What is a Parlor Trick?
A parlor trick is a simple magic trick which is generally easy to execute. Such tricks are used to amuse people at parties, and are sometimes called party tricks. Many people know a few parlor tricks of their own, on occasion developing a signature trick which is in high demand at social gatherings, and it is also possible to hire a magician who specializes in such tricks to entertain a party.
As the use of the word “parlor” implies, parlor tricks are designed to be performed in front of a small audience, such as a group of friends gathered in a parlor. The magician usually performs at the same height as his or her audience, and the tricks are generally straightforward, not requiring the help of an assistant. Parlor tricks can often be performed with minimal props, or with things which people have around the house, like chairs, eggs, decks of cards, and so forth.
These tricks are often exhibited as a source of curiosity, and they may involve things like asking people to perform various physical maneuvers, causing things to appear and disappear, playing tricks with cards, juggling, and so forth. Often, a parlor trick will engage a member of the audience, who will be used to demonstrate the trick for the rest of those present. Many parlor tricks involve mind games, in which someone is tricked into saying something. In such a trick, the victim might be asked, for example, to say the word “ten” ten times fast, and then he or she will be asked what an aluminum can is made from. Often, the victim says “tin,” because his or her mind has been primed to do so.
In some cases, the victim of a parlor trick does not find it nearly as amusing as the observers do. In general, however, people are good humored about parlor tricks, appreciating the entertainment value, especially when several victims are rotated, allowing former victims to make fun of new ones. Because a parlor trick is simple and easy to learn, a parlor trick often spreads quickly through a community, with people picking it up at parties and introducing it to new groups.
Knowing a few parlor tricks can be handy. In addition to entertaining a group at a party, they can also be used to defuse a tense situation by changing the focus of the group. Many bookstores carry books of parlor tricks, for people who want to learn them, and you can also find resources online. If you want a more structured form of entertainment for an event like a birthday party, you can also hire a parlor magician, who will perform a wide assortment of tricks accompanied with a friendly and relaxed patter, designed to keep guests captivated and having a good time.
The only parlor tricks I can think of that people really do anymore are card tricks- other than that, even simple magic tricks seem to be more the realm of television characters like Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, not real people. It would probably be entertaining to know someone who was good at them, though.
The term also can refer to someone trying to trick you somehow, or to hide something- as in, "I think this is just another parlor trick". I don't know that I have ever seen someone actually perform a "parlor trick" at a party or social gathering, at least not that they would call it.
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