The magic square is a mathematical oddity, a table where all of the columns, rows and diagonals that consist of various numbers (integers) all add up to a single number. The magic square is a curiosity that has been known for thousands of years and there’s evidence that many cultures either discovered or were familiar with the concept. A times, and in certain cultures, magic squares also had apparent use as talismans and were even considered to have divinatory powers.
In his classic “13 Steps to Mentalism,” Corinda refers to the magic square as a “brain teaser “ in step 3, “Mneumonics and Mental Systems.” Corinda doesn’t offer any ideas for presentations, he simply explains the workings of the magic square. Most magicians that I have seen who perform the effect in their acts obtain a random number from an audience member and then proceed to write in the numbers on a table. At the end, during the final revelation, the numbers are all shown to add up to the freely named number.
I have personal experience with performing the magic square in both stand up and close-up situations. I find it to be a crowd pleaser. I mastered the magic square by memorizing the formulas, and during shows, I mentally perform the calculations on the fly. However, there are easier ways.
The Magic Square DVD
Luis de Matos released a DVD called “The Magic Square” that offers his take on the well known effect. Here, de Matos teaches a clever and simple approach to perform the effect that does away with the memorization and calculations and he offers excellent advice on presenting the effect in an entertaining manner.
In de Matos’ main routine, a number is randomly selected, and it’s clear to the audience that this number is in no way forced. He then walks to a pad of paper and asks the audience to call out random numbers. From these numbers from the audience, he creates the magic square. It’s a great presentation that encourages audience participation. And the results are stunning.
To minimize the technical challenge of memorizing the formula and calculating the values under performance conditions, de Matos has created a system of crib (cheat) sheets that allow you to secretly refer to the numbers and write them down so there’s almost no way that you can make a mistake. This is the approach taken in the main routine with the audience calling out numbers. And he teaches other approaches, including the use of a sticker that comes in the kit.
The kit comes with PDF files that you can print out and use in your performance of de Matos’ main routine. I like the way in which de Matos teaches different presentations and howh to work with various props. He not only simplifies the entire routine, he teaches how to effectively maximize the entertainment value of the effect.
Squaring Away the Effect
As mentioned earlier, since I’ve been performing this one for some time in both stand-up and close-up (mostly close-up these days), I long ago memorized the formulas and perform the calculations on the fly.
I have to admit that I’ve had some close calls where I thought that I had made a mistake, but I haven’t missed one yet. I recognize the value in de Matos approach, but at one time in my life, I was a math whiz and employed as an engineer. Darn it, I can handle these numbers and will continue to do so. (I know, it’s a vanity thing and I always say that magic has no room for vanity. But when it comes to magic squares, I just like being a purist.)
If you’ve always wanted to perform the magic square, and want to keep the math to a minimum, I highly recommend this excellent DVD, routine and system by Luis de Matos.