Move the (sponge) Ball Down the Field…

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of magic lectures and one of the things I talk about is how to move magic forward with your choice of material. In the lecture I really talk down on sponge balls, but they are a perfect example of why they are holding magic back.

Most magicians if you ask why the do sponge balls, they will give an answer like, “they get a good reaction“. That’s an answer, but not an honest one. The answer should be “they are easy to get a good reaction with“, which is a lot more honest. There are people that can get a reaction…an amazing reaction with the lamest tricks. The difference is that the people who can get a good reaction with a lame trick worked on getting the good reaction with a subpar trick.

Let’s do a little history lesson. The inventor of the sponge balls was Jesse Lybarger in the mid 1920’s. That makes the trick about 95 years old. The basic routine was there, but the routine that most people do took about 20 years to become a standard routine in the mid 1940’s when Al Cohn started selling his routine. Now fast forward to today, with a few exceptions the routine is basically unchanged 80 years later. Is the routine that good…or are magicians that lazy?

I’m betting on magicians being lazy. Let’s do an analogy, the car was patented in the mid 1880’s and Ford’s Model T came out in 1908. So it took about 20 years from the first patent to the Model T, which is about the same time to hit it’s stride as sponge balls. One is a fairly complex piece of machinery and one is a ball of sponge.

Let’s fast forward to today, sort of. I’m going to “handicap” the car because it’s about 40 years older than the sponge balls trick. Imagine a car in the mid 1980’s, don’t compare it to today’s cars, but to the first automobile patented and to the Model T. There have been a lot of improvements made, like a roof, or air conditioning and aerodynamics.

Now compare your sponge ball routine to the spongeball routines in the 1920’s and 1940’s, has yours changed much? Let’s see there’s the addition of the purse frame and the Eugene Burger‘s ending with the 30 spongeballs, both of which are over 30 years old!

How has your sponge ball routine pushed magic forward?

Spoiler alert, it probably hasn’t. Sure there are people routines like Ball to Jumbo Square (also over 30 years old) or Sponge Rabbits (almost 80 years old), then there’s the outlier which is something like Bizarro’s Color Changing Sponge Ball, which is fantastic, but definitely not as widely used as the standard sponge ball routine.

So, is the standard sponge ball routine the perfect routine…or is it simply an easy routine?

Push that sponge ball forward.