The Mathematics of Magic Tricks and Puzzles

HON 1207

---Under Constant Construction---

Copyright © Scott Kim
On the Mathematics of Ambigrams from Kim Scott

Course Information

Course:The Mathematics of Magic Tricks and Puzzles
Course No:HON 1207
Textbook: Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks by Persi Diaconis & Ron Graham, Princeton University Press, 2011 URL
Instructor: Professor Stanley Eigen
Office and phone: 527 LA, x5647
Email: s.eigen (at) neu (dot) edu
Office hours: TBA and by appointment
Syllabus: Click to Download

Description and Service Learning

This is a Service Learning course - and Service Learning is a very important part of the course. There will be teams of students working with service learning partners - outside of Northeastern. You will be "performing" mathematical tricks and then explaining the mathematics behind them to the service learning students. In addition, there may be tutoring and homework help.

Besides the service learning we will also be taking in-depth look at the mathematics of puzzles and behind some classical, self-working magic tricks. Mathematical topics may include but are not limited to combinatorics, graph theory, group theory, number theory, topology, dynamics, binary arithmetic and coding theory. This course is for non-science, non-math honors students.

You should bring your own deck of cards to class.


Grades will be based on The weighting may vary for students who excel greatly at one aspect over the others

More Grading Details

Joint projects are also possible. There are many mind-reading tricks that require two people. The math is often a coding technique.

Interactive Videos - David Copperfield et al

Try to figure out yourself how the following tricks work.
Can you create your own "trick" based on these or similar principles?
Search around the web and find other interactive tricks you like.
Make your own interactive video.

Teaching Related

Articles on Using Magic to Teach

These articles are written by Middle School Teachers, High School Teachers and College Professors who have used magic in the classroom successfully. The articles also include discussions of teaching and interactions with the students.
However, there is plenty of room to improve and re-organize the material.

Videos/Articles for Teaching through magic - Math, Physics and Computer Science

The following features mathematicians and magicians Matt Parker, Peter McOwan and Jason Davison. Video was produced by the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Queen Mary University of London and, with support from the UK HE STEM project.

Sources of Magic Tricks

There are many places to find magic tricks: books, magazines, the web, friends. In your write-up, indicate the source of the the trick. Needless to say, there is extra credit for inventing something new.

Additional Readings/Articles


Reference Books

Stuff to be reorganized

Quote from Magician Jolyon Jenkins
Maths and magic go back a long way - the oldest written card trick was by Luca Pacioli, a friend of Leonardo, and appears in a treatise which also contains the first account of double entry book keeping. Many tricks in the working magician's repertoire rely on maths.

Hummer - Cut and Flip Two

  1. Ten Card Hummer Trick Chris Morgan Version
  2. Five Card Reveal Hummer Trick

Gilbreath Principle

  1. See Chapter 5 of Text.
  2. This page has a video of Ron Graham
  3. Second Gilbreath Principle Article from the MAA (Mathematical Association of America)
Video About Martin Gardner
            John Conway - Invention of Game of Life