This article was originally published on our sister site Fresh Edits
Who was the magician of your time? It seems as though every generation has their own magic guy. For me, I would watch David Blane on TV and be totally confused as to how he was doing the stuff he was doing. No matter how bewilderingly real a magic trick might seem, at the end of the day, it’s a trick. Some magicians leave you with your jaws on the floor. Their perfectly disguised, deceptive props and methods of creating awe-inspiring illusions make you wonder whether they have supernatural powers. Well, they don’t. While some magicians come up with tricks and secrets of their own, most of them use traditional magic tricks, like walking on water or pulling a rabbit out of a hat, which aren’t really so hard to master when you get to know the secret.
So, let’s examine some of the most common magician tricks and see exactly how magicians pull them off!
This trick above has been performed by street magicians for ages now. As the name indicates, the magician appears to be floating in the air. Sometimes, to indicate that they are really above the ground and it’s not just an optical illusion, they hold a stick which shows the viewers that there really is a gap between them and the ground. People often stand in disbelief and wonder whether they have magical powers, or perhaps the person is a holy being. Well, there’s always a more straightforward explanation…
Levitating Man – Anatomy of the Illusion
Two metal plates are hidden by the special clothes the magician is wearing, and by using a prop, they hide the platform that is present to the ground. Most of the time, they use a carpet. This means that the magician is actually just simply sitting on an elevated platform without any pain in the world while creating the illusion of grace.
Random magic fact: back in the day, in 1956, a magician was performing the famous “cut a person in half” trick (which we’ll get to soon) using his wife for a televised performance. Immediately after she was “divided,” the host ended the magic show. People were terrified, thinking she had actually been killed, but time had simply run out on the broadcast. They were left hanging.
Floating Woman – What It is
While performing the floating woman act, the magician will either call a woman from the audience or take someone who they have already prepared for the show. They begin by asking the woman to lie down on a board that has been kept in place by two chairs. Slowly, they take the two chairs away, which should normally make the woman fall down, but instead, she stays perfectly placed on the table that is suspended in the air. Some magicians even run a metal hoop along the body of the woman to prove that no cables are holding her up.
Random magic fact: At the 1988 magic championships, a magician was ultimately disqualified because his performance was so amazing that the other magician judges thought he must have been cheating. He performed the exact same act three years later, (letting the judges shuffle the cards) and he still won.
Floating Woman – Anatomy of the Illusion
The secret of the trick lies in the hands of the magician; literally. The magician conveniently stands next to a metal rod, to which the table is attached. He applies pressure on the metal rod ensuring that the woman remains in place. So, basically, regardless of whether or not the chairs are there, the woman’s body will stay floating in the air, because the chairs were never the only thing providing her support. The way the magician diverts the audience’s attention from the rod is often done by using the hoop to captivate them even further.
Random magic fact: David Copperfield and two of his assistants were robbed at gunpoint in 2006. Copperfield was able to conceal his possessions when the thieves turned to him. He was later quoted as calling this in the moment illusion as “reverse pickpocketing.”
Walking on Water – What It Is
If you have seen someone walk on water, it doesn’t mean that they are holy or that there could be something special about them; it just means that they are good at creating an illusion. Magicians around the world have “walked on water” leaving the audience baffled and wondering about the possible explanations regarding the execution of the trick.
You cover your mouth with your hands while you gasp at every step they take, but they never seem to get submerged like you’d expect them to. Well, let’s see how they do it.
Random magic fact: There is a mansion in Hartford, CT that is 90 feet long but only 18 feet deep. The builder was actually a magician who wanted the house to look like an illusion.
Walking on Water – Anatomy of the Illusion
The magicians try their best to make it look like they are finding it hard to maintain their balance while walking, but honestly, they don’t need to do that. They are just trying to increase the plausibility of their performance, as weird as it may sound. The main props of the illusion are special Perspex boxes, that when put underneath the water surface, become invisible. Magicians arrange them perfectly and in close proximity to each other to ensure a safe walking experience.
Random magic fact: Intellectual property law doesn’t cover any incidents that involve magic tricks. So basically, an amazing, original trick can be stolen from a magician and there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it. At least not in the court of law.
Rabbit Out of a Hat – What It Is
This is the trick that most amateur magicians start with. If you haven’t seen any other trick on this list, surely, at some point in your life, you must have seen this one. Saying that it is the “oldest trick in the book” will be a gross understatement, too. In this trick, a magician pulls a rabbit out of a seemingly empty, large hat. They try their best to repeatedly show the audience that the hat is empty, before pulling out an oh-so-cute rabbit from inside it. But how!?
Random magic fact: There used to be a magician by the name of Jasper Maskelyne who used “magic” to help the fight against the Germans in WWII. He would hide their tools and maps in everyday objects and fool them by using illusions.
Rabbit Out of a Hat – Anatomy of the Illusion
You will require a few more props, in addition to the hat and the rabbit (no, it doesn’t magically appear from another dimension) to perform this trick with success. You need a tablecloth and a bag which will keep the rabbit hidden. The rabbit will be present within the bag which will, in turn, be attached to a table present near the magician. Since the front side of the table is covered, the audience will never notice the bag. However, this trick does require a high level of dexterity and promptness, because you still have to slide the rabbit from out the bag and into the hat.
Random magic fact: Magician Dai Vernon had once famously challenged Harry Houdini to solve one of his card tricks, but Houdini bragged that he could solve any trick after three tries. Then, after seven times, Houdini still wasn’t able to solve it. Vernon came to be known as “The Man Who Fooled Houdini.”
Chopping Assistant in Half – What It Is
Chopping people in half always gets the audience. Remember the fact about the televised magic trick that left viewers at home thinking the woman died on air? In this trick, the magician lays their complicit assistant on a table before positioning them such that they are flat on the surface. The assistant looks as if they are trapped and can’t go anywhere. That’s when the magician begins the trick by chopping the person in half.
