heard the audience will imagine it is caused by the ball inside. As he rattles the decanter, he allows the ball to drop. "What further proof do you want?" he asks. "None, of course. I introduce this trick, first, because it is pure sleight-of-hand, requiring years of practice, and, secondly, because the ball and the decanter being of clear crystal you can see through them, and I flatter myself there is nothing else to see through."1

1 The board is on the plan of the so-called "Black Art Table," which within a year or so was introduced as something new. Heller used this board forty years ago. The little wire arrangement for holding the ball was invented about 1865, by Robert Nickle. Verily, there is nothing new under the sun!

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