The Ring Shoelace Straw Routine

The magician offers an explanation as to how magic works. A signet ring is borrowed. The ring vanishes from the magician's left hand and appears on his right hand. The ring then penetrates a shoelace while the ends are held by two spectators. The ring then vanishes from the lace and appears back on the magician's right hand. As an encore, the shoelace penetrates a plastic straw.


The following routine contains no cool new ways to pretend to put a ring on a shoelace! Nor are there any hip display moves, fake knots, or snazzy handlings. If this is what you seek, please look elsewhere to avoid soul-crushing disappointment.

Some Background

For many years, this was my favorite opening table routine. There is congenial banter between the magician and the spectators, which helps to break the ice. The individual tricks blend into a strong routine. Unfortunately, at Illusions the time restrictions make this routine a little too long to do at the tables. However, I do still use it in the bar, and on those occasions when time is not a factor. The four tricks in the routine are: A Ring Move by Roy Kissel, which is described in the book Al Schneider on Close Up; the ring segment of Stewart James's Sefalaljia, which can be found in Stewart James in Print, page 189; Clifton's Ring Move from Earl Nelson's Variations; and a Stewart Judah trick The Pencil, Straw, and String, which can be found in Martin Gardner's Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions. While I have not added anything new to the methods of the above tricks I have spent many hours trying to eliminate what I felt were "moments of suspicion" and about which I felt very guilty during performance. Before detailing the routine let me touch on each of these suspicious moments.

The Kissel trick is very simple. You take a borrowed ring and apparently place it into the left hand. Actually, the ring is retained in the right hand and the ring is slipped onto the third finger. The ring is then shown to have vanished and has reappeared on the right hand. What bothered me about this is the false transfer of the ring. Why place the ring into the left hand? Why not just take it from the spectator and close the right hand around it? Without adequate motivation for the false transfer, any mildly astute spectator will almost immediately deduce the method of the trick. To alleviate any suspicion before it can develop, it is necessary to concoct a reason for the transfer of the ring from one hand to another. I had thought about this for ten years or so, but did not come up with a solution until about a year after Illusions opened.

The ring, safety pin, and shoelace portion of Sefalaljia is justifiably a classic bit of magic. Of all the ring and shoelace routines that have appeared since, only this routine satisfies the conditions that I feel must be met to achieve a convincing penetration effect:

•The spectators can handle the props while they are unlinked.

•They can handle them when linked.

•Conditions are imposed that make the penetration effect appear impossible.

Mr. James's original routine made use of a box in which the penetration occurred. Subsequently, the box was eliminated and the penetration was done under cover of a handkerchief. However, this produced a new problem: how to achieve the necessary "hookup." In the original routine the box did the work. In the handkerchief versions the left thumb had to engage a loop of the lace in order to effect the penetration. The solutions were to either leave the left hand under the hank as the right hand pulled out the lace, or to put the left hand on the hank and engage the loop through the cloth as the right hand pulled out the lace (as in Ho-La-Ma in the aforementioned Stewart James book, page 362). Putting the left hand onto the hank seemed very suspicious to me and I discarded this approach. The other method has its own problem: both hands are under the hank, only the right hand is removed — why? It is this suspicious action that I have tried to justify in my routine.

Since its publication, Clifton's Ring move has become a standard sequence of ring and shoelace routines. The steal of the ring is very deceptive, but one thing always bothered me: why make an 'X' on the back of your hand with a shoelace? An approach is to say that it is a magic X and have the spectator press the X, or perhaps have the spectators tie up your hand. I tried these approaches and many others, and still this enormous pang of guilt shot through me as I made the X and stole the ring. The solution came to me in December of 1990, when I realized I could swipe a bit from Monty Python that provided a perfect explanation for the X as well as getting a laugh.

The Stewart Judah routine is almost totally unknown to magicians of my generation and younger. As originally conceived, it used a pencil, a paper straw, and a string. The string was wrapped around the pencil and the straw. When tugged the string penetrated the pencil but still ripped the straw. The trick unfortunately became the victim of the development of space age polymers — when straws started to be made of plastic the trick became impractical. My contribution is the realization that with rnodern straws the straw serves the function of the pencil, the wrapper the straw comes in acts as the )ld fashioned paper straw, and of course the shoelace does duty as the string. I checked this out with ^ 3aul Swinford (who was a very close friend of Judah's) and believe that I was the first to revive the ^ rick in this form.

