I want to turn tricks, please.
July 18, 2011 6:46 PM   Subscribe

What is your favorite parlor/bar trick?

During the course of the past week I have twice found myself in social situations (dinner parties) where the conversation turned to the topic of interesting talents/skills. In both cases, various people at the table volunteered to showcase their skill (e.g. juggling limes from the bar) to the great amusement of everyone else present.

I'd love to have something fun to contribute during these types of conversations. Preferably: minimal props and preparation.

Thanks for your ideas!
posted by WaspEnterprises to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
There's a puzzle you can do with three coins of one kind and two of another, say three pennies and two nickles.

You start with the five coins alternating. You have to make five moves. Each move must be a penny and a nickle which begin touching and end touching. When you're done, the three pennies are next to each other, next to the two nickles.

What I like about it is that you can show the solution to someone (quickly, you have to practice it), and they still won't be able to do it. You can show it to them as many times as they like.

Unfortunately, it isn't easy to demonstrate here, in text. But I'll try:


(I hope the "code" tag doesn't get censored...)

It's three moves to the right, one move to the left, and one move to the right. But people will always try to move to the left after two moves to the right.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the way, the solution algorithm comes down to three rules:

1. You always move the direction of the nickle.
2. You always move the minimum distance you can.
3. You only move to the left when there are no legal moves to the right.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:10 PM on July 18, 2011

You could say all the states in alphabetical order in less than 20 seconds. This is not as impressive if everyone else you're with also learned "Fifty Nifty United States" in school.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:20 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

triggerfinger's comment reminded me of Al Franken drawing a map with all 50 states in like 2 minutes.
posted by Glinn at 7:35 PM on July 18, 2011

I can do the finger-wavey things demonstrated here. It takes a bit of practice, but once you learn you never forget. Plus, there's something about the motion of it that makes somewhat drunken spectators find it really hypnotic and impressive.
posted by amy lecteur at 7:36 PM on July 18, 2011

Balancing one toothpick and two forks on another toothpick. Awesome in person, but it does require a bit of setup.
posted by true at 7:40 PM on July 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

When I was in Mrs. Corell's 6th grade Social Studies class, we learned how to sing the Greek alphabet to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. I knew, at the age of twelve, that I would never forget it, and I was right. People are usually satisfyingly amused/impressed by this.

It comes in handy doing crossword puzzles too: I often see hints like "It's the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet", so I just hum a little and then I know.
posted by Specklet at 7:42 PM on July 18, 2011

Not exactly rocket science, but sprinkling some salt on your bar napkin will keep it from sticking to your glass.

When we're with people we don't know well, we play a game where we pick people in the crowd and name the celebrity they look most like. After a while, we just say the celebrity's name and people have to find him or her. It's a fun way to pass the time.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2011

Dish towel chicken is weirdly popular when you do it at parties.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:44 PM on July 18, 2011

You can do the knuckle roll poker chip trick with a handy quarter.
posted by mauvest at 7:47 PM on July 18, 2011

I can say the alphabet backwards quite quickly. I can also pull the clover tongue.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:29 PM on July 18, 2011

I hate giving this one away, but chances are slim that we will find ourselves together in this situation. So, here is my trick. And it is also tying a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue....but the cheater's version.

Whenever you think a situation requiring a bar trick like this might come up (and you can usually tell somewhat far in advance) -- or if you want to blaze ahead and impress someone with a bar trick -- tie a cherry stem in a complicated knot by hand when no one is looking. You can do this under the bar. Then, place the tied stem under your tongue. It is not that difficult to hold it there for any length of time. Then, when the time is right to show someone you can do this, you put the new stem in your mouth. Fiddle around with it for a bit. Then, you just pull out the knotted stem. Do not accidentally dribble out both stems in a goopy mess. Also, do it far quicker than the video above -- you should actually do it quickly enough that it doesn't seem feasible. Just laugh and refuse to do it again.

Voila! You look like you have a dextrous tongue! If this leads in the direction you had hoped, make absolutely sure you have first stealthily disposed of the untied stem!

Ugh, I feel like one of those creepy "The Game" type people now.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 8:43 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know a guy who can run a spaghetti noodle in his mouth and out his nose. And for added effect, while one end is hanging out of each orifice, he pulls the ends back and forth and goes "wee wuh wee wuh wee wuh".

But I guess that only works if your party is at an Italian restaurant.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:55 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know a guy who can run a spaghetti noodle in his mouth and out his nose. And for added effect, while one end is hanging out of each orifice, he pulls the ends back and forth and goes "wee wuh wee wuh wee wuh".

