The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception - H. Keith Melton, Robert Wallace (2009)


IV. Handling of Liquids

A liquid, like a loose solid, requires a container in order to be handled. However, a liquid cannot be held in many containers suitable to hold a powder because of the proneness of liquid to do three things. 1. Many materials suitable to hold a loose solid will absorb a liquid due to the tendency liquids have to be sucked up by the nature of some substances. 2. Because a liquid is continuous, atmospheric pressure will hold it in many forms of containers from which a loose solid readily will pour. 3. Because of surface tension, a liquid has a tendency to cling to a solid and a proportion may be retained in the container when the contents are released. Because of these qualities of a liquid, a proper container has to be nonabsorbtive and be so constructed that all the liquid can be freed easily and quickly when needed.

Two of the qualities of a liquid which make some containers unsuitable can be utilized in a container with flexible walls. Using no stopper at all, because of surface tension and the continuous quality, a liquid will be held in a container having a small aperture regardless of the position of the container. Not having to manipulate a stopper simplifies handling. Because of the flexible walls, the liquid will be forced out of the aperture when pressure is exerted upon the container. Such a container is excellent when working with quantities of a liquid up to 2 cc, even 2½ cc Though the liquid will remain in the container with a much larger aperture the best size to make the opening is one-thirty-second of an inch—the size of the shaft of an ordinary pin. Liquid, when forced out of a hole of that size, will make an almost invisible stream. Even with so small a stream, 2 cc of a liquid can, under pressure, be quickly ejected. When only enough pressure is used to force the liquid through the aperture, there will be no noticeable sound when the stream hits the surface of the liquid to which it is added. As in the previously described tricks with pills and powdered solids, the purpose of the tricks to be done with liquids is to put them secretly in another person’s beverage. However, when a very small quantity of a liquid is used, it is also possible to spray the liquid on a solid such as bread without either the action or result being observed.

Several ideas are given below for tricks with an amount of liquid no more than 2 cc in quantity and with a description of the containers for such quantity of liquid. After this data is completed, there will be found descriptions of containers suitable for amounts of liquid from 2 cc to 10 cc.

In all the tricks some way will be described to mask the presence of the liquid container. These objects must be commonplace and the kind of thing which would be accepted as natural for a man to carry in his pockets. The first to be described will use a paper of matches as the screen. In most details the routine will be found to be very similar to the one described earlier in which paper matches were used to carry a pill.

The container for the liquid is hidden inside the paper of matches. The easiest way to put the container in the paper of matches also makes the trick easy to do. This is done by taking out eight matches (four from the front row and four from the back row) at the left side of the packet when it is opened. After the matches are torn off the base cardboard, a section of that, too, is taken out. This is done with the point of a penknife. The container is made from a piece of polyethylene tubing. Tubing three-eighths of an inch in diameter is a convenient size and the container should be two inches long. The top end of the container is cut at right angles to the wall of the tubing. The bottom end is cut at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees. Polyethylene tubing is very flexible and may be flattened completely with a pair of pliers. Held flat, the tubing can be cut easily with an ordinary pair of scissors. After it has been cut, and while still held with the pliers, the tubing can be fused together with the flame of a match. The easiest way to make the container is to cut and seal the lower end first. Then, working from the inside, a pin is pushed through at the point of the angle. It is much easier properly to place the hole when working from the inside. Having made the hole the top is flattened and sealed. Care should be taken to have the top flattened to agree with the way the bottom is flattened so that both the container’s ends will be at the same angle. The container is put into the paper of matches at a slight angle so that the point (with the hole) at the bottom protrudes just enough so the steam will clear the paper. The bottom fold of the packet, due to the staple, will hold the end of the container firmly. A piece of Scotch tape stuck over the container and with each end of the tape attached to the packet will ensure that the container does not move.