You can’t believe your eyes as the saw goes right through the center of the person, but your awe turns into disbelief when the magician pulls the two halves of the body apart. But wait, how is the assistant still alive and how can they still move all of their limbs!?
Cutting Assistant in Half – Anatomy of the Illusion
Well, the limbs were never chopped, you see. There is not one assistant, but two. The other assistant is already hidden in the box and will stick their legs out when the time is right. As the magician separates the two halves, the hidden assistant realizes that the end is near. The trick culminates when the sawing is complete and both the assistants start to wiggle their limbs to show to the audience that no harm was done.
Random magic fact: David Copperfield founded Project Magic after finding out that an aspiring magician was actually in his 20s and had childlike handwriting due to a disability. The program teaches people with disabilities how to do the act of sleight of hand magic in order to enhance motor skills and gain self-confidence.
Buzzsaw – What It is
This trick also requires the help of an assistant. The willing person will lay flat on the table as a huge saw approaches them. The magnanimous saw is set to cut right through the person who is laid down a couple of feet away from it. This might sound like something from a horror movie, but since this isn’t cinema, the assistant always manages to survive the gut-piercing saw. Wait, what? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Random magic fact: Zombie folklore came from Haiti when bokors (“black magicians”) would poison their victims with pufferfish neurotoxin. It creates a state of suspended animation where the victim would wake up in a psychotic state under which they could be easily controlled.
Buzzsaw – Anatomy of the Illusion
There is a secret compartment within the box that the assistant can squeeze into, to avoid getting cut by the saw. Even though the assistants are trained performers, this still is a very dangerous trick, because, if for some reason the assistant fails to contract their legs in time, they can actually be cut in half. However, in most cases, they fold their legs quickly before they saw pierces through them. Magicians place fake feet at the end of the box to elucidate the authenticity of the act, which is actually just a neat, simple little trick.
Random magic fact: When magician Sigmund Neuberger’s dog died 4 days before the opening of his new magic show, he asked the local council for his dog to be buried in their cemetery. They accepted, but only if he himself be buried there when he dies. Neuberger died 4 days later during the opening night. Why? The theater burnt down.
Biting a Coin in Half – What It Is
Another famous street trick involves the magician biting the coin in half. What makes this trick baffling is that the performer actually procures the coin from a member of the audience, and doesn’t use a prop coin to fool the onlookers. Since the audience knows that the coin given to the magician was, in fact, real, they can’t seem to make sense of the performance. So, naturally, they think that the person has some magic up his sleeve. Well, they do, but it is not the kind they think.
Random magic fact: The term “magic” is ancient. The word “magic” comes from mageia (μαγεία). The first people to perform magic tricks were Persian priests, called magosh in Persian and magoi in Greek.
Biting a Coin in Half – Anatomy of the Illusion
This trick is so simple, anyone can perform it. All you have to do is buy a prop coin that looks exactly like a real coin, but with the subtle difference that it breaks when you put pressure on it. Well, you will also need to up your dexterity a bit because you still have to switch the coin you receive from the audience with the fake one, which is basically the heart of the trick. However, street magicians are so good at the sleight of hand, you will never know what hit you.
Random magic fact: Although magicians used to be associated with the devil and the occult for centuries, it’s not really the case. The tricks magicians would perform are based on illusion. But many magicians in the past capitalized on the idea in their advertisements, a practice which was exposed as charlatanism.
Zigzag – What It is
Assistants make the magic world go round. For this trick, the magician will ask their assistant to step into a wooden box. After that, they will carefully relocate the center of the box to either the left or the right side, resulting in a huge hole in the midsection of the box, and in turn, the assistant.
To further prove the realism of the act to the audience, they will place their head right where the missing torso of the assistant should be. This means that there are no mirrors used to deceive the audience. The assistant also seems fine from the top of the box, so what really is happening here? Well as you may have noticed by now, we’re going to explain the trick now…
Zigzag – Anatomy of the Illusion
The secret lies in the name of the trick. It’s paramount that the assistant used for this trick be flexible. That’s why you would never see a magician asking a volunteer to come forth. What the person does is twist their body into a seemingly preposterous shape, which makes it look like their midsection has altogether disappeared. They try their best to make sure that the different parts of their body that are visible to the audience don’t move during the trick. The audience can’t seem to break it down because they can’t imagine a person to be this malleable.
Random magic fact: Magic was once a form of entertainment at fairs, where performers would entertain the public with tricks like juggling and sword swallowing. By the early 18th century, magic became a respectable practice and started to be performed by rich private patrons.
Bending Spoon – What It is
The bending spoon trick is typically performed at parties, where the magicians usually go from table to table to amaze the guests. They casually pick a spoon from the table to show the onlookers that they aren’t using one they brought themselves, and then they proceed to bend the spoon magically. The magician then proceeds to unbend the spoon and make it regain its shape. This bewildering trick can baffle any audience at any time.
Random magic fact: That magician outfit isn’t for no reason. The performer who created the typical magician appearance was Alexander Hermann, also known as Hermann the Great, who was a French magician. After him, people expected and wanted to see magicians with a top hat, goatee, and a tailcoat.
Bending Spoon – Anatomy of the Illusion
What if we tell you that the spoon isn’t really bent and that the magician is actually using a small prop to help them out with the trick? Well, at this stage of the article, you shouldn’t really be surprised. They use a small silver coin that assumes the role of the spoon’s handle and plays it to perfection. Because the coin is positioned in hand so perfectly that it appears to be the perfect embodiment of a spoon’s head, the audience can’t really tell the difference.
Random magic fact: Magic organizations exist. The largest one is the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which has a monthly journal called The Linking Ring. The oldest one is the Society of American Magicians, and none other than Houdini was its president for a number of years.
Levitating Cup – What It is
We all would love to live in a world where we could control and move things with our minds. However, in our current world, beautiful as it may be, nobody really has the powers of Hermione or Potter. However, the illusion to control things via one’s mind can be manufactured. Magicians perform this cool trick by placing a plastic cap in between their hands and then slowly pulling the hands apart, while the cup levitates. How does this happen?
