15 Magic Tricks You Didn’t Know You Could Do

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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.

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
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Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
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How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
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Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
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Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
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In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
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In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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