But I guess that only works if your party is at an Italian restaurant.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:55 PM on July 18 [+] [!]

Actually this can work anywhere as I saw someone do this with dental floss. Just keep some in your pocket.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on July 18, 2011

I screwed up the algorithm. Please ignore my second post in this thread.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:16 PM on July 18, 2011

I like this cork trick.
This is a better explanation, but you have to sit through the ad.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:37 PM on July 18, 2011

If you or any of your friends are smokers and the establishment allows smoking, here's an old chestnut: the "high tolerance for pain" trick.

1. When no one is looking, snag an ice cube. Hold it against your index finger under the table for about 30 seconds while you set up the trick.
2. Tell you friends you have a high tolerance for pain or some cock and bull story about how you lost the feeling in your fingertip due to a freak accident involving an elk and a pineapple or something.
3. Light a cigarette, get a good cherry going. Under the bar, drop the ice and DRY your finger on your pants. It can't be wet.

4. Say something like "here, I'll show you". Place the cherry of the cigarette against the finger you were holding the ice cube on. You'll be able to hold it there for several seconds with no discomfort. The ice chills the flesh enough to keep if from burning.

This trick used to be a lot easier to do. Not many people smoke any more, and it usually feels forced when you do it now.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:48 PM on July 18, 2011

You could learn to sing The Elements.
posted by Gymnopedist at 10:08 PM on July 18, 2011

You can ask if anyone knows the 4 US states whose capital cities begin with the same letter as the state: Honolulu, HI, Indianapolis, IN, Dover, DE, and Oklahoma City, OK. I won a fake "bottlette" of "champagne" answering this question on a Friday night US Air flight, for a crew of flight attendants that seemed determined to run an airborne game show, with 104 tired, crowded, grumpy commuters as participants.
posted by paulsc at 10:20 PM on July 18, 2011

I bet that fellow down at the end of the bar $500 that I could stand on a bar stool and piss all over your bar and you wouldn't do anything but laugh.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:53 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

If somebody has a pen, and you have a napkin to write on, you can offer to perform a series of three amazing feats of mental magic.


i. I'm psychic, and I can prove it. Behold, I shall perform three feats of mental magic.

1. Lo, I shall write on this piece of paper the amount of money in the possession of a person yet to be identified by you. I label it A, and I place it in my pocket. Now, whom shall you choose? Please, turn out your pockets and purses that we may all tally and agree upon the sum for later verification.

2. Hark! I shall cast my mind into the spirit world, where all places and times are one and the same, and where the reading of minds is trivial. Please, choose among you for probing. Think of an object - any object, near or far, fact or fantasy, it matters not. Hold it in your mind. Concentrate...concentrate...yes, the spirits make all clear to me. I have written the curious thing down on this piece of paper, which I shall label B, and place into my pocket. Please, share with the group the thing you called to mind, that you might hold me to account shortly.

3. Verily! I shall predict the future, writing upon this piece of paper a mysterious shape, which I shall label C, and place into my pocket. Come now, choose one among you to be ridiculed by fate. Please, choose a shape. Shall it be the Triangle of Destiny? The Wiggly Lines of Woe? The Circle of Something or Other? You have chosen well. Can all gathered here bear witness to this cartesian depiction? Thank you.

4. And so, we have a sum of money upon which the amount we all agree. Here is the piece of paper labelled A. Forsooth! It is inked with the very same sum!

5. We have heard madam give an account of a thing that existed only in her innermost thoughts, and yet I have written on this paper marked B. Gadzooks! They are one and the same!

6. And finally, Sir has chosen a shape - and it is the very same as that on the paper marked C, which I take now from my pocket. Yes, you may now all shower me with free libations.

The trick

A. Choose the shape the person will 'choose' now. Writing so that nobody can see what you've written, draw the shape on the first napkin, fold it, write 'C' on the side facing you while telling people you're writing 'A', then proceed with the rest of 1.

B. Write the amount revealed at the end of 1. on to a napkin, claiming that you're writing down a strange object in the mind of your guest. Fold it, then mark it A while claiming that you're marking it B. Proceed with the rest of 2.

C. Write the object revealed at the end of 2. on a napkin, fold it, and mark it B while claiming that you're marking it C. Proceed with 3., forcing the person to choose the shape you previously wrote in A. For example, you want them to choose the triangle (and I suggest you do, and that you don't place it in the middle, because people will be very, very likely to choose it):

- you have chosen the triangle! OR
- Ah, the wiggly lines / circle! We shall throw it away - please, make your choice.

