Secrets Behind The Most Famous Magic Tricks Revealed

You'll never be able to look at these common magic tricks the same way again.
Harriet King October 27th 2019 Entertainment
Some of what you're about to see is complicated. In other cases, you'll be stunned by how easily performers can fool you. In either case, you'll never be able to look at these common magic tricks the same way again. Here are the secrets magicians don't want you to know, with step by step explanations.
Being a magician is all about making impossible things seem possible. We all know that magic isn't real, but we love the feeling of being amazed. Most of us have no idea how magic tricks are performed, and so when we see someone who's good at it, we're always impressed.
Famously, magicians and illusionists don't like to give away the secrets behind their tricks. Doing so can get them expelled from the magic circle! In the age of the internet, though, some of the details have begun to emerge. We're about to show you how some incredible illusions are performed.
The Levitating Man
This is a reasonably common piece of street magic. A performer appears to float above the ground, balancing only on a stick or a cane that can't possibly be strong enough to carry their weight. It's like they've found a way to cheat gravity.
In reality, there's a reason these performers are always wearing baggy clothes. The clothes hide a platform, and the cane is anchored to the ground using a heavy platform. They're actually sitting very comfortably, and the laws of gravity haven't been broken.
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The Floating Woman
You've all seen this trick done before. A woman lays down on a board, propped up by two chairs. The chairs are taken away, and the board miraculously stays in the air. A hoop is then pulled along the woman's body to prove that she isn't being held up by wires.
In this trick, the hoop is actually a distraction. It keeps you from staring too hard at the position of the magician, who's standing in the way of a steel beam that is holding the board in place.
Walking On Water
Master illusionists like David Copperfield and David Blaine have pulled this trick off, which always amazes audiences. Walking on water is something Jesus did in the Bible - it shouldn't be possible for mere mortals.
The reality is that it isn't possible at all. No magician has ever walked on water; they're just carefully standing on clear Perspex boxes, which are as good as invisible when they're placed below the water's surface. That's why onlookers are always forced to watch this trick from a distance!
Pulling A Rabbit Out Of A Hat
If you can't pull a rabbit out of a hat, are you even a magician? It's one of the oldest and most traditional tricks in all of magic, and it's still a common fixture in many magic shows you'll see today.
Always be suspicious when you see a magician using a long tablecloth. In this case, the cloth is hiding a bagged rabbit below the table. All the magician has to do is get the rabbit out of the bag and into the bottom of the hat through a hole in the table.
Cutting Someone In Half
Anybody can cut a human being in half, but seemingly it's only magicians who are able to do it without killing the person involved in the process. Not only that, they can put them back together again moments later!
There are always two people involved in this trick, and both of them are skilled contortionists. They fold themselves up inside the cramped space within the boxes and give the illusion of being one body. It's uncomfortable, but it isn't impossible.
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The Buzzsaw
The buzzsaw trick is a lot like the 'cutting someone in half' trick, but taken to the next level. It's also a lot more dangerous than the 'cutting someone in half' trick because the buzzsaw is very real.
The secret to this is that the feet at the end of the box are dummy feet. All the person in the box has to do is get their real feet and legs out of the way before the buzzsaw slices through them. It can still go very wrong if their timing is out.
Biting A Coin In Half
You'll only see this trick attempted by magicians who are very adept at sleight of hand. They'll ask for a coin from an audience member, bite it in half, and then hand it back to them. Sometimes they'll even magically put the coin back together.
The real trick here is quickly switching the real coin with a pre-bought prop coin - one that easily breaks in half when pressure is applied to it. That's why magicians are always very specific about the coin they ask for - it has to match the prop.
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The Zigzag Box
Another trick from the classic era of magic! An assistant steps into the box, and then the magician seems to break them into three pieces. Usually, their torso is shifted to the extreme left or right - their body appears to be completely disconnected.
If this were possible, magicians would ask for volunteers from the audience to do it. They don't, though - they need an exceptional contortionist who can just-about bend themselves within the box enough to make the illusion possible.
Spoon Bending
There are several ways to create the illusion of bending a spoon, some of which involve simple brute force. That isn't the smart way to do it though - the more skilled musicians use simple misdirection and sleight of hand.
As soon as the spoon is in their hand, they push a small piece of silver between their fingers where the spoon's handle should be. That way, they can move the 'handle' to seemingly impossible positions and then back again.
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Levitating Cup
Street magicians love this trick because it's easy to do and results in a great visual effect. They'll pick up a paper cup, hold it out in front of them, and then move their hands away. It looks like the cup is left floating in mid-air.
There's a reason they always use a paper cup for this - all they've really done is shove their thumb through the back of it so they can hold it in place. That's also why they very quickly dispose of the cup!
A Note From A Lemon
What at first seemed to be an impossible trick performed by Jamie Ravens on 'Britain's Got Talent' very quickly became exposed after cameras caught the secret behind it, and eagle-eyed viewers spotted it by advancing the tape frame by frame.
The banknote involved in this trick wasn't a gimmick; Jamie simply poked it into his lemon by pushing it through a hole he'd cut in the base. It didn't matter that he never seemed to have touched the lemon before - he didn't need to!
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Smoke From Your Fingers
All magic is smoke and mirrors to an extent, but that doesn't stop us from being amazed when a magician is able to seemingly produce smoke and fire from their fingertips. It's a trick that can be used to put emphasis on a really impressive card trick.
