by Doug Atkinson Last Updated Mar 2015
Note: for a ton of great photos of Chop Cups, check out Clark Wirthlin's site at: http://www.clarkwirthlin.com
The Chop cup is one of my favorite effects, along with the color
changing knives. I'm not sure why, but it may be because of the
simplicity of a single cup and ball. The popularity of the Chop
Cup is credited to Mr. Al "Chop Chop" Wheatley, although there are
a couple of earlier references to a Chop Cup style in earlier
works. There is a good discussion of this on The Magic Cafe here:
with input from Bill Palmer, Lawrence O, Pete Biro, and Jake from
RNT2, among others. Also, Mike Rose is working on a biography of
Mr. Wheatley (see http://mikerosemagic.com/al-wheatley/).
The Chop cup is a single cup and ball routine that uses a
gimmicked cup. Typically, a small ball is made to appear and
disappear underneath the cup, and routines usually climax with the
appearance of a large ball or other object under the cup.
While most Chop cup routines utilize a single cup, some Chop cups come as part of a Three Cups & Balls set, with one (or more) cups gimmicked as a Chop cup. These sets are usually called "combo cups and balls" sets. There are also a few two cup sets out there.
Since single Chop cups don't have to nest with any other cups, however, their size and shape can vary quite a bit from the cups used for the cups and balls. You can find leather chop cups that might be suitable for a Rennaisance fair, wooden chop cups for a sophisticated look, soda or beer cans for familiarity, and cups with a stem, for example. Chop cups also come in a variety of sizes, from small shot-glass sized cups to cups large enough to hold a baseball.
You can even make your own chop cup, and you can do an almost "impromptu" chop cup routine if you use a paper cup and a special magician's ring such as the Omega ring, "PK" ring, or similar.
Chop cup routines range from simple single cup and ball routines with a large load climax, to routines that incorporate a shot glass and handkerchief, and of course routines that use two or more cups. There are routines that use two or even three chop cups.
One of my favorite routines is Don Alan's. His performance on the Magic Ranch video series is excellent. You can purchase the routine from a variety of sources. A quick few page description of the routine is available from Magic Inc. You can also find the short version in Lot's of Lawton by Don Lawton. Jon Racherbaumer provides a bit more description in his book about Don Alan, In a Class By Himself, The Legacy of Don Alan; this version includes some photos. In 2005, Ron Bauer pubished The Complete Don Alan's Chop Cup that includes a full step by step description and analysis of every move.
The late Dennis Loomis has a routine based on Don Alan's that was offered as the Routine for the James Riser/ Dennis Loomis Micro Chop Cup (also a great small Chop Cup, but sadly no longer available). The routine, however, will work with other cups as well. The Merlyn Shute How to Book of the Chop Cup is an excellent inexpensive introduction to the Chop cup. Larry Jenning's routine incorporating a shot glass and silk (as found in On Card and Coin Handling) is also very good. I have certainly not read all of the available Chop Cup routines, so these are just a few to get you started.
As for videos, there is a World's Greatest Magic sereis from
L&L publishing dedicated to the Chop Cup, along with the many
other references you can see in the reference guide.
For a routine to use with the combo cups, John Mendoza offers a
good one that was available from Morrissey Magic out of Canada.
Although Morrissey has gone out of business, I believe the routine
is still available from many shops.
As for products, there are a lot to choose from as found on the products list reference page. In general, a Chop cup that is not part of a cups & balls set is probably a good idea. A stand alone chop cup tends to have steeper sides that lend themselves to Chop cup routines better. However, if you are just starting out with Chop cups and cups & balls, you may want to use a combo set so you can experiment with both. Also, as mentioned above, a combo set lets you do a few things that would be impossible with a standard cups & balls set.
Chop Cup Images;
|Leather Chop Cup: Unknown manufacturer
This is a hard leather chop cup I purchased used from Tom Ladshaw (one of two). I don't know the manufacturer, but the cup is well made. It is rigid in construction with straight sides like a dice cup. I have since sold this one.
|Leather Chop Cup of Unknown manufacturer 2.
This is the second of two rigid leather chop cups I purchased from Tom Ladshaw some years ago. The two cups are almost identical in design, just differing in the amount of ornation in the leather. I sold one and decided to keep this one. If anyone knows who made these, I'd love to know!
|The Ambitious Card - Frank Starsinic
This is an early version of one of Frank's rigid leather chop cups that functions also as a dice cup. Frank has since developed many versions
|Kaymar Magic Company Professional Chop Cup (Leather) from Essex, U.K. Purchased in the 1980's (if I remember correctly). Seam is quite loose; fit and finish are not exceptional, but is effective as a "primitive" cup.|
|James Riser / Dennis Loomis Micro Chop Cup (next to a Magic Inc. Cup to show size). Introduced in 2003, this small, well made cup is no longer available. The cups came in two varieties: Copper Cup (shown here) or a Stainless Steel Cup. Came with Dennis' excellent book on the Micro Chop Cup. A full kit including a stainless hip-flask and four load balls was also available for a liquid vanish climax.|
|Greg Wilson's Kiss Off. This single cup & ball routine used two huge Hershey Kisses and a Hershey's can in this "Beenie Weenie" type of routine. Routine ends with a full can of syrup. Was only available for a short time because the cans of syrup became unavailable. Produced by MagicSmith.|
|Small Aluminum Chop Cup: Unknown manufacturer. This one is pretty beat up but functions okay. As you can see, there is no indent on the inverted bottom, making resting a ball on it a bit more difficult.|
|Ceramic Chop Coffee Mug. Some people like this type of
Chop Cup the best as it is totally "natural". Especially
useful if everyone already is using a different type of mug,
so that this one won't stick out. The "Wizard's Brand" on
the bottom might be a bit of a give-away, but could be
This cup was a lesson for me. I had the cup for years, and almost got rid of it a few times. I thought the magnet had been weakened, perhaps by heating in a dishwasher or something. I would drop a ball in and it would barely stay. I recently took it out to take this photograph, and when playing with it realized that the gimmick is positioned near the handle rather than the center. This allows the ball to be dropped out or kept in as you desire, simply by keeping track of the way the cup is held. The handle makes it easy. It was almost like getting a new Chop Cup!
|Don Alan Style Chop Cup, Maker Unknown. I got this cup some time ago and don't know who made it. It holds a very large load and is made of aluminum.|
|Plastic Chop Cup: A glitzy plastic Chop Cup. I pretty much hate this cup. Cost was about $5.|
|Russian Chop Cup
from Paul Howard Pro Magic
(U.K.) and Brian Le Slie. This cup does not work on the
normal Chop Cup principle, but rather on the old "marble
vase" principle. I was a bit disappointed in the color of
the balls, which are too close to flesh colored, and the
lack of quality instructions. The Russian Doll is a bit
noisy to load, and there are no tips or guidance on
performing this load effectively. The instruction sheet is a
single-sided 8.5x11" sheet with no illustrations. It
includes such valuable insight such as "Now secretly let the
newly produced ball return inside the cup and expose the
palmed ball. Both hands should meet to do this quickly..."
I think this is an effect in which the routining must be carefully thought out as the "working" is something the audience will suspect if the routine does not take attention away from it. My 8 year old daughter got a hold of this, and right away she started trying to do this the right way. She jammed the ball in too tightly so thought she wasn't doing it right, but an adult would certainly catch on unless the presentation effectively distracts from the method.
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