Last March, on Pi Day (March 14, 2015), I put together a mathematical magic show for the Pi Day festivities at our local library, compiling various tricks that I teach to our future secondary teachers. I was expecting an audience of junior-high and high school students but ended up with an audience of elementary school students (and their parents). Still, I thought that this might be of general interest, and so I’ll present these tricks as well as the explanations for these tricks in this series. From start to finish, this mathematical magic show took me about 50-55 minutes to complete. None of the tricks in this routine are original to me; I learned each of these tricks from somebody else.

Think of a number from 0 to 63. Then, on your piece of paper, circle the cards that contain your number. For example, if your number is 15, you’ll need to circle the card in the upper-left because 15 is on that card. You’d have to circle all the cards that contain 15.

(pause)

Is everyone done? (Points to someone) Which cards did you circle?

At this point, the audience member will say something like “Top left, top middle, and bottom right.” Then I will add the smallest numbers on each card (in this case, 1, 2, and 32) and answer in five seconds or less, “Your number was 35 (or whatever the sum is).”

Then I’ll ask someone else which cards they circled, and then tell him/her the number that he/she chose (by quietly and quickly adding the smallest numbers on the selected cards.) Then I’ll do this for a couple more people until everyone is convinced that I’m a genius.

Then I’ll start explaining why the trick works… which I’ll begin with tomorrow’s post.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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