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Cups and Balls

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Effect in which small balls vanish from and/or appear beneath overturned (usually metal) cups. The balls can also travel invisibly from under one cup to another, and can apparently pass through the bottom of the cups as well, all over the course of a single "cups-and-balls" routine that generally ends with the production (or appearance) of much larger balls beneath the cups (or other large loads).

The cups and balls is a classic of magic with many variations. The effect known as acetabula et calculi was performed by Roman conjurers as far back as two thousand years ago.

One popular painting of a man holding two inverted cups over two small round objects has been taken as evidence to suggest that the effect dates back as far as Ancient Egypt, though experts now doubt that is what the picture shows.

The most widely performed version uses three cups and three small balls. The magician makes the balls pass through the solid bottoms of the cups, jump from cup to cup, disappear from each cup and appear in other places, or vanish from various places and reappear under the cups (sometimes under the same cup), often ending with larger objects, like fruit, or even chicks or mice, appearing under the cups.

A typical cups-and-balls routine includes many of magic's most fundamental effects, such as vanishes, appearances, and transpositions. A convincing performance also requires many of the art's core skills, such as misdirection, dexterity, and audience management. Because of this, learning the cups and balls is often considered an almost complete education in modern magic entertainment.

Instead of cups, other types of covers can be used, such as bowls or hats. The classic shell game con is taken by some to be a variant of the cups and balls.

Houdini has been quoted as saying, "I consider no man to be a magician unless he can perform the cups and balls."

See also all pages in the Category:Cups and Balls.

Notable Routines

Published Resources

  • CUPS AND BALLS MAGIC by Paul Osborne (book). Sleights, moves, and subtleties, every art & artifice both old and new. Palming, passes, steals, switches, moves, routines, novelty effects, production of baby chicks, original ideas, selecting your cups, etc. One of the most comprehensive works on the subject ever produced. Special articles by John Mulholland and Henry Ridgely Evans. 63 illustrations.
  • DEFIANCE II CUPS AND BALLS ROUTINE by Reed McClintock (book). Three cups are shown, along with a wand. Suddenly, a ball appears at the fingertips. The balls vanishes as quickly as it appeared, only to end up under an untouched cup. These actions are repeated twice more, with a ball appearing under each of the three cups. The balls vanish once again, appearing under the cups once more. The performer offers to do it with two balls and one cup, which covers the third ball. The two balls vanish from the hand. The spectator lifts their cup to show three balls. The balls are vanished once again. All three cups are lifted, revealing the final loads.
  • DENNIS LOOMIS CUPS AND BALLS ROUTINE by Dennis Loomis (book). A classical routine with traditional props and effects. Designed to be done seated, working from a set of saddle bags ala Don Alan. Paperback, 20 pages.

Notable Final loads


Cup Suppliers - Cup Resources - Cup Lists

(see also Thimble Rigging, Three Shell Game)