Magic Tricks Explained: Seeing Through the Smoke and Mirrors

Who was the magician of your time? It seems as though every generation has their own magic guy. For me, I would watch David Blane on TV and be totally confused as to how he was doing the stuff he was doing.

No matter how bewilderingly real a magic trick might seem, at the end of the day, it’s a trick. Some magicians leave you with your jaws on the floor. Their perfectly disguised, deceptive props and methods of creating awe-inspiring illusions make you wonder whether they have supernatural powers. Well, they don’t. While some magicians come up with tricks and secrets of their own, most use some of the traditional magic tricks like walking on water or pulling a rabbit out of a hat, which are not really hard to master when you get to know the secret.

So, let’s examine some of the most common magician tricks and see exactly how magicians pull them off.

Levitating Man – What It is

This is a trick that has been famously performed by street magicians for ages now. As the name indicates, the magician appears to be floating in the air. Sometimes, to indicate that they are really above the ground and it’s not just an optic illusion, they hold a stick which shows the watchers that there really is a gap between them and the ground. People often stand in disbelief and wonder whether they have magical powers, or perhaps the person is a holy being. Well, there’s always a more straightforward explanation…

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: An American magician in the 1900s pretended to be a Chinese man for his magic show and never broke character in public. He would even use a translator when speaking to journalists. Unfortunately, he died on stage after a trick went wrong. His last words were “Oh my God. Something’s happened. Lower the curtain.”

Levitating Man – Anatomy of the Illusion

Two metal plates are hidden by the special clothes the magician is wearing, and by using a prop, they hide the platform that is present to the ground. Most of the time, they use a carpet. This means that the magician is actually just simply sitting on an elevated platform without any pain in the world while creating the illusion of grace.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: back in the day, in 1956, a magician was performing the famous “cut a person in half” trick (which we’ll get to soon) using his wife for a televised performance. Immediately after she was “divided,” the host ended the magic show. People were terrified, thinking she had actually been killed, but time had simply run out on the broadcast. They were left hanging.

Floating Woman – What It is

While performing the floating woman act, the magician will either call a woman from the audience or take someone who they have already prepared for the show. They begin by asking the woman to lie down on a board which has been kept in place by two chairs. Slowly, they take the two chairs away, which should normally make the woman fall down, but instead, she stays perfectly placed on the table that is suspended in the air. Some magicians even run a metal hoop along the body of the woman to prove that no cables are holding her up.

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: At the 1988 magic championships, a magician was ultimately disqualified because his performance was so amazing that the other magician judges thought he must have been cheating. He performed the exact same act three years later, (letting the judges shuffle the cards) and he still won.

Floating Woman – Anatomy of the Illusion

The secret of the trick lies in the hands of the magician; literally. The magician conveniently stands next to a metal rod, to which the table is attached. He applies pressure on the metal rod ensuring that the woman remains in place. So, basically, regardless of whether or not the chairs are there, the woman’s body will stay floating in the air, because the chairs were never the only thing providing her support. The way the magician diverts the audience’s attention from the rod is often done by using the hoop to captivate them even further.

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: David Copperfield and two of his assistants were robbed at gunpoint in 2006. Copperfield was able to conceal his possessions when the thieves turned to him. He was later quoted as calling this in the moment illusion as “reverse pickpocketing.”

Walking on Water – What It Is

If you have seen someone walk on water, it doesn’t mean that they are holy or that there could be something special about them; it just means that they are good at creating an illusion. Magicians around the world have “walked on water” leaving the audience baffled and wondering about the possible explanations regarding the execution of the trick. You cover your mouth with your hands while you gasp at every step they take, but they never seem to get submerged like you’d expect them to. Well, let’s see how they do it.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: There is a mansion in Hartford, CT that is 90 feet long but only 18 feet deep. The builder was actually a magician who wanted the house to look like an illusion.

Walking on Water – Anatomy of the Illusion

The magicians try their best to make it look like they are finding it hard to maintain their balance while walking, but honestly, they don’t need to do that. They are just trying to increase the plausibility of their performance, as weird as it may sound. The main props of the illusion are special Perspex boxes, that when put underneath the water surface, completely become invisible. Magicians arrange them perfectly and in close proximity to each other to ensure a safe walking experience.

Source: Twitter

Random magic fact: Intellectual property law doesn’t cover any incidents that involve magic tricks. So basically, an amazing, original trick can be stolen from a magician and there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it. At least not in the court of law.

