July 2002

Tie up your Summer Performing Problems
with a Rope Trick

ôSummertime. And the livin’ is easy.” That’s what you’d hear if you asked Porgy and Bess. But if you asked Harry and Bess they would say, “Summertime. And the magic is hard.”

Well, not really. Because Harry Houdini didn’t perform outdoor family shows. But for those of us who do, outdoor shows are often a nightmare.

Let’s look at some of the problems unique to performing outdoors. 1. Wind – Wind can gust up unexpectedly and blow your props over. Packs flat, plays big, blows over easily. You can’t “place” a silk down, it might end up in the creek. And when your climax of twenty sponge balls appears in your spectator’s hand, they just as quickly disappear! 2. Sun – The sun will either be in your audience’s eyes or your eyes. And the heat will melt your young audience, not to mention your rabbit and birds (unless they like a nice sauna). 3. Acoustics -The acoustics are terrible outdoors. Our voices just disappear into the air and noise from other sources is a problem. Plus, if your birds are still alive when you produce them let’s hope they don’t decide to join their pigeon cousins in the trees. Finally, the children get to sit on damp grass, animal balloons pop, and face paint melts. Yes, summertime can be quite difficult.

Unfortunately for us, clients love having parties outdoors. It doesn’t mess up their house, there’s no need to rent a party space, and “the kids could use the fresh air.”

One solution to this problem is to design a show comprised of tricks that can be performed outdoors without a problem. These include tricks that don’t require displaying large cards, tricks using heavy props, with all work done in the hands. Rings and ropes - yes; silks, sponge balls, and Forgetful Freddy - no. (See my columns in July and August of 2001 for more great ideas regarding performing outdoor shows.)

Since rope tricks is one category of effects we can perform outdoors, we will delve into the world of Professor’s Nightmare. Because it is technically simple to perform, Professor’s Nightmare is also easy to do badly. Some magicians simply show three ropes unequal and then equal. Done. No finesse, no excitement, no real routine. In the next two months I hope to change that. This month’s routine comes from “Magic Al” Garber, from Long Island, New York. Next month we will continue to explore Professor’s Nightmare with routines where the ropes represent other things that can be small, medium and large.

Effect and Routine

Professor’s Nightmare is a classic rope routine where three ropes of different lengths each become the same length and then turn back to three different lengths.

Start with the three ropes in a packet. Accordion fold the medium and long ropes together and tie the short rope around to create a packet. Ask the audience, “Can you guess how many ropes are in the three rope packet?” Kids don’t tend to hear the number three. They usually respond by yelling five or one hundred. Say, “No, I’ll give you another try. Can you guess how many ropes are in this three rope packet?” Hopefully someone yells out three. If not, repeat the question once more but really emphasize three. Then, they will say three. Respond with, “How did you know that?” They will say, “Because you told us!” Reply, “Oh why did I say that?”

Unwrap the packet and say, “Yes, I have three ropes, and they’re all the same length.” When the kids see that they are all different they will yell, “No, the ropes are different!” React by saying, “Oh my, you’re right! Let’s do some magic! I’ll need a volunteer who wants to…” (Pause… hands will go up) “…eat this rope up like spaghetti. Only kidding!” Pick a volunteer, hand her the long rope and say, “Examine this rope, pull on it, tug on it, does it seem solid, it won’t pull apart? Try to jump rope with it!” As you say this mime jumping rope by swinging your wrists. Encourage her to jump rope. This impromptu situation may yield some funny moments.

Take back the long rope and hand her the medium rope. Repeat, “Pull on it, tug on it, does it seem solid, it won’t pull apart? Try to jump rope with this one!” It is even funnier as child hits herself in the leg. Take back the medium rope and hand the volunteer the smallest rope. “Examine this rope, pull on it, tug on it, and try to…floss your teeth with it. Only kidding, try to jump rope with it.” Child tries and children laugh.

Holding all three ropes say, “Let’s bring up all the ends to the top. We have three ends up here.” Display these. Pick up short rope end saying, “End number four.” Pick up medium rope end saying, “End number five.” Pick up long rope end saying, “End number ….” Let the kids yell “six!” “That’s the end of the ends. Now watch... “ Slowly pull so that all three ropes are equal. “ Wow, they’re all the same!” Count one as you display the first rope. Count two as you display the two ropes together. Count three but as you display the single rope, get it stuck under your nose so that it appears as a mustache. Release your hold on the rope and let is stay there. Take the mustache rope and whip it over your shoulder saying, “Ouch!”

