The zombie ball is a magic illusion in which a metal sphere on a small pedestal is covered with a silk cloth, and appears to levitate upwards carrying the cloth with it. The magician continues to hold two corners of the cloth. The ball dances and seemingly moves of its own accord.
Routines can involve the magician letting the cloth hang down and the sphere sitting on the top edge, the sphere seemingly floating down behind the magician and back up, appearing behind his arm, and floating so high up the magician has to stand on his tip toes to pull it back down.
The ball then returns to its stand and the cloth is removed.
The effect was invented by magician Joe Karson, in the 1940s.
The usual way this effect is done is with a rod that clips to the finger, and is hidden from view by the cloth. By simply moving his finger (generally his thumb), the magician can achieve an almost lifelike reaction from the ball. There are several popular moves where the ball appears on the edge of the outstretched cloth, or it levitates upwards under the cloth. All these take a great deal of practice to make it look as though the ball is floating and to time the movements with the music.
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- US patent 2487140, Joseph A. Karson, "ILLUSION APPARATUS", published Nov 8, 1949