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Synesthesia
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I'm curious to know what the mentalists around here think about effects that involve math, ranging from simple sum predictions up to magic squares and things like that. Though I enjoy and am reasonably good at math, I have always found myself unattracted to such effects, because I know how the average person reacts to math. It seems to me like this is a tradition that started back when the average person's mathematical knowledge was considerably better, and it simply isn't as good at serving the purpose that it used to serve.

Here's my reasoning:

1) Math alienates people. It is so acceptable these days to be "not a math person" that a lot of people simply throw up their hands in defeat when faced with even the simplest of arithmetical tasks. Too much math loses people's interest and makes the mentalist's abilities look highly technical, or worse, boring.

2) Math confuses people. When there's math in a mentalist's feat, people lose track of the feat itself. This was clearly the intention originally: it served as a way to misdirect attention away from the core method. But as general math abilities have gone down, this misdirection has become a dilution, with many people not following the mathematical portion (often by choice, as per item #1) and ending up confused (and not in a good way) about what exactly has just been demonstrated.

3) The math becomes the magic. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, sadly, a lot of people are just as mystified by the ability to sum up three-digit numbers as they are by the ability to read minds or predict the future. People are unsure about the limitations of math, so a math-heavy effect can easily be written off as relying on some "math trick" and the mentalist as simply "good at math". A magic square built for a predicted number, for example, puts all the emphasis on a numerical feat that is impressive but clearly not superhuman, while distracting from the feat of prediction or mindreading, and even suggesting that it might be built into the math somehow. It's similar to why it's so difficult to use digital technology in magic and mentalism: the technology itself is magical to people, but it's a well-known form of wizardry, so as soon as it's involved in an effect, people have a tendency to ascribe the entire effect to the tech, and thus be mystified while simultaneously unsurprised and unimpressed.

Surely this somewhat depends on the audience, especially in terms of age (my experience is limited, performing casually and mostly for people in their 20s) and venue (certain corporations or colleges can likely be counted on to deliver math-savvy audiences) so I'd really like to know what others think. Has the reaction to math-based effects changed over time? Does it change from audience to audience? Do you avoid, minimize, maximize, etc. the use of math in your mentalism?
garett
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#3 is the reason I shy away from math tricks.

I am a nerd. I love math and my persona / character is very nerdy. Not in the Ed Alonzo over-the-top "Revenge of the nerds" cliche way, but in the "goes to comic-con, watches Mythbusters and reads comic books" kind of way.

I would LOVE to do more math-related stuff IF I could a) find a way to make them more entertaining and b) make them "magic."

It's the same reason I'm not huge on rope-escape escaplogy tricks (I know I'm talking magic here but it's the same idea). I'm not an expert on knots, but I do know that entire books have been written on the subject of knots and that mathemeticians study them. So how do I know that there's just not some principle about the knot that the audience does not understand but the magician does ?

Magic = impossible and when it comes to math, or knots etc. then you always have to wonder if maybe if you were a mathemetician or a sailor then the solution would be obvious. It doesn't help that many mental feats, such as solving cube roots as described in 13 Steps, are actually exactly this.
Mindpro
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In my experience the success of any math or mental math effects relies entirely on the presentation followed secondly by the transparency. More so the presentation. I see many square and other math-based presentations confusing, over-complex, boring and appearing as more of a cool trick than a mental miracle. Not much amazement, just a bit "that was kinda cool".

I find this true in almost all great or poor performances, it all seems to come from the performance itself.
John C
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If you are good the math is hidden. I've used calculus and advanced geometry mixed in and out with some algebraic equations in several effects and the specs didn't know what the heck was going on. It was all in my head. Was there an easier way to create the same effect ... Yes. But why make it simple and leave more for presentation?
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Slim King
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There are math effects that require no math.( on the part of the sitter)
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Synesthesia
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@John C & Slim King -- If the math is simply a part of your method and hidden from the audience, then yes that's different. What I mean is effects where the math is necessarily revealed (even if you are walking the audience through it rather than asking them to do it).

For example -- three spectators choose numbers and you have predicted the total (thinking of a method on Banachek's Psi series DVDs here), or magic square effects, or effects that rely on things like "reversing the digits then subtracting from the original". Anything where you must walk the spectators through some level of arithmetical alchemy to arrive at your revelation is, I think, potentially problematic. Of course as Mindpro says, at the end of the day, everything is in how you handle the presentation -- I'm just not sure most such effects are worth the presentational challenge the math creates.
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If I'm not mistaken, we're talking about effects where maths are part of the presentation (and not about effects that could be achieved by secretly using maths).

I agree with what has been written above, that maths can be confusing, can take the magic of the effect away, etc.
But as always, I believe it depends entirely on presentation. For instance, if it's not mixed with "standard" mentalism, but presented as a show of "genius feats" (can't remeber how Corinda calls them), then it can be very entertaining (though not "magical", not "impossible").

