THAT’S NUMBERWANG!

Um… Maths is not magic..?

Well. Let me rephrase that. Maths is magic. As in, say, the work of Pythagoras, Newton, Einstein or Turing. Or the hacker-maths my Chief Magical Consultant showed me the other day, which featured equations so complex they were in Greek alphabet. My mind boggled as nonsensical strings of commands made computer-internet magic happen.

And – as he just pointed out to me – ingenious mathematical-card-sorting-memory-system-feats and the like is also, indeed, impressive, skilled and practical magic… provided it is kept invisible from the likes of me.

Etc. So, yes, I can concede that maths can be magic.

But coercing me into solving GCSE maths puzzles for my apparent entertainment and wonderment is not magic.

I went to Blackpool Magic Convention for the very first time back in February. My verdict on this weird and wonderful weekend is a story for another blog post. But, point is, I found myself in the infamous Ruskin Hotel bar on Saturday night sitting next to a mentalist who not only performed effects (of his own design) for me, but also yielded to my demands for him to show me how they were done.

This was going swimmingly… until he said: “Do you know what a Magic Square* is?”

Being quite drunk by this point, I initially blurted out ‘no’. But then, as I watched him draw a grid, I had a hazy recollection of something I’d skim-read in ’13 Steps’…

Now, I barely scraped my required C in GCSE maths in order to progress to A-Levels, plus get jittery if forced to do anything more complex than ‘2 + 2’ in public. I concur with Titus Andromedon that ‘numbers are the most boring of all the shapes’. And I irrationally suspect I have dyscalculia. So I’d skimmed Corinda and all other number-puzzle ‘magic’ on the grounds of it being maths – and hence boring and irrelevant.

I watched as my magical informant finished the grid with a flourish of his pen. He turned to me with a grin, ready for my next magical demo.

“Wait,” I slurred, “is this maths..?”

My informant was, I think, keen to continue educating me – this was a mentalism 101 rather than him pressing a performance on me. I suppose I’m something of a novel audience and potential student. So he claimed ‘no’ it was not maths.

“Pick a number,” he instructed. [Between one and something – I forget.]

I narrowed my eyes. “This seems A LOT like maths,” I insisted.

My Chief Magical Consultant’s ears pricked up at the word ‘maths’. He’d inveigled two neighbouring Germans in some calculator-based saga that I’d long since lost track of. But he paused from mathsmerising the pair to chip in: “Oh, Magic Square. Yeah, that’s maths. You shouldn’t do maths with her. She hates maths.”

But my informant persisted. So I rolled my eyes and picked two numbers. Now, it wasn’t impressed upon me that I had to pick two different numbers, so I wrote ‘23’ twice in the row, and – amidst my moaning about maths, plus the general levels of drunkenness – this was missed.

Impossible maths was thusly attempted by my informant – I was to watch in wonder as all the rows of numbers, whether up, down or whateverthefuck, added up to the same number. But, of course, they didn’t, because I’d scrawled ‘23’ in twice.

My mistake was identified and I was asked to pick another number in order for the puzzle magic to be completed. Which I dutifully did… as I scooted out our booth and headed to the bar for more booze. I left Kev and my informant to solve the square for themselves, and very pleased they seemed about it, too. [Another mentalist I later hung out with gushed about this guy’s Magic Square, so it was simply clearly wasted on me in the confusion as to whether I’m a Muggle or future-magician.]

At the bar, an older gentleman in a suit shuffled up beside me.

“Do you like magic?” he asked.

“I LOVE magic,” I replied. “But I don’t like maths.”

“Would you like me to show you something?”

“Sure. Provided it isn’t maths. Because I hate maths.”

The gentleman explained in a roundabout way: wouldn’t it be astonishing if he wrote a number on a piece of paper, put it in his pocket, then did some mathematical jiggery-pokery with an unknown date of birth, have you crunch a ‘random’ figure from that and, then – lo! – find that that figure matched the number on the paper in his pocket?

“Yeah. That sounds like maths,” I replied.

Undeterred, the gentleman rustled up paper and pens for us both while I ordered drinks and cautioned that maths-magic and me really don’t mix. But, since it would take a while for my boyfriend’s pint of Guinness to be dispensed – and since the barman had now gone to the trouble of sourcing these accoutrements to magic – I obliged by taking paper and pen in hand, and awaited my instructions.

So. We did additions, subtractions, multiplications, divisions and blah-yawn-blah with various configurations of my birthdate and whatever three times. THREE TIMES.

Each time, as I was asked to state my final figure, the gentleman was rendered unable to do The Big Reveal of the pocketed number. I was sans phone and thus sans calculator, so the first time I couldn’t keep up with the mental arithmetic (plus was distracted by traumatic memories of maths class in school…). The second time, the gentleman rustled up a phone-calculator for me. But I still lost confidence in my sums. And so, upon coming up with what was clearly the wrong number, we went again – much to the amusement of the barman and a couple of nearby magicians, as well as the growing irritation of said gentleman.

But the third time I was sure I’d gotten it right – and so I announced my number, confident of putting this poor man out of his performance misery.

Alas, it was still wrong.

So. The by now palpably irritated gentleman demanded my date of birth, wrote the necessary sums on my paper and came up with a final figure. He then grappled in his pocket for the slip he’d written on earlier – and showed that the figures matched. “See?” he said. “See?”

Er, okay… Ta-da..?

It turned out he’d failed to impress upon me that the first bit of maths I needed to do was remove the first two digits from my year of birth. So we were doomed from the outset. Just as I’d foretold.

And so that, fellas, is not magic. That’s NumberWang!

A Non-Magical Square

*Ha ha. In adding the Wikipedia link for ‘Magic Square’, I find there is such a thing as ‘recreational mathematics’. Who knew?!

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