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Quick No-prep Magic Tricks

Updated on April 14, 2011
Figure 1
Figure 1

Every once in a while we need something to break the ice, or to relieve tension when a faux pas is committed. Or, when a child needs comforting, we need something “magical” that will distract or comfort the child. I’ve found that doing little magic tricks works wonders in these situations. But what if the tense moment arrives, and you’re not prepared with your arsenal of magic tricks? Here are a few that need little or no preparation.

First: About Patter and Drama
It is the habit of magicians to narrate their tricks with “patter.” Patter is an art in itself, where you narrate what you’re doing, or tell stories associated with the trick you’re doing. Your magic presentation will soar or fall based on your patter. If you merely say “I’m going to make this coin disappear,” you are employing a patter devoid of creativity and luster. This type of talk will bore your audience. It would be better to say something like, “My uncle Froggy gave me three nickels, once. When I went to the store to buy candy, there were only two nickels in my pocket. [You can go through the motions of showing three, and then two nickels, thus giving your audience a visual treat while you’re telling the story.] So after I bought a meager helping of candy, I came home and asked my uncle where the third nickel was, he told me it was in my ear. I said, ‘My ear? I didn’t put any nickel in my ear!’ He said he gave me traveling nickels - they move to other places when they get bored. [To add drama (“Performer’s Ignorance” as described below) and make it seem real, you could use an accusatory tone when you say “He said he gave me traveling nickels.”] He then reached behind my ear [at this point you can reach behind your ear with a palmed nickel], and there it was!” You then pull out a nickel from behind your ear.

As for drama, there is “Mystery Distraction,” which I’ll explain below. A third tool is “Performer’s Ignorance,” which I’ll also explain in the first trick.

The patter for the following tricks will be up to you. I will just present the how-to for them.

Figure 2
Figure 2

 Butterknife Trick
This is an ideal trick while sitting at a table, because there will always be a butterknife handy. Look at Figure 2. It shows me with a butterknife. As I turn it over, there’s a piece of tape on the other side. As I turn it over again, there’s a piece of tape there, too! Can you guess how I did that trick? Looking closely at the picture, does it give you any clues? I’ll show you later what those clues are. Meanwhile, let me diverge again:

At this point, I wish to name another magician’s strategy, akin to “patter.” It’s what I call “Mystery Distraction.” What I mean by this, is you do something - sometimes accomplishing nothing - for the mere purpose of giving the audience’s mind something to wonder about, to keep them from zeroing in on what you did to create the illusion. You can pretend to give the object of your trick a special “property” that supposedly helps you to attain your illusion. This is explained here:

Take a butterknife and put something on its blade. I show a piece of tape in my example. If you don’t have a piece of tape handy, put a spot of butter on it, right in the center and make sure it’s going to stick. If need be, you can use a small and very thin dab of syrup to glue on a small piece of paper napkin. Check that there is no other remnants of butter or anything else on the blade. Now, you do your “Mystery Distraction:” It can be anything you want, but I’ll show you what I would do: Put the knife - complete with the butter or tape on it - under the table, while telling your guests that you need to put the knife through a short training process. After pretending to work with the knife, pull it out from under the table, then do your trick:

Hold the knife as shown in Fig. 2, with the tape being visible. Then turn it over, as in the second photo of Fig. 2. There is nothing on the other side. Now, lightly touch your finger and thumb on each side of the blade where the tape is, telling the knife to remember what that motion means. When you turn the knife over, there will be NO tape on the other side.

Have you figured it out, yet, based on the photos? All you have to do, is - when you turn over the knife - you also rotate the knife in your fingers, as shown in Figure 3. You will see that the cutting edge of the knife is toward me in one pic, and away from me in the other. This is one example of how “the hand is quicker than the eye.” It also demonstrates that people don’t see details, such as the knife blade changing directions. But if you had remnants of butter on the cutting edge of the knife blade, then the people would immediately see what you did. And this is the main reason why you want to create a “Mystery Distraction.” People will be wondering what you did to the knife under that table, instead of looking for any clues in the details.

If you use butter, which will be more 3-dimensional than a piece of tape, be sure you tilt the knife toward the audience, as this will hide the butter. If not, your goose is cooked!

Now comes the example of “Performer’s Ignorance:” You may want to increase drama by pretending that you took the tape off the blade. Do something that will make the people challenge you on that. When that happens, you can pretend to be uneasy. Then you can tell the knife to use the “Think System,” while showing that you are hoping beyond hope that something “magic” will happen. After that, you can make the tape reappear - not only on one side, but on BOTH sides. Be sure to act surprised (and/or relieved) when you see this happen for both sides; the audience will be relieved with and for you.

Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 5

False Coin Pick-up
Reach into your pocket or purse and pull out a nickel or a quarter. Put it in the palm of your left hand (if you’re right-handed) and show your audience or subject the coin. Then ask them if they want it. Then back up, raise your hand so that the fingers will hide the coin. Pretend to pick it up as shown in Fig. 4. Close the fingers of your right hand before they get to the coin, then lift your right hand as if you’ve picked up the money. Everyone’s eyes will follow your right hand as you lift it above your head. Meanwhile, drop your left hand, the fingers slightly curled to keep the coin from falling. Keep the backs of the fingers toward the audience. Blow on your right hand, then open it to show it has disappeared. Or, go to drop the coin into an on-looker’s hand. As you open your fingers, nothing will fall out. While they’re wondering about this, bring your left hand up to their ear, or toward your shoe, and pull the coin from that new spot.

As a variation, instead of putting the nickel in the palm of your left hand, hold it between your thumb and a finger, as shown in Fig. 6. Put the thumb of your right hand under the coin. As you close your hand around the coin, let the money drop into the palm of your left hand. The fingers of your left hand will be toward the audience, so they will not see it fall. In the photo my fingers are raised only to show you the area where the coin is. For your trick, you won't want to raise your fingers. Continue with the remainder of the trick the same way as shown above.

Rope-Mending Trick
You present three pieces of rope to the audience. You show there are three pieces by first holding all three in your left hand. Then you take one piece at a time into your right hand by saying, “One, two, and three.” When you’re done, you drop one piece and wiggle your hand as if working the remaining piece in some way. You then grab the end of one piece, pull on it, and as you open your right hand, you show that you’ve mended the other two pieces as if they had never been cut.

This trick is done by using only two ropes, one being twice as long as the other. When you reach into your bag to pull out the ropes, your hand will be hiding the bent portion of the long rope. As you hold up the ropes - your fingers hiding the bent portion - the audience will see the three dangling ends (see Fig. 6). You then grab the shortest rope with your right hand and pull to one side while saying “One . . .” then, as you go to grab the next rope, you exchange the small rope with the long one, keeping the bent portion hidden. With practice you can make this one quick action. The single doubled piece of rope will look like two ropes to the audience as you say, “. . . two . . .” Now, you grab the small piece from your left hand and say, “. . . three!” As you drop the small piece, the audience will focus on your right hand while you wiggle it. You can show concentration for drama, and squint, as if it might not be working. Soon, you grab one end, pulling it out of your other hand until the whole rope is shown. Don’t just let go of the rope while it is still doubled, or your audience may know what you have done.

Figure 6
Figure 6

Guess the Card

You tell your guests you will guess which card is at the top of each pile, as shown in Fig. 1. You invite someone to write down your guesses. You mention that you have a 75% or better success rate. You then make a guess as you touch the first pile, then you pick up the card and look at it, smiling with relief. You then touch the second pile, make a guess, then pick it up, looking at this one with a sigh of relief as well. You continue until you've reached the fourth stack (or fifth stack, or sixth). When you done, you show your cards, and the guests will see that you certainly did correctly guess three out of four, or four out of five, or five out of six.

This is done by making an arbitrary guess on the first one. After you pick up the card, you look at it, noting which card it is. If it's a six of clubs, for example, then you make the second guess by saying, "Six of clubs." The card you subsequently pick up could be, say, queen of diamonds. So "queen of diamonds" will be your third guess. I'm sure you can see where this is going. When you're done, put the last card as the first one in your hand, not the last one. If, during the course of your picking up cards you do happen to pick up the card you first named, then you'll have to make another arbitrary guess for the next card.

An alternative trick is to catch a glimpse of the last card in your deck. You can do this before you announce that you're going to do a trick. People won't have their attention on you before you make that announcement. After you do, then you can proceed to shuffle the deck, always keeping that last card on the bottom. Switch which hand has the bottom half of the deck, and make that hand do the first release in the shuffle. When you're done, start putting the stacks on the table, doing it by three's or four's, and sometimes by one, in a supposed attempt to even out the stacks. This way, when you arrive at the last card in your hand, which is the one you've seen before, you can put it down on that last stack. When you start your guessing, you will start with the stack opposite that of the last card. Your first guess will be what that last card is. Once you get to that last card, you will put it first in order in your hand, so that it will be the first one seen by the audience when they check your accuracy. If you can sneak in a peek at that last card, you will have a 100% success rate. And even if you plan on doing this, you should still say that you have a 75% or more success rate, just in case someone else insists that they shuffle or cut the deck after you've shuffled it.

Well, there you have it. Practice your magic, and get that patter and drama down pat, and your life will take a rewarding turn toward magical horizons.


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    • profile image

      Suranjith De Silva 

      7 years ago

      Nice one keep it up..

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      These are so cool! The images are super helpful too, with the arrows and all. I can't wait to give these a try!


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