Even though we all know it’s a clever trick (well, most of us do), magic continues to entertain us, in theaters and on TV. But magic that makes you invisible and turns your enemies into toads has yet to be invented.
Hocus Pocus! No one knows who was the first person to put a ball under a cup then make it vanish (one of the first magic tricks ever), but we do know that people were performing illusions in ancient civilizations all over the world.
A piece of 4,000 year-old ancient Egyptian writing tells of the magician Dedi, who cut animals’ heads off then miraculously put them back on – which sounds rather messy.
Performing illusions in Europe in the 16th century was a risky business because ‘witches’ were being executed for their magic powers. A helpful book called The Discoveries of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot explained how to tell the difference between magicians and real witches.
Many magicians performed in the streets, but by the 19th century they were appearing in theatres too, and magic acts were becoming more popular. Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) is often called ‘the father of modern magic’ because of the many mechanical devices he invented to perform illusions.
The early 20th century saw lots of astonishing new magicians, such as the escapologist Harry Houdini, and new magic tricks, such as Sawing a Woman in Half, invented by P. T. Selbit in 1921.
NOW THAT’S MAGIC! Here is a cup and ball trick – one of the earliest types of magic trick we know about. All you need to impress your friends is some scrunched-up paper balls, 3 plastic cups, a bit of practice and a lot of showmanship!
You will demonstrate a form of ancient magic by making a ball pass mysteriously through the top of an upturned cup and appear underneath.
Produce your three stacked plastic cups. Explain to your audience that they are ordinary cups (which they are). Place the cups in front of you on the table one at a time, counting them as you do so.
Place a single scrunched-up paper ball on top of the middle cup (2). As you do this you should keep up a patter to your audience – explain that the cup and ball trick is one of the most mysterious and ancient pieces of magic.
Stack cups 1 and 3 on to cup 2. Tell your audience that the ancients had discovered a way to make the material immaterial, and that you are going to demonstrate this. Tap the top of the cups three times.
Before you perform this trick, you need to prepare another paper bat and place this inside cup 2 before you stack the cups. When you turn the cups over, turn them fast enough so that the momentum keeps the paper in cup 2 from falling out too soon. This way. and keeping your cup-holding hand facing the audience, you should be able to disguise the fact that a bat is already under cup 2 from the start. Your audience will not see this ball until you reveal it at the end of the trick (step 5)- The great thing about this trick is that it is already primed for you to repeat it. as paper ball A will end up inside cup 2. You can do it time and time again!
Finally, explain that the ball will have magically passed through the cup on to the table top. lift up the stack of cups to show the ball underneath. Now, that’s magic!
Algeria, 1856: A religious group called the Marabouts were using magic to incite a rebellion against the French, so the French government sent Robert-Houdin to discredit the Marabouts by performing much more impressive magic. It worked!