How to Perform the Tablecloth Trick and Become the Life of the Party

Do you like to entertain your dinner guests?

Looking for a fun way to keep the relatives busy while that holiday meal finishes cooking?

In this article I’ll show you how to become the life of the party by pulling a tablecloth out from under a place setting without disrupting the dishes.

Entertain your guests on Thanksgiving with the tablecloth trick by pulling a tablecloth out from under a place setting without disrupting the dishes.

Why Table Tricks?

This classic “whip off the tablecloth” trick is a must for any dinner party without an established magic show.

You’ll either bring down the house or get in a lot of hot water. And we aren’t talking about the hot water in the coffee after dinner!

The idea is simple—yank the tablecloth out from under the dishes without breaking any of them.

Even kids can do this, just be careful not to do what these kids did…

Yes, I’m serious.

The action is simple with a little practice and an understanding of Newton’s First Law. Just be sure to practice with unbreakable dishes, not Grandma’s fine china.

Bill Murray did the tablecloth trick in Ghostbusters (sort of) and your kids will love doing it at home.

Learn the science behind (or should I say underneath?) the tablecloth trick and you’ll have better results. Watch from :19 to :24.

With the secrets I show you below, they’ll be able to leave a lot more than the flowers standing.

You Will Need

  • Tablecloth without a hem
  • Flat tabletop with a straight edge
  • Plastic dinner plate (not fine china)
  • Plastic drinking glass (stay away from the crystal)
  • Plastic bowl
  • Place setting of silverware

Preparation Time

Two minutes

Activity Time

Five minutes or less to impress Uncle Bob and the relatives


The dining room or kitchen table; anywhere with a flat surface and straight edge

Here’s a preview:

Do try this Tablecloth Trick at home—just don’t use mom’s best china.

Ready to amaze and astound your Thanksgiving guests? Let’s get started!

#1: Set the Table

Spread the tablecloth out onto the tabletop with about 2 feet of the tablecloth on the table. Make sure there are no wrinkles.

tablecloth for trick

A cloth with a thicker weave and no hem works best.

Place the cups, plates and utensils on top of the tablecloth close to the edge of the cloth (for starters). This makes for less tablecloth to have to pull out from underneath the stuff on top.

how to grab tablecloth

Leave enough of the cloth hanging over the table edge. Grab it with both hands and get ready to yank.

#2: Whip the Tablecloth Off of the Table

The trick is to grab the end of the tablecloth with both hands and quickly pull the cloth straight down and away from the table. The key is the quick, downward motion—almost like you’re whipping or yanking the cloth away.

Say to yourself, “Pull down… not out.” Repeat it over and over. Make sure to pull perpendicular to the table and not at an inclined angle.

pulling the tablecloth off

Pull fast and straight down in one smooth motion. The table edge should have a straight edge.

The only way to make this work is to just do it!

If you’re nervous, start with only a dinner plate and do it over a carpeted floor.

food and cups on table

Experiment with different foods and weights on the dishes to see what works best.

You’ll be amazed when it works and you’ll gain the confidence to add a saucer, then a cup and so on. Maybe even some tasty holiday food.

How Does it Work?

After you take your bows and graciously accept your standing ovation, be sure to thank Sir Isaac Newton for his help in making you an overnight success.

Plain and simple, the Tablecloth Trick works because of inertia. Newton first described inertia as the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest until a force acts upon the object. Inertia for an object in motion is the tendency of that object to remain in motion unless a force acts upon the object.

grab edge and pull

Grab the edges of the tablecloth and pull fast!

In terms of the Tablecloth Trick, inertia is important because the objects (the stuff on the table) will not move unless an outside force moves them.

This is known as Newton’s First Law of Motion.

There are two different parts of this experiment to discuss—inertia and friction. Initially, all of the objects (the plate, bowl, cup, utensils) are at rest (not moving).

According to Newton’s First Law, objects at rest tend to stay at rest, so the dishes won’t move. That’s inertia.

But they do move a little. That’s friction.

When you pull the cloth, friction acts on the objects in the direction of the pull for a short time. The tablecloth is slippery, so these forces are small and the cloth sneaks out from underneath the objects.

practice and use plastic dishes

It may take a few tries to figure out the best way to pull the cloth before you get it right. Using plastic dishes will keep the good dishes safe.

If you do it just right, everyone will be amazed. Next time you ask your kids to clear the table, they can do it with flair!

Some final thoughts….

Keep in mind that this is not an experiment for mom’s best dishes. Find some dishes that are plastic and have smooth bottoms—the heavier the better.

You also don’t want a huge tablecloth that covers the entire table for this science trick. Find a smaller piece of fabric that hasn’t been hemmed or sewn. Only cover part of the table with your settings and leave the slack hanging off the table.

Once you get the feel for yanking the tablecloth down and pulling it out from under the dishes, don’t graduate on to more expensive or breakable ware. Instead, experiment with different masses on the plate and bowl by adding a piece of fruit or something with weight. Is it easier or harder to whip off the tablecloth?

Keep practicing and have fun!

What do you think? We want to see your Thanksgiving Table Tricks. What do you do to entertain the dinner guests? Please tell us your stories and leave some pictures in the comments below.

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About the Author, Steve Spangler

Steve Spangler is an author, teacher, toy designer, Emmy award-winning television personality and creator of a huge soda mess. His appearances on television demonstrate his passion for making learning fun. Other posts by »

  • Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Steve! This looks like lots of fun–lots of dangerous fun!

  • Zandra Johnson

    This looks great fun. I didn’t know the tip about using a tablecloth with no hem. You have saved me a lot of messy clearing up after unsuccessful attempts to perfect the trick

  • Amanda Shaw

    Not working for me…but I’ll keep practising! 😉

  • Latasha Patrick

    Look like a lot of fun.

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