Anatomy of the Illusion- Famous Magic Tricks Explained

No matter how bewilderingly real a magic trick might seem, at the end of the day, it’s a trick more than it is magic. Some conjurers leave you with your mouths and eyes both wide open at the end of their performances. 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 just 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, in this article, we examine some of the most common magician tricks and show you how exactly the magicians pulled 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, while performing this magic, 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 (which really it is but let’s just humor them for now), they hold a stick which shows the watchers that there really is a gap between them and the ground.


People often stand in disbelief near the performer and wonder whether they have magical powers, or perhaps the person is a holy being? Well, there is always a more straightforward explanation…

Levitating Man – Anatomy of the Illusion

So, 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, simply sitting on an elevated platform without ay pain in the world, while creating the illusion of grace.

Source: YouTube

Floating Woman – What It is

While performing the floating woman act, the magician will either call a woman from the audience or take help of 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 which is suspended in thin air. Some magicians even run a metal hoop along the body of the woman to prove that no cables are holding her up.

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, by using the hoop to captivate them even further.

Walking on Water – What It Is

If Jesus walked on water, that was a miracle, and there is a fine line between miracles and magic tricks. In other words, if you have seen someone walk on water, that 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.

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 to the audience that the hat is empty, before pulling out an oh-so-cute rabbit from inside it. But how!?

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; 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.

Cutting Assistant in Half – Anatomy of the Illusion

Well, the limbs were never disintegrated, you see? Like most magic tricks, there is a straightforward explanation. There is not one assistant, but two. The other, illusive 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 completes and both the assistants start to wiggle their limbs to show to the audience that no harm was done.

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?

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 know 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.

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. But, wait, now you will, right?

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 for it. What the person does is they 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.

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.

Levitating Cup – What It is

We all would love to live in a world where we could control and move things with our mind. However, in our current world, beautiful as it may be, nobody really has the powers of Hermione 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 can this happen?

Levitating Cup – Anatomy of the Illusion

It’s simple, but you knew that bit, right? Well, it’s too 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. Or you could move them apart really fast too, shouldn’t really matter, right? 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.

Sword Swallowing – Anatomy of the Illusion

Well, the secret behind this trick is a lot of practice and precision. This trick can go horribly wrong because of a small mistake. What happens is that the performer bends their neck back at just the right angle to allow their food pipe and mouth to be perfectly aligned.


This allows them to let the sword slide down the path without rubbing with their insides. So, as far as magic tricks go, this one is the closest to being authentic and not-misleading.

Spike Through the Body – What It Is

The trick starts when the assistant tries to balance themselves on the pointy end of a spike, defying gravity in the process. They will even spin around a bit.

Source: YouTube

Then, from out of nowhere, they will fall into the spike, the same one which was balancing them so effortlessly a while ago. Towards the end of the act, they step off the spike and show to the audience that they have been left unhampered by the events that just unfolded. What goes down behind the scenes?

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!?

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Smooth Criminal Lean – What It Is

Michael Jackson was, is and (hopefully) will be the king of Pop. 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.


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?

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?

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.

Underwater Box- Anatomy of the Illusion

What really happens 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? The handcuffs are designed to look like the real thing, but they are anything but.


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.