15 Magic Tricks You Didn’t Know You Could Do

istock
istock

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.

26 Fascinating Facts About Fossils

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

If you’ve never visited the Big Bone Room, you’re in luck. Check out our visit to New York City's American Museum of Natural History for a rundown on fossils, which provide invaluable insight into our understanding of history and its once-living occupants.

In this edition of "The List Show," editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy explains the ins and outs of excavation, fossil follies (extinct giants were a big miss), and the terrorizing prospect of a 3-foot-tall parrot.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

14 Festive Facts About A Charlie Brown Christmas

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

More than 50 years since its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of the most beloved holiday specials of all time. Like Charlie Brown himself, the flaws—scratchy voice recordings, rushed animation—have proven endearing. Take a look at some facts behind the show that killed aluminum trees, the struggles to animate Chuck’s round noggin, and why Willie Mays is the unsung hero of Peanuts.

1. Charles Schulz wasn't really interested in getting into animation.

Since the debut of Peanuts in 1955, Charles Schulz and United Press Syndicate (which distributed the comic strip) had gotten a steady stream of offers to adapt the characters for film and television; the artist was also directly petitioned by young readers, who would write Schulz asking when Snoopy would come to some kind of animated life. His stock reply: “There are some greater things in the world than TV animated cartoons.”

He relented for Ford Motors—he had only ever driven a Ford—and allowed Charlie Brown to appear in a series of commercials for the Ford Falcon in the early 1960s. The spots were animated by Bill Melendez, who earned Schulz’s favor by keeping the art simple and not using the exaggerated movements of the Disney films—Bambi, Dumbo—Melendez had worked on previously.

2. Willie Mays played a part in getting it made.

Schulz capitulated to a full-length special based on the professional reputations of his two collaborators. The cartoonist had seen and enjoyed executive producer Lee Mendelson’s documentary on baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays; when Mendelson proposed a similar project on Schulz and his strip, he agreed—but only if they enlisted Melendez of the Ford commercials. The finished documentary and its brief snippet of animation cemented Schulz's working relationship with the two and led Schulz to agree when Mendelson called him about a Christmas special.

3. CBS and Coca-Cola only gave them $76,000 to produce it.

When Coke executives got a look at the Schulz documentary and caught Charlie Brown on the April 1965 cover of Time, they inquired about the possibility of sponsoring an hour-long animated holiday special. Melendez felt the short lead time—only six months—made that impossible. Instead, he proposed a half-hour, but had no idea how much the show should be budgeted for; when he called colleague Bill Hanna (of Hanna-Barbera fame) for advice, Hanna refused to give out any trade secrets. Melendez wound up getting a paltry $76,000 to cover production costs. (It evened out: Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez wound up earning roughly $5 million total for the special through 2000.)

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas was going to have a laugh track.

In the ‘60s, it was standard procedure to lay a laugh track over virtually any half-hour comedy, even if the performers were drawn in: The Flintstones was among the series that used a canned “studio audience” to help cue viewers for jokes. When Mendelson told Schulz he didn’t see the Peanuts special being any different, the artist got up and left the room for several minutes before coming in and continuing as if nothing had happened. Mendelson got the hint.

5. Snoopy's voice is just sped-up nonsense.

The early Peanuts specials made use of both untrained kids and professional actors: Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown) and Christopher Shea (Linus) were working child performers, while the rest of the cast consisted of "regular" kids coached by Melendez in the studio. When Schulz told Melendez that Snoopy couldn’t have any lines in the show—he’s a dog, and Schulz’s dogs didn’t talk—the animator decided to bark and chuff into a microphone himself, then speed up the recording to give it a more emotive quality.

6. Charles Schulz hated jazz.

The breezy instrumental score by composer Vince Guaraldi would go on to become synonymous with Peanuts animation—but it wasn’t up to Schulz. He left the music decisions to Mendelson, telling a reporter shortly after the special aired that he thought jazz was “awful.”

7. Charlie Brown's head was a nightmare to animate.

Because Melendez was unwilling to stray from Schulz’s distinctive character designs—which were never intended to be animated—he found himself in a contentious battle with Charlie Brown’s noggin. Its round shape made it difficult to depict Charlie turning around; as with most of the characters, his arms were too tiny to scratch his head. Snoopy, in contrast, was free of a ball-shaped cranium and became the show’s easiest figure to animate.

8. Charles Schulz was embarrassed by one scene.

Careful (or repeated) viewings of the special reveal a continuity error: in scenes where Charlie Brown is standing near his tree, the branches appear to grow from moment to moment. The goof annoyed Schulz, who blamed the mistake on two animators who didn’t know what the other was doing.

9. A Charlie Brown Christmas almost got scrapped by Coke.

Mendelson recently told USA Today that an executive from McCann-Erikson—the ad agency behind Coke—paid him an impromptu visit while he was midway through production. Without hearing the music or seeing the finished animation, the ad man thought it looked disastrous and cautioned that if he shared his thoughts with Coca-Cola, they’d pull the plug. Mendelson argued that the charm of Schulz’s characters would come through; the exec kept his opinion to himself.

10. CBS hated A Charlie Brown Christmas.

After toiling on the special for six months, Melendez and Mendelson screened it for CBS executives just three weeks before it was set to air. The mood in the room was less than enthusiastic: the network found it slow and lacking in energy, telling Melendez they weren’t interested in any more specials. To add insult, someone had misspelled Schulz in the credits, adding a “T” to his last name. (Schulz himself thought the whole project was a “disaster” due to the crude animation.)

11. Half the country watched A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Viewers weren’t nearly as cynical about Charlie Brown’s holiday woes as his corporate benefactors. Preempting a 7:30 p.m. EST episode of The Munsters, A Charlie Brown Christmas pulled a 50 share, meaning half of all households with a television turned on were watching it. (That amounted to roughly 15 million people, behind only Bonanza.) CBS finally acknowledged it was a winner, but not without one of the executives getting in one last dig and telling Mendelson that his “aunt in New Jersey didn’t like it.”

12. A Charlie Brown Christmas killed aluminum tree sales.

Aluminum Christmas trees were marketed beginning in 1958 and enjoyed fairly strong sales by eliminating pesky needles and tree sap. But the annual airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas swayed public thinking: In the special, Charlie Brown refuses to get a fake tree. Viewers began to do the same, and the product was virtually phased out by 1969. The leftovers are now collector’s items.

13. There's a live-action play version of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Up until 2013, anyone staging a live-action rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas for their local school or theater had one thing in common: they were copyright infringers. The official rights to the story and characters weren’t offered until recently. Tams-Witmark fields licensing requests for the play, which includes permission to perform original songs and advertise with the Peanuts characters—Snoopy costume not included.

14. In 2015, the voice of Charlie Brown was arrested.

Peter Robbins continued voicing Charlie Brown until he turned 13 years old, at which point puberty prohibited him from continuing. In November 2015, the 59-year-old Robbins pleaded guilty to making criminal threats against a mobile home park manager and a sheriff. According to CBS News, the troubled former actor claimed that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder led him to make the threats. He was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

Additional Sources:
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation
Schulz and Peanuts
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition
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