Great magic takes years of practice and finesse, but everyday feats of trickery are actually a lot easier than you might think. Here are 15 illusions you can do with objects around the house (or restaurant, or bar) to dazzle those who don’t have the power of enchantment.
1. Levitating a foam cup
This one has a basic premise, but it’s tough to master. Grab a foam cup and tell your audience that you have the unique ability to make it float. Make sure you’re a few steps back and as you prepare to impress them, gently force your thumb through the back of the cup and begin to float your fingers around it to a) distract from aforementioned thumb and b) add some much needed showmanship! It will appear that your magic fingers are keeping the cup aloft.
2. Levitating yourself
If you’ve ever seen this one, you know it’s remarkably impressive when done well. Stand on one side of the room and position yourself so that you’re diagonal to the audience—the closest thing to them should be your back heel. Slowly lift your heels and add some float-like wavering and then gently lift the entire foot closest to the audience off the ground. This will require some practice, but if everyone else is standing, the foot that’s entirely off the ground will block the toe of your other foot (that’s actually keeping you grounded), and you’ll appear to defy gravity.
3. Bottling up your change
Cut a slit in the side of a plastic water bottle that’s just large enough to fit a quarter through. Ideally you’ll want the type of bottle that has ridges to help hide your all-important modifications. Show your audience the bottle and a quarter so they can see there are “no tricks” and count, “1, 2, 3” before slapping your quarter-holding hand against the bottle and slipping the George Washington piece inside. The coin will bounce around in the bottom of the bottle and will appear to have transcended the laws of physics.
4. Making 25 cents from a dollar
Hold a dollar bill between your thumb and forefinger and tuck a quarter between your thumb and the bill so the audience can’t see it. Wave the dollar around, grab the other side, and snap it to illustrate there are no tricks or strange things happening with it. Low lighting is best for this one as those bills can be a little transparent. Fold the bill in half (cutting symmetrically along ol’ George Washington’s head) and then in half again the same way. Now you can squeeze it tight and pretend to shake a quarter out, seemingly from nowhere. Make sure to talk a big game about being on your way to fame and fortune...25 cents at a time.
5. Climbing a ring
For this trick, you’ll need to grab a key ring or even the ring off someone’s finger and a rubber band. Break the rubber band and loop it through the ring before stretching out the band between your hands—one higher in the air than the other. The key for this one is to stretch out only a small portion of the rubber band and tuck the rest of the loose string into the palm of your bottom hand. Slowly let the rest of the band out and it will appear that the ring is climbing the rubber band by itself. As with all of these tricks, don’t forget the theatrics. You’ve got to sell it and take your time.
6. Becoming a mind reader
This is a good one for impressing kids. Have them grab a box of crayons, turn your back to them, and ask that they select a crayon. Then ask them to place it in your hands, which are behind your back. Turn around, while keeping your hands always behind you and explain that you’re going to read their minds. While doing this, gently scrape the crayon with your nail and transfer it to the other hand. Now it’s time for the mind reading. Wave your hand above their heads as if collecting thoughts and sneak a peek at the color trapped under your nail. Then return your hand behind your back, and reveal your incredible all-knowing powers.
7. Engaging in black magic
Select someone in the room and tell them to mentally pick any item in the room. Leave the room and tell that person to inform everyone else of the chosen object. Once the secret is dispersed, you return to the room and select another not-so-random person who goes around the room going from object to object. The audience doesn’t know it, but this person is your mole. The key is that you’ve decided on a predetermined color (usually black) and whenever they touch something of that color, the next object will be the one selected by the unknowing participant.
8. Bending a straw
The prep work for this restaurant trick might have to be done while your companion is in the restroom. Or, alternatively, reserve it for children who might not already know about the magic of electricity. Take a paper-wrapped straw and rub the paper up and down a few times to create some static. Then place the straw on top of a bottle so it’s parallel to the table. The charge from the friction you just created will be such that when you bring your hands up to the straw, it will rotate like the hands of a clock. With the right moves, you can make it look like it’s bending to your will.
9. Making a coin disappear
There are a ton of disappearing coin tricks out there, and each requires a certain level of crafty handiwork. This one is awesome because it incorporates a flub. While sitting, grab a coin and say you’re going to make it disappear. Prop an elbow on the table and start to rub the coin into your elbow/forearm while playing hype man for your onlookers. Then, drop the coin. It will fall onto the table. Now, for the key part of the trick: Make it look like you’ve grabbed it with the same hand, when in fact it ends up in the other. Then, put your elbow back where it was and slip the coin down the back of your shirt. Continue to rub the “coin” into your elbow and slowly reveal its disappearance. Standing up might be tricky if you want to maintain the illusion, so consider tucking in your top as well.