Rabbit out of a Hat – What It Is

This is the trick that most amateur magicians start with. If you haven’t seen any other trick on this list, surely, at some point in your life, you must have seen this one. Saying that it is the “oldest trick in the book” will be a gross understatement, too. In this trick, a magician pulls a rabbit out of a seemingly empty, large hat. They try their best to repeatedly show the audience that the hat is empty, before pulling out an oh-so-cute rabbit from inside it. But how!?

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: There used to be a magician by the name of Jasper Maskelyne who used “magic” to help the fight against the Germans in WWII. He would hide their tools and maps in everyday objects and fool them by using illusions.

Rabbit out of a Hat – Anatomy of the Illusion

You will require a few more props, in addition to the hat and the rabbit (no, it doesn’t magically appear from another dimension) to perform this trick with success. You need a tablecloth and a bag which will keep the rabbit hidden. The rabbit will be present within the bag which will, in turn, be attached to a table present near the magician. Since the front side of the table is covered, the audience will never notice the bag. However, this trick does require a high level of dexterity and promptness, because you still have to slide the rabbit from out the bag and into the hat.

Source: Reddit

Random magic fact: Magician Dai Vernon had once famously challenged Harry Houdini to solve one of his card tricks, but Houdini bragged that he could solve any trick after three tries. Then, after seven times, Houdini still wasn’t able to solve it. Vernon came to be known as “The Man Who Fooled Houdini.”

Chopping Assistant in Half – What It Is

Chopping people in half always gets the audience. Remember the fact about the televised magic trick that left viewers at home thinking the woman died on air?

Chopping people in half always gets the audience. In this trick, the magician lays their complicit assistant on a table before positioning them such that they are flat on the surface. The assistant looks as if they are trapped and can’t go anywhere. That’s when the magician begins the trick by chopping the person in half.

Source: YouTube

You can’t believe your eyes as the saw goes right through the center of the person, but your awe turns into disbelief when the magician pulls the two halves of the body apart. But wait, how is the assistant still alive and how can they still move all of their limbs!?

Cutting Assistant in Half – Anatomy of the Illusion

Well, the limbs were never chopped, you see. There is not one assistant, but two. The other assistant is already hidden in the box and will stick their legs out when the time is right. As the magician separates the two halves, the hidden assistant realizes that the end is near. The trick culminates when the sawing is complete and both the assistants start to wiggle their limbs to show to the audience that no harm was done.

Source: Reddit

Random magic trick: David Copperfield founded Project Magic after finding out that an aspiring magician was actually in his 20s and had childlike handwriting due to a disability. The program teaches people with disabilities how to do the act of sleight of hand magic in order to enhance motor skills and gain self-confidence.

Buzzsaw – What It is

This trick also requires the help of an assistant. The willing person will lay flat on the table as a huge saw approaches them. The magnanimous saw is set to cut right through the person who is laid down a couple of feet away from it. This might sound like something from a horror movie, but since this isn’t cinema, the assistant always manages to survive the gut-piercing saw. Wait, what? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Source: Imgur

Random magic fact: Zombie folklore came from Haiti when bokors (“black magicians”) would poison their victims with pufferfish neurotoxin. It creates a state of suspended animation where the victim would wake up in a psychotic state under which they could be easily controlled.

Buzzsaw – Anatomy of the Illusion

There is a secret compartment within the box that the assistant can squeeze into, to avoid getting cut by the saw. Even though the assistants are trained performers, this still is a very dangerous trick, because, if for some reason the assistant fails to contract their legs in time, they can actually be cut in half. However, in most cases, they fold their legs quickly before they saw pierces through them. Magicians place fake feet at the end of the box to elucidate the authenticity of the act, which is actually just a neat, simple little trick.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: When magician Sigmund Neuberger’s dog died 4 days before the opening of his new magic show, he asked the local council for his dog to be buried in their cemetery. They accepted, but only if he himself be buried there when he dies. Neuberger died 4 days later during the opening night. Why? The theater burnt down.

Biting a Coin in Half – What It Is

Another famous street trick involves the magician biting the coin in half. What makes this trick baffling is that the performer actually procures the coin from a member of the audience, and doesn’t use a prop coin to fool the onlookers. Since the audience knows that the coin given to the magician was, in fact, real, they can’t seem to make sense of the performance. So, naturally, they think that the person has some magic up his sleeve. Well, they do, but it is not the kind they think.

Source: Imgur

Random magic fact: The term “magic” is ancient. The word “magic” comes from mageia (μαγεία). The first people to perform magic tricks were Persian priests, called magosh in Persian and magoi in Greek.

Biting a Coin in Half – Anatomy of the Illusion

This trick is so simple, anyone can perform it. All you have to do is buy a prop coin which looks exactly like a real coin, but with the subtle difference that it breaks when you put pressure on it. Well, you will also need to up your dexterity a bit because you still have to switch the coin you receive from the audience with the fake one, which is basically the heart of the trick. However, street magicians are so good at the sleight of hand, you will never know what hit you.

