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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Ever so sleightly » » Which came first - the Three shell game or the Cups & Balls trick? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Josh the Superfluous
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My guess is "Which hand is it in?" came first. Some refined it into a trick and some into a scam.
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Woland
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I agree that any written sources we may have are much younger than the trick or game.
cdmdu
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Thank you for the initial question and all these answers.
It's a real pleasure to read you all, even if the GOOD end DEFINITIVE response do not exist.
Gary Kosnitzky
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Woland,
Bill is right. We will never know the true point of origin.
I have my own beliefs and opinions about the genesis of the Cups and Balls but they are only that.

Gary
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Bill Palmer
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Interestingly enough, there is a crossover between what I believe and what Gary believes. I think the trick may have originated somewhere in or near Mesopotamia. It probably sprung up nearly at the same time in the Indus Valley. Look how close the two areas are.

It may have appeared in a slightly different form in the Bell Beaker area.

I think Gary has a lot to offer with what I would call the Indus Valley refinements.
"The Swatter"

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Woland
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Must there be only a single origin? Could the same or similar games or tricks have originated in different places and given rise to different traditions which later cross-fertilized each other?

Woland
Bill Palmer
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I don't really think so. If you read Connections by James Burke, you will see how various inventions emerged simultaneously (or nearly so) simply because technology or other factors had reached a certain point.

For example, pottery didn't begin to exist until people began to settle into semi-permanent locations that had the proper elements to make pottery feasible. These elements would consist in the proper kind of soil to provide clay, a source of fuel for a fire and a source of water. Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and the Nile basin are perfect examples of these.

Gambling didn't need to exist until there were transient "marks" for the gamblers to fleece. A gambler isn't going to last long if he fleeces his neighbors! Smile The emergence of villages with regular market days, etc., would provide the necessary "audiences" for the shell game and/or the cups and balls.

As an aside, I tried searching the Code of Hamurabbi to see what regulations had been set for gambling, in hopes that there would be something about the shell game. Unfortunately, there are large sections of the code missing. Maybe someone will unearth something.
"The Swatter"

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Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2011-05-05 16:47, Gary Kosnitzky wrote:
Just a thought.
The Indian Cups and Balls is considered truly indigenous to Kerala, India. They speak of...

Hi Gary,

that's an interesting perspective - and needs citations and cross linkage with the literature of the time and the cultural mythology.

As you might also know, our language has some deep roots in common with those of the region as well. Since there is some extant evidence of cultural contact it would help to cite primary sources for this proposed example in specific.

IMHO the operational notions as regards basic performance on the ground, table - smaller/portable vs larger/display and their attendant utilitarian (and profit/disposal...etc) are obvious by inspection and really don't require much in the way of discourse unless you've also found some specific methodological or presentational devices which have not also come down to us through continued use as circumstances permitted.

Some citations to guile/gambling/criminalization-punishment for the (ab)use of the props over time in that region would be of interest. Smile

thanks,

Jon

PS Some Chinese custom finds upside down cups awkward as they might contain a "spirit". Perhaps they too may have some experience with finding things under cups Smile
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Gary Kosnitzky
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Hi Jon,

There is no literature that can be cited.
The Indian Cups and Balls also known in India as Cheppum Panthum ‘s history is shrouded in the mists of time. As of this time its exact origins are completely a mystery.
The less than a half dozen magicians that perform Cheppum Panthum claim it was the ‘original’ cups and balls.
There is absolutely no tangible evidence that can prove their claim or anyone else’s.
Vazhakunnam’s techniques were vigilantly guarded and kept strictly secret.
They were passed down through the oral tradition,
Unfortunately, this extreme secrecy has caused the Indian Cups and Balls to languish in relative obscurity.
It truly has become a dying art.
Even Vazhakkunam had no idea where the Indian Cups and Balls came from.
Rediscover a lost art.

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Jonathan Townsend
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I ordered a copy of the book - will read with open mind.

http://www.sawf.org/newedit/edit04012002/bookreview.asp

http://www.thinkbuddha.org/article/301/real-magic

couple of reviews Smile

If nothing else it's a good patter story. Reads straight out of the old "and while I was in the service my houseboy brought me to the home of a local wizard who..." school of presentations. There are similar tales and published documentation about the philosopher's stone and the emerald tablet.
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Bill Palmer
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There are some other interesting links to Cheppum Panthum.

http://www.namboothiri.com/articles/magicians.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_magicians

There are other sources, as well.

There is even a popular song by that name.