“If I have one rope over my shoulder, how many ropes are left in my hand?” The kids yell “two”! “I said how many ropes are in my hand!” The kids yell “two” louder. “Is that your final answer?” As the kids yell “yes!” make the two ropes change into one. Do this with the two linked ropes in your left hand, held at the intersection. Right hand brings one end of the long rope up and grabs one end of the short rope from above the top. Left hand releases grip. The right hand seems to have one rope in it as the left hand grabs lower end to hold ropes horizontally in both hands. “It’s only one, sorry, you don’t win the million dollars!” This will result in the ever popular, “Huh?” from your audience.

End quickly with, “In magic, we like things to go back to the way they started…” Take the medium rope from your shoulder and place in your left hand with the other two. Bring the end of the long rope up to the other ends. As you place it in your right hand transfer the ropes to your left hand as the right hand moves to the right with only the short rope. Say, “…With one short rope, …” continue transferring to the right hand. “ …One medium rope and one long rope, and one fantastic assistant!” Point to your volunteer and say, “Everyone clap for Hali.”


Children usually yell out, “I know that one” when you bring out ropes for any rope trick. One way quell this is to distract them by performing an engaging, funny routine. I think this routine engages them completely. It is a child-friendly routine with lots of jokes that are perfect for kids sense of humor.
Magic Al explains, “To really maximize the response from the kids, use great facial expressions and lots of enthusiasm.”

Unlike most other applications Magic Al uses a child assistant. Typical of Alan’s sweet performing style is that he makes the child the star in the routine.

Magic Al suggests, “This routine is kind of an outline. Don’t forget to improvise during your opportunities when the child tugs on the ropes and jumps through them.” He adds, “We’ve all done this routine so many times it’s hard to get excited about it. Don’t forget to really act amazed at the moments of magic.” In fact if there are many adults in the audience, you may even want to pause and assume the applause position, with your arms outstretched, following the all-equal false count.

Some general notes on Professor’s nightmare. To learn how to do the Professor’s Nightmare, ask your magic buddies or look for it in most beginners’ magic books. Since the idea of the routine is to have the ropes change sizes, it is very important that the ropes are examined extensively before you begin the routine. The length of the ropes you use can be any size that you feel comfortable with. For large rooms try 5 feet, 3 feet and 1 foot. For smaller rooms try 3, 2 and 1 foot pieces.

For small groups I think it is important to use ordinary rope. This supports your claim that the ropes are unprepared. However for audiences of more than 200 you may want to go to Home Depot and buy the thickest rope they have. It looks great from stage. This giant rope is also funny in a small room if you are clownish character.

August 2002

The Professor’s Real Nightmare

Deep in the night Professor Carver was having a terrible nightmare. He dreamt it was 50 years in the future and he saw magicians all over the country performing his rope trick. But the performers used uninteresting patter lines, calling the ropes “ropes,” when there was so much more potential. This was tragic! If only these magicians would spend some time and creativity working on the routine, they could come up with all kinds of original patter. What a nightmare!

Last month I wrote that rope tricks are great to perform at outdoor shows. All the work is done in the hands and there is nothing to blow away. In particular I shared a very funny routine for Professor’s Nightmare. This month we continue exploring all the possibilities of this classic effect. You don’t have to call then ropes, you know. Call them spaghetti, shoelaces, whatever! As you will see by this month’s offering there are some very creative magicians out there killing with original executions of Professor’s Nightmare. Let’s see what’s happening.

Effect And Routines

Professor’s Nightmare is a classic rope trick where three ropes of different lengths each become the same length and then turn back to three different lengths. No explanation of the moves that coincide with the following patter. You’ll get the idea.

David C. Garrard of Louisville, Kentucky is well known in the kid show world as the inventor of Sketch-O-Magic. A part-time magician and full-time minister, he created this routine for a performance for NCAA big shots.

“I love basketball. My wife, Stephanie on the other hand, she can take it or leave it. Although, the other day, she actually asked me a question about the game! She said, ‘David, when those players come down the floor, shoot, and the ball goes in the hole, how many points does that count?’”

“I said, it depends. Sometimes when a player shoots and the ball goes in the hole, it just counts one small point. That's called a free throw. Most of the time when a player shoots and the ball goes in the hole they get two points. That's called a field goal. If you look out on the floor you'll see a big circle painted there. If a player shoots from outside the circle--it's a real long shot--and the ball goes in, he or she gets three points."

“Stephanie said, ‘Let me see if I've got this. Free throws count one. Most shots count two. The real long ones from outside the circle count three.’ I said, that's it! You've got it! She said, ‘I've got it . . . but I don't like it! If it were left up to me, I'd take things into my own hands and even them up. It wouldn't matter to me where the shot came from on the floor -- I'd count them all the same. It wouldn't matter if it was a free throw, a lay-up from right under the basket, or a real long shot from outside the circle, I'd count them all the same.’”