Random magic fact: The first official publication about magic tricks is Reginald Scot’s ‘Discoverie of Witchcraft,’ from 1584. And only a few books on the topic have been published since. But contrary to what magicians feared, people are still captivated by magic.
Levitating Cup – Anatomy of the Illusion
Well, it’s simple. All you have to do is create a small hole in the foam cup from your upper hand, while you were holding it. Then, with your thumb still attached to the cup, you can slowly move your hands apart. The magician will conveniently place themselves in front of the onlookers to ensure that the audience can’t really see their thumb being where it doesn’t belong.
Random magic fact: Magic has been used to evangelize. St. Don Bosco was an Italian priest declared a saint by the Catholics in the 19th century. He used magic tricks to get children to come back to school, get help, and also go to church. This type of magic is now called gospel magic.
Note from a Lemon – What It Is
If Britain’s Got Talent catches your eye, then you must remember Jamie Ravens, the magician who appeared on the show in 2015. Even though Jamie performed numerous tricks and did many interesting shows, the one that really shocked everyone was the note from a lemon trick. Jamie asked one of the judges to sign a paper which he then folded and amazingly, managed to pull out of a lemon he had never touched before. But how!?
Random magic fact: Online magic is a thing. There are online magic tricks that are designed to function on a computer screen. Typical magic tricks you see online are magical illusions and traditional card tricks. There was an online magic trick that went viral on the Internet. Esmeralda’s Crystal Ball made many people believe that their computer had supernatural powers.
Note from a Lemon – Anatomy of the Illusion
People who paid close attention while the magician performed this trick learned the secret long ago. From the video, you can see Jamie quickly putting the lemon back together after showing the note to the audience. He possibly did that because there was a hole in the lemon which he didn’t want anybody from the audience to notice.
The real secret of the trick was to keep the audience distracted, which he did use his charms, and using his professional dexterity, he slipped the note into the hole in the lemon.
Random magic fact: The richest magician in the world is David Copperfield, who has a net worth of $800 million. He sold more than 33 million tickets to date and grossed around $4 billion, which is more than any other solo entertainer in the world.
Smoke from Fingers – What It is
Smoke…out of fingers? Making smoke come out of anything can be fun. I mean, don’t we like it when we can produce smoke simply by exhaling in winters? Well, some magicians can even make smoke come from out of their fingers, just by rubbing them together. We don’t want to burst any bubbles, but no, people with smoke-producing fingers are also not wizards or witches; they are just trained tricksters. The smoke might appear to be coming out of nowhere, but it does actually have a source.
Random David Copperfield fact: In 2015, Forbes listed him as the 20th highest-earning celebrity in the world. He also manages a chain of resort islands in the Bahamas. Other successful magic artists are Penn and Teller, Siegfried and Roy, Lance Burton, Criss Angel, and David Blaine.
Smoke from Fingers – Anatomy of the Illusion
If you want to perform this trick yourself, make sure you remember that the item involved can actually be dangerous and you should wash your hands properly after using it. Now then, what you have to do is make use of matchbox strikers. You have to pull the cardboard lining apart, and then use the leftover striker bit by folding it in half and lighting it up.
After you let it burn for some time, extinguish the fire and carefully collect the residue left behind. The white substance is phosphorus which will eventually be used to make the smoke appear to come out of your fingers. Just put it on your fingers and rub.
Next up, see what the pigeon trick is all about…
Pigeon Appearing – What It Is
We have to begin by saying that we don’t condone the use of animals during performances of any sort unless they are not being mistreated in any way. Other than rabbits, pigeons do often make the scene in the magic industry. A common trick that has been mastered by many amateur and experienced magicians is making a pigeon appear from out of nowhere. However, as you might have guessed, it’s not really out of nowhere.
Random magic fact: The term “magician” is old-fashioned. Magic refers to something supernatural, so some modern artists prefer the term “illusionist” because they admit their performances are simply skillful deceptions. Magician and mentalist, Joseph Dunninger said: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.”
Pigeon Appearing – Anatomy of the Illusion
For anyone who has seen this pigeon magic trick, you might have noticed that most of the time when this trick is performed, it is accompanied by a flash. So, naturally, you must think that the secret to the pigeon appearing out of thin air has got to be in some way related to the flash. Right? It only makes sense.
Well yes, that is, in fact, the case. The flash acts as a distraction for the audience, and it is so quick that they never get to figure out what really happens. As the audience gets blinded by the flash, the magician pulls the pigeon out from his deep pocket and presents it to everyone as if it was never there.
Walking Through a Wall – What It Is
Won’t you love to just walk through walls? Well, some magicians actually do, or make it look like they do, anyway. To tell you the absolute truth, you can’t walk through walls, no one ever has. But then how have magicians managed to do it? Well, as we said, they made it look like they can. So, in case you saw a magician wander through walls and wonder if they were ghosts, you were wrong. There is actually a straightforward explanation regarding how they do it without getting injured.
Random magic fact: The words “hocus pocus” are taken from the name of a sorcerer from Norse mythology, called Ochus Bochus. The word “abracadabra” comes from an inscription that used to be worn during the Black Plague to protect people from the disease.
Walking Through a Wall – Anatomy of the Illusion
While walking through a wall might not be possible, walking underneath it, is. That’s what the magicians do; they walk under the wall. Wait, what? Let’s break it down a bit further. There is a tunnel that connects one side of the wall to the other. So, when the magician slips through the wall as if they do it daily, they are actually slipping through a tunnel and then appearing on the other side. The sheets that cover the scene must have tipped you off!
Random Houdini fact: The famous magician and escapist died a mysterious death on none other than Halloween in 1926. He was giving a lecture to students when someone in the audience punched him in the stomach to check if his claim of withstanding any blow delivered to his abdomen was true. He died days later of peritonitis.
