School of Mathematical Sciences

Mathematics: It's a Kind of Magic

4 February 2010

The Manual of Mathematical Magic - a unique kit of magical miracles to impress and entertain your friends written by Queen Mary's Matt Parker and Peter McOwan - is being distributed to schools around the country.

Freely available to any school in England, the Manual exposes the secrets behind street magic, close-up and stage tricks, revealing the varied and exciting everyday uses for the mathematics powering your magic.

Mathematics and magic may seem a strange combination, but many of the most powerful magical effects performed today have a mathematical basis. Maths is also the secret behind the technologies we use, the products we buy and the jobs we do.
Manual author and computer science professor Peter McOwan explains: "It's no surprise that some mathematicians and computer scientists are also keen amateur magicians. Day-to-day we use maths to help explain the natural world, but from time-to-time it's just good fun to use maths for entertainment too."
The Manual gives young mathematicians the chance to be creative, finding new ways to solve problems and discovering the key to the perfect magic trick. Along the journey they will also uncover the skills of a good mathematician, one with the useful employment skills you get from being good at mathematics.
Both Professor McOwan and mathematician co-author Matt Parker regularly visit secondary schools to do Mathematical Magic shows for students.
“Our goal is to help more students engage with Mathematics," reveals Parker, who is also involved with Hefce's More Maths Grads programme. "Magic tricks get the students excited and then we show them the mathematical principles that make the whole trick hang together. We also reveal how the same Mathematics underpins everything from medical scans to sending text messages.”
As well as the Manual of Mathematical Magic, the kit also contains a pack of cards, notebook and pencil – all of which have hidden Mathematical Magic. Teachers can use the tricks in the book in their lessons and then explain the Mathematics and its applications.
“Maths is magic. But too often school maths is a dull diet which sucks the joy out of what should be a thrilling and beautiful subject," said Paul McGarr, Deputy leader Maths Faculty at Langdon Park School where Parker gave a magical lesson to Year 10 pupils this week. "This new pack, quite literally, helps put the magic back into classroom maths. My pupils really loved it, they were engaged, excited and happy – not back for last period of a long day! The 'wow' was audible when they saw some of the tricks demonstrated, and you could almost taste their intense curiosity to find out how it was done using maths. I would strongly recommend teachers to get hold of this pack and use it.”
Speed Calculations
Using a board to write on, Matt Parker can take large random numbers from the audience and multiply them faster than anyone using a calculator. A high impact, visual stunt that uses a simple Maths trick.
Handing calculators out to the audience, Matt Parker can then calculate cube-roots instantly as people call numbers out. Matt’s seeming-impossible speed continues to increase during this cunning Mathematical trick.
Card Tricks
Someone can be taught how to leave their body and see a pattern of cards on the other side of the room. While they are unable to see what is happen, another volunteer will set up a random pattern of cards and then change one card. The first person can then use Maths to say which card has changed in a pattern they have never seen before.
A volunteer freely chooses a card from the deck and then replaces it. Using a simple mathematical trick, the card can be instantly located.
Mind Tricks
A volunteer will perfectly match-up Zenner psychic cards without looking at them. Only it’s actually Maths that they are using without knowing it.
This is the trick that fooled Einstein. Someone takes as many matches as they choose from a pile, only to find that their actions were already written down in an accurate prediction.
Photos are available of Matt Parker performing an interactive mathematical magic show for GCSE pupils from Year 10 at Langdon Park School (London, E14 0RZ).
He is also available this week for individual photos and interviews Wednesday 3 Feb - Friday 5 Feb. Contact Simon Levey to arrange - | 07740 346 737
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For more information, contact:
Simon Levey
Communications Officer | Queen Mary, University of London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 5404 | +44 (0)7740 346 737 (out of hours)
Twitter: is external)
Additional Notes:
Online Manual of Mathematical Magic:
The Manual of Mathematical Magic has a website at is external), where you can order a kit for your school.
Development of the Manual of Mathematical Magic:
The Magic book has been co-authored by Peter McOwan and Matt Parker as a joint project between the Mathematics and Computer Science departments. It has been funded and produced by More Maths Grads, which has its London hub hosted at Queen Mary, University of London.
Professor Peter McOwan is Professor of Computer Science and Director of Outreach for the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London.
Matt Parker is Mathematics Outreach Coordinator for the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London.

Kit contents:
•    The Manual of Mathematical Magic
•    Kit instruction booklet
•    Pack of playing cards
•    Notepad
•    Pencil
One kit is being delivered to every secondary school in London (400+ schools), as well as schools in Coventry, Liverpool and Leeds. Other schools around the UK can contact any of the following Maths Departments for a free copy, while stocks last:
Matt Parker
Department of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London

Chris Marchant
Department of Mathematics, The University of Liverpool

Ruth Holland
School of Mathematics, University of Leeds

Farzana Aslam
Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Engineering Science, Coventry University