- you have chosen the triangle! OR
- Ah, the other, non-triangle shape! We shall cast it away too, and so you have chosen the triangle!

You now have three bits of paper in your pocket: A, with an amount of money; B, with an object; and C, with a shape. Reveal one by one.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:59 PM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

ok this is kind of lame and silly but years and years ago as a bartender I learned to make "bar crabs" to amuse drunken patrons.

Take a lemon and a square paper bar napkin. Lay the lemon lengthwise on the bar. Twist all four corners of the bar napkin into twists, kind of like legs. This will serve to make the center of the bar nap somewhat concave, like a little four-cornered hat. Place prepared bar nap on lemon. Roll the lemon along the bar. The entire contraption will wobble and "walk" drunkenly along the bar to the delight and amusement of your audience.

posted by lonefrontranger at 11:02 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Actually, there's a better reveal: 'Let us deal with the trivial first...' (do the shape) '...then the more difficult matter of money...' (do the money) '...and finally, my dangerous foray into the spirit world, whence forth I did summon an item I am sure all would agree no mortal man could guess, and yet...' (do the object). The key is to sandwich the weak link in the middle, and deal with it quickly, leaving them wondering how the hell 'pink vibrator in my second drawer' made it to 'P. VIB. 2nd. Dr.' on a napkin. You could also open with the object, move to the money, then the shape, then work your way back through them for symmetry.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:17 PM on July 18, 2011

When I was a kid, my dad taught me the Announcer's Test. (We know it as the "Memory Test" and say copulent corpusles instead of corpulent porpoises.)

Once memorized, you can either rattle this off in one go, or if you have time and wish to create suspense, "test" a volunteer by doing it repeat-after-me style: start with "one hen" -- "one hen", then "one hen, two ducks" -- "one hen, two ducks", etc. People generally give up on 7, if not before.
posted by equivocator at 12:25 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my younger days, I also used to perform the trick involving sticking something long up my nose, snorting it up and pulling on the end which appears at the back of my throat. Menthol condoms were quite good and had the added benefit of giving me a good sinus clear out

Another (slightly messy - keep tissues to hand) trick involved snorting a jigger of milk up one nostril, holding my nose and squirting the milk through my eye. If there's no milk available, don't be tempted to use whisky instead (ouch).
posted by splout at 1:36 AM on July 19, 2011

I like to balance a saltshaker on its edge. (I do this everywhere.)
posted by olinerd at 2:48 AM on July 19, 2011

When I used to smoke (a very long time ago, and not for very long, thank goodness), I used to do this trick with the cellophane wrapper of my cigarettes. There was a silly story about a farmer and a bull that he couldn't get to inseminate any of the cows until a friend told him to light the bull's tail on fire ...
posted by scblackman at 3:56 AM on July 19, 2011

If you're somewhere with bubbly, you can make furniture out of the champagne cages. Chairs are popular. Most of the instructions online tell you that you need wire cutters or pliers, but if you wobble the twisted ends back and forth you can get them loose with your hands. You can also use your keys as a leverage point.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:59 AM on July 19, 2011

I um...will show you my "clit" if you'll buy me a Guinness.

If it's well-poured, you can blow across the foam twice and the shape it forms really looks like a woman's...you know. So it's not for polite company, but it's great for free beers. It was also more fun when I wasn't a 42 year old mommy, but I still get to pull it out on occasion.
posted by peagood at 5:20 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have everyone throw some cash into the pot. Then push the cork into an empty wine bottle. First person to get the cork out without breaking the bottle or the cork collects the cash.

The trick: Take a linen napkin and feed it into the neck of the bottle. Then tip the bottle so that the cork rests in the napkin. Then slowing pull the napkin out. As the neck gets narrower the napkin wraps around the cork and compresses it, so that you can pull it out.

Then buy a round for your friends with your winnings.
posted by COD at 5:36 AM on July 19, 2011

When nobody is looking, take a garnish spike (the 3-inch plastic type that ythe olive in your drink came on) and work it into the seam on your napkin's edge. (You can also do this on a bar towel). You end up with the spike completely hidden inside the hem. Show that the napkin is empty by holding it up and shaking it out. Then lay it out on the table, ask for a fresh spike, and place the spike in the center of the napkin and make a show of wrapping it up.
Discretely find the part with the hidden spike and present that area of the folded napkin to someone and ask them to break the spike in half. They'll feel and hear it break. Then set the napkin down and unfold it to reveal the un-broken spike. The broken one is still hidden in the hem.
posted by PSB at 5:37 AM on July 19, 2011

1. I used to be able to flip my cigarette into my mouth with my tongue like this guy. I'd hold the cigarette in my mouth backwards for a minute, blow a little smoke out of my nose like a dragon, and then flip it back out.