It is necessary to fill the container prior to putting it in the paper of matches. It is filled by compressing the walls of the container to exclude the air and putting the point, with the hole, into the liquid prior to releasing the pressure. A container of this size will hold and readily release forty drops (2 cc) of liquid. The most certain way to force all the liquid out of the container is to press, release, and press a second time. Of course, in releasing the pressure, only enough pressure is removed so that the tube can expand and suck in air. Enough pressure is contained to maintain a firm grip on the paper of matches. Probably the best way to hold the paper of matches so as to exert pressure on the container is with the thumb on the face of the packet and the first and second fingers on the back. The grip is along the left side of the packet (where the container is hidden) and the packet is held so that the point of the container points directly down.

Because it is possible to see the container at the open left side of the packet, care must be taken never to turn that side so that it is within the vision of any spectator. Provided no spectator is behind the performer, he may open the match cover in the normal manner and tear off a match. On the chance that at the time the trick is to be done, there may be a spectator in a position to see the container when the cover is opened, it is advisable to break, but not tear off, a match at the extreme right of the packet. It will be found possible to take this match out of the side of the packet and have it seem a natural thing to do.


Manner of holding paper of matches so as to exert pressure on the entire container and properly to direct the expulsion of contents.
Phil Franke


Phil Franke

A considerable amount of experimenting should be done in private to see how the paper of matches may best be handled as matches, as well as in forcing out the liquid. Such experiments also are necessary in order to learn how to aim the stream of liquid accurately.

Some individuals may be disturbed because the container can be seen at the open left side of the paper of matches were that side turned toward the spectators. If that makes a mental hazard, it is quite possible to put the container at the center of the packet so that matches hide it on both sides. This is done by removing the wire staple and taking out all the matches. Then two staples are put, vertically, in the flap while the matches are out. Each staple is three-eighths of an inch from the side of the packet. At each side of the packet are put six matches (three in the front and three in the back row). The matches are held in place by Scotch tape around the inside matches and stuck to the back of the paper. In this case the bottom of the polyethylene container is cut at each side so that there is a center point. The hole is at the point. A small slot is cut in the bottom of the packet and the point of the container is pushed through this slot.

While this second way of hiding a container in a paper of matches permits a more openhanded way of handling the packet, it increases the effort needed to force out the liquid and considerable more preliminary practice.

With either way it is absolutely essential to have a duplicate paper of matches, minus a container, and which may be exchanged for the prepared packet.

The routine of performance is almost identical with the trick done with the paper of matches to which a pill is attached. The one difference is that the packet has to be held over the mouth of the glass a little longer, for it takes more time to eject the liquid than it does to drop the pill. However, the liquid will mix instantly with the beverage while there may be an interval until the pill dissolves.

There are several other ways the polyethylene tubing can be formed into small containers which may readily be hidden. The different ways of hiding containers will require different routines in using them. They also will need different stories to mask their use.

It is unnecessary for the writer to devise a story to be told to cover the action for using each container, for the reader will be able to fit his own story better to the circumstances of performance. He need only remember that the story has to be rational and simple. Elaborate stories should be avoided, for complications are what cause doubt. By “rational” is meant making the details of the story agree. For instance, a lion cannot be caught in a mousetrap, nor is a lion trap of any use in capturing a mouse. It is quite within reason to catch a mouse in a mousetrap and a lion in a lion trap. It is necessary for the teller of a story to be aware of how the mousetrap, or lion trap, of his story operates. It is not essential to the story’s acceptance that he ever actually used either type of trap, but he must know how they are used. In other words, the details of the story must be correct although the story itself may be totally untrue. The vagaries of a super imagination will be accepted as fact as long as the teller of the tale does not stub his verbal toe and fall down because his details were incorrect. As this invariably is true, a wise liar will use as few details as possible and be certain of the exactness of each detail he uses.

An uncomplicated story, no matter how distant it may be from truth, will be acceptable provided it is told with conviction. Telling a story with conviction is only a matter of acting as if the story were gospel. The key word, of course, is acting, but it is easy to act as if one believes a story if he has thought the details so that he can tell it without hesitation or fumbling for a word. Here again, preparedness is essential.

The correct and incorrect use of details in telling an unfactual story is somewhat confusing. Whereas it is absolutely true that the great hazard in telling a lie is due to the use of details, it also is true that details can lend a considerable degree of plausibility to a story, always provided there are not so many as to make the story difficult to follow, but the details must either be factual or ones which can’t be controverted.

