We all know the Magic 8 ball as a fortune telling method we used to love when we were kids (or that we still love as grownups). Today we see it as a fun and classic Mattel toy to have and joke around it. But we don’t know where it comes from, or what its story is. Maybe it’s been telling us the truth the whole time and we don’t even know.
It was created during the 40s and 50s by Albert C. Carter and Abe Bookman in the U.S. when spiritualism was in vogue. Before the Magic 8 Ball was finished, Carter developed a different fortune teller called the Syco-Seer: The Miracle Home Fortune Teller inspired on his mother’s clairvoyance abilities.
He wanted to produce the device in an industrial level, so he presented a prototype to Max Levinson, a store owner that could help him sell the product. To be able to work better, he got himself a partner: Abe Bookman. Together they made the production and distribution of the Syco-Seer possible by founding their own company called Alabe Crafts in which they wasted no time to keep on perfecting the device. Soon it developed into the Syco-Slate: The Pocket Fortune Teller.
Those two had pretty much the same function as the Magic 8 Ball that we know nowadays, but instead of being a sphere the dice and the murky liquid that holds it where stored in a tube, the difference is that the cilinder of the Syco-Seer had two dices, one on each end of the tube and you could just turn the tube upside down and one dice would slowly push the other one to and end to display the answers; the Syco- Slate was simpler having only one window.
They couldn’t let down their buyers, they had to come up with new and innovating products, that’s when the Crystal Ball came out. Since it wasn’t doing as well as expected, Alabe agreed to work for Brunswick Billiards company to turn fortune telling balls into pool balls. The solution was pretty simple for Alabe, apply the mechanism of the Syco-Slate and the Syco-Seer into the 8 ball. At that precise moment in 1950, the Magic 8 Ball was born.
Unfornately Carter passed away and could never see his creation finished as he would’ve wanted, but Bookman made sure that he got the credit he deserved. This toy grew in popularity over the years, by seeing this, Bookman sold his company to Ideal Toys along withe the Magic 8 Ball, today its owned by Mattel and it’s one of their most famous and popular toys.
The Magic 8 Ball consists in a sphere covered as an 8 pool ball that contains a murky liquid inside holding a 20 side dice, each side has an answer, half of them are positive, 5 are negative and 5 are vague responses. You just have to ask your question directly to it, shake it a bit and your answer will appear in a small clear window.
From its conception to our era, this toy has been a popular game between kids and adults, actually adults tend to ask more profound questions to which they can give meaning and context by reading the answer the Magic 8 Ball provides. There are many different uses that you can give to the ball and also a lot of different types of people who use it, some even give it psychological turn; let’s explore more about that.
- Fortune Telling Use:
This was the main purpose when the Magic 8 Ball was created. Even though it isn’t accurate and you can’t really rely on it’s answers, but you just need to know something, this toy can be of great use. Kids and grownups all around the world turn to the Magic 8 Ball to discover things about their lives. For example, a kid who just got back from school is super anxious to now if he passed his latest exam, he will ask the ball about it and shake it until it says ‘yes’, then he will be able to brag about it with all of his friends.
- Psychological Use:
Throughout history and by human nature, people look for emotional relations, even if its not directly with other people, some can relate with animals, with their precious objects and in the last years even with technology, for example: with the development of apps like Siri or devices like Alexa, people can create a more human link and identify with them to a point in which they can better a person’s quality of life, this being also the case of the Magic 8 Ball.
The people who use the Magic 8 Ball as a stress reliever tend to have the same things in common: they’re unsure of themselves, undecisive, supersticious, uncalm, they’re scared of many things, frustrated, lonely and shy people. In many cases they need help with daily stuff and are always looking for someone to have their back and tell them what to do. They tend to find themselves in constant stressful situations and in these cases the Magic 8 Ball can function as a stress reliever.
Even though this isn’t a common treatment and it isn’t really what the doctor would tell his patients to do, it’s been a support method for some people to go with their treatment.
- Random Difficult Decisions:
The use of the Magic 8 Ball has never really been used for serious clairvoyance purposes since Mary, Alfred Carter’s mom to compliment her sessions. Many people buy it as a joke or own one for some reason and just can help themselves to ask things from time to time on random stuff that they can’t decide on. For example, in the episode of Friends called “The one where Phoebe hats PBS” we can see Ross struggling to decide which girl to stay in a relationship with.and he finally turns to the Magic 8 Ball for an answer, even though it keeps telling him “ask again later” he know what to do, he just needed to ask for fun to realice that.
There are times that you’re just lazy and can’t decide either to wear the blue or the black jacket, to order pizza or chinese, which movie to watch, go to the party or stay in and you just don’t care of either option, so whatever the Magic 8 Ball tells you to do, you’ll be fine with it and if you aren’t that’s because you already knew the answer.
This one’s the funniest use people give to the Magic 8 Ball, it goes from kids games to adult games, and although it’s a toy, it’s the most popular use it has between grownups. They use it in gatherings, parties or reunions with friends to make them more fun and give an interesting turn to their games. Sometimes it works as a conversation starter, other times people use it just to tease one of their friends of just making the party more interesting.
Actually, in this area, the Magic 8 Ball even evolved to a newer version of a drinking game. Kikkerland, a product design brand, made and 8 ball drinking game inspired on the function of the original fortune teller. It has the same mechanism, 20 responses as well, but in this case you’re shaking for a drink or a dare. Take a shot, do a dance, swap a drink, sing out loud or chug a beer are just some of the responses you can get with this one.
- Paper Weight:
Sadly for Carter and Bookman, this is a pretty common use people give to the Magic 8 Ball. But actually it makes a lot of sense, of course people aren’t going to be using the ball all the time, so why not give it a second purpose in its life and not throw it away in some closet where the owners can forget it exists. By being a paper weight it can actually come in handy in random situations that you wouldn’t expect. So whenever you need a paper weight you can get the Magic 8 Balls and kill two birds with one stone.
As you can see, people have given different creative uses to this popular invention and after more than 50 years in the market, it’s still a product people keep buying. So, to answer the initial question, yes, people are still using the Magic 8 Ball, it’s considered to be a classic toy and it doesn’t seem that it’s going to become obsolete or forgotten any time soon.