Magicians have to guard their secrets jealously; it goes with the territory. But every now and then, someone lifts the veil and reveals the elusive methods behind their seemingly supernatural feats. Here, we take a look at 20 of history’s most iconic magic tricks and explain how they’re really done. Prepare to be amazed: sometimes, the reality is even more magical than the illusion.
1. The trick: The underwater box escape
Harry Houdini, the legendary escape artist, used to leave audiences amazed with his death-defying underwater box escape. Bound by handcuffs and trapped inside a wooden crate nailed shut and further secured with chains, he would be submerged in water in his tiny prison and left to his fate.
Suspense would obviously peak when the crate was submerged in the water, but Houdini was, of course, a master. He’d manage to free himself somehow, emerging from the box and the waves unharmed. But how?
The secret: Holes and a hinge
The truth is that Houdini’s crate was specially designed for the trick. It was punched with discreet little holes, for one thing, which meant he could breathe when it was being nailed shut and that it sank with greater ease when tossed in the water. But the real secret was that one side of the crate only seemed as though it was sealed shut: two the nails were actually phony.
This particular side of the box was equipped with a hinge, which could only be seen from the inside. When it was dropped into the water, Houdini — who, by this point, had opened his handcuffs with a key he kept concealed in a secret pocket — would open the hinged side with a kick and, hey presto, he was free and swimming up to safety.
2. The trick: Pulling a rabbit out of a hat
The legendary “pulling-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat” trick is perhaps the most famous act a magician can perform. It basically involves a magician displaying an empty top hat to their audience, putting it down on a surface, and then — ta-da — extracting an actual living rabbit from within.
Some have pointed towards Louis Apollinaire Christian Emmanuel Comte — otherwise referred to as “The King’s Conjurer” — as potentially being the first to perform this famous trick. But the true genesis of the illusion is inevitably shrouded in historical fog. Nobody can say for sure where it came from.
The secret: A hidden compartment
The real question about the “rabbit-out-of-a-hat” trick is less to do with its origins and more about how on Earth it’s done. Well, the sad truth is that it really isn’t as magical as it seems. The table upon which the hat is placed, basically, is equipped with a hidden compartment.
Inside said cubby hole is a bag, and inside the bag, a rabbit. Using sleight of hand — the professional magician’s greatest friend — the bag is passed through a concealed flap in the table and into the hat. The rabbit is pulled out, and gasps of wonder and applause ensue.