The Cups and Balls depends on two props mainly: the cups and the balls. It is interesting that most magicians don’t give too much thought on the little balls they use for the routine. The decisions they make are based on the wares the dealers offer, and not what they need or want in their routines.
Besides the appearance of the balls, it is vital how they feel and handle. There is a reason the crocheted balls have become so popular over decades. They feel right, don’t slip and there is no noise inside the cups when loading manipulating them. Somehow they are accepted by the laymen for what they are: small crocheted balls. In all those years, never anyone questioned the balls.
Here is another thought. A lot of routines largely depend on the one-ahead principle. We are working with more balls than the spectators know of. Of course, we can do routines without the extra ball(s) using sleight-of-hand. But with the extra gimmick, the routines look cleaner.
The standard procedure has been to keep the four balls in the pocket and get them out all at once. Then we go into a Shuttle Pass structure, to hide the extra ball. All good, we have done it for decades and it always worked.
The Small Box
There are subtle ways to convince the spectators we are not using extra balls. An excellent way to do this is using a little box which stores the balls. The size should be so that only the three balls barely fit in. A longitudinal box with three compartments or wells for the balls (similar to the one they store billiard balls in) would make this deception even more effective. Dr Jaks was one of the few performers using this strategy decades ago.
A company which produces the beautiful brass cups went that way and delivers a nice box with their cups and the balls. But why did they four holes in the box? To make a better display? A pity, with three holes and a secret compartment for the forth ball you could use the box in the presentation!
The extra ball is in the pocket. Bring out the box and open it. They see the three little balls and nothing else. Put the balls onto the table singly, letting the box and your hands be seen empty. Close the box and put it back into the pocket, where you secretly get the extra ball. When the hand leaves the pocket with the extra ball, you can go into the Shuttle Pass sequence, proving nonchalantly the presence of the three balls. This is so much more deceptive, rather than plunging the hand into the pocket and coming out with a handful of the balls. It also helps to keep things organised in the pocket.
The other point to mention is the use of the small balls. Usually, we go into the routine directly. We place the balls on top of the inverted cups and start right away with the routine. Many performers produce the balls magically.
This is an interesting approach and certainly helps to focus on the small balls. I like to do some magic with the small balls before I go into the cups and balls routine. Therefore, the cups are brought out only in the last moment.
I start with the three little balls in the small box. Then I perform a two-in-the-hands type of routine. A good one is John Scarne’s routine in the Stars of Magic book and the classical Vernon ‘Three Balls Routine’ (described in the Dai Vernon Book of Magic). You will find more information and variations in Lewis Ganson’s Teach-in Series. Often, when performing stand up, I perform the seldom seen ‘balls and net routine’, which Silent Mora and Dai Vernon made famous. Of course, I omit the climax with the lemon.
All this serves to underline the fact that only three balls are used, and that magic is going to happen with these three balls. The routines serve as an introduction to what follows with the cups and the spectators get used to the balls. After this, I introduce the cups and the ship takes off.