Again, a word of warning before continuing: you probably already know how everything in this routine works. If you're under 40 you may want to jump ahead to the Judah segment of the routine and learn something new. If you want razzle-dazzle, look elsewhere. The goal here is conviction. The routine is fairly chatty, and somewhat slow paced. I use many tried and true gags. Now that you know what to expect, let's get on with it.

The routine is performed standing. I carry a brightly colored shoelace in my left trouser pocket. The lace has a safety pin fastened to the center of it. In the left inner jacket pocket is a plastic soda straw in its paper wrapper (this is normally how you find straws in restaurants). In the same pocket is an opaque handkerchief. It is also necessary to have a pen and something to write upon (I use either the back of my business card, or a cocktail napkin, depending on how many people I'm working for). I have already established myself at the table, given away a bunny (see Workers 1) and I ask for the loan of a finger ring, preferably a signet ring, although any type of ring will work.

"People are often very curious as to how magicians fool them, and I would like to give you a little lesson on this subject. In this way we'll all be starting on an equal footing and you won't feel that I am taking undue andvantage of you. There are actually only two ways that magicians can fool you: we can fool your eyes, or we can fool your mind. I'll show you an example of both. I'm going to draw two parallel lines on this napkin. As you can see I tried to draw them fairly equal in length. But if I add points to the ends of the lines, then all of a sudden your eyes become confused. The lines look as if they are of different lengths. This is a fairly standard optical illusion, and is an example of fooling your eyes. "

The actions that accompany the above words are fairly obvious. The finger ring is on the table to my right. I remove my pen and draw the above mentioned parallel lines on a napkin. I display them and then add two sets of opposing arrowheads (< — > and > — <). I then display this to the spectators. I table the napkin and pen and I pick up the ring with my right hand.

"It is also possible for magicians to fool your mind. In order to do this, we make use of psychology. Let me show you an interesting example. Bob, have you had this ring for a while? Great. Psychologists tell us that with objects that we see everyday, we begin to blur the detail. It becomes difficult to accurately describe that which is in front of our faces all the time. I'm going to ask Bob four questions about his ring, and he will be hard pressed to get them all correct. I'll keep score here. In fact, Mary, why don't you take the pen and be my scorekeper. Just put a checkmark beside each number if Bob answers the question correctly. "

The right hand picks up the ring (I'm assuming you're righthanded; lefties are going to have to do this with the left hand). I openly display the ring. As I mention the four questions the right hand pre

The Work tends to place the ring into the left hand (Figure 1) and immediately picks up the pen and writes the numbers 1 through 4 in a vertical column on the napkin. Then, in accordance with the patter I hand the pen to a lady on my right.

The false transfer is not a move. It is a necessary consequence of having to free up the right hand so it can pick up the pen and write with it.

"Okay, Bob, let's see how good you are. Is your ring gold or silver? — Gold is correct. Give Bob a checkmark on number one, Mary. Does your ring have any stones? — How many (or what color)? — That's right. Is it engraved on the inside? — Who are these guys in the fleet that are going to miss you so much? Just a joke, give him a checkmark, Mary. The last question is the toughest: Does your ring resemble my ring? — It does? — Good, otherwise I've lost yours."

Again, the patter explains the moves. While asking the first three questions, I open my left hand slightly and apparently peek at the ring as if to verify the spectator's answers. All this business gives more than enough time for the right hand, which is hanging loose at the side, to slip the ring on the third or little finger. When I get to question four, I bring my right hand up and out to the side. The fingers are extended; the back of the hand is toward the spectators (Figure 2). This display provides the greatest distance between the right and left hands. I pause while the spectator reacts to seeing his ring, then I open the left hand showing it to be empty.

Figure 2

Three factors contribute to the effectiveness of this vanish and reappearance: 1) The casualness of the situationally motivated false transfer; 2) Acting ability during the questioning of the spectator; 3) The time misdirection between the false transfer and the vanish.

Prelude to Sefalaljla

"Now that we all understand how magic works let's try a trick. Beth, I want you to take a look at this ring; don't take it off your finger, just turn it around and look at it. Make sure it's solid, and that there are no mirrors, trapdoors, or secret compartments. "

I remove the ring from my right hand and place it over the forefinger of a woman who is on my left. While she examines the ring I remove the shoelace from my pocket and unfasten the pin, which I then place aside. I offer the shoelace to Mary, whom I am assuming is on my right.

"Mary, I have something for you. I made this in shop yesterday. Please take a look at it. Beth, have you examined the ring? Is it a solid ring? Good. And Mary, did you examine the lace? Is it solid? Did you do this? Did you enjoy that? I just want you to have a good time."