“I said, Stephanie, that's a great idea, but it's not how the rules read. So remember, when a player shoots and the ball goes in the hole, sometimes its going to count one, sometimes its going to count two, and sometimes its going to count three!"

Debbie Leifer, of Atlanta and Jennifer-jo Moyer (a.k.a. Sheeza Witch), of New York City, created this routine together while brainstorming ideas for a nutrition-themed magic show Debbie was presenting.

“I have three ropes - a long rope, a medium-sized rope, and an itty bitty baby rope. Let's use these three ropes to represent the different parts of the food pyramid. The long rope will be the Grains. The Grains part of the pyramid is the part with the fiber and carbohydrates in it, so you should eat most of your food from this group each day. You need the carbohydrates to give you energy, to make you go. The fiber makes you go, too.

“The medium rope can represent the Proteins. The Protein in food like meat and eggs and milk and peanut butter help make your muscles and bones strong. Without protein all you would have the strength do to would be sit at home and watch TV. The little bitty baby rope can be the Fats, since we all know that you should not eat too many fats in one day. Why not? Because they make you fat, of course!

“Now, even though there are different amounts of each of these kinds of food that we should eat every day, they are all equally important. Which is why the 3 ropes, the long rope, the medium rope and the itty bitty baby rope all look to be the same length, when we say the magic word over them and rub our tummies. See, all equally important, in different amounts.

Though Bruce Bray, of New Jersey, does a very silly magic show for birthday parties, his school shows can be quite moving. This routine, from his Self-Esteem school show, has gentle music playing in the background.

“As you were walking into the auditorium today I was thinking about these three equal pieces of rope. (The kids say they are not equal.) Now wait a minute. I did not say they were the same size I said they were equal. Kinda like you. You see, I saw everyone walking in here today. Some of you are smaller than others, some of you are taller, and some of you are kinda right in the middle. (Show the ropes individually.) But if you look closer, all the ropes are really the same.” (Bring all six ends up into your hand. Kids still say ‘no they are not.’)

“Take a closer look. (The music gets louder. Do the stretch move. All the ropes are the same size.) You see, when you look closer, you can see that even though, on the outside, we all look different, inside we are all the same. And we have the same feelings and desires as each other. So the next time you meet someone different just remember inside they are really just like you.”

Ben Ulin of Des Moines, Iowa, performs an illusion show for a local amusement park and stand-up comedy magic. He is a full-time magician who has five different patter sets for the Professor’s nightmare. This is his Family Show routine.

Bring up three different sized children and give the ropes to them (in size order) to examine. Ask them their names. You will use the small boy's name as the name of the baby rope.

"Once upon a time, there were three worms - Papa worm, Mama worm, and Baby Worm. And Baby Worm's name was Bob (small child’s name). One day the three worms decided to go visit their Grandmother. They started wiggling along the ground, until they came to a very wide river. They had to cross the river to get to Grandma's house. Papa worm, he was long enough that he could cross the river. (Stretch out the long rope between your hands.) Mama worm, if she hopped a little, she could make it. (Stretch out the medium and give it an extra pull so it seems to jump out of your hand.) But Bob, he was too short. (Display the short rope left in your hand.) They had to figure out a way to get Bob across the river.

“The three worms decided to try some magic. They got comfortable laying their tails along side their heads (bring the ends up) and tried to think of some magic words. (Ask the Papa worm holder if he knows of any good magic words.) Papa worm decided to try these words. (Use a deep fake papa voice and boom out whatever words he gives.) But nothing happened. Mama worm thought she had some good magic words. (Ask the second child for words. Use a falsetto mama voice and repeat those words.) But nothing happened. Then Bob (which refers to both the worm and the boy helper) remembered some words he learned in school. They didn't sound like magic words but he was told that if you use them, and if you mean it when you say them, magic will happen. Bob tried the words, ‘Please, and thank you.’ And then the worms began to stretch and grow until they are the same length. Now they were all able to cross the river without any problems.

As the story continues, they make it to Grandma’s house, but unfortunately, Grandma can’t tell them apart. So they have to go back to their original sizes. The routine ends with "And Ladies and Gentlemen, that's the story of Papa worm, Mama worm, and Bob!"


As you can see there are no limits to the possible applications of three different sized ropes changing to the same length. Last month we learned a silly version. This month we learned versions relating to nutrition, self-esteem, and basketball. (Oh, and worms.)

If you are still calling your ropes “ropes” then give yourself a little test. See if you can come up with an alternate presentation. You may be surprised at your result. You may even like the new routine even more! E-mail me with your ideas for the next collection (Sillybilly@magicmagazine.com). Good luck.