Of course, in doing a trick, it may not be at all necessary to deviate from the truth and it is best when this is the situation. It may be that all that need be said is to wonder aloud if it is going to rain—or stop raining as befits the situation. But by this time the reader must be quite familiar with the basic idea that whatever is said is said merely to keep the spectator’s attention away from what the performer is doing. As long as the reader understands the purpose and the method, he should never have difficulty with the words.

A container which will hold eight or ten drops can be stuck to the back of a coin the size of a quarter. This container is made by flattening a piece of polyethylene tubing and cutting the end so as to make 180 degrees of a circle. After the round end has been sealed, a pinhole is made at the tip of the arc. Then the tube is flattened so that the other end can be rounded and sealed. The finished container should be oval in shape and look like an ordinary printed uppercase letter O. This container is attached to the center of the reverse side of a coin. It should be so attached that the container is in alignment with the design on the face of the coin and with the hole in the container at the bottom of the design. This makes it possible by looking at the face to know how to hold the coin so as properly to direct the liquid when releasing it.

A container attached to a coin may be used whenever it is natural to handle coins.

A container suitable for holding two to five drops can be made small enough to be hidden between the first finger and thumb and without requiring any carrier at all. The natural position for a relaxed hand is with the fingers curled in toward the palm and with the ball of the thumb touching the first finger. Some individuals may not actually bring the thumb and first finger into contact when naturally relaxed. However, even those people will find that the thumb and first finger almost meet and their hands still appear to be natural when the thumb and first finger are made to touch. In such a position a small container may be held quite invisibly between the ball of the thumb and the side of the first finger. The container is carried in a side pocket of the coat or trousers until needed. The container is taken in the correct position by the fingers while it is still in the pocket.

The liquid is squeezed out of the container while making a gesture in connection with whatever is being said. What is said depends upon the situation and is immaterial as long as it is natural to gesticulate at the time. No rule can be laid down as to whether the container should be held in the right or the left hand. The hand which should be used is the one the performer finds is the most natural to use in making gestures. Of course, the container is carried in the pocket on the side of the hand which is to use it.

The containers may be of two shapes. Both should be tried out by the performer to discover which best fits his fingers. One shape is circular and is about one-half inch in diameter. While many will find this shape the handiest to use, it has one drawback. That is in knowing the exact location of the opening. This may be remedied by having a nick or bump opposite the opening. By touch, the nick or bump may be located and the container taken into the proper position while the hand still is in the pocket.


Showing how thumb and first finger mask container as it is squeezed.
Phil Franke

The other container is made in the shape of a wedge with a rounded top. The wedge is about an inch long and a quarter of an inch across at its widest part. The hole is made at the point of the wedge. With this shape the container may be picked up instantly in the correct position.

With both these containers the opening should face toward the tip of the thumb. This means that the back of the hand faces the ceiling at the time the liquid is released.


Left hand lowered for action as cigarette is offered and eye contact engaged.
Phil Franke

Still another container using the principle of pressure to release the liquid may be made for quantities up to 5 cc. When made of three-eighths-inch tubing, the container will have to be at least three and a half inches long. Such a container can be hidden in a pocket of a wallet (or billfold) and placed near the center fold. The top of the container is cut at right angles to the sidewalls and sealed. The bottom is cut at an angle which has its point at one wall. The hole is made at this point. At the bottom of the pocket of the wallet a small cut is made so that the extreme tip of the container may be pushed down through this slit. With a container hidden in this way, the wallet may be opened and used in the ordinary manner. When the wallet is closed and squeezed along the edge of the fold, the liquid will be ejected in a stream at the bottom of the wallet. This method of carrying liquid of such quantity has several advantages and, under some circumstances, one major drawback. In order to eject all the liquid, it is necessary to squeeze and release, squeeze and release the container several times. This makes the release of the liquid take longer than some situations permit.