I have taken the ring from Beth and placed it in front of me on the table. I take the lace from Mary and tug it very strongly (this is the "Did you do this?" bit). The lace is stretched out horizontally on the table with an end near each assisting spectator. I ask that Mary and Beth each place a finger on the end of the lace nearest them. The ring is tabled above the lace, and there should be sufficient slack in the lace so there will be no problem doing the Sefalaljia hookup.

Justifying the Hank and the Pin

"Here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to try to get the ring onto the shoelace, but I'm not going to try to sneak it past your fingers, because I'm not that good, and you'd catch me. In other words, I'm not going to use the ends. That may seem impossible, but there are two ways to really get the ring on the lace and not use the ends. Does that surprise you? Well, I could cut the lace, put the ring on, and then tie it back together. That's not very magical, and I don't intend to do it that way. I figure, why should I damage my sentimental old shoelace, when it's just as easy to damage Bob's sentimental old ring!"

This last line usually evokes some kind of reaction, and while saying it I remove the handkerchief from my jacket pocket.

"Sometimes people get a little squemish as I brutally destroy their property, so I do this under the cover of darkness, hoping that what Bob can't see won't upset him quite so much."

I cover the ring and the center section of the lace with the hank and then I pause a beat.

"Actually, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news for Bob is that I won't harm his ring. The bad news is that if I don't harm something, I can't get that sucker on the shoelace. So I compromise. I use this safety pin. What you are about to see is a remarkable optical illusion, much along the lines of the one I showed you earlier. I have figured out an interesting way to twist the shoelace and insert the pin so it looks like the ring is on the lace. It's not really on, but it looks good. I'm afraid that's the best I can do."

During the first part of the above patter I have folded back the hank so the spectators get one last look at the ring and see that it is not on the lace. The hank is replaced. I pick up the pin and both hands go under the hank. I arrange the pin, ring, and lace into the standard Sefalaljia hookup (Figure 3). My left forefinger goes through the bight. Even after the hookup is completed I continue to fiddle around under the hank as if I am doing something.

Figure 3

Justifying the LeftHand

"Beth, do me favor. Don't try this at home. Any time you do magic under a handkerchief there is a dangerous point — Ouch!! "

As I scream in pain I pull my right hand out from under the hank and press my forefinger to my lips as if it had been stuck by the pin. The left hand stays under the hank in position for the pullout. The left hand remains motionless and ignored; all my attention is directed toward my supposed wound. Then I turn my attention to Beth (who is on my left).

Two reactions will occur to my supposed accident with the pin: the specta-^ tors nearest me may jump in surprise, or they may laugh. If they jump I

^ say, "Wow, if that scared you then you must have been a basket case during

^ Aliens." If they laugh, I say, "You have a charming sense of humor. It's a v^ shame you missed the Spanish Inquisition. You would have had a ball." In

^ either case the attention is away from the left hand.

The Puliout

"Even though it was slightly pairiful, I have done it. So Beth, you may take your hand away, and Mary you can take yours away also —"

As soon as both spectators lift their fingers off the lace I grab the right end of the lace with my right hand and I pull to the right. The instant that the left end of the lace passes my left hand (and through the ring) I throw the hank up and away from me with the left hand (Figure 4). I immediately grab the left end of the lace with my left hand and I hold up both hands with the lace stretched between them. The timing of the pulling of the lace and the tossing back of the hank is important. If this bit is done properly the illusion is that the lace was lifted straight up and the hank fell away from it in the process. Always make sure that the spectator on the left removes her finger before you speak to the spectator on the right. The next bit of patter is a continuation of the patter above and reinforces the visual illusion.

"— because I need you to hold the ends up here in the air so everyone can see the optical illusion. I guess that's what I should have asked you to do in the first place."

I indicate that the spectators should take over my grasp of the ends of the lace. Even though the ring is actually on the lace at this point, the configuration of ring, pin, and lace makes it difficult to immediately discern this. I begin to fold up the hank.

"Notice that the bend produced by the pin in the shoelace makes it appear as if the ring is on the shoelace."

I cup my left hand around the ring as my right hand removes the pin.

"Unfortunately, when I take the pin away, the illusion is destroyed, and the ring falls off— sometimes. When it doesn't fall off people are often so amazed they forget to give me one of these! "


The right hand removes the safety pin and tables it. The left hand is still cupped around the ring, shielding it from the spectator's view. The left hand moves away on the phrase "ring falls off — sometimes," revealing that the ring is actually on the lace. There is normally a stunned reaction from the audience at this point, which gives me time to remove the Unbelievably Useful Comedy Prop (see Workers 1). The comedy prop goes back in the pocket and I continue as follows:

After whatever response I get from the Sefalaljia phase, I take the ends of the lace from the spectators. Holding both ends in my right hand I allow one of the spectators to tug on the ring, satisfying themselves that the ring is actually on the lace.