2. If there's a bottle of Jack Daniels around, you could tell this story:

(First, be prepared with at least a fifth of Jack. Show the bottle to the friends unopened.)

"Jack Daniels named his Old No. 7 whiskey after the mule that he rode to Lynchburg, Tennessee. In addition to naming the whiskey after him, he also put a picture of the mule on every bottle of Jack. Can you find Old No. 7?"

People will flip the bottle over and everybody will point out the cow on the front picture (cow =/= mule), get frustrated, and give up. Open the bottle up and show them that the picture of Old No. 7 is on the inside of the cap. (It's true!) Then share the bottle with your friends. They'll love you.

PS - Even the folks at Jack Daniels admit that they don't know why it's called Old No. 7. It's a fun story, though.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:27 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the edge of a table, put your index and pinky fingers of your left hand on the table with your two middle fingers bent down against the edge. Put the two middle fingers of your right hand on the table with your index and pinky fingers bent down against the edge. Now switch finger positions of both hands quickly.

Set an olive on the table and put an empty glass over the top of it. Challenge your bar mate to turn the glass over with the olive in it without using any other implements nor using the edge of the table. (Centrifugal force is your friend here...)
posted by Jacob G at 7:11 AM on July 19, 2011

You'll need a confederate for this one but its awesome!

Tell a random barfly that your awesome and you would like to prove it. Take a napkin and tear off 5 pieces. Wad those pieces up, and place them on the bar in the configuration you would see on the 5 of a dice, e.g. like this. Tell the patron you are going to leave for a bit and that you would like them to touch any of the 5 wadded up napkins. Your confederate needs to see this, because afterwards, he is going to place his drink on his coaster to indicate which napkin bit the patron chose. For example, if we touched the top left napkin, your confederate will place his drink on the top left of the coaster. If he chooses the center napkin, he will place his drink in the dead center of the coaster. Come back, glance at the confederates coaster, and make up some crazy story about how you can detect heat / your psychic / etc. You can wave your hand over the napkin bits, or stare at them strangely. Then simply point out which napkin he / she touched. Most people never figure it out.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:05 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A two-headed coin and a handful of change can be a quick trick. Get a set of the local coin denominations, one of each. Use the two-headed coin in place of its normal version. Let's say it's a two-headed quarter...

Tell your mark that you'll predict the outcome of a random event. Write on a piece of paper "you will pick the quarter", fold it up and give it to them to hold. Now tell them to pick up the coins, shake them and drop them on the table - any coins that are "tails" will be put aside, and you'll stop when there's only one "heads" coin left.

They pick up the remaining "heads" coins and repeat the sequence until only the quarter is left.

Be very casual about it and don't call it a magic trick.
posted by Fat Elvis at 8:15 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Open a beer bottle with a dollar bill.

Or any other piece of paper, really.
posted by waitangi at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2011

Touch your own dominant shoulder with your dominant hand. Your dominant elbow now forms a horizontal surface. Balance a stack of quarters on that surface. In a single motion, unfurl your arm downward and catch the quarters in your dominant hand. Takes a little practice at home, but it's trivial once you learn it, and it scales easily to at least $10, and anyone who hasn't practiced it will just spray change across the room.

I know a guy who can run a spaghetti noodle in his mouth and out his nose. And for added effect, while one end is hanging out of each orifice, he pulls the ends back and forth and goes "wee wuh wee wuh wee wuh".

But I guess that only works if your party is at an Italian restaurant.

Right, that's the reason I'm not going to try that one: because I don't have any pasta on me.
posted by foursentences at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2011

If you're a math person, there is an algorithm for naming the day of week for any date in history.
posted by CathyG at 12:18 PM on July 19, 2011

Check out Scam School. It's full of little tricks like this. My favorite is The Ash, although that requires a smoker.
posted by Hactar at 6:23 PM on July 19, 2011

Uh, here's a trick that requires that the participants are standing in a pool, lake, or some other body of water. (I know it's a stretch to call this a parlor trick, but kids love this one, & I was just on vacation and we ate a restaurant/bar with a pool...)

You need to be ready to fart. Like have one on deck, ready to go.

Say, "Watch this." and then proceed to suck in and swallow air. Lots of it...

Let 'er rip. & watch the amazement on their faces.
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:08 AM on July 20, 2011

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