Cups & Balls: A Revelation from 1634

HocusPocus1a

Looking for something else on the World Wide Wonderweb, I came about this interesting image of Hocus Pocus Junior and his famous revelatory book, The Anatomy of Legerdemain, or, The Art of Jugling, first published in 1634. Across the title page, there is a depiction of the artist in action and with his props (see above).

Now have a closer look at the hands and at the cups on the table:

HocusPocus2

It seems that this image is much more than just an arbitrary illustration for any magic book. First, I think, it’s a surprisingly accurate “freeze shot” of the very moment before the magic is going to happen: The right hand with the wand will tap the closed left hand, that hand will open and display – nothing! The ball that was supposed to be in the fist will be seen to have disappeared.

Where to? Well, the image also tells us this “clearly”: By displaying the top cup as if it were transparent (they didn’t use drinking glasses for magic back then), we can see where the ball is actually hidden and where it may reappear any moment now!

Could this be the first very accurate magic illustration and how-to instruction on a book’s cover (or frontispiece), I wonder?


 

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Old Cups, New Cups

The other day, I got myself this lovely old set of silvery cups at a fleamarket. I doubt that they were ever used for magic trickery, but as you can see with the patina, they stack nicely and leave just enough room in between for small crocheted balls or these tiny (real) apples which I picked up on the way!

Cups_old

Layers of Layers of Bosch

Since listening to Dr. Steffen Taut‘s fascinating talk on recent research findings about Jheronimus Bosch‘s (?) famous painting, The Juggler, at the latest EMHC, I have spent quite a bit of time on the wonderful website of the Bosch Project, and I’d urge you to check it out, too!

It takes a moment to load the huge amount of data, but then they will guide you inch by inch into and through the surreal world of Bosch. These data do not only give you the Bosch paintings in amazing detail and scan quality; in the interactive section, they also feature the underdrawings made visible through infrared and X-rays, so you can compare drafts and finalizations, various styles, etc.

Bosch1

Here are some examples what the screen image looks like when you play around with the various visible layers of the painting:

Bosch2_halbBosch7_halbhalb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now have a look at some of the fine details. I actually doubt that you could see and identify them so well when standing before the original painting in the museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye!

By the way, I have always marveled at the modern red hat of the woman spectator on the left. Doesn’t it look like a 20th century creation?!

Bosch9_Faces

Here’s the detail of the cut-purse in action. Note how well you can see the shining tip of the blade.

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More details, discoveries and thoughts on this painting to come!


 

Review: Artistic Cups and Balls

ACAB

Ich war schon länger auf der Suche nach einem “gewichtigen” und edel anmutenden Becherspiel, ohne gleich ein kleines Vermögen dafür ausgeben zu müssen. Nun bin ich endlich fündig geworden! Das “Artistic Cups and Balls” Set – kurz ACAB – aus dem Hause TCC sieht toll aus und liegt mir gut in der Hand. Die dunklen Messingbecher sind schön schwer und sehr gut austariert. Der Klang ist umwerfend, wenn man einen aufrecht und frei stehenden Becher mit einem Löffel anschlägt!

Schön ist auch, dass bis zu drei Bälle problemlos auf dem Boden eines umgestülpten Bechers liegen bzw. erscheinen können (Frank Garcia, here I come!). Große Abschlussladungen wie Jonglier- oder Tennisbälle passen problemlos hinein. Weiß umhäkelte Korkbälle statt der roten wären m.E. als Kontrast zu den dunklen Bechern noch besser gewesen, aber das ist sicher Geschmackssache. Der edel anmutende Transportbeutel für die Becher ist ein schönes Extra.

Das Set kommt mit drei Bechern, vier roten Bällen und einem Stoffbeutel in einem ansprechenden, stabilen Karton mit exakten Aussparungen für die Becher und Bälle. Eine Anleitung ist nicht dabei.

Ich habe das ACAB Set kürzlich für 180 Euro beim Magic Center Harri erstanden. Detlef Hartung hat es mir netterweise sofort zur unverbindlichen Ansicht zugesandt, denn ein Becherspiel sollte man nie “blind” kaufen, sondern immer erst in den eigenen Händen halten und ausprobieren können. Dieses wollte ich schon nach wenigen Momenten nicht mehr hergeben.

Empfehlenswert!


 

Potatoes Are Funny – But Why?

There are a lot of books on comedy out there. How to write it; how to stage it; how to perform it. Despite all the rules, it is incredibly hard to do it right. And that is partly because it is so damn hard to define what is funny – and what isn’t.

Let’s narrow the big question down a bit for magic. What makes some props funnier than others? Not for laughing out loud, but for a chuckle or a smile, or to get people interested, because uncommon objects are intriguing and quite often cute.

If I recall correctly from the „Revelations“ tapes, Dai Vernon was fond of saying that a lemon or a potato were a great final load for the Cups & Balls because they were, somehow, inherently funny. A banana is also funny. An apple isn’t. A pear isn’t. A strawberry isn’t. An orange – maybe. A cucumber can be funny once you use it as a magic wand. (That’s my view, not Vernon’s.)

I don’t have a theory to offer either, but I feel that for many objects it has to do with their Gestalt: their size, color and form and the extent to which these deviate from their more common brothers and sisters. Plus, the context in which they are used, appropriately or inappropriately. Some examples will follow.

Matches are tiny, thin and easy to break. A massive wooden match of 15‘‘ length or more, however, is none of that – and it’s funny.

Handcuffs are made of metal, in grey or silver, cold and unappealing. But there are fancy, playful handcuffs around in carnival and novelty stores that are soft and furry, in a bright pink color. Taking them from your pocket or „discovering“ them accidentally somewhere else is funny.