"Bob, I should tell you that the next thing I'm going to try with your ring entails a little danger as far as the well being of your property is concerned. So let me offer you a sporting chance; I'll ask you three simple questions. If you answer all three correctly I'll give you back your ring and we'll forego this next part of the trick.

"First question: What is your favorite color? — That's correct. Second question: What letter of the alphabet did I just form with the sloelace on the back of my hand? — X is correct. Third question: What is the melting point of gold? — Awkk (sound like a buzzer going off), sorry Bob. And you were so close."

It should be fairly obvious what's going on during the above patter. Just before asking the second question, I do Clifton's Ring Move: The left hand closes around the ring at the middle of the lace. The right hand releases its ends which now hang down from either side of the left hand (left hand is in a fist, back of the hand is up). The right hand grasps the portion of lace which extends to the right and wraps it over the back of the left hand. The right hand reaches over the left hand to grasp the portion of lace extending from that side. The left hand releases the ring. The ring falls into the right hand and is freed from the lace as the lace is crossed over the back of the left hand (Figure 5). For more details see Variations. The situation is that the left hand has the lace wrapped around it and the ring is in the right hand, which has dropped naturally to the side.

Figure 5

"Mary, grab the end of the shoelace nearest you, and Beth you grab the other end. There is a reason why I mentioned the melting point of gold. The melting point is actually a lot lower than you would think. In fact, by moving my hand back and forth I can generate enough friction between the ring and the lace that the ring will actually start to melt a little, and bits of gold will drip between my fingers; providing a large amount of entertainment for all but one of us!"

The spectators grab hold of their respective ends (of the shoelace, you pervert). The left hand tilts down and turns palm up (still in a fist). In the course of this action the shoelace unwraps itself. The spectators should pull slightly on the ends putting some tension in the lace, and the left hand moves back and forth on the lace, as if trying to generate friction between lace and ring. During this action there is more than enough time for the right hand to get the ring back on the third or fourth finger.

"Wait a minute. I'm sorry, I should be doing this palm down. Whoops, did the ring slide into your hand? Have you got it Mary? Oh boy. — Bob, would you like my safety pin? Well, in that case how about if I give you my ring, it's the one that looks so much like yours. Let's give Bob, Mary, and Beth a big hand. "

Again, the accompanying actions are fairly obvious. The left hand opens up and regrips the lace, but palm down. In this action it is revealed that the ring is gone. I have the spectators open their hands to look for the ring. I lift up the hank to search, and I offer the safety pin. During this, I will place my right hand on Mary's shoulder, or on the back of her chair. Finally I bring my right hand up, fingers extended as in the Kissel trick to reveal the ring. The ring is returned to Bob and the spectators are thanked for their help.

It should be noted that I have very small hands. This means I can do this routine with a ladies finger ring and still get the ring on my little finger. This seems to dramatically increase the amazement factor.

The above routine forms a complete circle of magic and at this point I may just go into some other trick, but if the mood seems good and time is not a factor I may continue with the Judah straw trick. This is a fairly confusing trick to learn, so I will try to explain the handling first, then I'll give you the patter I use. It will be obvious how the actions fit the words.

The Judah Straw Trick

To learn this you'll need your shoelace, a plastic straw in its paper wrapper, some masking tape, a pen (just used for learning purposes), and a patient friend (this may be the hardest thing to find). Using the pen and the masking tape, make a small tab and attach it to one end of the lace. Label this tab 'A.' Label the other end 'B.' It becomes too confusing to refer to 'right' and 'left' ends of the lace, and in this way we can keep track of the ends. Obviously, this is just for learning. OK, here we go.

Tear off the end of the wrapper and remove the straw. It is important that the wrapper not be destroyed in the process. Remove the straw carefully, and then smooth out the wrapper. Lay the wrap per on top of the straw and have your helper grasp the straw and the wrapper at one end. Fold back the wrapper toward the helper. The straw should be more or less at right angles to your body.

Drape the shoelace over the straw. The 'A' end should be on your right. The right hand grasps the portion of lace that is to the right of the straw, the left hand grasps the left portion. The grip is with the thumb and first two fingers. The right hand brings its portion under the straw. The wrap is toward your body. Take control of this portion with the left third and little fingers. Then grab the 'B' portion with the right hand and bring it under the straw and to the right. The ends have changed sides, and the straw has been wrapped once (Figure 6).

