Hello my friend!
Let’s start with a question you may have asked yourself before: What’s REALLY the oldest trick in the book?
Well, it’s complicated…
Some tales whisper of an Egyptian magician named Dedi, who might have dazzled audiences with the cups and balls routine as early as 2700 BC
(apparently there’s even art of Egyptian magicians performing it…)
However, this claim is shrouded in debate.
What historians can concur on is the first ‘officially recorded’ magic act around 50 AD by the Acetabularii, who—guess what—were masters of the cups and balls!
(seems people really liked that trick back then)
It’s fascinating to think that while playing cards, which became the foundation for many magic tricks, were only invented in the 9th century AD in China, the cups and balls had already been a crowd favorite for millennia.
By the time card magic made its historical debut in the 14th century, the cups and balls had firmly established its legendary status as the oldest trick in the book!
Well, second oldest…
Want to learn how to do the cups and balls magic trick?
Today I’m going to be explaining exactly how you can learn this awesome magic trick with nothing but a few plastic cups, some foil, and YouTube! No need to cash out hundreds on fancy tutorials, we’ve got you covered!
There are a ton of different versions of this trick, but my personal favourite is the Penn and Teller Cups and Balls.
Because they do it with SEE THROUGH cups.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the ‘classical’ approach to the cups and balls too, but there’s just something hilarious about these two professional magicians doing something so ridiculous as a magic routine in which the whole premise (you shouldn’t be able to know where the ball is) is completely undermined (you see everything).
However, it still works brilliantly as an effect.
Check out this awesome clip of Penn and Teller performing the cups and balls to see what I’m talking about…
But Penn and Teller’s version is made to entertain, not necessarily fool you. If you have a quick eye, you can catch every ‘move’ and watch as the various objects come into play. If you want to go for a ‘serious’ approach, than I recommend you watch this cups and balls routine by Jason Latimer’s and really try to fool them!
Even if you watch closely, you’ll struggle to figure out what’s going on…even with SEE THROUGH cups!
That’s what makes it so incredible.
This kind of trick ALWAYS goes down really well with audiences. It’s about time you learned how to do it…
Here’s the 4 steps you’re going to need to take.
Step 1: Find some cups (and some balls)
You can go about this in two ways. You can either buy an ‘official’ cups and balls set with perfectly weighted and shaped cups, or you could just grab a couple plastic cups for a quid each from your local store.
I’m not fussed.
If you’re still fairly new to magic than I would recommend staying away from big purchases like a custom copper plated crafted set of cups (that’s a thing) and go cheap for the time being. If you really enjoy this trick and get the hang of it quickly than you should probably consider paying out- but for now it’s better safe than sorry.
As long as they’re big enough to hide objects beneath, you’re good to move on. Even a set of cups like these will do nicely…
The balls are the same scenario; buy a ‘proper’ set or just find something of a similar weight (remember, Penn and Teller used foil, so I wouldn’t stress about this bit too much!). You could even buy some sponge balls so you can use them for both this trick and a sponge ball magic trick!
Once you have your cups and balls, you’re ready to go.
Step 2: Rewatch the Penn and Teller performance, a hundred times.
There’s a reason I chose to talk about the Penn and Teller version of the cups and balls, a super convenient one actually.
The fact that they use see-through cups mean that you can learn the entire routine for free simply by rewinding and rewatching what they do and when.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as that and as you watch you’ll realize just how fast they can do this trick (they’ve had a lot of practice…). It’s also about the misdirection; manipulating the audience to look away from the hands at key points.
I personally was able to put all the pieces together after rewatching this performance enough times, but I must admit it did frustrate me at times. So don’t worry! If you don’t understand certain bits, it’s not the end of the world.
This is definitely the easiest way to learn the cups and balls magic trick though. Penn and Teller actually explain exactly what’s going on as they do the moves (for example, ‘we take the first ball and pretend to place it here…but we actually slip the second ball here…)
So, to recap.
1: Grab yourself some cups and balls.
2: Rewatch the Penn and Teller performance to see what moves are required and when.
3: Rewatch the Penn and Teller performance.
4: Rewatch the Penn and Teller performance.
5: Rewatch the Penn and Teller performance.
And so on…until you have all the necessary sleights memorised and can go through them in your sleep.
Time for the next step.
Step 3: Film yourself doing the cups and balls.
This step is absolutely VITAL.
Before you’re ready to go out and stun the world with your skills, you need to make sure you know all your angles and how it currently looks.
There are two ways to do this.
The first is to use a mirror; just a standard mirror will enable you to see how your sleight of hand and handling looks from the point of view of a spectator. However, mirrors aren’t perfect.
You won’t be able to see exactly how it looks because you won’t be looking at the mirror the whole time (or at least, it would be very difficult to only look at the mirror) and there’s a chance you might miss important bits.
That’s why I always recommend recording yourself and watching the video back when you’ve finished. You can pause and rewind as much as you like to really break down what you can do to improve and which bits are going well.
Plus, it means you can focus on doing the actual trick as opposed to constantly trying to glance in the mirror…
You can simply use your phone camera to record yourself; either get a family member or friend to record you, or just set it up yourself. As long as you can see your hands, you’re good. If you can get a fancy setup like this going too, even better…
Chances are that as you watch yourself doing the trick, you’re going to notice a few areas for improvement. That’s great.
Now go and practice the bits you messed up and record yourself again!
As you continue this cycle (record yourself, spot areas for improvement, practice!) you’ll gradually get better and better until you’re finally ready to perform.
Step 4: Performing
There’s definitely a difference between being able to do this trick in front of your mirror and in front of a real live audience. It’s completely normal to feel nervous before performing, so don’t worry about it. Just remember all the practice you’ve done; you’re definitely ready to go.
To make sure you’re ready to perform, you need to have developed a solid performance or ‘patter’ (what you’re going to say) for this trick.
For example, you could do it like Penn and Teller or Chris Hannibal; comedy style. These guys are geniuses at misdirection. Or you could go for a ‘serious’ approach like Jason Latimer’s and really try to fool them!
You could even mix it up a bit and make your own magic trick up using the techniques you’ve learnt!
Make sure you have a really clear performance mapped out so you don’t freeze up when you do it for real. Try planning out what you’re going to say (you don’t particularly need to memorise anything, just have a rough outline of the kind of thing you want to say).
Once you have a performance style and patter planned, you’re ready to go!
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any feedback about it, feel free to leave me a comment in the comment section below or get in touch with me using the contact form right at the bottom of the page.
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Have any more questions on how to learn the cups and balls magic trick? Leave a comment! Enjoy learning this trick? Why not check out some of my other magic trick tutorials?
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