Ice from Water – What It Is
Water can’t evaporate all of a sudden and then transform in the same rate back into ice. That just doesn’t happen. No chemical reaction can allow that to happen. But then how do magicians pull it off? During the trick, they take a cup, pour water into it, and voila, before you know it, it has turned into ice. There is a bit of science behind how they do this, and a bit of visual deception. When you get to know the anatomy of the illusion, you realize just how simple it’s to conceive.
Random magic fact: Prince Charles is the most famous member of the group called Magic Circle. After the Prince performed the famous Club & Balls magic tricks for members, he joined the Club in 1975.
Ice from Water – Anatomy of the Illusion
What is the one thing that every household uses for absorbing water? That’s right, a sponge. Performers use sponges for this trick too. How do they do it? How do they turn this water into ice? Well, they don’t. When they took a cup and added water to it, they also added a sponge and ice to the mix. What happens is that the sponge absorbs the water and all that’s left is the ice. To make the trick perfectly, they ensure that they use a sponge that matches with the cup.
Random magic fact: There are two magicians with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Harry Houdini and David Copperfield. Houdini chose his stage name in order to respect the father of modern magic, Robert Houdin.
The Smooth Criminal Lean – What It Is
Michael Jackson has been named the King of Pop. And regardless of what we find out about the dude, he had moves that people watching him thought were magic. Among other legendary performances of his, was the notorious lean that he did in the Smooth Criminal video. We all have been guilty of trying out the iconic move after seeing MJ perform it for the first time.
He did it so precisely and consistently every time. He never fell, and there was never any lack of composure or balance on his part, but how did he manage to pull it off effortlessly, while we all failed miserably? How did he lean forward so easily without tripping over?
Smooth Criminal Lean – Anatomy of the Illusion
The simplest explanation is almost always the answer, and this case is no exception. MJ wasn’t a magician by any means, despite his crazy dance moves. He didn’t pull the trick off without the help of props. That’s perhaps the reason why many of us have fallen down hilariously while trying to do so.
The pop star had special shoes made for the sole purpose of performing this trick. The shoes had holes shaped like triangles, which got attached to the nails that stuck out of the floor that MJ performed upon. He had to practice and perfect his position and body alignment to make sure the nails stuck in his shoe holes and allowed him to enjoy the perfect lean.
Hand Through Glass – What It is
Another seemingly impossible trick that has been performed by magicians over the years involves them moving a hand through the glass, effortlessly. They place a sheet of glass on a platform and then show you that there are no holes in it. Then, they manage to make their hand go right through the slab of glass without any issues. How does this happen? Surely, there must be some sort of conduit for the hand go through? They can’t magically pass through glass?
Random magic fact: Matthew Buchinger, an 18th Century famous magician, was born with no arms or legs. He developed himself and became a magician, calligrapher, and musician. And apart from all that, he even became the father of eleven children!
Hand Through Glass – Anatomy of the Illusion
Well, what happens is relatively straightforward. The screens used for this trick are specially cut to allow a hand to move through glass without any problems. The back screen actually covers two different mirror panels. As soon as the act starts, the real mirror is removed from the setting, and two fake mirror panels are placed instead of them.
This allows the hand to effortlessly move through space. Just like you move your hand every day. So, no, as much as it might seem to be the case; it isn’t. It’s just a simple movement of a hand through thin air.
Random Houdini fact: Houdini’s success and resulting wealth allowed him to indulge in other passions, like aviation and film.
Underwater Box – What It is
One of the most difficult tricks in the magic industry is this one. It was pioneered by the great Harry Houdini himself. The underwater box trick involves handcuffs, locks, holding breath underwater, and most importantly, getting out of the water before it kills you! Let’s not forget that very important aspect of the trick.
Anyway, the performer has to lock themselves up within a cage, ask an assistant to shut the lid using actual nails, and then attempt to get out of the set of locks and chains that they have covered themselves in. Even though this looks like an impossible job, there are some secrets to how this gets done, and how escape artists have managed to perform it successfully.
Underwater Box – Anatomy of the Illusion
What really happens in this trick is that even though the person is handcuffed in front of the audience, they manage to get out of the handcuffs, even before the box gets shut. How? Well, the trick is that the handcuffs are designed to look like the real thing, but they are anything but.
What happens in this trick: there is normally a secret panel on one side of the container which allows the performer to escape once the box enters the water. Magicians like to spice things up by waiting underwater for a few extra seconds before showing up on the surface, when in fact, they were free of all things holding them captive within seconds.
The Chinese Water Torture Cell
This is one of the famous Hungarian-American magician Harry Houdini’s brilliant magic tricks. Have you heard of it or seen it? Houdini actually first performed this escape trick way back in 1912 in Berlin, Germany. And he really wowed his audience. The illusion consists of three parts. It starts with the magician’s feet being locked in stocks. Next, they are suspended in mid-air from the ankles with a restraint brace. And finally, they are lowered down into a glass tank that’s overflowing with water.
The restraint is locked to the top of the cell. The trick itself is risky, and the magician has to be in good shape to pull it off. While the assistants lock the lid shut, they secretly remove the pin from the hinge so that the magician can push it open with his feet and force his way out of the cell. A key also secretly places, which helps remove the loose restraints.
When the Statue of Liberty Disappeared
David Copperfield’s most famous trick was making the Statue of Liberty “disappear” in 1983. In front of 20 tourists and millions watching on their TV sets around the world, Copperfield raised a massive curtain (attached to scaffolding) in front of the statue on Liberty Island. When the curtain dropped, the huge statue had disappeared. A helicopter hovered above to give an aerial view of the magic trick, and the statue really looked like it vanished.
Only the circle of lights surrounding the statue were still present and visible. The thing is, the only lights on Liberty Island come from those around the statue, and once the curtain blocked the view of the statue, all the lights were turned off. Then the curtain was dropped, and suddenly, blinding lights attached to the scaffolding were turned on, facing the audience and cameras. The naked eye is easily tricked into thinking that it disappeared because well-placed spotlights pointed to the sky and not on the statue, which helped sell the illusion.
