What is a Magic Eight Ball?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Magic Eight Ball® is a toy trademarked by Mattel Toys, a company headquartered in El Segundo, California. The toy is designed in the form of a black plastic ball with a viewing window, allowing the user to see a 20 sided die printed with various messages, which floats to the top of a cylinder of blue fluid inside the ball when it is turned so that the viewing window faces up. The Magic Eight Ball® is only capable of answering yes or no questions, and it is one of many divination toys such as Ouija boards which are quite popular in some parts of the world.

The Magic Eight Ball was inspired by crystal balls used by fortune tellers.
The Magic Eight Ball was inspired by crystal balls used by fortune tellers.

In appearance, a Magic Eight Ball® resembles an oversized eight ball from pool or billiards, which is the most important ball in many games such as eight ball pool. The link between pool and divination is unclear, but in 1946, Abe Bookman of the Alabe Toy Company designed the toy, calling it the Syco-Seer and relating it to the clear crystal balls used by fortune tellers. The toy acquired the popular name Magic Eight Ball®, and the rights were sold to Tyco Toys, a company which was later purchased by Mattel.

The die inside the Magic Eight Ball® is in the shape of an icosahedron, and is made from a white material with raised lettering in a plain sans serif font. When the die floats to the viewing window, a thin layer of the blue liquid settles around the lettering, causing it to appear white on a blue background. Traditionally, the user holds the Magic Eight Ball® with the painted numeral eight facing up to ask a yes or no question, and then flips the ball to reveal the viewing window. After a moment, the die will float up and the answer appears.

Of the 20 answer options, 10 answers unequivocally mean yes, such as “Most Likely” and “Without a Doubt.” Five sides indicate that the answer is no, including “My Reply is No” and “Don't Count on It.” The remaining five sides are used for ambiguous answers, such as “Reply Hazy, Try Again,” or “Ask Again Later.” Statistically, this means that the Magic Eight Ball® will probably provide an affirmative answer to the asked question.

In addition to being a toy for children and adults, the Magic Eight Ball® also appears in popular culture, usually in the context of being consulted by a character in a book or on the screen. A number of variants on the Magic Eight Ball® have also been manufactured, including A Sarcastic Eight Ball, an Affirmation Ball, and a Love Ball. Most toy stores and novelty shops carry the original Magic Eight Ball®.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A magic eight ball is a cute gag gift. It's a classic in fact. But, I'm not sure I would compare it to a Ouija Board. I know they should be approximately the same thing, but many people take the Ouija Board much more seriously.

Both are just ways of figuring out an answer that you probably already know. Or just a way to kill time.

But, some people are genuinely scared of a Ouija Board and I don't think anyone in their right mind is afraid of a magic eightball.


I love the sarcastic Magic 8 Ball. It always seemed kind of sarcastic already, depending on what you ask. "Don't count on it" might not be the kindest response if you are asking if, for example, someone wants to go out with you.

I never realized it had so many answers, actually. I thought it was much more likely to say no. But maybe that's because I ask it the wrong questions.

You can also find websites online that provide free magic eight ball answers if you really need to know something, but don't have the ball handy.

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