I’ve always been interested in Tommy Wonder’s Cups and Balls routine. I finally plunked down the cash and picked up this set:
Right out the gate, I think the bag is a little bit too small (not long enough) for the cups. You need to be able to tie it shut with the string with the cups in the bag. I really had to force/stretch the bag to get the cups into it and tie it shut. This isn’t a huge deal, as over time I imagine it will stretch and get easier (I hope).
I started by reading the routine in The Books of Wonder Vol 2 and working it out. The routine didn’t feel right, so I then watched some videos of Tommy performing the routine. There’s a lot of flow that’s missing from the book and it really would have benefitted from having a bullet point list of the effects that happen in the routine.
Here’s one of the videos I watched:
One thing that I noticed about the routine is that it’s not a show stopper like when you see Gazzo, Ammar or Bob Read do the cups. At the end of those, there’s a punctuation at the end, a definite end. Tommy’s routine is more of a middle piece than a closer.
In Tommy’s book he mentions that he’s known to magicians for his cups and balls. There’s a clue there, I don’t think he thought it was the best for non-magicians. It’s certainly innovative in how the loads were done, with none from the body/pockets, and resets instantly, but I’m not sure that translates to non magicians as much as it appeals to magicians.
I’m going to learn the routine, and give it a try, hopefully I can get it down in about a month for a week long run of shows I’ll be doing next month.
I recently got an email asking questions about the Vanishing Birdcage and I figured it might be helpful to more than just the person who emailed me, so here it is:
I see that you have a lot of knowledge about the vanishing bird cage. My dad used to do a little stage magic and this was my favorite! My son is now an aspiring young magician and I’d like to get him this trick. He’s been working on his technique for several years but is still only 11. I know this trick takes a lot of practice. I do not want to spend the thousands to get him a professional cage, but I also don’t want him to be discouraged (or cut!) by an inexpensive and poorly made cage while he learns. I’ve read through several threads on Magic Cafe and it seems most of the Indian cages can be dangerous, although there might be one or two that are ok. It also looks like I need to avoid any with loops?
I am writing to ask if you can recommend any websites, manufacturers, things to look for, things to avoid- any advice at all?
Let’s start with the safety of cages. Yes, they can cut you, but I honestly don’t think that’s really a huge concern. Anything that can cut you can also snag in your sleeve, so you should be inspecting your cage and finding those spots and eliminating them. I check my cages how Billy McComb did, by running a silk over them to find any thing that would snag in my sleeve. Tommy wonder did something similar with a piece of string. I have a couple of the Indian vanishing cages from various eras in my collection and I never really noticed any of them having any wires sticking out (that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any). The bigger concern with the newer Indian cages is that they are super heavy, and this makes the vanish more difficult. If getting cut is a concern go for an Abbott’s style cage with the red ribbon on it. I don’t think Abbotts is making them right now, but they frequently pop up used and should run about $100ish. There’s one on ebay right now for $275, and I DO NOT recommend paying that much for it. https://www.ebay.com/itm/394381494169
There are some totally usable vanishing cages with the loops on the bars. The Milson Worth Vanishing Birdcages with the brass bars work fine and that’s the cage that the Indian Vanishing Birdcages are modelled after. A Milson Worth cage will run about $100-$150. There’s one on ebay right now for $95 and looks decent: https://www.ebay.com/itm/314214210186
The bigger issue is size. I’m 5’8, so average height, but to pull full size cage like the Owen Vanishing Cage or even a full size Abbott cage up your sleeve may be the biggest challenge for an 11 year old. I’d recommend trying to find a small Abbotts cage or the Milson Worth cage as they’re smaller than the “standard” cages. Personally I used a National Magic and Owen Cage and were a bit too big for me, and about a year ago I switched to a Riser/Summers Baby Lindy Cage which is smaller and it works a lot better for me! However the price tag on the baby lindy cage is a lot, and it’s not really what I would recommend for a first cage.