There's no great mystery to this - but it is dangerous. All you need is a tiny amount of phosphorous on your fingers, which you rub together to create the smoke. Phosphorous can easily begin to burn, though, so using the smallest amount possible is crucial!
Objects Appearing From Nowhere
Making something appear where nothing existed previously is almost what magic is really about. In this case, we'll use the example of a pigeon appearing in a performer's hands, accompanied by a blinding flash of light.
You always know something's up when a magician is wearing a bulky jacket. All they've done is pull the pigeon out of it. The flash was just a distraction, blinding you for long enough for them to grab the pigeon. It still requires incredible hand speed, though.
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Walking Through A Wall
Passing through solid objects is another David Copperfield favorite. When this trick is performed properly, the magician will appear to pass straight through a solid wall - although they're always hidden behind a screen as they perform their impossible task.
If the screen wasn't there, you'd see what was really happening - the magician walks or crawls through a tunnel below the wall, which was dug earlier on and is also obscured by the screens. Nobody could really walk through a solid wall, and nobody ever has.
Turning Water Into Ice
Great magicians seem to be able to break the rules of chemistry. They can pour water into a cup, and then second later turn the cup over to reveal that the water has magically turned into ice.
There's no real freezing involved in this process. Instead, there's a sponge at the bottom of the cup absorbing all the water - and the ice is added at the same time the water is. Having a sponge that's the same color as your cup makes this trick a lot easier.
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The Michael Jackson Lean
Admit it - you tried to this in the playground at school once. In the video for 'Smooth Criminal,' Michael Jackson was able to plant his feet and lean forward at an impossible angle without falling over. Magicians are often capable of achieving this illusion too.
Jackson and the magicians use the same method to do this - shoes with holes cut into them. The holes allow them to secure themselves to strong nails hammered into the floor, and then they can lean forward as far as they wish.
Putting A Hand Through Glass
Everybody reading this right now can put their hand through glass, it's just that in every case we'd break the glass, and we'd probably injure ourselves in the process. How is it that magicians can do it without damaging either themselves or the glass?
The answer is that they don't, they just cheat. A mirror panel at the back of the prop hides two smaller glass panels, one of which is simply pushed out of the way to allow the magician to put their hand through the space.
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The Water Cabinet Escape
This was a favorite of Houdini, and is still considered to be a difficult and impressive trick to perform today. A performer is handcuffed or otherwise shackled, and then dropped into a glass cabinet full of water.
The danger is very real, and the magician has to be able to hold their breath for a long time. The key to escaping is all about the handcuffs, though - they can be opened using a key which is pinned to the wall on the far side of the cabinet.
Swallowing A Sword
This trick used to be seen a lot more often than it is now. We have a nasty feeling that it may have resulted in a few accidents, and performers have decided that the risks outweigh the rewards when it comes to doing it successfully.
There's really no trick to this at all - the sword really does get swallowed. The performer very carefully pushes the blunted blade straight down their esophagus, which they've spent years training to accept the foreign object. One wrong move and they'd be in real trouble.
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Impaled On A Spike
This is a shocking trick, and it's usually presented as a different kind of trick that's gone wrong. A magician might be balancing on an impossibly narrow point when they suddenly slip, and the point impales them, poking out through their chest or stomach.
Everything the magician needs to pull this trick off is under their clothes. First, there's a back brace which helps them to balance on the point, and then there's a corset that holds the 'point' that appears to have passed straight through their body.
Vanishing The Statue of Liberty
Of all the tricks David Copperfield has performed over the years, this is probably the most famous. To an audience watching him live - and millions more watching on television - the Statue of Liberty seemed to simply vanish into thin air.
What the audience didn't know is that they and the TV cameras were mounted on a giant platform, and they were very slowly being rotated. Copperfield threw up a curtain, performed some elaborate misdirection techniques, and then dropped the curtain again. The platform had moved, and therefore the statue was hidden.
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Coin Through The Glass
A classic close-up magic trick. A magician has someone sign a coin, and then holds the coin below a glass. They tap the coin on the bottom of the glass a few times, and on the fifth or sixth time, the coin passes through the bottom of the glass and appears inside it. Magic!
Only sleight of hand experts can do this one. The coin doesn't travel through the glass - it's very quickly moved from the hand below the glass into the hand above it, and then dropped into the glass.
Levitation
If you remember Criss Angel being a famous TV magician, you probably also remember this trick. Angel seemed to be capable of levitating a few inches above the floor. Tellingly, audiences were only allowed to watch this trick from behind Angel, and the effect was sustained only for a few seconds.
All Angel really did was step out of the shell of one of his shoes, and hid one foot behind the other. He'd then lean forward with his front foot, and as his remaining shoe lifted away from the floor, it looked like he was floating.
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The Vanishing Coin
Welcome to the most basic trick in magic. A performer takes a coin, puts it in the palm of their hand, and then opens their palms out to you. The coin is gone. If the performer is wearing long sleeves, you can usually guess what happened to it, but sometimes they're not - so what happens then?
There's nothing more mysterious going on here than a little glue trickery. A thin coating of glue on the back of the performer's hand will hold the coin. They never really put it into their palms.
Swallowing Razors
Another favorite trick of Houdini. He would invite the audience to examine a series of razor blades to verify they were real, put them in a glass of water, and then drink them. Moments later, he would slowly pull them out of the back of his throat, all connected together with string.
In reality, the blades he pulled from his mouth were coming from a packet stored between his cheek and his teeth. The razors the audience saw were surreptitiously spat back into the water instead of swallowed.
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