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: Although magicians used to be associated with the devil and the occult for centuries, it’s not really the case. The tricks magicians would perform are based on illusion. But many magicians in the past capitalized on the idea in their advertisements, a practice which was exposed as charlatanism.

Zigzag – What It is

Assistants make the magic world go round. For this trick, the magician will ask their assistant to step into a wooden box. After that, they will carefully relocate the center of the box to either the left or the right side, resulting in a huge hole in the midsection of the box, and in turn, the assistant.

Source: YouTube

To further prove the realism of the act to the audience, they will place their head right where the missing torso of the assistant should be. This means that there are no mirrors used to deceive the audience. The assistant also seems fine from the top of the box, so what really is happening here?

well as you may have noticed by now, we’re going to explain the trick now…

Zigzag – Anatomy of the Illusion

The secret lies in the name of the trick. It’s paramount that the assistant used for this trick be flexible. That’s why you would never see a magician asking a volunteer to come forth. What the person does is twist their body into a seemingly preposterous shape, which makes it look like their midsection has altogether disappeared. They try their best to make sure that the different parts of their body that are visible to the audience don’t move during the trick. The audience can’t seem to break it down because they can’t imagine a person to be this malleable.

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: Magic was once a form of entertainment at fairs, where performers would entertain the public with tricks like juggling and sword swallowing. By the early 18th century, magic became a respectable practice and started to be performed by rich private patrons.

Bending Spoon – What It is

The bending spoon trick is mainly performed at fancy dinner parties, where the magicians usually go from table to table to amaze the guests. They casually pick a spoon from the table to show the onlookers that they aren’t using one they brought themselves, and then they proceed to bend the spoon magically. The magician then proceeds to unbend the spoon and make it regain its shape. This bewildering trick can baffle any audience at any time.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: That typical magician style isn’t for no reason. The performer who created the typical magician appearance was Alexander Hermann, also known as Hermann the Great, who was a French magician. After him, people expected and wanted to see magicians with a top hat, goatee, and a tailcoat.

Bending Spoon – Anatomy of the Illusion

What if we tell you that the spoon isn’t really bent and that the magician is actually using a small prop to help them out with the trick? Well, at this stage of the article, you shouldn’t really be surprised. They use a small silver coin which assumes the role of the spoon’s handle and play it to perfection. Because the coin is positioned in hand so perfectly that it appears to be the perfect embodiment of a spoon’s head, the audience can’t really tell the difference.

Source: Reddit

Random magic fact: Magic organizations exist. The largest one is the International Brotherhood of Magicians, which has a monthly journal called The Linking Ring. The oldest one is the Society of American Magicians, and none other than Houdini was its president for a number of years.

Levitating Cup – What It is

We all would love to live in a world where we could control and move things with our minds. However, in our current world, beautiful as it may be, nobody really has the powers of Hermine or Potter. However, the illusion to control things via one’s mind can be manufactured. Magicians perform this cool trick by placing a plastic cap in between their hands and then slowly pulling the hands apart, while the cup levitates. How does this happen?

Source: Facebook

Random magic fact: The first official publication about magic tricks is Reginald Scot’s ‘Discoverie of Witchcraft,’ from 1584. And only a few books on the topic have been published since. But contrary to what magicians feared, people are still captivated by magic.

Levitating Cup – Anatomy of the Illusion

Well, it’s simple. All you have to do is create a small hole in the foam cup from your upper hand, while you were holding it. Then, with your thumb still attached to the cup, you can slowly move your hands apart. The magician will conveniently place themselves in front of the onlookers to ensure that the audience can’t really see their thumb being where it doesn’t belong.

Source: YouTube


Random magic fact: Magic has been used to evangelize. St. Don Bosco was an Italian priest declared saint by the Catholics in the 19th century. He used magic tricks to get children to come back to school, get help, and also go to church. This type of magic is now called gospel magic.

Note from a Lemon – What It Is

If Britain’s Got Talent catches your fancy, then you must remember Jamie Ravens, the magician who appeared on the show in 2015. Even though Jamie performed numerous tricks and did many interesting shows, the one that really shocked everyone was the note from a lemon trick. Jamie asked one of the judges to sign a paper which he then folded and amazingly, managed to pull out of a lemon he had never touched before. But how!?

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: Online magic is a thing. There are online magic tricks that are designed to function on a computer screen. Typical magic tricks you see online are magical illusions and traditional card tricks. There was an online magic trick that went viral on the Internet. Esmeralda’s Crystal Ball made many people believe that their computer had supernatural powers.

