Four-Ball Mills Mess Deconstructed: One Hand at a Time

Jack Kalvan demonstrates one half of Four-Ball Mills Mess (left hand only).

 

 

Jack Kalvan demonstrates one half of Four-Ball Mills Mess (right hand only).

Note: Jack was only expecting a call from his agent. He wasn't actually talking on the phone at the time.

The following article first appeared in the May/Jun 2001 issue of JUGGLE magazine. The publisher has kindly given permission to reproduce it here.

 

Deconstructing Mills Mess

 

If all else fails, you can always break the pattern down into smaller component parts. Try juggling one-half of a Four-Ball Mills Mess by concentrating on one hand at a time. I think of this as the slow-but-sure, tedious way to learn. It may take a while, but it works.

 

Start with two black balls in the right hand. Make a fist, or hold something in your left hand, otherwise you might be tempted to catch a ball in the left hand. In this exercise only the right hand will be juggling. Jack Kalvan was expecting a call from his agent while we were videotaping this segment, so he chose to hold his cell phone in the idle hand. I don t recall if he was actually talking on the phone or not, while demonstrating these moves.

 

With your right arm crossed over your left, throw the first ball clockwise to the right.

 

After the throw make a clockwise circle with your right hand to throw the second ball with your right arm crossed under the left. Just after you throw the second ball, catch the first ball. (see illustration)

 

Right hand, crossed under left arm , tosses a reverse-cascade with one one of the black balls. Still crossed under left arm, right hand moves in to the center to catch the other black ball.

 

Uncross your arms, and catch the second ball. Did you end up with both balls in the right hand, and none in the left hand? Congratulations.

 

Continuous Two Balls in One Hand

 

Once you ve gotten these first two throws down, try and keep going. Just before catching the second ball, toss the third throw counterclockwise in an open-arm reverse-cascade throw. (see illustration)

 

With arms uncrossed right hand reverse-cascades black ball. Right hand then crosses over left arm to catch the second black ball.

 

With that last throw you have now covered all three right-hand positions of the Four-Ball Mills Mess. Repeat the sequence by crossing your right arm over the left arm as you catch the descending ball.

 

The next throw is the same as the first, a crossed-over reverse-cascade with the right hand. Catch the incoming ball in the right hand, as the arms are momentarily uncrossed. Don t dawdle in that uncrossed position, though. After catching that ball you carry it under the left arm for the next throw.

 

The right hand has three throwing positions, and only two balls. This means that both balls alternately run through all three of the positions.

Four-Ball Mills Mess with only Three balls

 

Once you can run two balls in the right hand, add a white ball to the left hand. Now the left hand is more of an active participant. Instead of merely being an obstacle for the right hand, the left hand is learning how to throw and catch one of the two balls it needs to juggle the Four-Ball Mills Mess.

 

Begin with two black balls in the right hand, and one white ball in the left hand. The right arm is crossed over the left. Throw the first black ball out of the right hand with a clockwise throw.

 

Open your arms and toss the white ball out of the left hand.

 

Recross your arms so the right arm is under the left arm, and throw the second black ball out of the right hand. Catch the first black ball in the right hand.

 

Open your arms, and catch the white ball in the left hand. Note that your left hand didn t throw a white ball when the left arm was crossed over the right arm. That position was held by the non-existent, ghost ball in the left hand. The presence of this ghost ball means that the right hand is throwing twice as often as the left hand. The left hand still holds the positions for these throws.

 

Still with open arms, reverse-cascade toss the black ball out of the right hand. Cross your right arm over the left and catch the other black ball.

 

While the left arm is crossed under the right, throw the white ball from the left hand. (see illustration)

Left hand, crossed under right arm, tosses white ball.

 

Maintain your crossed-arm position, so the right hand is on top, and release the black ball. Uncross your arms and catch the other black ball in the right hand.

 

This is another beat where the left hand throws a ghost ball. For now, re-cross yours arms, left hand on top, and catch the white ball.

 

With the arms still crossed, left hand on top means right hand on bottom, toss a black ball out of the right hand. Catch the descending black ball in the right hand.

 

Throw the white ball from the left hand, as you are making the transition from a crossed arm to an uncrossed arm position. Note, though, that the left arm is crossed over the right when you actually make this throw.

 

When your arms are open, reverse-cascade the black ball from the right hand. Cross your arms underneath the free-flying white ball so the right hand is on top, and catch the other black ball in the right hand.

 

With the left arm still crossed under the right arm, catch the white ball in the left hand.

 

This puts you back in the beginning position. Continue throwing and catching in this sequence to maintain the pattern.