This trick was first seen in the 19th century and was a crowd favorite for its visual appeal. What happens is a magician is tied up in a cloth bag and locked into a seemingly solid case. His assistant stands on top of the box and lifts up a curtain over their head before revealing the magician standing in the place of the assistant. And then when the magician unlocks the chest, the assistant is in the bag. Some magicians were able to perfect this illusion to make the switch in a mere two seconds. But, once you see behind the curtain, it all becomes quite apparent.
The bag has a zipper at the bottom from which the magician escapes. As the assistant lifts the curtain, the magician gets out of the chest (which has no back) and stands on top of it as the assistant drops the curtain and quickly goes under the box. As the magician enjoys the applause and takes his time to unlock the case, his assistant wriggled into the bag and zipped it up.
Guessing a Celebrity’s Name in a Sealed Envelope
This is a magic trick people might do at a party. If you want to do it at your next party, this is what you need to: before you start, write on a piece of paper: “You will choose…” and write the name of a famous celebrity (let’s say, Brad Pitt). Just make sure it’s someone who your audience knows! Then seal the note in an envelope.
You’re also going to need a notepad, pen, hat, and a box or bag to put the pieces of paper in. Place the hat on the table in front of you and put the envelope next to it. Tell that audience that there’s a prediction inside of it. Sit back with your notepad and ask people to call out the names of celebrities. When someone says a name, pretend to write it down. But what you’re doing instead is writing the name you put in the envelope.
The Celebrity Name Trick
Then you need to tear off the sheet of paper, fold it, and put it in the hat. Nobody can see what you’re writing. Ask for more names, but only write the same name each time (i.e., Brad Pitt). You can stop when you had 10 or more pieces of paper in the hat when someone called out the name of the person you have written down in the envelope. With more names in the hat, the illusion will be better.
Then ask a volunteer to choose a paper from the hat and read out the name (which they will definitely pick “Brad Pitt”). Emphasize the fact that there’s no way you could know which name they would pick. Then ask them to open the envelope and see the prediction you made. Brad Pitt! You can take it up a notch and put a photo of the person in the envelope rather than writing their name.
Swallowing a Sword
This famous trick used to be seen a lot more often than we see it nowadays. Not only is it difficult for the average person to watch a trick like this, but I have the feeling that it might have resulted in a few accidents. So maybe performers have decided that the risks of this trick outweigh the rewards if it comes to doing it successfully.
And the truth is that there’s really no trick to this illusion at all. The sword does indeed get swallowed. The performer just very, very carefully pushes the blunted blade right down his or her esophagus. The thing is they have spent years training to swallow the foreign object. The dangerous part: one wrong move and they require medical help.
Being Impaled on a Spike
Similar to the sword-swallowing trick, this is another shocking one. And it’s usually presented as a kind of trick that can easily go wrong. The magician is seen balancing on a super narrow point when he suddenly slips, and the point “pierces” them, poking through their chest or stomach. Ouch! Well, don’t worry, they weren’t actually impaled.
Everything the magician needs to make this trick work is under his clothes. First, he’s wearing a back brace, which helps him balance on the point. Then, there’s a corset that holds the point that looks like it has passed straight through the magician’s body. So, no, he hasn’t been pierced through. But if this trick isn’t done correctly, it could cause an injury or two.
Since we’re on the topic of dangerous tricks, here’s another one that shouldn’t be done at home, kids! It was also another favorite of Houdini’s. He would invite the crowd to examine several razor blades to verify that they were in fact, real. He would then put them in a glass of water, and then drink them!
Moments later, Houdini slowly pulled them out of the back of his throat, and they were all connected together with string. But those blades that he pulled from his mouth were actually coming from a packet that he stored between his cheek and his teeth. The series of razors that the audience saw were secretly spat back into the water instead of actually being swallowed.
Card Through the Window
How many of you remember the famous David Blaine card trick where he was seen pushing a card through a window? I sure do, and I still am amazed by it today. I always wondered how he did that. But his trick was finally revealed on the internet. Now, we can see how he did it!
The explanation: the trick requires the participation of someone with an identical deck of cards on the other side of the window. As part of the act, that volunteer shows a card to everyone except the magician. Then, the partner on the other side of the glass sees it too, who slaps the card up against the glass, making it all seem like impromptu street magic.
The Guillotine Trick
What is it about magicians that love to “chop off” people’s body parts? The tricks always involve a missing body or person. Have you ever seen the one where a person is being hacked by a guillotine, yet escaping unharmed? It’s just a clever trick done by magicians to entertain the audience, duh. Well, this is how it is done.
The explanation: the upper part uses a real, deadly blade (like one used in a real guillotine), but the lower part has secret compartments (of course). There are small “stop blocks” that prevent the blade from reaching the neck of the magician. A trap door allows the magician’s head and shoulders to drop out of sight as the blade falls down.
The Invisible Wagon
This magic trick might be less famous, but it is nonetheless one that has been performed on stages in the past. The trick involves the magician calling on people to come up to the stage to surround a wagon and to do it while holding hands. The wagon is actually covered with a big piece of cloth, but soon it starts to float. The wagon has disappeared!
The explanation: the wagon is usually hidden inside a special section under the stage. The shape is preserved due to the thin frame inside the cloth. People never get to see the moment of the wagon’s vanishing because the light around the wagon is multi-colored. I doubt this trick would be seen today, though.
The Straitjacket Escape
This magic trick is another famous one that Houdini managed to pull off amazingly, like all of his other tricks. The magician wore a straitjacket where the sleeves are fastened behind his back. After a few minutes, the magician manages to break free from a jacket that is specifically made to be made unbreakable!
The explanation: when the magician is fastened into the jacket, he takes a long and deep breath. After breathing out all the air, there is a bit of room inside the straitjacket that allows him to move his arms. Fun Fact: Houdini once had to resort to dislocating his shoulder to finish the trick successfully. That sounds like dedication to me! It also sounds like it hurts.
