It is 2018, or whatever the current year may be as you read this, and people are still falling for shell games. All over the world, productive, rational, and otherwise intelligent people are losing money to the world’s oldest, and most famous, scam.

At this neat video from NewGreenShoe explains, it’s not the mechanics of the game that make it so effective – any idiot can learn a decent cup and balls routine given half an hour and access to YouTube. Instead, the nature of the game preys not just upon human greed, but on our innate desire to solve puzzles For example, it’s fairly obvious that a lot of these games use fake winners to demonstrate the game is winnable, but would you have guessed they also use fake losers? Seeing someone make an obviously logically unsound decision is not only irritating, it lights up parts of our brain that love to capitalize on the failures of others. The same part of your brain that encourages you to say, “actually, it’s pronounced…” on a date, despite every other part of your anatomy screaming that it’s a bad idea, will encourage you to fritter money away on an obvious scam.

So how is this useful to magicians? Well, aside from making sure you can earn your bus fare home after a bad gig (legal note: do not do this), the deceptive principles are sound. If you want your audience to really invest in a trick, appeal to their inner smartarse. 


“The oldest trick in the book” might be just a familiar turn of phrase to laypeople, but to a magician, the words most likely brings to mind the cups and balls. This old chestnut really is old, and magic teacher and historian Jamy Ian Swiss has delved into the beloved routine in his latest blog post for Magicana.

Swiss knows a little something about this routine. He co-wrote the The Magic of Johnny Thompson with the man himself (also known as The Great Tomsoni), which has several sections on the routine’s variants. He recently released his own instructional video on the bit. And by his own accounting, six of his past Take Two essays have included video of the cups and balls. If you want expertise on the cups and balls, he’s your guy.

The essay includes some of the history and legend surrounding the cups and balls. He’s also dug up several videos of the greats from Paul Daniels to Johnny Thompson putting their spin on the classic. If you have any interest in magic history, or just in finessing your own presentation of the act, this is a must-read.

Wayne Shifflett is the current owner of the Mingus Magic Shop in Reading, PA. He learned a cups and balls routine from the previous owner, LeRoy Mingus, back on January 8, 1968. 50 years later, Shifflett has practiced and taught this same routine to so many other people that the trick has become synonymous with the store itself. 

To celebrate five decades of sleight of hand, he and 11 other magicians have created a video of the full routine, each performance edited fluidly to look like one single trick. It’s a really inventive way to celebrate such a timeless effect.

You can watch the trick above, as well as another video explaining the history of the trick below. Here’s to many more years of success for Shifflett and his store, as well as the thousands of other brick-and-mortar magic shops out there. 

Some magic tricks are old. So old, in fact, that you’ve undoubtedly seen them performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and you wonder how anyone could possibly still make them entertaining. Take the cup and balls, for example – how do you make something that hoary hold a modern audience’s attention? Hannibal uses wit, a dry sense of humor, and two regulation soccer balls (ok, Foosball regulation) to make something classic feel current.