Cups and Balls: the First Routine Magicians Learn

By Tom Interval

The cups and balls. Copyright 2022 Tom Interval

Here’s a magic trivia question for you: What is the oldest magic trick ever performed? Many magicians would quickly answer, “The cups and balls!”

But the truth is, while the cups and balls is one of the oldest tricks in existence (it was performed some 2,000 years ago), it’s not the oldest. Even so, it’s one of the most popular in history, and there are as many cups-and-balls routines as there are magicians.

The first routine most magicians learn is a super-easy, out-of-the-box version. And I mean literally out of a box. In the earliest marketed versions of the trick, using three plastic cups of different colors, the effect (the “magic” the audience sees) is the same: Three balls, one at a time, “magically” penetrate the top of a solid, inverted cup and fall to the table underneath.

As magic students gain experience, they expand upon the basic routine, adding sleight-of-hand moves and ever-more creative surprise finishes. An intermediate or advanced routine includes fundamental techniques every accomplished magician uses throughout his or her life, and not just for the cups and balls.

But newbies have to start somewhere, and the out-of-the-box routine is a great first version to learn. That’s why I created my own video tutorial on just that (see below). I’ve produced other tutorials on the cups and balls but never focused on just the beginners’ routine.

Because the routine is technically easy, children can learn it fast, and its ease allows students to focus on the more important aspect of magic: the performance. In the tutorial, I teach both technique and patter (the words magicians say while performing) to get even the most novice learner started.

To watch the tutorial, follow the link or see the embedded video below.

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How to Do the Ribbon-Spread Turnover

By Tom Interval

If you love movies, you might have seen Paul Newman in The Sting (1973) manipulating cards like a magician or gambler. Of course, there was expert manipulation going on, but it mostly wasn’t Newman doing it. Why do I say “mostly”?

Because, despite magician and card expert John Scarne lending his hands for almost all of the close-up card work in the film, Newman actually did one of the moves himself. Or should I say he did half of one of the moves?

Which one? It’s called the ribbon-spread turnover, and in the film, a close-up shot of Scarne’s hands shows Scarne spreading the deck on a table. But once the deck is spread and Scarne’s hands are out of the shot, there’s a noticeable splice just before Newman’s hands come into view and finish the move by turning over the deck with a flourish.

Many films have shown characters doing the ribbon-spread turnover to establish their skill or shrewd nature, but you don’t have to be an expert magician, con artist, or Hollywood stand-in to do the spread well. It does take some practice, but if you follow my video tutorial carefully and put in the time, you’ll have a real conversation starter at your next poker game.

You can watch the full tutorial by following the link or watching the embedded video below. And when you have time, update me on your progress. Good luck!

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How to Fan a Deck of Cards: The Pressure Fan

By Tom Interval

You don’t have to be a magician to learn really cool flourishes with playing cards, but it does help if you’re already good at shuffling, cutting, dealing, and knowing your way around a deck in general.

If you do, you’ll love the challenge of learning this particular card fan. This is not the same fan I taught in an earlier video (the thumb fan). This one’s a bit of a knuckle-buster, but it’s worth taking the time and effort to learn well.

Long story longer, it’s called the pressure fan, otherwise known as the spring fan because it uses spring pressure to propel a fan of cards in a clockwise circle. Okay, it could also be counterclockwise if you’re left-handed, but who’s splitting hairs?

The fan is taught in a number of books on magic, including one of the earliest I could find, the 1927 Tarbell correspondence course, known today as an eight-volume set called The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 3, “Modern Card Fan,” pp. 214–215.

Other book descriptions include those in Expert Card Technique, by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue (1940), p. 164; The Royal Road to Card Magic, by Hugard and Braue (1949), p. 65; and Now You See It, Now You Don’t!, by Bill Tarr, p. 63.

The latter book is where I learned how to do the pressure fan. In fact, I show the book on the video tutorial, along with not only teaching the fan itself but also briefly talking about its history and sharing a few old films of me doing it as a child.

So without further delay, please enjoy the tutorial by following the YouTube link or watching the embedded video below. And if you have any feedback or simply want to share your progress learning the fan, I’d love to hear from you.

