Now You See (What I Want You To See)

Made by Jan Martinez

Many magic tricks revolve around the concept of "sleight of hand". What is it and what does it mean?

Created: October 18th, 2015



I’d like to start by clearing something up: I’m not trying to spoil, expose, or ruin magic tricks with this project. I can assure you that you can find all of this information online with a simple Google search. Another thing to clear up is that I am no magician. I enjoy magic and illusions; that is all. My intention is to show how we can sometimes be staring something in the face and not notice what’s going on.

Sleight of hand is an example of how magicians, con artists, pickpockets, illusionists, etc. use distraction and confidence to fool the audience into overlooking the details of an act. Especially with close-up magic, deceit is important to make sure the audience doesn’t pick up on the underlying trick. Here I’ll talk about a few techniques and how perception changes everything about how they work.


Examples in the World

The best example of sleight of hand in the real world is seen in pickpockets. Sometimes it can be as simple as people shoving their hands in a purse and running away with the wallet. Other times, it’s a complex choreography involving multiple people and precise timing. From the victim’s view, all they see is someone asking for directions, maybe a couple looking for a particular restaurant. From the pickpocket’s point of view, they see an open, defenseless wallet.

The following documentary provides some great explanations of common tricks used by pickpockets, and includes various conversations with “professionals”. I saw it a while ago, so if it’s not as good as I remember, I’m sorry.

Pickpocket King Bob Arno
BobArnoOfficial -

Examples in Media/Art

Now for the fun stuff: magic. Well, kind of. One well known performance that perfectly illustrates sleight of hand is Cup and Balls. It has infinitely many adaptations and variations, but the principle behind them is the same: you make balls appear and disappear using a combination of misdirection and opaque cups big enough to hide the balls.

Following is an example of the trick being performed in what seems to be a French television show. If you were to slow down the video seconds before anything appears or disappears, you might catch a glimpse of him grabbing and discarding the props.

Yann Frisch Vivement dimanche 22/12/13
Manu Lopez -

Another example of the routine by Penn and Teller doing what they do best: revealing how it’s actually done.

Penn & Teller Explain Ball & Cups on Jonathan Ross 2010.07.09 (Part 2)
prozacbear -

The Illusion

Okay, NOW for the fun stuff. I’m going to be “exposing” one distinctive form of sleight of hand: snap change. It is a card trick that involves changing the card being exposed while the spectator is watching. This involves taking two cards (the spectator’s card and some dummy card) in your hand in such a way that it seems you only have one. You would show the “single card” to the spectator, with the dummy card being visible and their card right behind. Holding the cards with just three fingers, you snap and let the dummy fall behind, revealing the spectator’s card.

Now, you can either re-read that and try to understand what's supposed to be going on, or look at this video I made of it. If the video doesn't work (because this whole interface is weird), Google it.



I enjoy magic. It's fun to watch. Sometimes it can be disappointing to learn how a trick works. Other times, it's interesting to see the process behind tricking people and creating amazing illusions. I don't know. Either way, it's fun to do at parties. (And even in front of a class)

This isn't your typical "illusion". There are no "moving" spirals, no weirdly-built rooms, no disorienting sounds. Just two hands, and an audience willing to believe in magic.  

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Many magic tricks revolve around the concept of "sleight of hand". What is it and what does it mean?