Magic Trick: Tricks with Cups and Balls

The variety of tricks performed with the aid of cups and balls take a prominent position in the repertory of every conjuror laying claim to any proficiency in pure sleight of hand. Three tin cups (or, rather, as they are always used in an inverted position, covers), rather more than 4in. in height, and some 3in. across the mouth, with the bottom concave, and two or three little rings near the mouth (Fig. 23) will be required. Also make, to commence with, four cork balls, blackened, either by burning or by colouration, each about the size of an ordinary bullet. The audience know of the existence of three balls only, the fourth being concealed by the conjuror between the roots of the third and middle fingers. The very first thing the learner must acquire is the knack of slipping the ball rapidly from the exposed (Fig. 24) to the concealed position (Fig. 25) in a secure manner. The ball is partly slid, partly rolled, partly dropped into the position, the thumb, with a slight motion, which, in time, will become quite an unconscious one, pressing it finally home.

Fig. 23.

The action, which must be accompanied by the backward and forward swing used when palming coins, must be practised with both hands, the more awkward hand of the two being taught first. When tolerably perfect in this, practise getting the ball down to the tips of the fingers at the roots of which it is held, care being of course taken that no portion of it protrudes. The object of getting the ball into this position is, that it may be placed under any cup, raised ostensibly for some other purpose, without detection. As the cup is placed on the table, the ball held in the fingers is slid quietly under it. All conjurors do not use this method, some grasping the cup as low down as possible, and jerking it up and down, thus getting the ball inside direct from the concealed position (Fig. 25). This latter method is exceedingly neat, but is the more difficult one to accomplish. However, the learner may try for himself, and adopt the method which comes the easier to him. The ball is not taken in the tips of the fingers until the hand is about to grasp the cup, the major motion shielding the minor one. With the two movements described under his control, the learner should proceed thus: Place the three cups in a row, with a ball in front (i.e., towards the audience) of each, and explain that the cups are solid tin and are not provided with permeable bottoms. There is no objection to allowing an examination to be made, but it had better take place at the end of the trick, or much time will be wasted. Say that the tin cups are for the purpose of covering the balls, and place one cup over each to illustrate it. Now take up cup No. 1, and, whilst placing it down a few inches off, slip the concealed ball under it. Pick up ball No. 1, and vanish it by concealing it in the prescribed method (Fig. 25). You can pretend to throw it into the air, or affect to put it into the other hand (see Coins, Fig. 7), from which it will be "passed" by a rap from the wand, which article you will find a true friend when performing with the cups and balls, and which should be held in readiness under the arm. Repeat the operation with cups No. 2 and No. 3, each having a ball placed under it when shifted. Tell the audience that so well trained are the little balls, that, at your word of command, they will return from their invisible wanderings to their imprisonment beneath the cups, which you will then raise, and show the balls beneath. This is the first and simple phase.

Fig. 24.

Fig. 25.

In the next, cup No. 1 is placed over a ball, and the concealed one slipped in with it. Take up another ball, and pretend to "pass" it through the cup, which raise, showing two balls together, and then replace, slipping concealed ball under along with the other two; and then "pass" the third ball through, which will bring all three balls under one cup. On putting cup No. 1 down, after exhibiting the three balls together, slip concealed ball under it, and pick up one of the three, which vanish. Then say it is as easy for you to abstract a ball from beneath a cup as it is for you to pass it to the inside. Put cup No. 2 over the two balls, and pretend to take one out by means of the wand, the concealed ball being exhibited as the one thus abstracted. "Pass" this through cup No. 1, which raise, showing the ball already there, and, on replacing it, slip under concealed ball. Recall the ball you vanished previously, and show it under cup No. 1, and then "pass" it back to cup No. 2, where the two balls still are; slip concealed ball under, and then "pass" ball from cup No. 1 to cup No. 2. The ball "passed" must in each instance be picked up and vanished, and not merely told to pass from one cup to another. The changes can be kept up for a long time if a ball be slipped under a cup whenever it is raised; but the performer must keep his head clear, or he will find himself getting into trouble by showing four balls at the same time.

Phase 3 consists of piling the three cups one over the other, and passing the balls into what I may term the storeys thus formed. It is for this phase that the bottoms of the cups are made concave to receive the ball. If the bottom were flat, the ball would roll off at an awkward moment, Place cup No. 1, with concealed ball underneath, on the table, and, taking up a ball, "pass" it through. Put cup No. 2 over cup No. 1, concealed ball being sandwiched between the bottoms of the two. The slipping of a ball beneath a cup which is placed on the table is a very simple matter, but it requires considerable adroitness to slip one cleanly between two cups. It is only to be done with a sharp jerk, the ball being thus sent to the top of the cup, which is then rapidly placed over the other. Considerable practice will be required to attain this knack, but the pretty effect well repays any trouble. Even when taking the greatest care, the ball is very liable to become jammed between the sides of the cups instead of their bottoms. The noise made by the rattling of the ball in the cup is covered by that occasioned by one cup being placed over the other. Repeat the operation with the third cup, and then show the balls in their respective positions. Should a cup cant over to one side, it will be because the ball beneath it is not in its place, but is jammed in between the two sides of the cups. In this case, care must be taken in removing the uppermost cup. If adroitly managed, the errant ball can be brought back to its proper position on the top of the lower cup by the action of withdrawing the upper one. This should be practised in private, so that the emergency may be met without difficulty when it occurs.

