15 Magic Tricks You Didn’t Know You Could Do

istock
istock

Great magic takes years of practice and finesse, but everyday feats of trickery are actually a lot easier than you might think. Here are 15 illusions you can do with objects around the house (or restaurant, or bar) to dazzle those who don’t have the power of enchantment. 

1. Levitating a foam cup 

This one has a basic premise, but it’s tough to master. Grab a foam cup and tell your audience that you have the unique ability to make it float. Make sure you’re a few steps back and as you prepare to impress them, gently force your thumb through the back of the cup and begin to float your fingers around it to a) distract from aforementioned thumb and b) add some much needed showmanship! It will appear that your magic fingers are keeping the cup aloft. 

2. Levitating yourself

If you’ve ever seen this one, you know it’s remarkably impressive when done well. Stand on one side of the room and position yourself so that you’re diagonal to the audience—the closest thing to them should be your back heel. Slowly lift your heels and add some float-like wavering and then gently lift the entire foot closest to the audience off the ground. This will require some practice, but if everyone else is standing, the foot that’s entirely off the ground will block the toe of your other foot (that’s actually keeping you grounded), and you’ll appear to defy gravity. 

3. Bottling up your change 

Cut a slit in the side of a plastic water bottle that’s just large enough to fit a quarter through. Ideally you’ll want the type of bottle that has ridges to help hide your all-important modifications. Show your audience the bottle and a quarter so they can see there are “no tricks” and count, “1, 2, 3” before slapping your quarter-holding hand against the bottle and slipping the George Washington piece inside. The coin will bounce around in the bottom of the bottle and will appear to have transcended the laws of physics. 

4. Making 25 cents from a dollar 

Hold a dollar bill between your thumb and forefinger and tuck a quarter between your thumb and the bill so the audience can’t see it. Wave the dollar around, grab the other side, and snap it to illustrate there are no tricks or strange things happening with it. Low lighting is best for this one as those bills can be a little transparent. Fold the bill in half (cutting symmetrically along ol’ George Washington’s head) and then in half again the same way. Now you can squeeze it tight and pretend to shake a quarter out, seemingly from nowhere. Make sure to talk a big game about being on your way to fame and fortune...25 cents at a time. 

5. Climbing a ring 

For this trick, you’ll need to grab a key ring or even the ring off someone’s finger and a rubber band. Break the rubber band and loop it through the ring before stretching out the band between your hands—one higher in the air than the other. The key for this one is to stretch out only a small portion of the rubber band and tuck the rest of the loose string into the palm of your bottom hand. Slowly let the rest of the band out and it will appear that the ring is climbing the rubber band by itself. As with all of these tricks, don’t forget the theatrics. You’ve got to sell it and take your time. 

6. Becoming a mind reader 

This is a good one for impressing kids. Have them grab a box of crayons, turn your back to them, and ask that they select a crayon. Then ask them to place it in your hands, which are behind your back. Turn around, while keeping your hands always behind you and explain that you’re going to read their minds. While doing this, gently scrape the crayon with your nail and transfer it to the other hand. Now it’s time for the mind reading. Wave your hand above their heads as if collecting thoughts and sneak a peek at the color trapped under your nail. Then return your hand behind your back, and reveal your incredible all-knowing powers.

7. Engaging in black magic 

Select someone in the room and tell them to mentally pick any item in the room. Leave the room and tell that person to inform everyone else of the chosen object. Once the secret is dispersed, you return to the room and select another not-so-random person who goes around the room going from object to object. The audience doesn’t know it, but this person is your mole. The key is that you’ve decided on a predetermined color (usually black) and whenever they touch something of that color, the next object will be the one selected by the unknowing participant. 

8. Bending a straw

The prep work for this restaurant trick might have to be done while your companion is in the restroom. Or, alternatively, reserve it for children who might not already know about the magic of electricity. Take a paper-wrapped straw and rub the paper up and down a few times to create some static. Then place the straw on top of a bottle so it’s parallel to the table. The charge from the friction you just created will be such that when you bring your hands up to the straw, it will rotate like the hands of a clock. With the right moves, you can make it look like it’s bending to your will. 

9. Making a coin disappear

There are a ton of disappearing coin tricks out there, and each requires a certain level of crafty handiwork. This one is awesome because it incorporates a flub. While sitting, grab a coin and say you’re going to make it disappear. Prop an elbow on the table and start to rub the coin into your elbow/forearm while playing hype man for your onlookers. Then, drop the coin. It will fall onto the table. Now, for the key part of the trick: Make it look like you’ve grabbed it with the same hand, when in fact it ends up in the other. Then, put your elbow back where it was and slip the coin down the back of your shirt. Continue to rub the “coin” into your elbow and slowly reveal its disappearance. Standing up might be tricky if you want to maintain the illusion, so consider tucking in your top as well. 

