Balls for the Cups and Balls

Ideas and comments on balls to be used for the Cups and Balls

Last Update: Nov 2006

The ideal ball for your needs will vary depending on your type of routine and the cups that you are using. Things to consider will include weight, size, material, and shape.

Weight: Heavy enough so it won't "stick" inside a cup, but probably not too heavy so it "thunks" when the cup is turned over on the close-up mat. If performing outside, can't be too light so it will blow away (like pom-pom balls).

Size: The size will impact handling, visibility, and ability to "nest" between cups. Some routines require that up to three balls can sit on the inverted bottom of a cup, with another cup on top without "rocking". Typically, a cup worker will want the largest balls (for visibility) that are small enough to allow nesting.

Material: The core will affect the weight of the ball, and balls use anything from cork to rubber to steel ball bearings. The covering affects the handling, visibility, and "sound" of the ball. A steel ball, for example, will clink loudly against a metal cup and reveal hidden loads, thus something soft like cloth, leather, or rubber is desired. A ball that is too "sticky" may stick against other balls or objects, which is why plain rubber balls are not usually used.

Shape: Most cup workers simply use round balls, but for the street worker whose working surface may not be level, round balls can roll away. Leather covered balls might not roll much, but perhaps something unique like pyramid shapes might be more useful.

Types of balls available.

Pom-Pom Balls are often supplied with the inexpensive plastic cups and balls sets. They are very light and could blow away outside, but won't roll away easily. Their light weight may make some manipulation more difficult, but they certainly won't "talk" against the cups. They can easily be made in a variety of colors.

Sponges. Sponges as used in sponge magic can be used for the cups and balls. They are available in a variety of sizes and colors. They are light and can blow away outside. Because they compress, they can fit in your pockets better without creating buldges. There is a possibility the audience may feel that this compression factor is the key to how the balls are "hiddden" throughout the effect. However, Johnny Paul is famous for his cups and balls act using sponges, so they certainly can be effective given the right routine.

Crocheted covers over cork or rubber balls. Most that you find are over cork balls, in a variety of sizes and colors. The color can be anything you need if you find someone who can do this for you. You typically want a tight weave so the balls handle well. These balls are nice because they have some heft to them, yet don't "talk" and are relatively inexpensive to produce. Some magicians refer to these balls as "wearing sweaters."

Cloth covered balls. Felt, wool, or other material can be used to cover a ball. These will operate similar to the crocheted balls.

Leather covers over a core. Leather strips can be either braided or tied in a "Monkey-Fist" knot over a solid core. The thick strips provide some edges so the balls don't roll around as much, especially with the Monkey-Fist knot. Leather has a good feel to it, the balls have a good weight, and the look is classy.

Sports balls: Small balls that look like tennis balls, soccer balls, or baseballs. Cover may be made from leather, vinyl, or some other "new-age" material. You might even find these in a dollar store if you shop around, but it is rare to find them small enough for the main balls; you are more likely to find balls suitable for load balls.

Load Balls: These are larger balls that are produced at the climax of many cups and balls routines. A load ball should fill as much of the cup as possible. There are some routines that actually produce a load that is larger than the cup. A load ball can be of any type, but often matches the regular balls, or might be a piece of fruit or other surprising item.

Other Ideas:

Cups and balls can be performed with any types of cups, even coffee mugs or tea cups. You can do impromptu routines using styrofoam cups and wadded paper balls, if that's all that is handy.

The type of ball used is up to your imagination. On the various Internet forums (Genii, Magic Cafe, KJ Magic Board, etc.), I have seen idea such as:

Tin Foil
Wadded Up paper
Wadded Dollar Bills
Olives, Grapes, Cherries (real or fake)
Rubber balls from toy stores (various shapes, "molecule" balls)
Computer Mouse balls
Ball Bearings
Roll-On Deoderant balls
"No-Bounce" Ball from a Bounce/No-bounce set)

End loads: hackey sacks, tennis ball, baseball, live baby chicks, fruit, etc.

Some sources for specialized balls:


The balls for cups and balls also come in many varieties. For some reason, crocheted covered cork balls seem to have become the norm. These balls have a good feel to them and can be made in lots of colors. Some sets use pom-pom balls. The late Mike Rogers made some nice small leather baseballs that work great. I have heard that Mrs. Rogers is planning to continue to make these balls available. Denny & Lee's carries a nice leather "Monkey's Fist" ball that has the added advantage of not rolling, which may be quite helpful for street performers.

              Balls Felt balls Monkey Fist
Crochet Covered Felt Covered Monkey Fist

You have to be sure the balls you purchase match your cups. Some cups have a very small area between the cups when stacked and cannot hold more than one ball, or may "rock" when even one larger ball is between the cups. Balls come in 5/8", 3/4", 7/8", and 1" sizes.

Load items are limited only by your imagination and the size of your cups, and not necessarily even by the size of the cups. Typical loads have been large balls, fruit, large steel ball bearings, and even live mice or baby chicks.