11 Bizarre Tricks From a 19th Century Magic Book
Magic books have a long history, from The Hocus Pocus Junior (1635) to 101 Magic Tricks (2016). And while some are classics, many of the older tomes seem very strange to our modern eyes. Take, for example, The Magician's Own Book, Or the Whole Art of Conjuring. Written by George Arnold and published in the 1800s, it claims to be a collection of magic tricks, illusions, and unanswerable questions packed full of fun for 1001 evenings. Here are 11 fun, delightful, and weird tricks from the book.
1. "The Impossible Omelet"
Looking for a trick to mess with your chef friends? Well, this may be the one for you. For this simple trick, you only need the ingredients to make an omelet—eggs, butter, milk, etc. However, it's important that you boil the eggs incredibly hard beforehand. Then bet your friend they can’t make an omelet with the ingredients you give them. You'll win on a technicality, but you may also lose a friend.
2. "An Omelet Cooked In A Hat, Over The Flame of A Candle"
Amaze your friends by making an omelet using only a hat and a candle as your cooking tools. The first thing you'll need is a big hat, preferably a tall one. Then you'll need four empty eggs (emptied "by being sucked through a small aperture," Arnold notes), one full egg, and an already-cooked omelet.
Once you've gathered your ingredients, place the fully cooked omelet deep in the hat and then call your friends over. Keep the hat up high (so they can’t see the bottom) then start breaking the fake eggs in the hat. What's the real egg for, you might ask? To keep those you're trying to fool from knowing that the other eggs are empty: "The operator should, as if by accident, let a full egg fall on the table, which breaking, induces a belief that the others are also full." Place the hat over a lit candle for a few minutes, then pull out the warm omelet. With any luck, no one will ask you to lower the hat so they can peek inside.
3. "The Card Found At The Second Guess"
Arnold wrote that "several tricks may be successfully played by sheer audacity. I once astonished a whole party by holding a pack of cards over my head, and naming each. The fact was, that I was standing exactly opposite a large mirror, in which the cards were reflected, while the spectators, having their backs to the mirror, suspected nothing." This trick, according to Arnold, is one that needs audacity to succeed: Let someone draw a card from a deck. Ask them to look at it, then have the person return the card to the top of the deck and place the cards behind your back. Shuffle all the cards except for the top one, then bring the cards back in front. Ask the person if the bottom card is their card—which you know it's not—and when they say no, pretend to be annoyed and shuffle again, this time making sure to move the top card to the bottom of the deck.
4. "The Magnetized Cane"
Although Arnold has an entire section in The Magician's Own Book in which he explains how magnets can be used in magic tricks, you don't actually need one for this trick, despite its name. What you will need is horse hair (probably not something you have lying around the house) or black silk thread about two feet in length, as well as two bent hooks that are the same color as the thread. Attach each end of the thread to one of the hooks, then hook them to the back of your pants. Next, sit in a chair and place a dark-colored cane on the inner part of the thread. Now, "by a simple movement of the legs, you can make the cane dance about, and perform a great variety of fantastic movements," Arnold writes. But before you do that, make sure you announce that you're going to magnetize the cane, and don't forget to move your hands "as professors of magnetism do," so that "the motion of the legs will not be noticed."
5. "Three Jealous Husbands"
We guess a brainteaser is in fact a trick for the mind, and this book has a ton of them (some of which involve math). Ask your audience to solve this problem: There are three jealous husbands and their three wives. All need to get to the other side of the river, but the boat can only carry two people at a time. How do you get all six across the river, without having any of the wives alone with the men who are not her husband? Ignoring the obvious sexism (this book was written in the 1800s, after all), the solution is: "Let A and wife go over—let A return—let B's and C's wives go over—A's wife returns—B and C go over—B and wife return, A and B go over—C's wife returns, and A's and B's wives go over—then C comes back for his wife." Who says brainteasers without math can't hurt your head just as much as ones that do?
6."The Erratic Egg"
We aren't sure why Arnold included so many tricks involving eggs—perhaps because eggs are a household item and easy to get? At any rate, to perform this illusion, you'll need to break out the ol' egg carton once again. Grab an egg and a couple of wine glasses. Place the wine glasses directly next to each other, then put the egg in one of the glasses. Next, "blow smartly on one side of the egg, and it will hop into the next glass; repeat this and it will hop back again." That's it—that's the trick. It seems unlikely that it would work with any wine glass big enough for the egg to fall in the bottom (so ... most wine glasses these days). Good luck with this one!
7. "The Juggler's Joke"
We're going to assume that this is the type of trick you play on someone when they're annoying you. Put a small ball in each of your hands. Spreading your arms as far apart as possible, tell your audience that you can get both balls in whatever hand they pick without bringing your hands near each other. Then, "all you have to do is to lay one of the balls down upon a table, turn yourself round, and take it up with your other hand," Arnold writes. "Both the balls will thus be in one of your hands, without the latter approaching the other, agreeably to your promise."
8. "The Fish and Ink Trick"
Arnold calls this trick "a first-rate delusion," and it's pretty involved: You need a vase lined with silk, a hollow-handled ladle with black ink in it, water, and some goldfish. Tell your guests that the vase is filled with ink; to prove it to them, dip your ladle into the vase and pour the ink held within onto the table. Next, put your handkerchief over the vase; mutter some magic words if you'd like, then pull the handkerchief away, making sure to also grab the black silk inside the vase. Removing the silk will reveal goldfish swimming in water (the force of which had held the silk in place).
9. "Light Under Water"
Some of these tricks may be incomplete—or maybe the biggest trick is Arnold making us believe these tricks are real. This trick claims that if you rub two pieces of fine lump sugar together in the dark, you can produce a bright electric light. We tried this just to see, and we can report that this is not accurate at all. According to Arnold, "The same effect, but in a more intense degree, may be produced with two pieces of silex or quartz, the white quartz being best for this purpose. The same effect may also be witnessed by rubbing the pieces of quartz together, under water."
10. "The Vanished Half-Dime"
If your grandpa pulled coins out from behind your ear, this trick might have been something he would have enjoyed. It calls for the use of a half-dime, which is no longer in circulation, but it will probably work just fine with a regular dime. Put some wax on the nail of your middle finger and place a dime in that same hand. When you make a fist, the dime will stick to wax; when you open your hand, it will appear to have disappeared from your hand. (Just make sure not to turn your hand around, lest they see the dime stuck to your fingernail.)
11. "The Double Meaning"
Arnold stated that the goal for many of his illusions was that "spectators should never be able to say, 'Ah! the trick lies in the box; he dares not show it to us!'" So some of his tricks were more about diverting the expectations of his audience. This one is simple: Place a filled glass under a hat and state, "I will engage to drink the liquor under that hat, and yet I'll not touch the hat." Get under the table, making some noises like you're taking a drink, and knock on the table three times. Come out from underneath the table and ask someone to lift the hat to see that you drank the beverage. When they lift the hat, grab the glass, take a gulp or two, and say, "I have fulfilled my promise. You are all witnesses that I did not touch the hat."