With all of that information, I would lean towards the $95 one that’s on ebay if it was a purchase that you wanted to make now. If you are willing to wait an hunt around a bit, then a small Abbotts vanishing cage.
One of the challenges of the sponge tennis ball routine I’m working on is to make it more “magically sound”. I’ve gotten a lot things figured out. Yesterday I posted about the steal of the FS2 gimmick and the ditch of the final palmed sponge ball. Something I didn’t like was that a lot happens between the false transfer and the reveal that the sponge balls is gone.
The sequence is: 1: False transfer 2: Hand palming the ball takes the book that I’m holding under my arm, gestures and says a line. 3: Put the book away in my case and ditch the palmed ball. 4: Reveal the ball is gone
There’s a lot of motion, and I think it would be easy for someone to doubt they actually saw the tennis ball in my hand. I wanted to show it after the ditch and I remembered recently reading in a set of Tommy Wonder’s lecture notes about appearing to show the item after the ditch. I also remember seeing this in action the time I was lucky enough to see his act live.
Here’s Tommy Wonder’s act:
For the vanish of the lemon, he’s able to show its there after it’s been ditched. That’s the part that inspired my path to show the tennis ball after the ditch.
This is a simple addition to the back of the FS2 gimmick. Now the tennis ball can be seen after it’s been ditched in my case. It’s been a long road to get to to this point with my sponge tennis ball routine. I’ve always said that creating magic is solving a series of problems and this sponge tennis ball routine is a good example of that!
One of the things that I wanted to do when I was in Las Vegas to hang out at Magic Live was to go to Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart. Omega Mart is a huge immersive art installation that’s a strange grocery store and you can actually buy the things there. If you explore there are hidden doors that take you to the crazy places!
It’s totally worth a stop in you’re in one of the cities where they have locations. While we were in the store portion of the Omega mart, I saw an avocado purse, this is a realistic avocado that is made of rubber, but is hollow and has a zipper on it.
The magician in me got thinking about what I could do with it. The obvious trick would be to take something out of it, then at the end of the routine it becomes a real avocado! The addition would be to have a zipper on the reel avocado that you peel off at the end then cut open the avocado.
For a routine you open the purse and take out an avocado pit. Do a trick with it, like a one coin routine, with the pit continually reappearing in the avocado purse. Then the finale is it’s a real avocado.
Another idea is you could cut it in half and now you have an avocado shell. You could do multiplying avocados, or use the shell to steal something else.
Hmm…what if you have a paper cup, an plastic knife and an avocado pit. You do a cup and ball routine, ending with the avocado purse. You get the surprise of the avocado appearing, but then you blow it off by revealing it’s a purse and the pit is inside it. Use that moment of surprise to steal the real avocado and switch the purse for the real one. Do another phase, and steal the avocado like a in Tommy Wonder’s cups and balls and produce it again. This time ask them to open it, and they can’t. Offer the plastic knife you’ve been using as a wand to them to cut it open!
I hope this inspires you when you see things that would be good for magic tricks to think of things you can actually do with them and not just that you could do things with them.
It seems the Vanishing Birdcage is getting more and more popular right now, and I think it’s because there are some more cage options on the market right now than there were 5 years ago. I personally love the trick and have for years. The thing about the trick that I think easily gets forgotten is that you need to have a bird, or something in the cage.
That’s where Billy McComb‘s routine with the mouse really shines. It gives a purpose for the cage and puts focus on the cage. In the later Tommy Wonder videos of him doing the vanishing birdcage, it’s an empty cage that disappears. There is a video out there of an early version of Tommy doing it where he does it under a see through cloth, however the cage has a “mouse” in it.
In my routine it’s about the bird, here’s the very end of it:
When the bird is the focal point of the routine and not the cage, the take the audiences focus away from the funky looking cage. If all they have to look at is the cage, it’s easy for them to quickly realize it’s a trick cage.