The Head Drop
This head drop trick was actually quite recently seen on the show, America’s Got Talent. The performer performed this magic trick, and the audience, including the judges, were quite entertained. The magician sneezes and his head suddenly drops! It’s unexpected and looks pretty real! But we all know this his head didn’t actually drop.
The explanation: The magician has a hidden triangular construction inside of his coat, which is made of a clothes hanger and two wooden sticks. When the illusionist then drops his head, it is the hanger that is actually holding the coat. So while it looks like his head made an impossible drop, we can safely say that the clothes hanger did the job for him.
Balls in the Air
If a magician throws balls into the air and catches them, you would see it clearly. Then after a while, one of those balls might not come down. It’s magic, right? Well, it’s more like illusions created by distraction. The truth is the balls in the air always come back down, obviously, thanks to gravity. It’s just that the illusionist sometimes never throws a ball, and yet he (and the rest of the audience) looks up anyway.
We have been conditioned by the other balls to constantly look up and watch them fall back down. After so many throws, he could gesture, look up, and never even throw a ball. But that audience would swear that they saw the ball go up and never back down.
What Are Magicians Really Doing?
I’m sorry to say that these little magic tricks aren’t supernatural. I know it hurts for those who want to believe. But, of course, you probably already know this. Yet, the magician is still an interesting individual and understands how to fool people by using our own cognitive imperfections. And we all have them.
Most magicians and mind illusionists hadn’t studied human perception, memory, and sensory tricks before they started performing tricks. They simply learned what works and know how to distract their audiences. Some magicians, though, do understand how it all works, and they take illusions to the next level (think David Blane). When watching illusions, try to see what it is that the illusionist is playing with.
Teller Reveals How Magic Tricks Fool the Brain
Remember Penn & Teller? Well, Teller decided to pull back the curtain on human perception. In recent years, magic has become shockingly respectable in the science world. Apparently, studying magicians is a lot sexier than lab rats. Magic is an art, capable of beauty as music, painting, or poetry. But the core of each trick is a cognitive experiment in perception. So, does the trick fool the audience?
“I remember an experiment I did at the age of 11. My test subjects were Cub Scouts. My hypothesis (that nobody would see me sneak a fishbowl under a shawl) proved false, and the Scouts pelted me with hard candy. If I could have avoided those welts by visiting an MRI lab, I surely would have.”
Exploiting Pattern Recognition
Teller explains how magic is about understanding and then manipulating how the viewers digest sensory information. For one thing, it’s about exploiting pattern recognition. Teller would produce four silver dollars, one at a time, with the back of his hand towards you. Then he allows you to see that the palm of his hand is empty before a fifth coin appears. As humans, we grasp the pattern and take away the impression that he produced all five coins from an empty hand.
Another aspect of pulling off a magic trick is by getting the audience to laugh. It’s difficult to think critically if you’re laughing! Teller explains how they would often follow a secret move with a joke. A person has only so much attention to give, and if they’re laughing, their mind is too busy with the joke to backtrack rationally.
Make it Look Harder Than it Is
Teller reveals that it’s also about making the secret a lot worse than the trick seems worth. You will be more easily fooled by a trick if it takes more time, money, and practice than you would be willing to invest. Teller and Penn once produced 500 live cockroaches (yuck!) from a top hat on the desk David Letterman.
It took them weeks to prepare for the trick. They hired an entomologist to provide slow-moving, camera-friendly cockroaches, and he taught them to pick the bugs up without screaming like little girls. Then they built a secret compartment and came up with a devious routine for sneaking that compartment into the hat. It seems like more trouble than the trick was worth, but not to magicians.
Keep the Trickery Outside of the Frame
Teller explained how, in a typical trick, he would take off his jacket and toss it to the side. Then he would reach into someone’s pocket and pull out a tarantula. What? How did that get there? Well, getting rid of the jacket was not just for his comfort. Nope. As he removed his jacket, he copped the spider.
Another way to fool the mind is to combine at least two tricks. In Las Vegas, Teller would make a ball come to life as if it were a trained dog. His method was to puppeteer the ball with a thread that was too fine to be seen from the audience. During the routine, the ball hops through a wooden hoop a few times, and it seems to rule out the possibility of using a thread. That hoop is misdirection; a second trick that “proves” the first. The hoop was genuine, but the choreography took Teller 18 months to develop.
The Lie We Tell Ourselves
According to Teller, nothing fools us better than the lie we tell ourselves. David P. Abbott, an Omaha magician, invented the basis of his Las Vegas ball trick back in 1907. He would make a golden ball float around his room. After the show, Abbott “absentmindedly” left the ball on a bookshelf. So, guests would sneak over, lift the ball, and see that it was much heavier than a thread could support.
The guests were mystified. The ball the audience saw floating weighed only 5 ounces. But the one on Abbott’s bookshelf was a heavy duplicate that was left out to entice the curious audience members. When a magician allows you to notice something on your own, the lie becomes mysterious.
Turning $1 Into $100 – What It Is
Who would turn down the opportunity to learn how to transform a $1 bill into a $100 bill? Having those types of skills could undoubtedly help you out in several situations – can you even begin to imagine how much more fun a shopping spree would be?
When a magician performs this feat, the trick is still impressive. You can blatantly see that they’re only holding a $1 bill, and in seconds that transforms into $5, $20, or sometimes $100. We promise you that if magicians could actually do this, they would be rushing into early retirement.
Turning $1 into $100 – Anatomy of the Illusion
Just like most close-up magic tricks, this one is all about quick hands and distraction. The audience thinks that there’s only a $1 bill, but there is, in fact, a larger bill meticulously folded and attached to the back of the smaller bill.
The magician then folds the $1 bill in the same way and then turns everything over so that the larger bill is front-facing. The larger bill is flattened out, and now the $1 is attached to the back. This is an easy trick to pull off if you are patient with learning folding skills.
Underwater Chain Escape – What It Is
One of the most mind-boggling and legendary magic tricks in existence is the underwater chain escape. The magician has his hands bound together with handcuffs, and his body is swaddled in chains. In that immobile state, the magician is pushed or independently jumps into the water.