The fourth phase consists in apparently manufacturing an inexhaustible quantity of balls beneath the cups. This is very easily managed by first covering each of the three balls with a cup openly. Take up cup No. 1, and put it down again a few inches off, with the concealed ball under it. Pick up ball No. 1, and pretend to put it in your pocket, but conceal it in the fingers; take up cup No. 2, and replace it, with concealed ball beneath it, and affect to put ball No. 2 into the pocket, but conceal as before. Repeat operation with cup and ball No. 3, and then recommence with cup No. 1. This phase can be prolonged at will. A number of balls can be carried in the pocket, and afterwards exhibited as the ones you have manufactured; but this is by no means necessary to the success of the trick.

A most startling and amusing conclusion to a display with the cups and balls is the introduction of large balls, potatoes, oranges, lemons, apples, &c., beneath the cups. Care must be taken that these larger articles will go into the cups easily, or a fiasco may result. The best balls are those made of fancy paper, as they are nice and light. A convenient place for keeping them ready for use is a shallow, oblong, open bag, made out of black silk or alpaca, and furnished with a bent pin at each end, and one in the middle. This bag you can affix to the tablecloth behind the table. In the absence of such a receptacle, the tablecloth can be pinned up, and so form an impromptu one; but this can hardly be arranged unperceived in front of an audience. In the absence of both cloth and bag, the articles to be conveyed inside the cups must be kept under the waistcoat, or in the pockets, but, in this case, the pockets must be side ones, and easily got at. The moment for introducing the large ball, orange, &c., into a cup is when the eyes of the audience are attracted towards any object just revealed to them. The orange, &c., must be taken by the left hand from its place of concealment whilst the right is engaged with the cup; and the instant the latter is raised, for the purpose of showing whatever may be under, it must be passed briskly—at the same time, in a manner not too marked—to the left hand, and the article slipped inside. The hands must remain together only sufficiently long to permit the completion of the manœuvre, when the cup must be again held by the right hand only; the article inside being prevented from falling by having the little finger placed beneath it. Sometimes, I press the paper balls lightly into the cup, and am so enabled to hold the cup by the top, and to raise it from the table, to show that there is nothing under it. By bringing the cup down hard on the table, the ball will become disengaged. This method should only be used as a change. Supposing that you have an orange inside cup No. 1, place it gently and unconcernedly on the table whilst drawing attention, by means of your tongue, to cup No. 2. By the time cup No. 2 is raised, the left hand will contain, say, an apple, which will go inside the cup, and public attention drawn to cup No. 3, which, in its turn, will be raised, and tenanted with a potato. You can now either knock over all three cups, and reveal their contents, which has a very good effect, or continue the manufactory as with the cork balls, pretending to put the potatoes, oranges, &c., into the pocket. It will be only necessary to have one of each kind of article, although the audience will be led to believe that your pockets are crammed with them by the time you have finished. It is best to have four kinds, as by that means each cup has something different under it every time it is raised. It is not advisable, however, to fill the cups more than twice by this method. The performer must not have his head filled with the idea that his movements are noticed, for the eyes of the spectators are sure to be riveted on the article last revealed. Any hesitation will be attended with disastrous results, so the thing must be done with dash, or not at all. Every conjuror should endeavour to become perfect with the cups and balls, as they not only amuse and astonish audiences, but afford great practice to the learner.

One very important thing in connection with this trick is the talk with which it is accompanied. The performer should be talking the whole time, explaining everything as he goes on; at the same time, he must not talk a lot of nonsense, which will only cause the audience to form a low estimate of his prestidigitatorial powers, but infuse his harangue with a little very mild humour. Something like the following, varied to suit the circumstances, will be to the point: "I have here three little tin cups, solid, and free from any trickery or deception, as you may see for yourselves." (Hand cups round.) "Kindly see that the bottoms do not take out. I have also three little cork balls, equally guileless with the cups. Madam, will you be so good as to squeeze one, and see that it is solid?" (Give a ball to a lady.) "Thank you. These little balls, ladies and gentlemen, are, you will be interested to hear, trained to a high degree of perfection, and are perfectly obedient to my will, as I will shortly show you. This cup, which you will perceive is perfectly empty, I place here on the table, and, taking up one of the balls, I simply say to it, 'Hey, presto! begone!' and it has vanished. The second little ball I take from beneath this cup, and command it to keep company with its predecessor. 'Fly!' and it has gone. The remaining ball I treat in the same manner. By the aid of my magic wand, I recall my little servants. See, here comes one, and, following my wand, it passes through into this cup" (tap a cup with the wand), &c., &c. It will be as well for the conjuror to study what he intends saying beforehand, in the early stages of his career, for he will find his wits sufficiently troubled to execute his tricks properly without requiring to think about his language.

A little sleight, which may be introduced with effect, is the apparent throwing of one cup through the other. This illusion is effected by holding a cup, mouth upwards, lightly between the thumb and forefinger. The other hand then throws a second cup sharply into it. The lower cup is allowed to fall, and the second cup caught by the thumb and forefinger, the appearance being that one cup has passed completely through the other.

Index of Magic Tricks | Previous Trick: A Spherical Paradox, Not so Clear as It Seems | Next Trick: Tricks with Handkerchiefs - Introduction