10. Matching up your magic

Start with two small objects—not necessarily matches, but things that are close in size and shape to matches are best. Set them down side-by-side on the table. Put one hand over one, and one hand over the other. Then flip one empty hand, then the other. Here’s where the trick begins. Pick up one of the objects and do a “false transfer,” which means pretending to put it in the other hand while secretly tucking it into your palm. This might sound like it would be obvious, but practice makes it very convincing. Quickly ball up both fists. Then, pick up the remaining object with your thumb and forefinger while the other is already in that palm and now both matches are in one hand, though the audience thinks you’ve swapped them and one is in each hand. Reveal the empty hand for an awe-inspiring moment that makes it seem like you might be doing a disappearing trick, and then the other hand, which contains both objects. Ta-da!

11. Helping a toothpick vanish 

This one requires only a toothpick and a bit of tape. As stealthily as possible, fasten a toothpick to the outside of your thumb with either some tape or by licking the nail side of your thumb and forcefully pressing the object into your skin. The toothpick should be parallel with your appendage and within the boundaries of your thumb. If you bent your thumb, the toothpick would run off the edge of your knuckle. If you gave someone a thumbs-up with the print facing them, they wouldn’t see the toothpick.

The audience should be directly in front of you for the main event. Hold up the toothpick with your thumb bent and your fingers wrapped around it to hide the tape, say “abracadabra,” and open your empty hand while the toothpick sits on the back of your thumb. It will look like it vanished from thin air. 

12. Getting ice cold 

Some magic tricks get a lot of mileage simply for being surprising. This is one of those. Stuff a sponge into the bottom of a coffee mug or other opaque cup and add a couple of ice cubes. Pour some water into the cup with a pitcher and announce your ability to turn water into ice before overturning the cup and letting the cubes fall out. Of course, a quick examination of the cup will reveal your plot pretty quickly, but for a moment, you’ll be pure magic.

13. Bending any spoon you meet 

Next time you’re on a bad date or have simply run out of topics at dinner, grab a spoon to impress your companions. With the handle facing up and the spoon positioned vertically on the table, grip it with both hands so the audience only sees the top and bottom of the utensil. Pretend like you’re bending the spoon, while really just allowing the handle to slide back toward the table. It will look like you’ve bent the silverware where the bowl meets the handle. Then shake it loose like a little wave undoes your mighty spoon-bending work. 

14. Making a card float

For one of the most classic card tricks of all time, you need only a deck of cards and a card box. Cut a hole in the back of the box that’s large enough for you to push a card up with your fingers for the critical floating illusion. Take the deck out of the package and keep one card reserved at the back, but don’t let the audience know. Instead, fan out the “back three cards”  and show the faces to the audience. Ask them to pick a card—either, 1, 2 or 3, though in actuality, because of that secret card, if you were counting they’d actually be 2, 3, or 4—and compose the deck. Let’s say your rapt audience chooses #2. Count to “1” and take the top card from the deck and stick it randomly with the others, then count “2” before doing the same with the next card. Because of that hidden back card, you will have made it seem like you tucked their card of choice in the middle of the deck, when in fact it’s sitting right under your fingertips. Pop the deck back in the box and use your finger to slide the #2 card up in an ever-so-spooky way.

15. Coloring your cards

This trick might be the most complicated, but that also makes it the most impressive. To prep, get a deck of cards and order it red/black throughout. To begin the trick, cut the cards several times and have the audience tell you when to stop. When they do, take the top two cards and count them off so as to subtly flip their ordering and show them to the audience, asking them to remember the cards. One will be black and one will be red. 

Put these cards back on top and start cutting the cards again. Then, deal all the cards out into four piles. Because of the ordering, the 1st and 3rd pile will be the same color, and the 2nd and 4th will be the same color. When the cards are all dealt out, shuffle those same-colored piles together and then flip one upside-down to mix face-up with facedown cards. When you’re done, fan the cards out on the table and all the face-up cards should be the same color with the exception of one: an audience card from the beginning. Your audience’s heads will be spinning as you smile smugly, and tip your rabbit-filled top hat.

GEICO doesn’t need a magic wand to work its magic when you’re in trouble—its customer service reps are armed with all the know-how you need to get out of a tight spot.

10 Fast Facts About Jimi Hendrix

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Though he’s widely considered one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century, Jimi Hendrix passed away as his career was really just getting started. Still, he managed to accomplish a lot in the approximately four years he spent in the spotlight, and leave this world a legend when he died on September 18, 1970, at the age of 27. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the musical legend.

