Afghan Zipper: Topological magic with Haberdashery
The Afghan Zipper is a topological magic trick that uses the Möbius Strip principle to create the illusion of magic. This trick is the most recent innovation in the Afghan Bands, one of the most well-known magic tricks. The basic plot of this minor mystery is that the magician cuts a circular strip of paper lengthwise in half. Instead of producing the expected two separate rings, the magical version results in a band twice the size of the original. The magician repeats these actions and creates two linked rings or even a long loop with a knot. Performers initially used paper of cloth bands to perform this trick. The latest innovation uses a long zipper.
The Afghan Zipper
Using a zipper to create reusable Möbius strips first appeared in the magic literature in 1977 by Ed Eckl in his Gardyloo lecture notes under the name Möby Zip. The trick was briefly marketed in the early 1980s by Phil Wallmart’s and Rick Johnson’s Excelsior Productions. In 1992 Klamm Magic advertised their version as the Afghan Zipper which used Velcro ends. It was accompanied by a gospel script and the well-known circus script. In that same year, Dick Stoner sold this trick under the punny name “Did you ever see an elephant fly?” The puns did not end there. Peter Maruci removed the zipper from an empty jar of Vaseline, saying: “Look! A fly in the ointment!”
The various zipper versions have also led to accusations of plagiarism and piracy in the magic literature. Eckl writes in his lecture notes that he developed the “gag”, as he calls it, in the early 1970s and that he has never seen anyone else performing it. Irrespective of these accusations, using zippers as Möbius strips is not unique to magicians as mathematicians have since long used zippers to play with one-sided geometry. The internet contains several references to Möbius strip zippers, both as an educational tool and as a form of entertainment. Daniel Morris even patented the Möbius strip zipper in 1985. The patent claim relates to a puzzle made from zippers twisted into a single-sided surface. This puzzle was never commercialised, and the patent expired in 1991 due to a failure to pay the maintenance fee.
The Afghan Bands
The method for this trick is based on the science of topology, which is the systematic study of shapes. German mathematical genius August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Listing simultaneously discovered the mathematical principle behind the Afghan Bands in 1858. This shape was eventually named after one of its discoverers. The Möbius Strip (also Moebius or Mobius Strip), is a surface with counter-intuitive properties that are ideal to be used as a principle in theatrical magic.
If you like to know more about this trick and how to create and perform the Afghan Zipper, then you should read The Möbius Strip in Magic. A Treatise on the Afghan Bands.