How to do magic tricks #8: Tony Slydini – The Master of Misdirection

Tony Slydini, an Italian, was born in the year 1901 and passed away on 1991. He was a master at the art of misdirection. He used solely sleight of hands and misdirection to perform his own brand of magic tricks without the use of any gimmick. For 55 years in performing magic, he has never read a book on magic.

In the first video below, you will see Slydini performed his “Paper Balls in the Hat” magic trick. Slydini crushed and rolled up 3 to 4 pieces of paper into a ball each time and make them appear and disappear in his hand. He then put the ball held in his left hand invisibly into the hat with his right hand. As Slydini opened his left hand, the paper ball had disappeared. This routine is repeated 3 to 4 times and never once do you see him putting the ball into the hat. At the end of the performance, the hat which was shown to be empty at the beginning of the performance is then filled with paper balls.


The secret to the The Paper Balls in the Hat magic trick:

This is done by a combination of lapping, sleight of hands and misdirection.

Lapping is a skill where you use your lap (that is covered by the table) to serve as a platform where you use to drop items onto from your hands or from the table if you want to make the items vanish. You can also pick these items up again into your hands when you make them reappear. Slydini used this technique very often and Dai Vernon (a.k.a. Professor) commented that the powerful technique of lapping had not been utilized enough nor developed further beyond what Slydini had done with lapping.

Note that Slydini repeats his action over and over again. There are times when you taught that he was up to some trick but nothing actually happened. When he first opened his left hand, you expect to see the paper ball disappear but instead the paper ball is still there. The next time he repeated his action, the paper ball actually disappeared. Slydini used repeated actions to confuse the audience. When the audience see the same actions repeated many times without anything actually happening, they will lose their alertness when they see the same actions again and that is when he actually do something sneaky. I must really salute Slydini for his dexterity because even though I have already know his secret moves, I still can’t catch him doing his move at that exact moment when I’m watching out for it a hundred and one percent. Not only is his action so fast, but more admirably the action is so natural.

Watch the video again.

At 0:22, Slydini put his left hand down below the table for the first time. The first time he put his left hand down, there was absolutely no trick.

At 0:29, Slydini showed the ball was still in his left hand.

At 0:31, Slydini transferred the ball from the left hand to the right hand while the right hand was covering the left hand. He then dropped the ball from the right hand onto his lap.

From 0:47 to 0:51, Slydini put his left hand down below the table for the second time. This time he picked up the first ball dropped on his lap and transferred it to his right hand. This ball was held in the right hand and subsequently dropped into the hat while he repeated his previous actions. Even though the second ball remained in the left hand, the first ball which was in the right hand had been dropped into the hat. You may think that nothing was dropped into the hat because the ball was still in the left hand. Moreover, this series of action happened in the beginning and your memory reinforced you to think that the right hand is empty and nothing is put into the hat. You thought that it was nothing but some theatrical gesturing.

At 1:38, you will find that there is no more paper on the table to be rolled into paper ball nor are there any more balls in his hands. Nevertheless he repeated his routine again because he still has one more ball on his lap. This magic trick can never be completed with the same number of balls rolled up appearing in the hat unless he carries out his routine for one last time.

The second video shows 2 magic tricks by Slydini. This is of a much later date than the previous video. Slydini addressed the gentleman as Professor which is possibly Dai Vernon in his younger days. The first 4 minutes is again the “Hat and Paper Balls” magic trick. Note that at 2:04, when Slydini was transferring the previous paper ball in his left hand to his right hand, the ball was not crushed properly and some edges of the paper were visible during the transfer. At 3:17, when Slydini was putting the transferred paper ball in his right hand into the red box, you can notice some trace of yellow paper at the top of the red box while he dropped it into the box. From where Dai Vernon was sitting, he could actually see what was happening. Nevertheless, he pretended to be ignorant and amazed by the trick which helped to reinforce the audience’s amazement. The second magic trick entitled, “The Impossible Dream”, Slydini restored a handful of tobacco and paper into a cigarette. There is actually a third magic trick but it is rather short.


Notice how Slydini involves his audience in his performance. In this way, the audience’s attention is directed to what he has to do away from what he is doing in a split moment. It is also an important way to hold the audience’s attention and interest, another important aspect of performing magic. Obviously, Slydini could have done all those things himself instead of asking the audience to do so but still he chose to get the audience involved. At 5:09, Slydini picked up a cigarette on his lap and held it in his right hand as he rested his right hand at the edge of the table. At 5:14, Slydini dropped all the tobacco and paper on his left hand onto his lap as he turned his left hand to face downward while he pushed the cigarette held in his right hand to emerge from his left hand, giving the illusion that the torn cigarette had been restored. At 5:18, you can see Slydini dusting off the tobacco on his lap.

For the third magic trick where Slydini stretches two halves of a cigarette into two complete cigarettes, just watch when did Slydini put his hands below the table. Once you understand the principle of lapping, you will understand how he did this magic trick. And notice how he directed the audience’s attention away with his hand and eyes while the other hand made his sneaky move. This is the essence of misdirection. Nevertheless Slydini did it so well that even you are aware of the technique, you cannot help but follow his lead and his crucial sleight of hands are simply too fast and natural.

One Response to “How to do magic tricks #8: Tony Slydini – The Master of Misdirection”

  1. S Reyes says:

    After watching the 6 Coin Trick, i finally figure out as to how he did it. The principle is simple and very subtle. You would have to watch the placing of the hands and the hitting of the table to pick up he coins.
    The second time when the host changes place, it is not until he ask the hosts to give his hand to him as he transfer the coin that he has in his left hand and put the coins in this right hand (near the edge of the table).

    The move is simple and effecttive

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