Spoon bending is one of the most popular and widely practised of all stage magic tricks and involves the bending and deforming of metal cutlery with little or no apparent physical force. Although many performers claim they have paranormal powers that can bend spoons, this feat is widely accepted to be an illusion. This article will discuss various ways of achieving it.
Many variations of the 'spoon bending trick' revolve around using metal objects already weakened at some point before the start of the trick. This can be done by repeatedly bending the object around a certain point until the metal become weakened. At this point, the smallest hand action can cause the object to bend or break, often going unnoticed by the audience. It is even possible to hold two separate halves between the fingers, slowly releasing the pressure to give the illusion of bending. Using a 'pre-weakened' spoon carries significant risks if the audience wants to test it. Furthermore, if the performer does not offer such a test, the credibility of the trick is significantly undermined. An alternative to the weakened spoon is the use of special materials made of substances with different properties. One such material is called 'nitinol' - a metal alloy that consists of nickel and titanium. This alloy is both elastic (thus allowing the required ease of bending) and has an incredibly useful property of shape memory. This means that when heated, the nitinol object will return to its 'original' shape. If the original shape is a bent spoon, the performer can stealthily heat an object slightly for it to change to that shape, without being noticed by the audience. Such spoons are available for sale.
This involves driving the audience's attention away from the spoon to some other point, when the performer can use less subtle force (although still barely noticeable as the joint between the bowl and handle of the spoon is still extremely weak) to bend the spoon. The power of misdirection cannot be underestimated; in an experiment (Simon and Chabris, 1999), test subjects were shown a video of basketball players passing a ball and asked to count how many times a pass took place between players with white-shirts. Midway through the video, a man dressed in a gorilla suit strolled plainly into view and began dancing. Fifty percent of the people who watched the video did not even notice the gorilla - misdirection had made them concentrate solely on the basketball. If something as obvious as a man in a gorilla suit is barely registered, how easily do you think someone could bend a spoon 'conventionally', before your eyes, without you knowing?