Realizing Magic | Cut And Restored Rope - A Lesson

By Pete McCabe - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

I’d like to share with you something I learned a little while ago, which made a huge improvement to a trick I’ve been doing for many years. I’m sure I am not the first person to write about this, but it is not an idea that is well discussed in the literature. And even if you know it, you can always use a reminder. It’s a way to give the audience an experience of a slowly dawning realization, to create an emotional journey, at the climax of the trick. This is one of my favorite experiences to share with an audience.

I first realized it when I was working on the Cut and Restored Rope, and it’s easiest to understand how it works with that trick, so that’s how I’m going to explain it. The very first time I tried it, it produced an incredible response. If you do the standard C&R rope handling, you can try this in your next show.

We start with any cut and restored rope where it looks like you cut the middle, but really you make a switch and cut off a small piece near one end. This gives you a long and a very short piece of rope, which are looped together to give the appearance of two medium-size pieces of rope. There are many handlings that end up in this position; they all work. Once you tie the short piece around the center of the long piece, the illusion of two ropes tied together is perfect.

The next step is a presentational idea by El Duco, the Swedish inventor. El Duco’s idea is that instead of restoring the rope, you say you’re going to move the knot. So you take the knot from the middle and slide it down near one of the ends, and then you untie it, leaving a short piece and a long piece.

I love this idea, which I came across in an old Linking Ring magazine in the library of the Magic Castle. It turns the cut and restored rope effect sideways, leaving a permanent impossibility. Best of all, it works perfectly with the slow realization technique. Ideas like this are the exact reason I spend so much time in the library at the Magic Castle.

So the audience has seen me cut the rope and tie it together. And I mention that if I can restore that rope, after they saw it cut in half, that would be a great trick.

But once it’s over, there’s no proof of anything. Maybe I never really cut it. You saw me cut it, but…

So instead, what if I move the knot? If I can slide that knot from the middle, down near one of the ends, and leave it there, that’s permanent evidence of a miracle. So let’s see if that can happen. Here, you hold this end.

Now, with the spectator holding one end of the rope, and me holding the other, we come to the crux of the matter. I place my hand over the knot, and I pull on the rope for a silent count of three, but nothing moves.

I stop. I take my hand off the rope and look at the knot, which has not moved. I frown and try again. (I do not look at the audience.)

I place my hand over the knot, and pull for a second, and another second, and then I move the knot about a half an inch. Now I take my hand off, and look with quizzical air. Did it move? I think so, but I can’t be sure. None of this is spoken, by the way. If you look at the knot, and then look questioningly at the spectator holding the other end of the rope, you’ll get some reaction. Which you can then turn into an interaction.

Repeat, this time moving the knot another inch. And stop, step back, and - each time - look at someone with a questioning glance, like “did it move?” The audience can see in my face that I think it moved, but - and this is crucial - only one or two people up front can see for themselves. No one else. By the way, if nobody sees the first couple of times, that’s fine. Just keep going.

Keep up this cycle of covering the knot, moving it an inch or so, stepping back to assess its progress, and looking at someone in the audience - to assess their progress. Gradually the most wonderful thing will happen. Slowly, the realization that the knot is indeed moving will spread through the audience in a wave. Go slowly! Move the knot an inch at a time until everyone can tell that it has definitely moved.

When everyone gets to that point, that’s when you can make one long slow slide to the final mark. This is a good example of built-in pacing. Don’t hurry the long slide, either. It can create a kind of trance in the audience.

Enjoy the ensuing reaction, and just when it is about to ebb, untie the knot, say something about there’s your permanent proof of a miracle, and toss the ropes into the audience.

If you get anything near the reaction I get from this, I think you’ll be glad you tried it. It requires only an unprepared rope and a scissors and plays for the largest audience.

Two things I think are critical to make this work.

  1. There needs to be a first attempt where the knot does not move. You want everyone in the audience to start by thinking that nothing happened. You want them to be trying to convince themselves that it is not moving. And then you want them to get to a place where they suddenly think: Wait - did that move? That moment right there - the slow realization that something impossible is happening - is the experience I am trying to create. Oh my god, it did move.

  2. The realization that the rope is moving should reach people at different times. When the people up front see that it’s moving, they start to react, which deepens the reaction of everyone who can’t see it yet. That’s what creates the wave.

I really feel like this idea will be a big part of moving my performances up to the next level. I highly recommend you try this. The C&R rope is really the perfect trick for it.

The next step is to apply this to other tricks. I’ve been thinking about this lately, and it is not always easy to see how this idea might fit in. But just from the way it works with the C&R rope, I’m confident it’s worth trying.

That’ll be the subject of the next post.


Notes The basic method of looped long and short ropes was first in print in 1586. I always mention this. This next trick was invented 400 years ago, and it still fools people. Would you like to see it? They would like to see it.

I recently rediscovered in my files a nifty handling for cutting the rope. I had found it in Ultra Cervon, but Bruce got it from Bob Ellis’s “Vishnu Rope Mystery” straight outta Tarbell 6. It’s very clean and simple. You slide the scissors along the rope to the middle, raise it up, and cut. The switch is actually done by the scissors, which gives a hands-off vibe. I do this as I turn to the right so the spectator can verify that the rope is being cut; it’s quite well covered. Worth looking up in Tarbell 6; it’s also in Ultra Cervon.

Reader comments:


Tuesday, 28 January 2020 21:26 PM - Reply to this comment

I love this. Having 'returned' to magic (after half a century) I have an altered perspective. In addition to an adjustment to some of the changes/improvements in magic I find myself reassessing 'the old classics' in a way similar to what you have done here.
Thanks for the inspiration and unspoken encouragement to continue EXPANDING this marvelous art we call conjuring.


Saturday, 20 June 2020 11:38 AM - Reply to this comment

About that 'niffty handling' (sliding scissors) - Jeff McBride shows that move in his Commando Show lecture :)


Tuesday, 14 July 2020 17:20 PM - Reply to this comment

This is a terrific idea/concept! It really elevates the simply C&R rope to thought-provoking entertainment.
I stopped doing this C&R rope trick because although it's somewhat fascinating to the audience that the knot can be slid, I just think that after the knot is slid OFF THE ROPE, it (sort of) deflates the trick.
But your premise, along with the El Duco idea, makes more sense. Do you know what issue or where I can find the El Duco method of untying the knot in a logical fashion to show the long & short pieces?
Maybe I just untie it with 2 hands hiding the long piece's end? Then after the untying process, I spread my hands/arms wide to display the pieces.

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