1. Jimi Hendrix didn't become "Jimi" until 1966.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle on November 27, 1942 as John Allen Hendrix. He was initially raised by his mother while his father, James “Al” Hendrix, was in Europe fighting in World War II. When Al returned to the United States in 1945, he collected his son and renamed him James Marshall Hendrix.

In 1966, Chas Chandler—the bassist for The Animals, who would go on to become Jimi’s manager—saw the musician playing at Cafe Wha? in New York City. "This guy didn't seem anything special, then all of a sudden he started playing with his teeth," roadie James "Tappy" Wright, who was there, told the BBC in 2016. "People were saying, 'What the hell?' and Chas thought, 'I could do something with this kid.’”

Though Hendrix was performing as Jimmy James at the time, it was Chandler who suggested he use the name “Jimi.”

2. Muddy Waters turned Jimi Hendrix on to the guitar—and scared the hell out of him.

When asked about the guitarists who inspired him, Hendrix cited Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elmore James, and B.B. King. But Muddy Waters was the first musician who truly made him aware of the instrument. “The first guitarist I was aware of was Muddy Waters,” Hendrix said. “I heard one of his old records when I was a little boy and it scared me to death because I heard all these sounds.”

3. Jimi Hendrix could not read music.


George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

In 1969, Dick Cavett asked the musician whether he could read music: “No, not at all,” the self-taught musician replied. He learned to play by ear and would often use words or colors to express what he wanted to communicate. “[S]ome feelings make you think of different colors,” he said in an interview with Crawdaddy! magazine. “Jealousy is purple—‘I'm purple with rage’ or purple with anger—and green is envy, and all this.”

4. Jimi Hendrix used his dreams as inspiration for his songwriting.

Hendrix drew inspiration for his music from a lot of places, including his dreams. “I dreamt a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” he explained in a 1967 interview with New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Look’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze,’ which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” (In another interview, he said the idea for “Purple Haze” came to him in a dream after reading a sci-fi novel, believed to be Philip José Farmer’s Night of Light.)

5. "Purple Haze" features one of music's most famous mondegreens.

In the same interview with New Musical Express, it's noted that the “Purple Haze” lyric “‘scuse me while I kiss the sky” was in reference to a drowning man Hendrix saw in his dream. Which makes the fact that many fans often mishear the line as “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy” even more appropriate. It was such a common mistake that Hendrix himself was known to have some fun with it, often singing the incorrect lyrics on stage—occasionally even accompanied by a mock make-out session. There’s even a Website, KissThisGuy.com, dedicated to collecting user-generated stories of misheard lyrics.

6. Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside-down.

Ever the showman, Hendrix’s many guitar-playing quirks became part of his legend: In addition to playing with his teeth, behind his back, or without touching the instrument’s strings, he also played his guitar upside-down—though there was a very simple reason for that. He was left-handed. (His father tried to get him to play right-handed, as he considered left-handed playing a sign of the devil.)

7. Jimi Hendrix played backup for a number of big names.

Though Hendrix’s name would eventually eclipse most of those he played with in his early days, he played backup guitar for a number of big names under the name Jimmy James, including Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, and The Isley Brothers.

In addition to the aforementioned musical legends, Hendrix also helped actress Jayne Mansfield in her musical career. In 1965, he played lead and bass guitar on “Suey,” the B-side to her single “As The Clouds Drift By.”

8. Jimi Hendrix was once kidnapped after a show.

Though the details surrounding Hendrix’s kidnapping are a bit sketchy, in Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, Charles R. Cross wrote about how the musician was kidnapped following a show at The Salvation, a club in Greenwich Village:

“He left with a stranger to score cocaine, but was instead held hostage at an apartment in Manhattan. The kidnappers demanded that [Hendrix’s manager] Michael Jeffrey turn over Jimi’s contract in exchange for his release. Rather than agree to the ransom demand, Jeffrey hired his own goons to search out the extorters. Mysteriously, Jeffrey’s thugs found Jimi two days later … unharmed.

“It was such a strange incident that Noel Redding suspected that Jeffrey had arranged the kidnapping to discourage Hendrix from seeking other managers; others … argued the kidnapping was authentic.”

9. Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees.

Though it’s funny to imagine such a pairing today, Hendrix warming up The Monkees’s crowd of teenybopper fans actually made sense for both acts back in 1967. For the band, having a serious talent like Hendrix open for them would help lend them some credibility among serious music fans and critics. Though Hendrix thought The Monkees’s music was “dishwater,” he wasn’t well known in America and his manager convinced him that partnering with the band would help raise his profile. One thing they didn’t take into account: the young girls who were in the midst of Monkeemania.