It also depends on what the emphasis is on. Let's take the good example in the OP: a magical square build around a predicted number. It's true it blurs the message and take the attention away from the "impossible feat" (the prediction). But what if you don't claim to be a genius, and let the spectator wonder where the numbers that fill the square came from?

For a charity event, I didn't want to do "table hopping mentalism", I let my friends the magicians take care of that. I installed a table in a quiet room and did private seances. I would openly fill a square; when two cells only were left empty, I would ask the sitter for her birth date (day and month) and write that in. Then, I would show that ever line and every column added up to a number she'd given me at the beginning ("Picture yourself looking back at your life and thinking you've done everything important you wanted to do, how old are you?"). And I would just show her the corner added up to that number, and hint she should look for herself.
I remember how one person came bak to me at the end of the evening, his eyes wide opened in wonder, with hiw card: he had found alsmost every way to make his number, smiling because he felt he was holding a magical object Smile
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garett
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Quote:
On 2013-09-11 15:17, Cervier wrote:
For instance, if it's not mixed with "standard" mentalism, but presented as a show of "genius feats" (can't remeber how Corinda calls them), then it can be very entertaining (though not "magical", not "impossible").


What I was trying to say is that I know *just enough* math, as a non-mathemetician, to know that there are various "tricks" (not in the magic trick sense but in the math sense) and formulas / algorithms that can be easily memorized and used. So as a spectator with those types of "genius feats" I can never tell if I should think it's really a genius feat, or if the guy just knows a simple algorithm or "trick" and plays it up as him doing something impressive. I love math, but I find myself more amazed and impressed listening to an actual math professor talk about math and discuss short-cuts, etc. than someone trying to perform a magic square in a mentalism act.

I think it's an uphill battle to create a routine / presentation themed around math that is entertaining, simple, direct and impressive. It's all about assumptions. In Berglas and Cordina's day calculators were big and expensive. Today everyone carries a cellphone. It's a challenge that I've been working on myself and I have incredible amounts of respect to anyone with the creative genius to come up with a routine that hits on every level.
IAIN
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To me - it just doesn't add up...
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Cervier
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Quote:
On 2013-09-11 15:43, garett wrote:
So as a spectator with those types of "genius feats" I can never tell if I should think it's really a genius feat, or if the guy just knows a simple algorithm or "trick" and plays it up as him doing something impressive.(...) In Berglas and Cordina's day calculators were big and expensive. Today everyone carries a cellphone.

Nowadays, as you rightly say, everybody uses a calculator and carries a phone, very few people can actually do any calculation without. I believe that makes calculation feats all the more impressive.

That said, I agree math feats are not the easiest effect to present in an entertaining way, especially if mixed with mind reading! For instance, it often requires handing out half a dozen calculators that won't be needed for the rest of the show. Whereas for a "genius effects" act, it would make sense to have some spectators on stage with calculatore for the whole show --and playing with their reactions could help make the whole act more entertaining.

Harry Lorayne wrote "Whether I'm performing magic or memory, the most applauses and, yes, standing ovations, I receive are most often for a lightning math trick!" (in "How to Perform Feats of Mathematical Wizardry").

But again, even though there is a certain logic to the saying an extraordinary brain that can read minds can also calculate at the speed of light, mixing the two is IMHO not something to recommend.
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Synesthesia
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Quote:
On 2013-09-11 17:02, Cervier wrote:

But again, even though there is a certain logic to the saying an extraordinary brain that can read minds can also calculate at the speed of light, mixing the two is IMHO not something to recommend.


Agreed -- I guess it really is just a matter of presentational preference. To me the joy of mentalism is not simulating something extraordinary, but simulating something impossible.
ddyment
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Simulating something impossible is not the same thing as having an audience believe that you have actually done something impossible. If you walk on stage and levitate someone "via psychokinetic powers", almost everyone in the audience will believe that you are doing a magic trick.

A more effective approach is likely to be starting with something that almost all people believe possible (if extremely difficult), such as a magic square. Then move on to something most people believe possible, like reading psychological cues. Then to something that quite a few people believe possible, like intuition. And so on.

Take them there; don't expect them to get there without your help.

There's a good reason why the majority of top earners in mentalism include magic squares in their repertoires.
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TonyB2009
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Maths is the highest human achievement. It is also great fun. And it can be made very entertaining. Just watch Arthur Bemjamin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4vqr3_ROIk

I was lucky enough to catch him live recently and it was a thoroughly entertaining hour.

Math and lightning calculation effects work great with a memory demonstration. Not pure mentalism, but definitely in the same ball park.