The magician has to undo the handcuffs, unlock the locks holding the chains together, and release himself from the chains to swim to the surface before he runs out of oxygen. The audience members are holding their breaths as well while time is running out.
Underwater Chain Escape – Anatomy of the Illusion
Iconic magician Harry Houdini was notorious for releasing himself from handcuffs, and he had a number of tricks to get the job done. He was familiar with every type of handcuffs and was such a master that he could hit specific pairs at a certain angle, and they’d pop right open.
He also hid master keys in his hands or in his sleeves. He could typically get out of handcuffs in seconds and then would draw out the time by unwrapping the chains to build suspense. Remember that these are trained professionals and shouldn’t be attempted at home!
Putting A Ripped Card Back Together – What It Is
This trick is a captivating one and can be performed in a bar, on stage, or even on the street. A magician chooses a random audience member and has them write their name on a playing card. He then takes the card, folds it into four sections, and rips it along the creases in front of them.
After that, he stuns the audience by having the playing card magically reappear unscathed. Leaving us to wonder if he can fix the hole in our favorite pair of jeans that we’ve been meaning to mend since high school.
Putting A Ripped Card Back Together – Anatomy of the Illusion
Unfortunately for us, a quality tailor is a more reliable bet for that pair of jeans because the playing card was never actually ripped to begin with – it won’t be the last time a magician deceives us!
The magician is actually holding two cards in his hands when he folds the card with the signature on it. He rips the other card while leaving the signed card unchanged. He uses his fingers to mask the folded signed card and pulls it out intact as the big reveal at the end of the trick.
Fish in A Bottle Trick – What It Is
In this trick, the magician shows a closed water bottle to the audience. He will take the time to demonstrate that the bottle can be shaken and encourages inspection of it in order to convince them that the only thing inside the bottle is water.
Then the magician takes a covering, recites the magic words, and a live goldfish appears inside the bottle. Debatably, the most fun part of performing this trick is that you can do the whole thing right in front of your audience for the full effect.
Fish in A Bottle Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
So how does he get the goldfish into the bottle? It didn’t just appear; it was there the whole time! The bottle cap masked the fish. The fish sits on a slender, transparent plastic insert that is placed underneath the cap, with a small tab sticking out of the bottle.
When the bottle is covered with a cloth, he pulls the tab, and the goldfish plunges straight into the closed bottle. It’s recommended to perform this trick quickly; you don’t want your grand finale to end up being a dead fish.
Coin Through the Glass Trick – What It Is
To become good magicians, we always need to be trying new tricks. We’ve already learned, step-by-step, how magicians thrust their hands through a pane of glass, so now the time has come for us to find out how they put a coin through the bottom of a water glass.
This trick involves the magician placing a coin in the middle of their palm. Then, they bang on the bottom of the glass several times before the coin marvelously transfers from their hand to the bottom of the glass by seemingly traveling through the glass.
Coin Through the Glass Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
To become an expert in performing this trick, you need quick hands, loads of patience, and plenty of time to practice. When the magician wants to stop banging and actually transfer the coin to the inside of the glass, they curl their fingers around the coin, slide it to their edge and toss it.
The bang diverts the audience’s attention while the coin lands within the glass cup. By the time that it’s all over, the coin is sitting inside the glass. Nobody will notice anything, but only if you perform the trick accurately and fast enough.
Disappearing Matchstick Trick – What It Is
This is another fun deceptive trick where a magician conjures up a matchstick or toothpick and can also make them disappear from their hand right in front of people’s eyes. The stick is held using the thumb and index finger and will be conjured up or disappear with a flick of the wrist.
This trick is one of the most accessible ones because it conjures something up out of nowhere and can be performed anywhere. Also, you can let people from the audience examine the sleeves of your shirt since there won’t be anything hidden there.
Disappearing Matchstick Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
To perform this trick correctly, the only materials you’ll need are either a toothpick or a match and a little bit of glue. You put the glue on the end of the match and stick it on the side of the nail on your thumb.
When you want it gone, straighten your fingers and thumb to make it disappear. To make it come back, you just fold your thumb like you were holding it. If you’re desperate, saliva can be used in place of glue, but the toothpick could fly off if you perform the trick too often.
Levitating Card Trick – What It Is
As we’ve seen in the past, getting items to levitate always keeps an audience interested. In this standard magic trick, the thing being levitated is a playing card, but not an ordinary card, a card that was allegedly chosen at random by a random audience member.
After the card has been chosen, it’s returned to the deck, which is then placed into a transparent container. and the right card happens to pop right out. But how could the magician know which card would be picked ahead of time? They couldn’t plan for that, right?
Levitating Card Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
In this trick, the magician actually does let the random audience member pick whichever card they want; the true secret is to put that card back into the deck in a specific position. There is a unique card at the back of the deck, which is bolstered by a counterweight.
When the card is flipped upside down, a small pad with an adhesive wax dot makes the whole deck go flying up and sends the card popping out of the deck. Obviously, this one takes precision and specific technicalities to make it work.
Can on a Card Trick – What It Is
This trick is pretty easy, but its simplicity doesn’t take away from how cool it is. A magician will take a can, like a soda can, and put it on top of an upright playing card. Any sane person would assume that there’s no possible way that a card is going to be strong enough to support a can.
Despite the odds, fundamental physics, and the known rules of gravity, the can manages to stay upright on the incredibly thin playing card. Is this real magic or just a skillful balancing illusion?
Can on a Card Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
If the magician performing the trick allowed you to have a look at the other side of the playing card, you would see that in place of a straight line, it was a “T” shaped structure holding up the can. The “T” is made by using a second playing card and folding it in half.
Then, the magician attaches the folded part to the straight card that the audience can see. Much to our surprise, the two cards together are surprisingly stable and able to support heavier items than one can of soda.
Twisting An iPhone Trick – What It Is
A street magician named Dynamo is the expert of this modern illusion in which he takes a random audience member’s iPhone and appears to twist it so that it is split precisely in half, one half is the front screen of the phone, and the second half is the back of the phone.