If you announce that you will bring out your time-worn, valuable magic wand and then present a giant pool noodle, a pencil stump or a wooden spoon from your kitchen, that is funny (at least to children).

You get the idea. Now let me invite you to start a tour around your house. Try to discover as many un-ordinary objects as possible. Maybe in the kitchen. In your bathroom. In a closet. In your den. In the shed.

Go hunting now!

Found some contrasting stuff? Good!

Next step. Consider this:

How could you use these objects in a magic context, be it within a routine you are already doing or as a novelty?

Zebragummistiefel
Imagine a group of debonaire magicians in tails on stage, with white gloves and top hats in hand, but all wearing these zany zebra gumboots: Funny!

 

Calling Mr. Calypso!

Here’s a lovely clip on YouBurp from an old movie. You will see a young John Scarne as the magic trick demonstrator, Mr. Calypso, doing a quick and smooth Cups & Balls routine.

Watch it first, then read on!

Scarne Cups

Scarne’s cups through cups move, however, is the slowest and thus less deceptive one I have ever seen. And the (unnecessary) cut before the climax really hurts! Also, I’m wondering: Is it really a benefit to lift all three cups to show nothing underneath immediately before the final revelations?


 

Tricks & Ideas (6): Coffee Cup & Capsules

Talking about the cups & balls in trick episode no. (5), I wonder why I haven’t come across any routine yet using the fancy Nespresso cups and coffee capsules that have found so much favor in many up-market households over recent years (at least in Germany). They are a pleasure to look at and to handle, the wide-rimmed capsules are perfect for palming (and likely easy to gaff for a chop cup), and the special stirrer may serve as an elegant miniature wand. As a finale, you may produce a bunch of sugar packets or pour loose sugar from the cup.

The many variations in taste and colors of capsules available lend themselves not only to a stylish chop cup routine, but to a number of other close-up effects including some mentalism, e.g. the prediction of a capsule which was freely chosen among eight differently colored ones (MO principle).

Now think – what’s stirring in your cup?


Find more tricks and ideas here.


Tricks & Ideas (5): Clear Magic

With many laymen assuming that the bigger part of magic’s secrets lies within suspicious boxes, hidden mechanism, black art and special lighting, I feel it is an interesting concept to present certain magic effects as „clearly“ as possible (pun intended). Think of objects appearing or disappearing in crystal-clear boxes, coins through glass table or „Clearly Impossible“, Jonathan Pendragon’s spectacular sawing of a lady, etc.

On his fine blog (in English and German; login required), Alexander de Cova has recently announced his version of a clear cups & balls routine which he will premier in his lecture tour through Germany and Austria this fall. I am really looking forward to his clever thinking on this. Other clear routines with the cups & balls that come to mind are the ones by Penn & Teller, Jason Latimer and Armando Lucero.

By the way, Alexander recommends using clear tumblers made of polycarbonate now instead of real drinking glasses. These are light-weight, almost unbreakable, easy to carry and easy to drill. (The sound may be a bit flat, though.)

Now clear your mind – what can you come up with?


Find more tricks & ideas here.


Der kleine großartige Buchinger

Bereits länger angekündigt, scheint nun die Veröffentlichung unmittelbar bevorzustehen: The Greatest German Living nennt Ricky Jay sein Werk über Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739), den “kleinen großartigen Mann aus Nürnberg”, der u.a. als ein Meister des Becherspiels galt, obwohl er keine richtigen Hände besaß.

Das Taschenbuch soll laut Amazon am 9. September 2015 erscheinen und bei einem Umfang von 160 Seiten knapp 34 Euro kosten. Ricky Jay hat Buchinger bereits in seinem Buch Sauschlau und Feuerfest von 1988 ein Kapitel gewidmet.


Addendum: Fans von Ricky Jay finden hier ein dreidimensionales Portrait von ihm, das der Künstler Glenn Kaino aus Spielkarten gestaltet hat.

New Light on the Ancient Cups & Balls

Take a look at this lamentable picture from the Beni Hasan tomb in Egypt (the original mural painting is well over 4,000 years old) and marvel at the level of self-delusion and conceit only possible among majishuns. It may seem ridiculous today, but for decades we have boasted about this thing here being “the oldest proof of a cups & balls performance.” Yeah, right!

Looking at the details, the Gestalt of this very routine would actually deserve a “revolutionary” rating. Why?

  1. What we see is obviously a one-on-one performance. Thus, this image also depicts nothing less than the birth of close-up magic!
  2. It is also the first known document of active audience participation, as the spectator is clearly seen lifting one of the cups. Further research needs to be conducted on the question whether this indicates rather a “Do as I do” plot or an early “Spectator vs. Magician” theme.
  3. Preceding Tommy Wonder and David Williamson by more years than I care to count, this trend-setting routine actually features only two cups!
  4. The climax of this routine is even more astonishing: Boy, look at these loads! As we can see, two more cups (possibly solid ones) are being produced from under the lifted ones. The loads even look bigger than the cups – ample proof that the Egyptian magi were also well acquainted with optical illusions… Yeah, right!

Be that as it may, I enjoyed the point of view Scott Wells took in his introduction for Kreg Yingst‘s fine book The Magic Show in 52 Linotypes. He wrote: “Some believe they were merely baking bread but I like to think that they were magicians who may have also been chefs.”


Addendum: The above reminds me of an old joke told among magicians: “Have you heard? In Mesopotamia, they’ve found a petrified man about 6,000 years old. And guess what – he didn’t wear gloves. It’s obvious that this guy must have been an early stage manipulator who had just vanished his gloves!”