Showing how container may be hidden in a wallet.
Phil Franke


Showing how container is squeezed to discharge liquid.
Phil Franke


Rigid container showing stopper at top to which thread is attached. Stopper closes top air vent. Exit hole is in center of bottom of container.
Phil Franke

A much quicker method of releasing 3 to 10 cc of a liquid makes use of a rigid container. Drugstores use vials made of plastic which are excellent for the purpose. This type of vial is round and has a one-piece body three-quarters of an inch in diameter and two inches long. The outer wall at the top is recessed so that a plastic cup will slide on and seal the top. Plastic is easy to drill and therefore a plastic vial is much better than one of glass. In the center of the bottom of the vial a hole is drilled. The hole should be no smaller than one-sixteenth of an inch and no larger than three-sixteenths. Another hole should be drilled in the top of the cap. This hole may be made from one-eighth to one-quarter inch in diameter. A cork must be cut to fit the hole in the cap. Through the center of the cork (running from top to bottom) a tiny hole is drilled.

Through this hole a piece of heavy linen thread (or fine fish line) is forced. A large knot is made in the thread at the bottom of the hole. The purpose of the knot is to keep the thread from pulling out of the cork.

Once the container has been drilled, and the cork fitted and threaded, it is filled with the liquid. A container of this size will hold 10 cc of liquid. Due to atmospheric pressure, the liquid will remain in the container as long as the cork is in place in the cap. The instant the thread is pulled, the cork will be withdrawn and the liquid will pour out of the hole in the bottom.

In order to hide and yet use such a container, it may be put into a package of cigarettes. To prepare the cigarette package, the seal at the top is carefully opened with a knife. Then the top is unfolded and all the cigarettes removed. The container is put inside the package, upright and at one end. A mark is made in the bottom of the package to coincide with the hole in the bottom of the container. The container is removed and a hole a little larger than the one in the container is cut through the bottom of the cigarette package. The container is returned to the package. Then a slit is made in the top of the paper (the continuation of the side) which folds over the top of the package. Through this slot the thread is passed so that it hangs down along the side of the package. As many cigarettes are returned to the packages as are needed to fill the space left by the container. The cigarettes are not packed as tightly as when the pack first was opened but tightly enough to seem as if but one cigarette has been removed. Then the paper at the top of the package is refolded and the seal reglued in place. After the glue has been given a chance to dry, a part of the top (at the end with the cigarettes) is torn away.


Showing how container is hidden in package of cigarettes. Thumbnail pulls on knot in exposed end of thread to release stopper. Hole is made in bottom of cigarette package to correspond with hole in container.
Phil Franke

The package should now appear to be one which has been opened and one cigarette removed. The thread is tied so as to form a large knot right at the edge of the top. After the hole has been made, any surplus thread should be cut off. By picking this knot with the nail of the first finger, the thread may be drawn down the side of the package. Doing this pulls out the stopper and releases the liquid, which will run out of the hole in the bottom of the package. At the time of pulling the thread, the package of cigarettes is best held with the thumb on the side of the package and the second, third, and little fingers on the other side. A package prepared in this manner may be held out so that a spectator may take a cigarette.

In preparing the routine and its accompanying story for use with this container, it should be borne in mind that it will take one and a quarter seconds for 5 cc to run out through a one-eighth-inch hole and double that time to release 10 cc. A larger hole will speed the release of the liquid but more sound will be heard as the bigger stream hits the surface of the beverage.

The container just described releases its liquid contents by gravity rather than by force. In many ways such release is the more dependable. It can be used in many other forms. For instance, it can be used in a container masquerading as a cigarette. The corked vent hole is on one side at the top of the container. The cigarette is made up of the container wrapped in a cigarette paper and topped by a short length of a real cigarette. The stopper can be held out of sight easily and just as easily picked off. This is but one of the myriad ways of hiding liquid containers made for gravity release. They may be hidden in almost anything which can be carried in the pocket.


Showing how thumbnail can remove stopper of air vent of container in cigarette.
Phil Franke

Gravity release is approximately as rapid as pressure release and is less noisy. Furthermore it requires less manipulation. However, in very small quantities of liquid—i.e., ten drops or less—pressure release is more satisfactory. The method indicated for a particular performer depends largely upon which he can use with more confidence and ease.