I use a Nielsen Magic Latex Canary, and I’ve kinda been hoarding them. Whenever I see them at a magic swap meet, I buy them, or when I’m ordering some other trick from a place that sells them, I’ll add one into my order. The canaries are pretty cheap at $10, however, they won’t be around forever. I figure as long as I use them, might as well have them around.
There’s a lot of misinformation around about the Vanishing Birdcage. I have never really considered myself an expert about that trick, but recently it’s become clear that I know a lot more than most people, but still don’t consider myself an expert. It’s a trick I’ve been fascinated with for a long time, I’ve used off and on since I was a teenager and tried different styles, at one point I even did the Tommy Wonder vanish with the sleeves rolled up.
In a facebook group someone posted a link to a reel that was being sold as a door closer. Then this conversation happened:
You really can’t beat a wrist to wrist pull for the actual vanish of the birdcage. The power needed for the vanish happens before the vanish happens and there’s no way a reel or elastic can reasonably come close to the power your arms can. For the flash vanish, right before you are going to put tension on the pull’s cord by pushing the cage away from the body as hard as you can. This is going to start building up energy and when you let go of the cage you are releasing all of that energy and that explosion of power is what sends the cage up your sleeve. Once you let go of the string the pull doesn’t really do anything…except at the very end, it may help keep it high up your sleeve so it doesn’t peek out.
Most magicians think it’s pull dragging the cage up your sleeve, and not the cage shooting up your sleeve. Yes, you can vanish the cage by pulling it up your sleeve, however it’s an inefficient use of energy and you need a lot of arm movement to accomplish this. Having the cage shoot up your sleeve requires very little arm movement. The exception to this is Billy McComb’s Slow Motion Vanishing Birdcage, however it’s still a situation where a reel or elastic would be inferior as you lack control of the vanish.
When using a reel or elastic for the vanish (this is different from how a Take Up Reel is used) you are going to have constant tension on the corner of the cage that’s attached to the elastic. That means you are going to be fighting that tension to keep the cage upright. It would virtually rule out using an Abbott’s / Blackstone style Vanishing Birdcage, and make using a semi-rigid card really difficult. From the audience’s perspective your arms are going to be tense the whole time you’re holding the birdcage. You’ll be holding it like it’s 20 pounds, not less than a pound. This is the huge advantage of a wrist to wrist pull, you can instantly add the tension to the line whenever you want. In the case of the vanishing birdcage, you can do it a fraction of a second before the vanish.
For the actual power of the vanish, to get a reel strong enough to match the tension you can put on the cord with a wrist to wrist pull, the reel would have to be massive. Same with an elastic cord, it would be very thick.
Something else to consider is that with elastic or a reel is if there is any clean up, or to keep the cage up your sleeve. If the arm that it’s anchored on moves away, the cord will stretch. That will cause you to have to make exaggerated motions to compensate for the stretch to move the cage in your sleeve. Also after the vanish and the cage is in your sleeve, the cage’s weight will be pulling on the line, so you’ll be fighting it wanting to crawl back out of your sleeve. Sure you could have the elastic super short, but then there will be constant tension on your arms after the vanish.
I think people want to complicate the vanishing birdcage by adding things to it because a wrist to wrist pull is too simple to be what’s connected to the complex cage. Yes, a Take Up Reel is something that an addition to the trick, but something that helps with everything except the trick. The Take Up Reel has done it’s job before the vanish happens. When the actual vanish happens the Take Up Reel is functioning like a wrist to wrist pull.
If you’re going to do the Vanishing Birdcage, learn to do it with a wrist to wrist pull before you start playing with elastic, or whatever. That will give you a baseline for how the vanish should look.
Yesterday’s post I wrote about someone looking for interactive coin magic. Seeing their post, I created an original trick that would fit their requirements. It’s a coin trick, it’s interactive, in that everyone could follow along from home and it has a magical payout. It’s a “touch the screen” type effect, but the magic ending takes it beyond a math puzzle.
here’s how the effect plays, you have three pieces of paper, one has coins written on it, one credit and the final bills:
Someone touches one of the pieces of paper. They spell the word on it, jumping one space per letter.