The Monkees’s tween fans were confused by Hendrix’s overtly sexual stage antics. On July 16, 1967, after playing just eight of their 29 scheduled tour dates, Hendrix flipped off an audience in Queens, New York, threw down his guitar, and walked off the stage.

10. You can visit Jimi Hendrix's London apartment.

In 2016, the London flat where Hendrix really began his career was restored to what it would have looked like when Jimi lived there from 1968 to 1969 and reopened as a museum. The living room that doubled as his bedroom is decked out in bohemian décor, and a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes sits on the bedside table. There’s also space dedicated to his record collection.

Amazingly, the same apartment building—which is located in the city’s Mayfair neighborhood—was also home to George Handel from 1723 until his death in 1759; the rest of the building serves as a museum to the famed composer’s life and work.

13 Facts About Amadeus On Its 35th Anniversary

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though much has been written about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the most entertaining look at the master composer's life might very well be Amadeus, Milos Forman's film about the artist's life (and rivalries), which was released on September 19, 1984.

Here's a look back at the Oscar-winning biopic that not only brought renewed interest to Mozart's music in the 1980s, but inspired Austrian rocker Falco to write the chart-topping "Rock Me Amadeus." Poor Salieri never stood a chance.

1. Amadeus began life as a Tony Award-winning play.

Russian poet/playwright Alexander Pushkin wrote a short play in 1830 called Mozart and Salieri, and playwright Peter Shaffer—who was already a Tony winner for Equus—took inspiration from that to write his own play. Amadeus played in various theaters in London beginning in 1979, then premiered on Broadway in 1980 with Ian McKellen as Antonio Salieri, Tim Curry as Mozart, and Jane Seymour as Constanze, Mozart's wife. The production won five Tonys, including Best Play and Best Actor for McKellen, who beat out Curry for the award; the two leads had been nominated in the same category.

2. Mark Hamill wanted the lead role, but Milos Forman wouldn't let him audition.

In an attempt to circumvent any typecasting he might get after three blockbuster Star Wars films launched his career, Mark Hamill played the composer on Broadway for nine months in 1983. But when the time came for the movie to be made, Czech director Miloš Forman couldn’t get the space cowboy image out of his head. “Miloš Forman told me, ‘Oh no, you must not play the Mozart because the people not believing the Luke Spacewalker as Mozart,’” Hamill said in a 1986 interview. “He was very upfront about it, and I appreciated that rather than getting my hopes up that it was possible I’d be playing the role.”

3. Kenneth Branagh legitimately thought he had landed the lead role.

A young Kenneth Branagh was an early contender for the part of Mozart. In his autobiography, he wrote that he thought he had the part in the bag until Forman informed him they were casting Americans for the leads. Other actors who auditioned for the Mozart role included Tim Curry and Mel Gibson. Though Mozart was a rock star in his day, actual rock star Mick Jagger was also turned down after his audition.

4. Mozart's frequent collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder was played by another stage Mozart.

Actor Simon Callow originated the role of Mozart at the Royal National Theater production of Amadeus in 1979, and though Forman told him his portrayal was "truly brilliant, fantastic, asshole and genius, funny, tragic, crazy, a baby and a god," the director wasn't prepared to give him the title role in the film. Instead, he cast Callow as Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist who worked with Mozart on The Magic Flute and played the part of Papageno the bird catcher.

5. The movie was shot without the use of light bulbs or other modern lighting devices.

The Tyl Theatre in Prague was the original theater where Don Giovanni first premiered in October 1787, and the authenticity of the building was a huge boon for the production since it had hardly been updated since it was first built in 1783. “[The Tyl is] where the opera premiered. And he conducted the first performance. And none of the opera house had been touched since he was there," choreographer Twyla Tharp recalled in 2015. "We had fire everywhere. We could have burnt down the opera house. We had live fire in the chandelier. We were lighting people on stage, and these guys were whipping these torches around."

Patrizia von Brandenstein—who became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Art Direction with this movie—had nightmares about damaging the all-wooden opera house. "I thought, 'God will truly punish me if this place catches on fire,'" she said.

6. Tom Hulce practiced piano for four to five hours a day.

In order to look believable on camera, Hulce spent a month with a piano teacher before filming. Although he knew some basics—he could read music, and had played violin and sung in choirs as a child—he needed to look like a natural. "I spent four weeks, four to five hours a day learning to play,” Hulce told People in 1984. “The first two days were scales and exercises. The next day was a concerto." And for that scene at the masquerade ball when Mozart plays a tune while lying on his back? That was really Hulce.