The left hand now brings the 'A' end up and over the straw. It crosses over the straw and is allowed to hang down to the right. Again, the wrap is toward your body. Now the right hand brings the 'B' end up and over and lets it hang down on the left side of the straw. The straw has been wrapped twice, and the ends of the lace are hanging free at this point (Figure 7).

Wraffimg the Straw

You will now wrap up both the straw and the paper wrapper. Fold down the wrapper, so it runs the length of the straw. It will cover the wrapped portion of the straw. Ask your helper to hold the wrapper against the straw with his other hand, so both ends of the straw and wrapper are held securely.

The right hand controls the 'A' end, the left hand the 'B' end. Bring the 'A' end up and over the straw and wrapper and let it fall to the left hand side. As before, the wrap is toward your body. The left hand brings the 'B' end up and over and lets it fall on the right side of the straw. The wrapper has been wrapped once and the ends have changed sides (Figure 8).

Now the left and right hands grasp their respective portions of lace by the thumb and first two fingers. The left hand moves under the straw and the right hand grabs the 'A' end with the third and fourth fingers. The wrap is toward your body. The left fingers can then take the 'B' end from the right hand and brings the 'B' end back to the left under the straw (Figure 9).

The right hand now comes up and over the straw and the wrapper with the 'A' end, and lays its portion over the straw and wrapper. The wrap is toward your body. The left hand lays its portion up and over the straw and wrapper. At this point the 'A' end is on the left and the 'B' end is on the right (Figure 10).

At this time make sure your helper has a firm grip on the straw and wrapper. Grab the 'A' end with your left hand and the 'B' end with your right hand. Sharply tug the lace between your hands. The shoelace will rip the wrapper and will now be stretched above the straw as if it has penetrated through it. (This, of course, assumes that you didn't screw up. If you did screw up you probably broke both your helper's arms. Find a new helper and keep trying.) The principle is that when you wrap up the wrapper you are in effect undoing the previous wrapping of the straw. The wrapper keeps the lace from falling off. However, when the wrapper rips, the lace comes free. This is quite an amazing trick considering how fair the wrapping process appears. Here now is the patter that accompanies the above moves. The correlation between words and actions should be obvious.

"People sometimes ask how I got interested in magic. When I was about to graduate from high school I wanted to be a physicist. But just before the commencement ceremonies my parents sat me down and said, 'Michael, how can you think of throwing your life away trying to develop a clean, inexpensive source of energy, when you could be doing magic tricks in a noisy, dingy bar? Let's get some purpose to life!'So here I am. But I still love physics, so here's a trick based on physics.

"Which would you say is stronger: the straw or the wrapper that the straw came in? This is not a trick question. The straw is, of course, stronger, because it is made of space-age plastic and it is almost impossible to tear. The wrapper tears easily. Now, do you know why they don't make the straw out of paper and the wrapper out of plastic? Because you could never get the straw out! You'd die of thirst before you'd rip this sucker open! It's my job to think of things like this."

I now enlist the aid of a nearby spectator and wrap up the straw and the wrapper as explained above. My patter during this part is mostly explanatory and need not be detailed. When the wrapping process is done the patter continues as follows:

"It would seem that there are two ways to get the shoelace off the straw: either unwrap it, or have you take one of your hands away and slide the shoelace off the end. But I have developed a theory that goes like this: If I pull real hard on the ends of the lace, it will try to break the straw, since it's wrapped around it. But the lace can't break the straw, so instead, the lace will pass right throught the straw and will rematerialize just in time to rip the wrapper. I fell that this theory is so obvious and easily visualized that I need not do it. (I begin to walk away.) Okay, okay, I'll do it for the skeptics. Have you got a good grip on the ends, Mary? Good. (I do the penetration.) Because I have found that when the lace comes through the straw people are too stunned to give me one of these."

I now replace the pin in the lace and pocket both. The routine is over.


The routine does read long. In performance it lasts perhaps ten minutes. You may not chose to do the whole thing, but I believe you will find bits and pieces that you can incorporate into any ring routine you may presently be doing. The Judah trick is especially good and is now very practical through the use of the straw and the wrapper. I still enjoy performing this routine and the response from an audience leaves nothing to be desired.

[I taught the Shoelace/Straw/Wrapper penetration in many of my early lectures. The trick got a great reaction from magicians, even though it doesn't read very well. Be sure to give it try, especially if you work in a restaurant, where a straw is a very organic prop.]

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