1) Linking Rings, Richard Ross (1983)
Kicking us off at number ten, girly-haired Dutch magician Richard Ross wowed audiences in the ‘80s with his take on an ancient Chinese trick: linking rings. In this stunt, a series of apparently solid metal rings appear to ‘melt’ together, forming a chain. The beauty of Ross’ delivery is how he links the rings very slowly, allowing the audience ample time to scrutinise the process, making for a baffling, seemingly supernatural display.
How is it done?
As I said, this trick is almost as old as magical performance itself and the basic elements haven’t changed much over the centuries. Essentially, some of the rings (called ‘locking rings’) have breaks that can be popped open by applying pressure – these rings are mixed up by sleight of hand and false counting to make them harder to distinguish from the solid rings.
Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of pulling the linking off with enough skill and flair that the audience doesn’t see the deception; it also helps if you have a bedazzling blonde mane to distract the punters.
2) Chop Cup, Paul Daniels (1985)
It allegedly took comedy-magician Paul Daniels nearly 300 performances to perfect this spin on another classic trick: the ball in the cup. Yorkshire-born Daniels delighted television audiences with his rapid-fire magical malarkey and ‘Chop Cup’ became his signature trick. Daniels would start by placing a ball on top of a metal cup, which with some swift manipulation would appear to vanish, reappear and teleport to Daniels’ pocket in a manner of seconds.
Aye, now, that’s proper right clever that is.
How is it done?
There are a few different ways of carrying off this trick, but looking at the video above it’s most likely that Daniels utilised multiple balls, with the ‘first’ (i.e. the one that begins on top of the cup) containing a magnet. This would allow him to make the ball appear to ‘vanish,’ when in fact it was simply stuck to the inside of the cup, ‘re-appearing’ when Daniels’ slammed the cup back on the table. The ball (or balls) in his pocket likely vanished into a sleeve following some deft sleight of hand, while Daniels’ machine-gun gags served to distract the audience from noticing the seams.
3) Doves, Lance Burton (1982)
Magicians have been using doves in conjuring illusions for centuries, but it’s Lance Burton’s version that makes the list. This magical maestro now has a nightly gig in Las Vegas, where he and his feathered friends continue to wow audiences with this trick.
Cutting a suave figure in top hat and tails, Burton has been seen to produce live doves from his sleeves, the tip of his cane and from under his hat…
How is it done?
Being an acclaimed Vegas magician, Burton can afford a little technical support to pull this one off. In the video above, the first two doves are produced from the magician’s sleeves, which contain spring-loaders that ‘launch’ the birds into the air. Birds discharged, the magician discretely discards the launchers, quickly lifting the third dove from inside his suit. He then uses a handful of confetti as misdirection before recovering the bird and stuffing it back into his tailcoat.
4) Levitation, David Blaine (1997)
Remember the days when David Blaine was a sharp, urbane shot in the arm for the stuffy world of magic? Y’know, before he lost the plot and started hanging out in Perspex boxes suspended over the Thames? In Blaine’s early days he was content to stun passers-by on the streets of Brooklyn with such impossible feats as levitating a couple of inches off the asphalt. That’s street magic, bro.
How is it done?
There are many methods for pulling off the levitation stunt, but the one Blaine employs here is named ‘Balducci levitation’ for its inventor, Ed Balducci. The benefit of this method is that it requires no preparation, no equipment and can be conducted anywhere at any time.
When performing this trick, the magician stands a short distance away from onlookers and positions himself so that the audience can only see the back on one foot, focusing their attention on the foot closest to them. Blaine then stands on the front of the part-concealed foot, blocking the audiences’ view with the other. Thus, the audience only actually sees all of one foot and the heel of the other, which both appear to lift, unsupported, off the ground.
Yep, that’s right. It’s basically just an elaborate way of standing on tippy-toe. Street magic, bro.
5) Straightjacket escapes, Harry Houdini (1891-1926)
The master himself. The most famous magician and escapologist in history, Houdini’s unique brand of outlandish theatrics helped shaped modern magic as we know it. All of Houdini’s stunts were works of magical majesty, but he remains best known for his straightjacket escapes. Watch below and be amazed as Houdini wriggles free of a straightjacket while hanging upside down.
How is it done?
As well as being a world-famous escape and endurance artist, Houdini was also a vocal critic of charlatanism and fraud, dedicating much of his life to exposing individuals who claimed to possess supernatural abilities. Putting his money where his mouth was, Houdini chose to explain the secrets behind all of his stunts.
Let’s leave it to the man himself to take us through this one:
“The first step necessary to free yourself is to place the elbow, which has the continuous hand under the opposite elbow, on some solid foundation and by sheer strength exert sufficient force at this elbow so as to force it gradually up towards the head, and by further persistent straining you can eventually force the head under the lower arm, which results in bringing both of the encased arms in front of the body. “Once having freed your arms to such an extent as to get them in front of your body, you can now undo the buckles of the straps of the cuffs with your teeth, after which you open the buckles at the back with your hands, which are still encased in the canvas sleeves, and then you remove the straitjacket from your body.”
Sheer class. Cheers, Harry – RIP.