7. Tom Hulce's laugh is semi-historical, though he had trouble recreating it.

Throughout the movie, Mozart has an infectious cackle—it comes out just as often when he’s giddy as when he’s uncomfortable. Though there are dubious historical reports that the real Mozart had such an obnoxious laugh, Hulce created the giggle after Forman asked him to come up with "something extreme." "I've never been able to make that sound except in front of a camera," Hulce later said. "When we did the looping nine months later, I couldn't find the laugh. I had to raid the producer's private bar and have a shot of whiskey to jar myself into it."

8. Someone really did commission a requiem from Mozart—it just wasn't Salieri.

The script clearly took some artistic liberties, including the plot line of the masked man who comes to Mozart pretending to be his dead father. This was not, as the movie portrays, Salieri. But in 1791, Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg—who had a penchant for commissioning music to pass off as his own at his twice-weekly concerts—approached Mozart and asked for a requiem for his beloved wife, who had died on Valentine’s Day.

According to a famously censored document in which a teacher near Vienna, Anton Herzog, recorded firsthand accounts of von Walsegg’s court, the Count often rewrote these commissioned quartets and other scores in his own hand and didn’t give credit to the original composers. His staff musicians often laughed this off because it seemed to amuse the Count, and because the Count was also an amateur musician in his own right. Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor,” the document alleges, was one such piece. And Mozart really did die later that year, in December, before completing the full mass. Salieri didn’t help him complete it though; Austrian composer and possible Mozart student Franz Süssmayr took that on.

9. The actors felt intense jealousy, too.

Salieri and Mozart were the 18th-century equivalent of frenemies: They were contemporaries in a competitive field, and though they needed each other’s support, they weren’t above petty jealousies and a little backstabbing. Hulce and F. Murray Abraham (who played Salieri) also felt those pressures. ''Tom and Meg [Tilly, the actress originally cast as Constanze] were very close,'' Abraham told The New York Times in 1984. ''They had these secret jokes and were always laughing together. I was pushed out, and I was resentful. I began to have very nasty feelings that were exactly like Salieri's feelings toward Mozart. When that correspondence between a film and real life occurs, it's a director's dream.''

“Occasionally Murray and I would go out and drink this terrible sweet champagne that they have in Prague," added Hulce. "But at other times there was a rivalry between us, and I found myself suspicious of him.''

10. It was shot almost entirely on location in Prague—while under surveillance from the Secret Police.

During filming in 1983, Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule. The production team was often followed around by the secret police, and Forman and the cast spoke about their fears that a Fourth of July prank—the unfurling of the American flag in the concert hall and the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by the large cast and crew—would lead to their arrests for inciting rebellion. Many suspected that their hotel rooms had been bugged during the six months they spent filming the movie.

Forman, who was considered a traitor for becoming an American citizen and not returning to the Soviet-controlled area, had previously had one of his movies banned in the country (then called the Czech Socialist Republic). According to Twyla Tharp, in order to shoot in red territory, Forman had to make certain concessions. "Miloš had to sign an agreement that he would go to his hotel every night for the year that he was there and that his driver would be his best friend from the old days," Tharp told The Hollywood Reporter. "And everybody knew what would happen to his best friend if something untoward politically happened around Miloš, because Miloš was a sort of local hero and he was dangerous to the authorities."

11. A teenage Cynthia Nixon had a small but pivotal role.

At age 17, Nixon played Lorl, the maid employed by Salieri to spy on Mozart. Though she was an experienced child actor at that point, she was also trying to finish her schooling. Thus, she and her parents were cautious of the time she'd need to be abroad for filming. "When I was cast in Amadeus with Miloš Forman, which was shooting in Europe," Nixon said in 2014, "I said, 'I want to be in your film so much, but I have a request: If I don’t shoot for two days in a row, you have to send me home.' They agreed."

12. The distributor made a promotional video depicting Mozart as a modern rock star.

Since the movie wasn't financed by a major studio with lots of promotional dollars behind it, the distributor, Orion Pictures, decided to get creative. And what better way to promote a rock star in the age of MTV than with a music video featuring David Lee Roth and cuts of Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, KISS, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Madonna dancing along to Mozart's "Symphony No. 25 in G minor"?

13. The movie was a huge hit.

The film nearly tripled its $18 million budget at the box office, which was particularly impressive considering it opened in a limited 25 theaters and didn’t have a wide release until several months later. The movie also swept the Academy Awards—of its 11 nominations, it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director. And, just as on Broadway, Salieri won the Best Actor statuette over Mozart, with Abraham beating out Hulce.

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