Tonight I opened my hypnosis show with a lightning calculation routine. It was simple to follow, used two volunteers and raffle tickets stapled to my arm, and went down a storm. It can easily be made entertaining to a lay audience.
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Numbers have always been related to magic. I mean REAL magic. History of numbers and maths can be fascinating. All sciences emerged from magical beliefs as a desire to better understand the inner working of the world.
Many maths principles are magic in a poetic sense. I remember when I learned the Gilbreath principle. It WAS a magic moment. Maths principles can be used secretly, interlaced with other principles in magic and mentalism effects. They can be openly used, as in many Bizarre Magic presentations with great results... or boring experiences !

The most difficult maths problem for us is to be clear about what we want when we choose to use maths principles in place of others methods...
Peter_turner
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I use Isabella's star and now Isabella's star two which has the spectator total their astrological number. The phrasing of the maths is to find out something new about themselves and is really simple. I find a lot of females (after talking about astrological numbers) want to find theirs out, making the equation somewhat exciting.

It's all about where you place the maths and how you have them do it. If the routine is all about maths, it becomes boring very fast. If maths is just the foundation in where things start and has no actual relevance in the presentation of the routine (juxtaposed) then it is something that is a lot more impressive.

Anyone worrying about a participant not having a calculator on their phone or not knowing how to get to it, have yours set up on short cut. On Samsung phones, the calculator buttons are that big, they can see them across the road. By offering the participant to use their calculator first, it will blow any suspicion out of the water (not that their should be any).

If you have seen Isabella's star, the math is the smallest part of the routine and is not in anyway shape or form thought of as the "magic" behind the entire thing (because it isn't).

Math is not the problem, its often the performer.

Make sure everything is set up correctly (if there is a calculator there, which there will be)there is no need to worry about their mathematical abilities. If there is a problem it's the performer that has not taken every eventuality into account.

If the math appears to be (because of the presentation)the core of the effect, therefore making it seem like the magic part, that's the performer's fault. If there is no reason for the math (other than being for the method) then that is also the performers fault.

If the maths has a reason I.E this is why we are doing this and this is what the total means (for example a life equation) or whatever then it's a process that has to be done to reach a point where the presentation NOW starts, the math is not relevant.

Better questions would be.

Why are you doing the math? (If it is for the method and the total is what you are going to reveal) then the effect is method driven and the math will always seem like the magic because it created the result you will reveal).

Remedy that go somewhere else.

Is it a long process that is all number based? (if it is, then it's going to be boring. How can you make it more fun?)

It's not the maths that should be questioned, it's the performer who's performing it that is often at fault if it is boring.

Long post to come to a simple point Smile

Anyway anything expressed is just my opinion and what do I know anyway!

Hope someone get's something from this,

Pete x
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Looking forward to hearing more about isobella's star 2 Pete, isobellas star is one of my favourite routines.

As far as math goes, the two routines I get the strongest reactions with are the magic square and Larry Becker's Sum Total.

Mark
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Slim King
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My first release years ago was Radio Waves I ...all math ...still use them today. It's all in the situation created by the mentalist.
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Mike Ince
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I assume when performing a math square my audience can follow along. If they're feeling lazy they'll take my word for the calculations.

Hilford's Book of Numbers series and Dyment's work on squares bear mention.
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Synesthesia
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@Pete - thanks for an excellent response. I suppose really, what we are discussing applies to a lot of things, not just maths -- e.g. when using billets you put focus on the thoughts, not the billets themselves.

(Note: I'm caving and adopting "maths" with an S. I am after all British-born and living in Canada, so I probably should have been doing that from the start, but where I've spent most of my life it just gets you looked at funny!)

The repeated refrain here is that ultimately it comes down to the performer, and that's clearly the most important point. Of course, at the same time, part of the performer's skill is not just performing but choosing what to perform -- and for me at the moment, my instincts still aren't giving me a clear picture of how to fit some of this stuff into my routine for my audience. But there have been some great effects suggested here that I never would have thought of (Cervier, I love the seance magic square; Peter, I'm not familiar with Isabella's Star but I just checked it out and I'm fascinated... definitely a new top contender for my next purchase) so I'm definitely going to try to be a bit more open-minded towards maths effects going forward.
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To be completely honest, I've never liked Magic Square type effects...and have never seen one that I really enjoyed. While I agree that much of it has to do with the presentation, there's no way around the "look at ME" vibe they carry.

It's a matter of personal taste, I think...but numbers feel cold and sterile to me.

From the audience perspective, the performer takes a random number and has squares of other numbers add up to the random number. So? From the audience, people must conclude the guy is either a genius or he's doing a "trick." Either way, is it something I can aspire to do as an audience member? Probably not, since the applications of this seem limited.

I'm a firm believer in presenting effects I am passionate about. From a personal perspective -- and only a personal perspective -- my show will never have a Magic Square routine since I have many options that are a better fit for me. I'm sure there are other performers who have great success with this routine. I'm not one of them.

David
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