The diabolo (commonly misspelled as diablo) is a juggling prop consisting of a spool which is whirled and tossed on a string tied to two sticks held one in each hand. A huge variety of tricks are possible using the sticks, string, and various body parts. Multiple diabolos can be spun on a single string.
Diabolos come in different shapes and materials. Large/heavier diabolos tend to retain their momentum for longer, whereas small/light diabolos can be thrown higher and are faster to get spinning quickly. Rubber diabolos are less prone to breakage; metal diabolos can be set on fire using some wick and fuel. One-sided diabolos are also available but are more difficult to use.
Diabolos evolved from the Chinese yo-yo. Chinese yo-yos have a long thin axle, with disc-shaped wheels, while the western diabolo is more cone-shaped. For a comparison, see a picture of a diabolo here and a picture of a Chinese yo-yo here.
The diabolo was a favorite toy of physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who was said to be quite good at performing with it. This toy is not to be confused with Maxwell’s demon, which is a thought experiment.
The most basic act of diabolo manipulation is to cause the spool to spin whilst suspended from the string. This is commonly achieved by dragging the string across the axle in such a way that the friction causes the spool to roll. By repeatedly lifting one of the handsticks (for right handed people, the driving hand is typically the right), the speed can be increased. This method is known as Snaps.
Further increases in speed are obtained by a variety of techniques including:
- Power whips,
- chinese acceleration,
- wrapped orbits/power orbits/chinese orbits,
- Power Burners
- orbit tricks.
Once speed is built up, the diabolist then typically performs a routine based on the tricks outlined below. The best diaboloists can work these tricks smoothly into one another and keep the diabolo in a constant motion without having to pause to speed up the spin again.
- Toss – the first trick everybody learns is to throw the diabolo up and catch it.
- Trapeze – Swing diablo around stick and catch on string.
- Backside – catching the diabolo using the “bottom” of the string.
- Suicide Attempt- To temporarily let go of either stick and then catch it again.
- Grind – To balance the diabolo on a stick
- Sun – The diabolo is pushed round in a large circle.
- Cradle – The line is tangled to form a shape and the Diabolo itself is tossed on or in the shape.
- Orbit – Diabolo is tossed and caught repeatedly to make it go rounds,
- Over (bodypart) Orbits (also known as satellites)- Advanced orbits to go around some body part. Primary hand arm and leg are considered the easiest.
- Knot – The line is tangled in a way it creates an illusion that the Diabolo is jammed. It can be released usually with an upwards toss motion.
- Elevator – The diabolo “climbs” the string.
There are many tricks which fall outside these categories, these are often more difficult and form the “cutting edge” of diabolo modern routines. Some examples are:
- Genocide – This refers to tricks in which the diabolo leaves the string and is subsequently caught with the string in a suicide.
- Whip (catch) – Diabolo is tossed into air and caught with a whipping motion of the line towards the diabolo.
- Finger Grind – The diabolo is caught on a finger rather than on a stick.
- Infinite suicides – a popular trick in which the diabolo appears to be suspended whilst one handstick orbits it.
- Duicide – Like a suicide attempt but both sticks are released.
Perhaps the most active area of development for diabolo involves tricks with more than one diabolo on a single string. Diabolists have pushed the number of spools juggled at once up to 6 (although there is some controversy as to whether this counts as the number of catches achieved is so small). Most diabolists however, stick to two or three. The introduction of multiple diabolos on a single string allows for many new moves.
- Sprinkler – The diabolos orbit each other inside a closed loop of string.
- Mini-columns – Two diabolos are manipulated on a string in such a way as to prevent them colliding or orbiting each other.
- Siteswap – A notation borrowed from toss juggling in which the diabolos are thrown in different rhythms based on a numeric description.
- Fan – Two diabolos are spun between the arms in a way which mimics the blades of a fan.
- Sun – The diabolos are swung in a circle
- Knots – Similar to one diabolo knots, but both diabolos are wrapped up
Another advanced diabolo style, that has been developed in the more recent years and particularly explored further in the last few months is Vertax (Vertical Axis) A.K.A Excalibur. This is where the diabolo is ‘tipped vertical’ by means of ‘whipping’ and is continually spun in this upright state. Although the number of tricks seems limited, people are finding more ways to perform with this style, including Vertax genocides, passing and many acrobatic moves. It has also been attempted many times to have two diabolos in the vertax style on the same string, although video evidence of this feat is yet to be seen.