 

Once you can run the balls smoothly, it may be interesting to notice what is happening. The right hand is cycling through the three classic crossed-over, crossed-under and uncrossed throwing positions, in the standard Mills Mess order. The left hand, however, is juggling a ghost ball, as well as the solitary white ball. This means that the actual throwing order for the left hand is in the reverse sequence: uncrossed, crossed-under, and then crossed-over.

 

While this may appear confusing, the explanation lies with the ghost ball. If you factor in the ghost-throwing positions, the left hand throws in the sequence: over, under, open. If you only count the actual throws, with the actual, white ball, the order is reversed: open, under, over.

 

Don t forget to work on the left hand, as well. Hold something in the right hand, and two white balls in the left hand. Practice the left half of Four Balls Mills Mess. When you are comfortable with that, replace the static object in the right hand with a black ball, which you will throw.

 

If you ve gotten this far, I d like to congratulate you on your perseverance. You are ready to add the fourth ball. If things seems as if they are progressing slowly, remember, the journey is the reward.

Four-Ball Mills Mess with Four Balls

 

The following explanation of the individual throws and catches may seem a bit redundant. That's okay. These are, essentially, the same throws that are covered in the previous section, Four-Ball Mills Mess with only Three balls.  Of course, the additional fourth ball is included here.

 

Begin with two black balls in the right hand, and two white balls in the left hand. For each throw, the hand throws a ball back to itself. Black balls are only juggled by the right hand, white balls are only juggled by the left hand. If you notice any shift in these colors, for example if the left hand catches a black ball, you may want to go back, and start again. At some point, one hand caught a ball out of order.

 

The throwing sequence of the hands is right, left, right, left. The paths in which the balls fly are three balls in a clockwise direction, then three balls in a counterclockwise direction.

 

Your arms keep crossing and uncrossing, right over left, then left over right. A useful image may be to think of driving a car through a series of S-turns. Your hands turn an imaginary steering wheel to the right for three throws, and then turn the wheel to the left for three throws. The throwing order for the three clockwise throws is: right hand crossed-over, left hand open, right hand crossed-under. The order for the three counterclockwise throws is: left hand crossed-over, right hand open, left hand crossed-under. If the mixed imagery makes sense, keep the balls snaking back and forth as you navigate the turns.

 

The right arm begins crossed over left. Imagine your arms are turning a steering wheel to the right for the first three throws. The first toss is a black ball, thrown clockwise by the right hand.

 

Keep turning the imaginary wheel to the right. When the hands are uncrossed, left hand at about nine o clock, and right hand at about five or six o clock on the wheel, reverse-cascade a white ball from the left hand.

 

Continue turning the wheel to the right. When the right arm is crossed under the left arm, toss the second black ball from the right hand. After this throw begin turning the imaginary steering wheel to the left, in a counterclockwise direction, for the next three throws. With the arms still crossed, catch the first black ball in the right hand. (see illustration)

 

Right hand crosses under left arm to toss black ball. Right hand returns to center to catch the other black ball. The left arm, crossed over the right, throws a white ball counterclockwise from the right into the center. When your arms are uncrossed catch the other white ball in your left hand.

 

The arms are still uncrossed, though still turning the wheel to the left, when the right hand reverse-cascade throws a black ball into the center. Just after throwing this black ball, the left-turn mime of both arms places the right arm over the left, when the right hand catches the descending black ball. (see illustration)

 

Arms are uncrossed as right hand reverse-cascades black ball. Right hand then crosses over left arm to catch the other black ball.

 

Placing the right arm over the left to catch the black ball means the left arm is under the right arm. Perfect. The left hand throws a crossed-under, reverse-cascade toss with one of the white balls. Immediately after this throw start turning the steering wheel to the right, for the next three throws. Catch the descending white ball in the left hand, while the left arm is still crossed under the right arm, though.

 

You have just completed all six throws of the sequence. To continue, merely repeat the above six throws in the same order. The next throw will be from the right hand, when the right arm is crossed over the left.

 

Remember that all throws are some variation on a reverse-cascade. There are three possible arm positions, crossed-over, crossed-under, and uncrossed. Just as in the regular Mills Mess, you throw three times in one direction, then three times in the other direction. The balls never change hands.

 

What I found particularly vexing were the crossed-under throws. For some reason, I wouldn t hold on to the balls long enough to throw them back into the middle of the pattern. In particular, my right hand always released the ball too soon. I think the early release came from feeling rushed about the transition from the clockwise turn on the imaginary wheel to the counterclockwise turn.

 

In any event, this early release resulted in a black ball flying several feet to the left, instead of back to the right, into the center of the pattern. I had to isolate and fix this one throw, before I could progress with Four Balls Mills Mess.

 

You may want to periodically do a check on how accurate and consistent your various throws are, and isolate any problems you may see.

 

copyright 2001 by Todd Strong
       
 

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