In juggling, the Mills Mess is a popular toss juggling pattern, typically performed with three balls although the number and objects can be different. It is considered somewhat of a milestone in juggling, "a mind-boggling pattern of circling balls, crossing and uncrossing hands, and unexpected catches."
The base of this pattern is a traditional reverse cascade, (siteswap 3 in siteswap notation), with an extra "mess" added by alternately crossing and uncrossing arms. The effect created is that the balls pursue each other from one side to the other.
Mills Mess was invented in the early 1970s (Between 1974 and 1975). Steve Mills was experimenting with many different variations that his teacher Ron Graham, Ron Lubman and a few others were doing in Central Park. Steve was inspired to do a two-handed variation of a crossing of the arm trick performed by Ron Lubman. Steve invented the trick while attempting to transition smoothly from right-handed windmill to left-handed windmill. About the naming of the trick Steve Mills adds: "The pattern received its name from fellow jugglers at the 1975 International Juggling Convention in Los Angeles, California. Steve Mills did not know how to "teach" this pattern and while trying different methods of teaching this pattern with many proficient jugglers, they shouted 'this is a mess.'" Mills did not know this was being called "Mills Mess" around the world for several years.
Mills Mess can be combined with chops, claws, or other juggling maneuvers or flourishes to create a pattern that is moderately more difficult than the traditional three-ball cascade. Though most commonly performed with balls, bean-bags or similar objects, the pattern is adaptable to rings, clubs, torches and a variety of other juggling props. Four-, five-, and (recently) six- and seven-ball variations of these patterns have also been performed, as well as four, five and six clubs.
Boston Mess is a variant of Mills Mess in which the arms similarly cross and uncross, but the balls are thrown in columns. It is performed with three balls in a columnar cascade pattern (siteswap 3). Cherry Picking is a variant of the Boston Mess, which is similar to the above pattern except that every right hand throw is clawed.
Eric's Extension, invented by Eric Uhrhane, is a variation on Mills Mess in which the arms cross twice on each side instead of just once. The extra throws may add to the visual appeal of the pattern. Eric's Extension requires the juggler's arms to be slender or flexible to cross two times, a requirement which makes this variation physically impossible for some.
When combined with chops (a chop is a downward sweep or flourish of the hand that has just caught and is holding a ball), the Mills Mess pattern is sometimes called "Inside Out" -- from its appearance when performed: alternate chops alternating from inside the pattern to outside the pattern, making it seem almost as if the balls are juggling the hands. The effect is that of a juggler frantically pursuing the balls in their staccato movements. The American artist, Glenn (with no last name) aka "The Great Bongo", gave this pattern its name, and claims to have taught hundreds of jugglers "how to do it the easy way".
Mills Mess is a shape distortion involving crossing and uncrossing arm movement, which is independent of the siteswap being performed. Any siteswap with any number of objects can, in theory, be done in Mills Mess. It is merely a distortion of the pattern's shape. The standard Mills Mess has the siteswap 3, but Mills Messes of 441, 531, 534 (four balls) and many others have also been performed.
- Gillson, George. Beyond the Cascade, Cascade Books: Seattle Washington 1990. reviewed by Bill Giduz in Juggler's World: Vol. 42, No. 4