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How to Roll a Coin on Your Fingers

By Tom Interval

Have you ever seen a movie in which a character rolls a coin on his fingers?

Examples include Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993) and as Chris Knight in Real Genius (1985), Van Heflin as Sam Masterson in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), and Woody Allen as Miles Monroe in Sleeper (1973).

If you, too, would like to emulate some of Hollywood’s finest coin-rollers, then you might enjoy the video tutorial I just uploaded to YouTube: How to Roll a Coin on Your Fingers, Full Tutorial. Follow the link or watch the embedded video below.

And if you’re a trivia buff, you might be interested to know that a coin roll is also known as a coin walk, knuckle roll, and steeplechase.

The oldest published description of a coin roll I could find is in T. Nelson Down’s The Art of Magic (1909), p. 246. Other sources include The Tarbell Course in Magic, Vol. 3, by Harlan Tarbell (1927), p. 140; Coin Magic, by Jean Hugard (1935), p. 47; Modern Coin Magic, by J.B. Bobo (1952), p. 201; and Now You See It Now You Don’t!, by Bill Tarr (1976), p. 108.

After watching the video, please update me on your progress by commenting below or contacting me. Happy steeplechasing!

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Harry Houdini Lives: a Deepfake Encounter

By Tom Interval

I recently uploaded a video compilation of clips I made animating old photos of magicians, thanks to deep-learning software called Deep Nostalgia. Being a hopeless Houdini enthusiast, I couldn’t resist doing the same with photos of the legendary escapologist and showman. Set to sublime music, this eerie collection includes animated clips of Houdini at different stages of his life, from toddler to elder, as well as short samples of his and Bessie’s voices. Enjoy!

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Magicians of the Past Brought to Life

By Tom Interval

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! For my next trick, I shall bring past magicians back to life! Not literally, of course, but with uncanny results, nonetheless.

Although this magic is of the technological variety introduced more than a year ago, it’s still quite astonishing to see it in action.

The software is called Deep Nostalgia by MyHeritage, and it’s a magic historian’s delight. Simply upload an old photo of someone and, after a few seconds of processing, the app produces a lifelike video animation of the person.

During my free trial, I created several video clips of some of my favorite magicians of the past, and here are the results, which I compiled into a longer video, complete with sublime background music. Hope you enjoy.

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Humorous Double Prediction Card Trick

By Tom Interval

I just made a short tutorial for beginning magicians interested in learning an easy card trick that will not only amaze people but also entertain them with a humorous finish. One caveat, though: The following video is only a preview to see what the trick looks like. To watch the full video including the explanation, become one of my Patreon patrons or Rokfin subscribers. If you don’t, no worries. I’ll have plenty of free public tutorials in the months ahead. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy the demo.

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Happy Birthday, Houdini!

By Tom Interval

On this day 148 years ago, my childhood hero, Harry Houdini (1874–1926), pulled off his first great escape—from the womb! And the celebration will continue this Sunday, March 27, with a 13-hour virtual birthday event hosted by the Society of American Magicians and the Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania. See the official Facebook page for details. See you there, Harry!

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Happy 88th Birthday to Bill Bixby, The Magician

By Tom Interval

Bill Bixby The Magician

Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III, more popularly known as Bill Bixby, (1934–1993), would have been 88 years old today.

He was famous for his roles in My Favorite Martian, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and The Incredible Hulk, but many people don’t know he also starred in The Magician, a primetime magician-detective series that ran from 1973–1974.

By all accounts, he was a good guy and of course an appealing actor, and through his performances, he was part of some very fond childhood memories. His death at such a young age (59) was unfortunate.

Happy birthday, Bill.

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Received The Linking Ring Award of Excellence

By Tom Interval

I recently received this awesome award from the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) publication, The Linking Ring, for the cover story I wrote about John Cox, creator of Wild About Harry (Houdini).

The Linking Ring Award of Excellence, given to a different number of recipients each year, went to 10 people whose articles were published between April 2020 and March 2021. Mine appeared in the October 2020 issue.

Thanks to The Linking Ring executive editor Samuel Patrick Smith, the rest of The Linking Ring staff, and the IBM.

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