Note from a Lemon – Anatomy of the Illusion

People who paid close attention while the magician performed this trick, learned the secret long ago. From the video, you can see Jamie quickly putting the lemon back together after showing the note to the audience. He possibly did that because there was a hole in the lemon which he didn’t want anybody from the audience to notice.

Source: YouTube

The real secret of the trick was to keep the audience distracted, which he did use his charms, and using his professional dexterity, he slipped the note into the hole in the lemon.

Random magic fact: The richest magician in the world is David Copperfield, who has a net worth of $800 million. He sold more than 33 million tickets to date and grossed around $4 billion, which is more than any other solo entertainer in the world.

Smoke from Fingers – What It is

Smoke…out of fingers, how!? Making smoke come out of anything can be fun. I mean, don’t we like it when we can produce smoke simply by exhaling in winters? Well, some magicians can even make smoke come from out of their fingers, just by rubbing them together. We don’t want to burst any bubbles, but no, people with smoke-producing fingers are also not wizards or witches; they are just trained tricksters. The smoke might appear to be coming out of nowhere, but it does actually have a source.

Source: Imgur

Random David Copperfield fact: In 2015, Forbes listed him as the 20th highest-earning celebrity in the world. He also manages a chain of resort islands in the Bahamas. Other successful magic artists are Penn and Teller, Siegfried and Roy, Lance Burton, Criss Angel, and David Blaine.

Smoke from Fingers – Anatomy of the Illusion

If you want to perform this trick yourself, make sure you remember that the item involved can actually be dangerous and you should wash your hands properly after using it. Now then, what you have to do is make use of matchbox strikers. You have to pull the cardboard lining apart, and then use the leftover striker bit by folding it in half and lighting it up.

Source: Imgur

After you let it burn for some time, extinguish the fire and carefully collect the residue left behind. The white substance is phosphorus which will eventually be used to make the smoke appear to come out of your fingers. Just put it on your fingers and rub.

Next up, see what the pigeon trick is all about…

Pigeon Appearing – What It Is

We have to begin by saying that we don’t condone the use of animals during performances of any sort unless they are not being mistreated in any way. Other than rabbits, pigeons do often make the scene in the magic industry. A common trick that has been mastered by many amateur and experienced magicians is making a pigeon appear from out of nowhere. However, as you might have guessed it, it’s not really out of nowhere.

Source: Reddit

Random magic fact: The term “magician” is old-fashioned. Magic refers to something supernatural, so some modern artists prefer the term “illusionist” because they admit their performances are simply skillful deceptions. Magician and mentalist, Joseph Dunninger said: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.”

Pigeon Appearing – Anatomy of the Illusion

For anyone who has seen this pigeon magic trick, you might have noticed that most of the time when this trick is performed, it is accompanied by a flash. So, naturally, you must think that the secret to the pigeon appearing out of thin air has got to be in some way related to the flash. Right? It only makes sense.

Source: Reddit

Well, yes, that is, in fact, the case. The flash acts as a distraction for the audience, and it is so quick that they never get to figure out what really happens. As the audience gets blinded by the flash, the magician pulls the pigeon out from his deep pocket and presents it to everyone as if it was never there.

Walking Through a Wall – What It Is

Won’t you love to just walk through walls at will? Well, some magicians actually do or make it look like they do, anyway. To tell you the absolute truth, you can’t walk through walls, no one ever has. But then how have magicians managed to do it? Well, as we said, they made it look like they can. So, in case you saw a magician wander through walls and wonder if they were ghosts, you were wrong. There is actually a straightforward explanation regarding how they do it without getting injured.

Source: Pinterest

Random magic fact: The words “hocus pocus” are taken from the name of a sorcerer from Norse mythology, called Ochus Bochus. The word “abracadabra” comes from an inscription that used to be worn during the Black Plague to protect people from the disease.

Walking Through a Wall – Anatomy of the Illusion

While walking through a wall might not be possible, walking underneath it, is. That’s what the magicians do; they walk under the wall. Wait, what? Let’s break it down a bit further. There is a tunnel that connects one side of the wall to the other. So, when the magician slips through the wall like they do it daily, they are actually slipping through a tunnel and then appearing on the other side. The sheets that cover the scene must have tipped you off!

Source: Pinterest

Random Houdini fact: The famous magician and escapist died a mysterious death on none other than Halloween in 1926. He was giving a lecture to students, when someone in the audience punched him in the stomach to check if his claim of withstanding any blow delivered to his abdomen was true. He died days later of peritonitis.

