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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Everything old is new again » » Magic Squares (2 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

MRSharpe
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I'm trying to find the origin of the Magic Square method using a key. I was taught the method years ago and then found it in George Anderson's Magic Digest. Anderson says there that he was taught the method by a grade school teacher who was trying to use his interest in magic to get him more interested in math. I've also seen it in another book, but can't remember the name or author. Mark Farrar of the UK and Magic Circle says he had never heard of the method and that it isn't in any of his sources such as David Britland's book on the magic of David Berglas. I have almost reached the conclusion that the method is old, maybe ancient, but would still like to make sure. I have developed some improvements/embellishments on the method and would like to credit the originator for publication purposes. Any help regarding this effect/method would be greatly appreciated.
Custom Props Designer and Fabricator as well as Performer from Indiana, USA
Jimso
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The method in Anderson's book is one of many variants of what most people call the 'instant magic square' method. The variations differ in the base square and the key cells, but rely upon the same basic construction method. Many well-known magicians (Harry Lorayne, Harry Anderson, Richard Osterlind, and John Archer, to name a few) use some version with great success. Like you, I wanted to know who was first.

It first became widely known among magicians after it appeared in John Northern Hilliard's Greater Magic, first published in 1938. The author of that chapter was Royal Vale Heath, who clearly was not aware of the method in 1932, when he published a much more complicated method in the December issue of The Sphinx and again in his 1933 book, Mathemagic. According to Karl Fulves, who interviewed H. Adrian Smith much later (1982 or ’83), Heath learned it from Smith in early 1933. Both Heath and Smith were prominent New York magicians who regularly attended monthly meetings of the SAM. Smith told Fulves that he worked out the method after seeing it performed in 1930 by another SAM member from New York named Christian E. Burckel. That completes the chain as far as Fulves discovered. I managed to find a little more.

Ted Anneman published a manuscript called The Book Without a Name in 1931. In it, he described a new presentation of the instant magic square, claiming no credit for the method. His tone suggests that readers would probably already know the method; however, he does not credit his source. Certainly, Burckel knew it prior to that 1931 publication even if Heath and Smith did not. I have searched extensively through older references, but could find nothing before 1929 that describes any version of a base square with adjustable key cells. I did find evidence that magicians were interested in magic squares as performance pieces, but they employed more difficult methods, such as mnemonic tricks to reproduce memorized squares.

I knew all of the others by reputation but had not seen the Burckel name before. I searched for his name in old issues of The Sphinx -- the official record of the SAM at the time. He was described in the February 1930 issue of the Sphinx as an amateur magician “showing marked proficiency in the presentation of magic, although he has been playing with it for a few months only.” He regularly attended and performed at the New York assembly of the SAM, where Smith also was a regular.

I questioned whether a beginner in magic would have invented such a trick. Then, by sheer accident, I encountered a full-page advertisement in the same volume of the Sphinx, dated April 1929. The ad, from Nelson Enterprises of Columbus, Ohio, is for a single trick called “The 16 Magic Square Mystery.” I was able to obtain a copy of the trick from Micky Hades who owns the rights to Nelson’s many publications, and confirmed that it explains the instant magic square method precisely, including the dividend and remainder adjustments. It is easy to imagine that Burckel saw the ad, bought the trick, and performed it for his SAM assembly. Hence, the method goes back at least to Robert A. Nelson, who was certainly a creative magician known for his publications in mentalism. However, the Nelson description contains an error in stating that the methods works for m-sums of 35 or greater (instead of the correct 34). It could have been a typographical error if it occurred only once, but it is repeated. I cannot believe that the creator of the method would have made such an error. Although Bob Nelson’s trick was the earliest source I could identify, the mystery of who actually created the ‘instant magic square’ remains.

I realize that this is a subject that will interest only a narrow slice of the community, but I would be grateful if anyone can shed any further light on the subject. I will soon be releasing a book on new methods for magic square tricks (easier and more flexible than the instant method), and it would be nice to give long overdue credit to whoever actually invented that basic method that has served magicians so well for almost a century.
kah22
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Great post, Jimso. Like yourself I'm realatively new here and just starting to learn mentalist. At the moment I'm playing around with magic squares and your post was quite informative.

If you can tell me a little more about your book
Jimso
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The book is essentially finished, but I am awaiting comments from a few respected magicians to whom I sent preview copies last week. I will announce the release and say more about the book in the Latest and Greatest Forum as soon as I am confident that it is ready to print, hopefully within the next two weeks. Unless I have major revisions to deal with, I expect to release the book for purchase by June 1.
Jimso
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My book is now available for pre-order. You can find more information in the forum on Magical Equations, under the topic "New magic square methods and trick" (it should have been tricks, plural.)
leondo
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Good wort Jimso! Interesting.
Ted L
Jimso
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I am adding a new post to this old topic to bump it up because the same question has been raised again in the forum "Magical Equations."
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