Math, Magic, Puzzles and Games

HONR 1310

---Under Revision---

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

Course Information

Course:Math, Magic, Puzzles and Games
Course No:HONR 1310
Textbook A: Reference material and lecture notes will be available through Blackboard. The homepage for the course has additional material on a wide range of topics. You should browse through it and see what interests you. There are also some classical books on magic and puzzles on reserve at the library.
Textbook B: Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks by Persi Diaconis & Ron Graham, Princeton University Press, 2011 URL NOTE: the book is accessible online through the Northeastern University Library.
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 Here


The course will go into depth on the mathematics behind some classic magic tricks, puzzles and games. Mathematical topics may include, but are not limited to, Com- binatorics, graph theory, group theory, number theory, topology, dynamics, binary arithmetic and coding theory. Specific topics will vary depending upon the interests of the students and the needs of the Service Learning Partners If you have a particular interest, speak to your instructor - it likely can be included in the course. Mathematical topics may include but are not limited to combinatorics, graph theory, group theory, number theory, topology, dynamics, binary arithmetic and coding theory. The course is for students in the Honors program only.

You should bring your own deck of cards to class.

Service Learning

Students will be organized into teams of 4-5 students (though sizes and number of groups will vary depending upon the number of students and the number of Service-Learning partners). Each group will prepare 3 presentations - tentatively one on magic tricks, one on puzzles, and one on games.

Each presentation should be prepared in detail and practiced in class before meeting with service partners. This includes preparing handouts, activities and possible supplemental material for the teachers involved.

Students are expected to help critique each other and may "borrow" material from other groups. To this end, the groups will not prepare their presentations in the same order. Credit is given if you can improve your material for the next group to use.


Detailed Grading Rubric - on blackboard

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