He then twists the phone for a second time and gives it back to its owner in exactly the same condition it was before the trick was performed. We’re pretty confident that you can’t just twist an iPhone and then have it be completely usable minutes later.
Twisting An iPhone – Anatomy of the Illusion
This trick requires some preparation, a little distraction, and very quick fingers. Dynamo hides half of an iPhone’s back cover on his person when doing this trick. He has to ensure that he only does the trick on the right model and make; otherwise, it’s not going to look right.
He begins by letting the audience see the back of the phone before covering it with both hands. He then mimes twisting the phone but, in reality, just rotates it while sliding the half cover on the front. He does the same thing but reversed when he returns the phone.
Double Bullet Catch – What It Is
The bullet catch is a famous magic trick that has kept audiences on the edge of their seats for many years. Two particular magicians, Penn and Teller, took this trick and elevated it to the next level in 1996.
They ensured that the bullets were unaltered by having audience members sign them, and they also performed an astonishing simultaneous catch. They set up a sheet of glass to highlight the bullets being fired and used lasers to locate their targets. All there was to figure out was using their teeth to catch a bullet.
Double Bullet Catch – Anatomy of the Illusion
This trick is only for the most seasoned magicians. The first step is to switch the signed bullets with wax replacements and put those into the guns. The performers then distract the audience so that they don’t notice when they put the actually signed bullets into their mouths.
When the trigger is pulled, the wax melts from the heat, and the scorching wax makes a hole in the glass. Timing it just right, the magicians grab the bullets and put them between their teeth as if they had actually caught them from the gun.
Sands of the Nile Trick – What It Is
The magician has a large bowl of water on the stage and slowly adds several brightly colored kinds of sand. First, he adds blue and then yellow, and so on, and eventually mixes everything together in the bowl. He then starts to reverse the method.
He starts by removing the blue sand, and it not only separates from the other colors but is completely dry. He then goes on to do the same with the other colors until he’s once again left with a bowl of clean water. The audience claps in wonder as they figure out what just happened.
Sands of the Nile Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
The odds of a random audience member correctly guessing how this trick works – slim to none. Although the audience likely doubts the validity of the water, it is actually just regular water in the bowl. The tricky, special component is the sand.
The sand used in this trick is treated with a hydrophobic compound, like Scotchgard, which causes it to become water repellent and also makes it clump, which is how the colors don’t mix with each other. This magic trick is more like a trick to show off the magic of science.
Indian Rope Trick – What It Is
This illusion is so ancient, we have only seen it done in black-and-white movies, but the trick is so captivating we have to know how it was done. A rope that initially is bundled up in a basket begins to levitate towards the sky in a straight line.
A child ascends and descends the rope, and then gravity comes back, and the rope falls back to the ground. There are different versions of this trick, but since there is quite a bit of mystery regarding this specific trick, we’ll commit to the version we can clarify.
Indian Rope Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
This trick calls for a lot of preparation to be successful but is then actually quite easy to execute. The basket is sitting above a hidden chamber in which a second participant is waiting. When the trick starts, they insert a metal pole into the hollow rope, causing it to appear like it’s rising vertically.
A smaller-sized child can climb a straight, vertical piece of metal relatively easily. After the child comes back down, the pole is pulled back into the hidden chamber, which causes the “levitating” rope to collapse back into the basket.
Self-Tying Shoelace Trick – What It Is
Famed magician David Blaine made this adorable trick more widely known when he walked up to a bunch of children and inquired if they wanted to see a close-up magic trick. Kids being kids quickly agreed, eager to see if this man was going to pull a dove out of his sleeve!
When one of the children pointed out that Blaine’s shoe was untied, he simply shook his foot, and the loose laces are replaced with a flawlessly tied shoe. Magicians don’t even have to bend down and tie their own shoes; talk about an unfair advantage!
Self-Tying Shoelace Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
So how was he able to pull it off? The shoe was actually tied the whole time, but the bottom of his pants strategically covered the top of the shoe. The untied laces turned out to be a separate pair of laces that had no connection to the shoe.
In fact, they were attached to a string that went up the magician’s pant leg. Blaine pulled the string up, most likely through a concealed hole in his pocket, leading them to disappear the exact moment that the tied shoelace is revealed. It seems simple enough!
Coin Behind the Ear Trick – What It Is
This is one of the oldest and most annoying tricks in the world of magic, especially if performed poorly by your least favorite relative. But this sleight of hand where a magician grabbed a coin from behind an audience member’s ear was done at packed performances back in the day.
The trick seemed so simple, but no one could manage to figure out how they were performing it. Was the magician using a fake coin, or was something hidden behind the ear of someone who was selected and set up before the performance began?
Coin Behind the Ear Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
Ready to get your minds blown? Truth be told, neither of those theories is correct! The magician is, in fact hiding something, but it’s not a fake coin. Between their fingers, they’re delicately holding a minuscule telescope.
The magician pulls his hand from behind the audience member’s ear and lines it up right in front of their eyes and a carefully placed tiny coin which is hidden on the opposite side of the room. From the volunteer’s point of view, the coin looks to be the right size and in the magician’s hand.
Linking Rings Trick – What It Is
This famous magic trick got its start all the way back in ancient China. The magician would take a number of seemingly, solid metal rings and figured out a way to link them together into a chain. They look like a link chain and, when tugged, don’t come apart.
The more suspense the magician built while performing this trick, the more impactful it was because it gave the audience an opportunity to pick apart the process in close detail. This caused it to become even more believable and, as a result, more unbelievable.
Linking Rings Trick – Anatomy of the Illusion
In order to ensure that this trick works, magicians use a specific kind of ring known as “locking rings.” These rings are designed explicitly with weak points that can be opened by excessive pressure. The magician uses a combination of regular solid rings and these special rings to sell the illusion.
The magician has to remember which ring is which and exactly where the weak points are located. If they want to make it even more convincing, they have an audience member check the rings, but make sure to hand them the solid rings to examine.