Music & Entertainment

Magic 101: What Is Rope Magic? Learn How to Perform Penn & Teller’s Cut and Restored Rope Trick in 10 Steps

Written by MasterClass

May 24, 2019 • 7 min read

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Penn & Teller Teach the Art of Magic

Everyone has done something that they wish they could undo, whether it’s breaking a prized possession or incurring a costly traffic ticket. Unfortunately, there is no reset button in life. Which is why it’s so mesmerizing when magicians create the illusion that they can break the laws of the physical world, as well as time and space. Restoration—the magic trick of seemingly destroying something before making it whole again—taps into something deep inside all of us.

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What Are Rope Tricks in Magic?

Rope magic is a form of illusion that typically involves the deft manipulation of this common everyday item. It requires as little as a single piece of rope (or string or some similar length of fabric), but often incorporates several, depending upon the illusion.

While rope effects can work well on stage—just look at the escapology tricks of Houdini breaking free from ties—they are particularly well suited for close-up magic, where the audience is in close proximity to the performer and can closely observe their movements. In one famous example, David Blaine, who confronts an unsuspecting public with close-up magic in his street magic, combined rope magic with shock magic in an illusion where he ate a string he took off of an audience member, then appeared to pull the string out of his abdomen. The only limitation of rope magic appears to be the magician’s imagination.

How Do Rope Tricks Work?

Like card magic and other illusions, rope tricks work because human brains naturally process information in ways that allow magicians to influence them to see certain things but not others. Scientific studies into brain function have proved what magicians learned over centuries through trial and error.

  • Accidental alignment. One of the important assumptions that our brains make with rope tricks is that the positioning of a magician’s hands—which is entirely purposeful, the angle obscuring the mechanics of a trick—is irrelevant. Furthermore, people typically assume that perceptions are viewpoint-general, meaning they assume that someone standing in a different location will have essentially the same perception as them, even though changing positions would reveal the performer’s hidden actions. Magicians practice tirelessly to make their essential movements appear natural and inconsequential to capitalize on these assumptions.
  • A simple explanation. Scientific studies show that when people receive ambiguous visual input, their brain chooses either the most likely or simplest interpretation to make sense of it. In the context of rope tricks, this means they will not envision that the magician’s hand is concealing complicated looping or knotting or multiple ropes manipulated to resemble a single rope.
  • Gestalt grouping. The human brain tends to see things as an organized whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. As a result, audiences take in the whole effect without seeing the components that create the illusion of a rope trick.

What Is a Cut and Restore Rope Trick?

The title pretty much sums it up. You cut a length of rope with a pair of scissors and tie the two pieces together with a simple knot. You then slide the knot from the middle of the rope to near one end, then finish by sliding the knot entirely off the rope, restoring it to its original length.

Learn How To Perform Penn & Teller’s Cut and Restored Rope Trick in 10 Steps

The Cut and Restored Rope Trick requires practice in order to perfect one’s misdirection and sleight of hand. To get started, you will need:

  • From four to six feet of cotton rope (a soft cotton/polyester blend will work). Clothesline or sash cord from a hardware store is perfect. You can use any thickness of rope—it’s a matter of personal preference—although it is recommended you don’t go any thinner than three-eighths of an inch.
  • A good pair of fabric scissors.

To perform the trick, follow this step-by-step guide.

1. Hold both ends of the rope in your left hand, between the thumb and index finger, the back of the hand toward the audience, and the looped middle hanging down.

Person holding rope that is folded

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2. With your right hand, grab the very center of the rope and bring it up to the ends of the rope, where the left hand grabs it, with the center loop sticking up above the left hand to the right of the two ends.

Person holding folded rope with both hands

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3. With your right hand, reach for the scissors, and as you do, the left hand “accidentally” drops the center of the rope, making it necessary to repeat the procedure. However, this time you will do a secret move that simulates the previous action, and it makes the trick possible.

Man in suit holding rope grabbing scissors

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4. With your palm-up right hand, again grab the center of the rope and raise it.

Person holding each end of a folded rope

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5. Move your thumb through the loop of the rope, so that the rope is draped over the hand, and the fingers are free.

Person holding folded rope and looping hand through bottom

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6. When the right hand reaches the left hand, the right index finger and thumb grab the rightmost strand of rope a few inches below the left thumb. Simultaneously, the right hand tilts down and the center of the rope slides off the back of the hand. This effectively switches the center of the rope for a section near one end.

Person holding rope with loops

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7. Without pausing, the right hand continues upward with the rope it holds and forms a new loop (apparently the center of the rope) that extends above the left hand, to the right of the two rope ends; the loop is held in place by the left thumb. All of these actions happen in one smooth, continuous action.

Person holding looped ropes with both hands

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8. Take the scissors, and cut the loop of rope sticking out of your left hand. Place the scissors down, and your right hand removes the rightmost and leftmost ends of rope from the left hand and drops them. It will appear that you are holding two approximately equal lengths of rope, however, you actually have one long piece of rope looped around a very short piece. Your left fingers cover the junction where the ropes are looped around each other.

Person holding connected folded rope pieces

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9. Take the two ends of the short rope and tie them with two overhand knots. With your left hand grab the rope somewhere between the knot and one end, and hold it so the rope hangs down.

10. Say, “Maybe the knot would look better down here.” With your right hand, grab the knot and slide it down the rope a few inches. “Or maybe down here.” Slide it down a few more inches. “Or maybe off completely.” Slide the knot completely off the rope and throw it into the audience. Hold up the rope with both hands to display that it is intact.

10 Different Rope Tricks To Try At Home

There are many kinds of rope magic tricks and variations on them that magicians perform regularly. These common tricks are a great way to start doing rope work.

  1. One-Handed Knot/Impossible Knot. Using dexterous fingers, the magician stealthily loops a piece of rope around so they can tie a knot using only one hand and a snap of the wrist.
  2. Three Ropes to One. The magician appears to make three ropes (which is actually one long one and two smaller ones) transform into one rope.
  3. Ring and Rope. The performer makes a solid ring appear to penetrate a “knotted” rope that can easily be undone with a tug.
  4. Threading the Needle/Eye of the Needle. By tugging on rope coiled around the thumb of their left hand, the magician makes it appear that they’ve threaded a stiff rope through a bow when, in fact, the uncoiling rope simply slipped into the bow.
  5. Uneven/Even Rope. Equipped with three ropes of differing sizes, the magician manipulates them in their hand, pulling them to give the impression that they change length.
  6. Ropes Through Body. Using sleight of hand and a thread that attaches two pieces of rope placed behind the magician’s back, they create the illusion that the ropes pass through their torso.
  7. Jumping Rope. The magician appears to make a knot jump from one rope to another.
  8. Card on a Rope. The magician appears to lasso a selected card (actually a forced card) from inside a bag using magnets and a rope they pre-tie around a duplicate card and place in a “magic” bag.
  9. Vanishing Knot. Using a slipknot—which a performer can undo by simply pulling on it—the magician appears to make a knot disappear.
  10. Great Rope Escape. Unthreading the rope tied around their wrists and linked to the rope tied around an audience member’s wrists, the magician unlinks and frees them.

Learn more secrets behind magic tricks in Penn & Teller’s MasterClass.