Back when I first started this blog, I wrote two articles about the Indian Rope Trick. The first, Indian Rope Trick Part I, was about Peter Lamont’s excellent book, The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick. It was about how the trick did not actually exist in the form that was reported: magician outside causes a rope to rise, their assistant climbs up it, and disappears as the rope falls back to the ground. The effect was just made up by a lazy newspaper reporter in 1890. The newspaper later printed a retraction, but it was too late: the fake trick fascinated the world.
The second article, Indian Rope Trick Part II, was about an actual trick that was performed by Indian magicians hundreds of years ago. In it, a chain is made to rise after which a pig and other animals scurry up it and disappear. The basis of that article is my long experience of hearing and reading people’s descriptions of magic tricks and how they diverge from what they actually saw. In this particular case, I suspect that some kind of shadowbox effect was used, making the audience think the animal was climbing the change, when it had already been dropped through a trap door.
Since 1890, there have been many magicians who have performed the Indian Rope Trick. In particular, there was Howard Thurston, whose poster you can see above. But I’ve never seen it. And it is hard to talk about exactly how it is done, because there are a number of different ways. I’ve long thought that a hydraulic system would work. But then I saw a guy performing the trick in some Penn & Teller show. The trick here is painfully obvious:
The enormous diameter of the rope and its stuttering climb both point to it being hollow with a steel rod pushing it up from an underground chamber. Once it reaches its full height, the underground assistant secures it so the boy can climb up. Afterward, the rod is released, falling back down into the chamber. Since the hollow rope is stiff, it would fall slower in a natural way. No big surprise there.
What’s more interesting is the following video. When you first watch it, it is hard not to be impressed. But watch it a couple of more times and you will see that it is a hoax:
Notice how the rope rises at 0:16 mark. Does that seem odd? It should! It is being run backwards: we see a rope falling. But it is worse than that. We see the magician in a medium show as he throws a rope in the air. It cuts to the crowd. And then it cuts to a long shot of the reverse footage. This is, rather clearly, completely staged. That includes the audience. But how can I say that?
At 0:33 in the video, as the boy is climbing the rope, you can see a metal rod that is behind it. The rope has simply been attached to the rod in such a way that the camera is fooled. From any other angle, it would clear that there is just an bar that the boy is climbing. Although the film is made to look like documentary footage, it is as staged as any Meg Ryan romantic comedy.
I do understand people’s fascination with the Indian Rope Trick. Just the same, I much prefer little things like Daryl’s Rope Routine, which is actually quite simple, but brilliantly done in his own nerdy way: