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.


About Tom Interval

San Diego Magician Tom Interval, owner of Interval Magic, provides magic entertainment and training to private and corporate clients locally and nationally. A member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM), Society of American Magicians (SAM), and the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA), Interval has captivated tens of thousands of people at numerous venues, including Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia. With a BA in professional writing and minors in communications and business administration, Interval writes magic-related e-books, magazine articles, and blogs and produces tutorials and related videos for his YouTube channel. Most recently, Interval earned The Linking Ring Award of Excellence for a cover story he wrote for the magicians' publication. To learn more, please visit
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