10. Matching up your magic
Start with two small objects—not necessarily matches, but things that are close in size and shape to matches are best. Set them down side-by-side on the table. Put one hand over one, and one hand over the other. Then flip one empty hand, then the other. Here’s where the trick begins. Pick up one of the objects and do a “false transfer,” which means pretending to put it in the other hand while secretly tucking it into your palm. This might sound like it would be obvious, but practice makes it very convincing. Quickly ball up both fists. Then, pick up the remaining object with your thumb and forefinger while the other is already in that palm and now both matches are in one hand, though the audience thinks you’ve swapped them and one is in each hand. Reveal the empty hand for an awe-inspiring moment that makes it seem like you might be doing a disappearing trick, and then the other hand, which contains both objects. Ta-da!
11. Helping a toothpick vanish
This one requires only a toothpick and a bit of tape. As stealthily as possible, fasten a toothpick to the outside of your thumb with either some tape or by licking the nail side of your thumb and forcefully pressing the object into your skin. The toothpick should be parallel with your appendage and within the boundaries of your thumb. If you bent your thumb, the toothpick would run off the edge of your knuckle. If you gave someone a thumbs-up with the print facing them, they wouldn’t see the toothpick.
The audience should be directly in front of you for the main event. Hold up the toothpick with your thumb bent and your fingers wrapped around it to hide the tape, say “abracadabra,” and open your empty hand while the toothpick sits on the back of your thumb. It will look like it vanished from thin air.
12. Getting ice cold
Some magic tricks get a lot of mileage simply for being surprising. This is one of those. Stuff a sponge into the bottom of a coffee mug or other opaque cup and add a couple of ice cubes. Pour some water into the cup with a pitcher and announce your ability to turn water into ice before overturning the cup and letting the cubes fall out. Of course, a quick examination of the cup will reveal your plot pretty quickly, but for a moment, you’ll be pure magic.
13. Bending any spoon you meet
Next time you’re on a bad date or have simply run out of topics at dinner, grab a spoon to impress your companions. With the handle facing up and the spoon positioned vertically on the table, grip it with both hands so the audience only sees the top and bottom of the utensil. Pretend like you’re bending the spoon, while really just allowing the handle to slide back toward the table. It will look like you’ve bent the silverware where the bowl meets the handle. Then shake it loose like a little wave undoes your mighty spoon-bending work.
14. Making a card float
For one of the most classic card tricks of all time, you need only a deck of cards and a card box. Cut a hole in the back of the box that’s large enough for you to push a card up with your fingers for the critical floating illusion. Take the deck out of the package and keep one card reserved at the back, but don’t let the audience know. Instead, fan out the “back three cards” and show the faces to the audience. Ask them to pick a card—either, 1, 2 or 3, though in actuality, because of that secret card, if you were counting they’d actually be 2, 3, or 4—and compose the deck. Let’s say your rapt audience chooses #2. Count to “1” and take the top card from the deck and stick it randomly with the others, then count “2” before doing the same with the next card. Because of that hidden back card, you will have made it seem like you tucked their card of choice in the middle of the deck, when in fact it’s sitting right under your fingertips. Pop the deck back in the box and use your finger to slide the #2 card up in an ever-so-spooky way.
15. Coloring your cards
This trick might be the most complicated, but that also makes it the most impressive. To prep, get a deck of cards and order it red/black throughout. To begin the trick, cut the cards several times and have the audience tell you when to stop. When they do, take the top two cards and count them off so as to subtly flip their ordering and show them to the audience, asking them to remember the cards. One will be black and one will be red.
Put these cards back on top and start cutting the cards again. Then, deal all the cards out into four piles. Because of the ordering, the 1st and 3rd pile will be the same color, and the 2nd and 4th will be the same color. When the cards are all dealt out, shuffle those same-colored piles together and then flip one upside-down to mix face-up with facedown cards. When you’re done, fan the cards out on the table and all the face-up cards should be the same color with the exception of one: an audience card from the beginning. Your audience’s heads will be spinning as you smile smugly, and tip your rabbit-filled top hat.
GEICO doesn’t need a magic wand to work its magic when you’re in trouble—its customer service reps are armed with all the know-how you need to get out of a tight spot.