My Mathematical Magic Show: Part 4d

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.

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For my third trick, I’ll present something that I first saw when pulling Christmas crackers with my family. I’ll give everyone a piece of paper with six cards printed. I’ll also have a large version of this paper shown at the front of the room (taken from; see also this Google search if this link somehow goes down):

Here’s the patter:

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.


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).” It turns out that the number is always the sum of the smallest numbers on the selected cards.As shown in yesterday’s post, this is a consequence of the binary representation of whole numbers (as opposed to the ordinary decimal representation).

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Though I don’t do this in my magic routine for the sake of time, I have challenged my future high school math teachers to develop a similar magic trick for some other base, like base 3, just to make sure that they really understand the concept behind the above magic trick. Here are the cards that work for base 3 (taken from

I encourage the reader to develop another set of cards for base 5. It will require 10 cards for numbers from 1 to 24.

With tomorrow’s post, I’ll continue my description of my magic routine.

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