While some of the material in the reviews of Siegel's book may appear somewhat fanciful, I recall that when I was in charge of Ted Lesley's Mind and Magic Forum, there was an Indian magician who frequented the forum who had been hired by some of the local governmental entities to do presentations about reading, birth control and other similar topics. Since I cannot get onto the forum site, I can't give you any information at all about it.
"The Swatter"

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Woland
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I'm wondering what you might think about Tahir Shah's book, "Sorcerer's Apprentice." It doesn't specifically cover the cups & balls, of course, but it does describe a couple of Indian magicians.

Woland

Mr. Palmer, this thought is very interesting:
Quote:
Gambling didn't need to exist until there were transient "marks" for the gamblers to fleece. A gambler isn't going to last long if he fleeces his neighbors! The emergence of villages with regular market days, etc., would provide the necessary "audiences" for the shell game and/or the cups and balls.

I'm not sure that would apply to the use of cups & balls or other effects as part of a shamanistic demonstration, as in "psychic surgery." A shaman could probably use an effect repeatedly in his own encampment.

Woland
Bill Palmer
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I don't see a connection between what you are saying and what I am saying. I'm discussing gambling. You are discussing shamanistic practices. They are not the same.
"The Swatter"

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Woland
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My apologies. I thought we were trying to get at whether the cups & balls originated as a magical effect or as a gambling scam. Your observation that perpetrating a gambling scam requires a constantly replenished stock of pigeons was I thought a very apt way of situating the origin of the shell game in that distant epoch when people began traveling and trading beyond the circle of their constant and daily communities. In contrast, I suggested that a shaman and his clientele would be perfectly happy with experiencing the same effect time and time again, thus possibly situating the cups & balls magical effect to an earlier time, when there were no traveling thimble riggers or pigeons. That's all.

Woland
Bill Palmer
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No problem. I understand now. Actually, though, I don't see a connection between the cups and balls and psychic healing, unless, perhaps, one of the final loads happened to be a gallstone. Or in the case of the Europeans, a Gaulstone.
"The Swatter"

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Donnie Buckley
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Or a bezoar. (ewww)
I doubt the cups and balls have ever been presented as a serious example of shamanistic magic. The thing is too much like a game. I really do think it started as a game of chance with one ball and evolved into a swindle that could be easily manipulated by the operator. Then, as the world begins to recognize the "game" as rigged, it evolved again into nothing more than a demonstration of sleight-of-hand - basically what we have today.
I seriously believe that the Three Shell game arose from the premise of the original cups and balls game, but smaller, portable and disposable. It's miniature size really lends itself to a better swindle too... it seems impossible that the pea could be manipulated because of the size of the rig. Are there any references to Thimble Rigging prior to the 19th century?
I suspect that some of the original moves that would have been required by an operator of the original cups and ball "game" are so old (and so secretive) that no one knows them anymore. I'd like to see a full presentation of the cups and balls that is as diabolical as Phil Case's Pea & Shell Game.
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Woland
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I was only mentioning "psychic surgery" as an example of a shamanistic feat that involves sleight of hand. And I think all of the participants know that. At least the "medicine men" that I knew were frank about that. But the effect still serves to symbolize the very real healing that goes on. I imagine that shamans and wizards used a variety of effects. (Some of them are also described in Tahir Shah's book, by the way.) I was just wondering if something like the cups & balls couldn't have been one of them.

Donnie, I agree that the case for an origin in gaming is very appealing.

Woland
Bill Palmer
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The people that Tony Agpaoa worked on didn't know. At least, that's what Randi seemed to indicate. In fact, he fooled a lot of people with his use of various and sundry miscellaneous chicken parts and a TT.
"The Swatter"

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Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2011-05-08 18:47, Woland wrote:...the case for an origin in gaming is very appealing.

Woland

Where would that be? Some time ago I was making the argument from a practical perspective where a crowd could be gathered, some betting (as with the monte) and the easy out of "look really using three balls" as one form of blowoff/shift to move the show to safer grounds in content. That would be the "game" approach rather than the "demonstration" as most tend to perform the trick. IMHO such options including the "here's a ball- pick which cup it should appear under" were explored very early on after the loading move was learned.

The relative profitability/risk factors in approach likely dictated the evolution of the trick's presentation over time in a given venue/context - with the "game" staying small and disposable while the demonstration growing as more audiences were willing to attend then donate or pay admission to a show. Again that's conjecture and perhaps a testable hypothesis by way of venues that had performers and of them which did that trick - vs the criminal records of gaming/cheating in the area.
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Bill Palmer
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The nature of the shell game and the cups and balls is such that a formal venue isn't actually required. If you read, for example, Hocus Pocus Jr., it's apparent that the performer was very likely performing at tables in a pub. The cups are rather small and would not really lend themselves to any kind of a large venue.

Clay Shevlin has found indications in old British records that there were people who used the cups and balls as a front for the shell game. He mentions that in the thread in the historical section.

You won't find Neolithic records.
"The Swatter"

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My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
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