You tell the you know they aren’t on the word “Bills” so you eliminate that one and throw that piece of paper away.
Now they spell money (starting on the word they ended on), jumping one space per letter.
You tell them you know they aren’t on the Credit, that means they picked the Coins! You then pick up the paper with coins written on it, light it on fire and produce coins!
In my head this coin production would look like this Tommy Wonder picture:
There you go and original, interactive magic trick that had a magical payoff!
While I personally don’t like the the “touch the screen” type effects, I do think that knowing them and understanding how they work make you a more well rounded magician. It’s just another tool in your toolbox that will help you solve a problem.
One of the magic products that I put out and that I’m the most proud of is the Take Up Reel that I created. What a Take Up Reel is used for is to shorten a length of string and was popularized by Billy McComb and Tommy Wonder in their Vanishing Birdcage routines.
As far as I know I’m currently the only person / company that makes a Take Up Reel for sale. I’m working on a batch of them this week. It takes about a full week to make one from start to finish. Here’s one of the locks coming out of my 3D printer:
Magic is being revolutionized by 3D printing, especially stage magic. It allows you to affordably make soo many custom props that would have cost tons of money to have fabricated 5 or 10 years ago.
If you’re not out printing stuff, I highly recommend learning how. It’s pretty easy, and you don’t even need to own a 3D printer as there are companies you send the file to and they’ll make it for you.
Every now and then there are tricks that you can’t get out of your head. One of them for me is the Vanishing Bird Cage. I’ve revisited it several times over the years, and in the past hit stumbling blocks with it. The birdcage is probably one of the most difficult tricks I’ve worked on. There so much you need to overcome, it’s not as simple as the old magic catalog ad makes it seem.
One of the issues that’s easy to overcome is the issue of doing the birdcage later in your show. This was solved by Billy McComb with the use of a Take Up Reel. It was popularized by Tommy Wonder in Volume 2 of the Books of Wonder. By popularized, I mean people became aware of it. After that book came out, there were still not many people used one, simply because of price and availability. If you could find one or get someone to make you one they’d cost you somewhere in the ballpark of $1,000 or more!
One day I was driving and an idea hit me for a way to produce the second lock of a Take Up Reel on my 3d Printer, I pulled over and drew it on the back of an envelope. After using it and having some other people use it and gotten their feedback, I’ve finally decided to offer them to other magicians.
Here’s the promo:
When something’s in your head, if you keep chipping away at it, eventually you’ll come up with a solution!
On my flight home yesterday I started reading an ebook called Building An Act by Tommy Wonder that you can get on Tom Stone’s Website. I had bought this ebook a long time ago and hadn’t read it. I’m only about a dozen pages into the book, but so far it’s great! One of the … Continue reading “”
On my flight home yesterday I started reading an ebook called Building An Act by Tommy Wonder that you can get on Tom Stone’s Website. I had bought this ebook a long time ago and hadn’t read it. I’m only about a dozen pages into the book, but so far it’s great!
One of the things that he mentions, that you build up enthusiasm for what you are creating and that enthusiasm carries you, but also inspires others to help you. Thinking back on things that I’ve created, and the help I’ve gotten from essentially strangers. I’ve gone into industrial shops tell them what I’m trying to do and they go out of their way to help me or teach me how to make something, usually for free. I always offer to pay, it’s amazing how many are fine with just me buying the few bucks in materials.
Another thing he does is puts a time limit on it. This is something I don’t do, however when I’m creating something new that I’m passionate about, I tend to get in done within the time limit that Tommy Wonder mentions in the book. I really like the idea of imposing a time limit to get at least a basic, version of the trick done.
I fly again tomorrow, and I’ll finish up reading it on the plane.