Ice from Water – What It Is

Water can’t evaporate all of a sudden and then transform in the same rate back into ice. That just doesn’t happen. No chemical reaction can allow that to happen. But then how do magicians pull it off? During the trick, they take a cup, pour water into it, and voila, before you know it, it has turned into ice. There is a bit of science behind how they do this, and a bit of visual deception. When you get to know the anatomy of the illusion, you realize just how simple it’s to conceive.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: Prince Charles is the most famous member of the group called Magic Circle. After the Prince performed the famous Club & Balls magic tricks for members, he joined the Club in 1975.

Ice from Water – Anatomy of the Illusion

What is the one thing that every household uses for absorbing water? That’s right, a sponge. Performers use sponges for this trick too. How do they do it? How do they turn this water into ice? Well, they don’t. When they took a cup and added water to it, they also added a sponge and ice to the mix. What happens is that the sponge absorbs the water and all that’s left is the ice. To make the trick perfectly, they ensure that they use a sponge that matches with the cup.

Source: YouTube

Random magic fact: There are two magicians with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Harry Houdini and David Copperfield. Houdini chose his stage name in order to respect the father of modern magic, Robert-Houdin.

Smooth Criminal Lean – What It Is

Michael Jackson has been named the King of Pop. And regardless of what we find out about the dude, he had moves that people watching him thought had to do be magic. Among other legendary performances of his, was the notorious lean that he did in the Smooth Criminal video. We all have been guilty of trying out the iconic move after seeing MJ perform it for the first time.

Source: YouTube

He did it so precisely and consistently every time. He never fell, and there was never any lack of composure or balance on his part, but how did he manage to pull it off effortlessly, while we all failed miserably? How did he lean forward so easily without tripping over like an idiot?

Smooth Criminal Lean – Anatomy of the Illusion

The simplest explanation is almost always the answer, and this case is no exception. MJ wasn’t a magician by any means, despite his crazy dance moves. He didn’t pull the trick off without the help of props. That’s perhaps the reason why many of us have fallen down hilariously while trying to do so.

Source: Imgur

The pop star had special shoes made for the sole purpose of performing this trick. The shoes had holes shaped like triangles, which got attached to the nails that stuck out of the floor that MJ performed upon. He had to practice and perfect his position and body alignment to make sure the nails stuck in his shoe holes and allowed him to enjoy the perfect lean.

Hand through the glass- What It is

Another seemingly impossible trick that has been performed by magicians over the years involve them moving a hand through the glass, effortlessly. They place a sheet of glass on a platform and then show you that there are no holes in it. Then, they manage to make their hand go right through the slab of glass without any issues. How does this happen? Surely, there must be some sort of conduit for the hand go through? They can’t magically pass through glass?

Source: Reddit

Random magic fact: Matthew Buchinger, an 18th Century famous magician, was born no arms or legs. He developed himself and became a magician, calligrapher, and musician. And apart from all that, he even became the father of eleven children!

Hand Through Glass – Anatomy of the Illusion

Well, what happens is relatively straightforward. The screens used for this trick are specially cut to allow a hand to move through glass without any problems. The back screen actually covers two different mirror panels. As soon as the act starts, the real mirror is removed from the setting, and two fake mirror panels are placed instead of them.

Source: YouTube

This allows the hand to effortlessly move through space. Just like you move your hand every day. So, no, as much as it might seem to be the case; it isn’t. It’s just a simple movement of a hand through thin air.

Random Houdini fact: Houdini’s success and resulting wealth allowed him to indulge in other passions, like aviation and film.

Underwater Box- What It is

One of the most difficult tricks in the magic industry is this one. It was pioneered by the great Harry Houdini. The underwater box trick involves handcuffs, locks, holding breath underwater, and most importantly, getting out of the water before it kills you! Let’s not forget that very important aspect of the trick.

Source: Pinterest

Anyway, the performer has to lock themselves up within a cage, ask an assistant to shut the lid using actual nails, and then attempt to get out of the set of locks and chains that they have covered themselves in. Even though this looks like an impossible job, there are some secrets to how this gets done, and how escape artists have managed to perform it successfully.

Underwater Box- Anatomy of the Illusion

What really happens in this trick is that even though the person is handcuffed in front of the audience, they manage to get out of the handcuffs, even before the box gets shut. How? Well, the trick is that the handcuffs are designed to look like the real thing, but they are anything but.

Source: Pinterest

What happens in this trick: there is normally a secret panel on one side of the container which allows the performer to escape once the box enters the water. Magicians like to spice things up by waiting underwater for a few extra seconds before showing up on the surface, when in fact, they were free of all things holding them captive within seconds.
Hope you enjoyed the list!