Ta Da!

This exclamation we commonly associate with magic, but also sometimes feel like uttering at the end of a proof. We strive to manufacture anticipation right before the final result is revealed. We hope that our presentation of the problem itself was captivating enough, that we leave just enough mystery to encourage questions, and that our techniques are believable but not overly technical. It takes years to hone what my friend used to call the “reality distortion field” that often surrounds a great advisor. While you sit in the his/her office, ideas seem so much more intuitive and clear than they do when you are putting pen to paper in the comfort of your own home.

It seems fitting to think about these analogies on the eve of Martin Gardner’s Birthday! New York Times Number play blog is celebrating with a puzzle. Explaining the solution to the puzzle involving sailors and a monkey divvying up thousands of coconuts is cut-the-knot’s Alexander Bologmy. This is a great one if you want a fun reason to think about a geometric series, and the comments include great variations with more monkeys and/or sailors.

Perhaps coincidentally, Ireland’s 8th annual Maths Week just ended. Among those featured are Spanish Mathemagician Fernando Blasco and math teacher and magician Andrew Jeffrey. In the video, Blasco performs two “tricks”, one of which is topological. He mentions that the math magic connection goes back to Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations of his math teacher Paccioli’s never published book entitled On The Power of Numbers. When the book was written in the 15th century, witchcraft was punishable by death. The book, which laid unread for 500 years until 2007 included card tricks, juggling, and slight-of-hand. It is considered the first book of its kind.

Gardner, who, as the title of his recently published autobiography (Undiluted Hocus Pocus) might imply, is no stranger to magic. Only a few years ago, Gardner wrote the forward to Magical Mathematics, a book by Ron Graham and Persi Diaconis that Amazon claims customers often buy with a pack of cards. Take a moment today to appreciate the rich history of magic that permeates our field of work.

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