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THE MATH BEHIND MAGIC

By Kristen Berish

PERCI DIACONIS
Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Stanford
University
Main focus was on magic through the use of cards
Most famously know for his finding in 1992, along
with Dave Bayer, that it takes about seven ordinary
riffle shuffles to randomize a deck.
Although the proof of this took years to discover and
is of long length, 7 shuffles completely randomizes
the deck and therefore every arrangement of the 52
cards is equally likely or that any card is as likely to be
in one place as in another.

THE ART OF SHUFFLING CARDS


The Perfect Shuffle of a deck of 2n cards
Cutting the deck exactly in half and then riffling them so that they
alternate perfectly.
This will not completely randomize the deck!
Let the deck be labeled (1,2,,n-1,n,.2n-1, 2n)

The in-shuffle;
Leaves the original card second from the top
After an in shuffle, the order is (n+1,1,,2n,n)
In-shuffling an even number n of cards n times results in the
original card order.

Example: Deck of 52 cards


Takes 52 shuffles to return to the original

THE ART OF SHUFFLING CARDS


The out-shuffle:
Leaving the original card on top
After an out shuffle, the order is (1, n+1, 2,n, 2n)
Out-shuffling an even number n cards n-2 times when
n-1 is prime results in the original order
For any n-1 that is not prime, amount of shuffles, r, can
be written as
Example: Deck of 52 cards
8 perfect shuffles

WHAT THE PERFECT SHUFFLES ARE USED FOR:


If a magician wants to bring the top card to a given position in the
deck
Suppose he wants to move the top card to the 13th position
Step 1: Subtract 1 from the position wanted --- 131= 12
Step 2: represent that number in binary
12 = 1100
Step 3: let 0 = out-shuffle and 1= in-shuffle
1100 = in, in, out, out

COLM MULCAHY
Professor of Mathematics at Spelman College, in
Atlanta, Georgia, where he's been teaching since
1988.
Hes been publishing original mathematical card trick
principles bi-monthly at MAA.org since 2004.
Other puzzles of his have appeared in the New York
Times.

THE THREE SCOOP MIRACLE


The magician hands about a quarter of a deck of cards to a spectator, and ask her
to shuffle freely. Taking those cards back, and mixing them further the magician
asks the spectator what her favorite ice cream flavor is. Lets suppose she says,
Chocolate. Dealing from the packet to the table, the magician puts down one card
for each letter of chocolate, then scoop those up with one hand and drops the
remainder on top. This process is repeated twice more, for a total of three times.
The magician then now ask her to press down hard on the top card of the packet on
the table, requesting that it be miraculously turned a specific card, which in this
case well say the Four of Diamonds. When the card is turned over, it is seen by all
to be the desired card. Congratulate the spectator on a job well done.

THE THREE SCOOP MIRACLE


There are two secrets here:
(1) A key relationship between the number of letters in the word being spelled
out and the size of the quarter deck being used
The size of the deck must be at least as big as the kind of ice cream the person chooses
but no larger then twice that number

(2) The you must know the identity of the bottom card at the start of the spelling
and dropping

The question now is how can the magician get that bottom card to the top of
the deck??

Bottom to Top Principle


The original bottom card of the packet ends up on
top after three such reverse transferrings of k cards
from n, provided that k n/2
This is considered a reversed transfer of some
fixed number of cards in a packet from top to
bottom, done three times in total.
The dealing out of k cards from a packet that runs
{1, 2,...,k 1, k, k + 1, k + 2,...,n 1, n}
from the top down, and then dropping the rest on
top as a unit, yields the rearranged packet
{k + 1, k + 2,...,n 1, n, k, k 1,..., 2, 1}.
Picture shows the order when k = 9

Top - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - >
Bottom

Low-Down Deal Packet Separation Principle


If k cards are reverse transferred from the top
to the bottom of a packet of size n, and k
n/2 , then the top and bottom halves switch
places, subject to some internal reordering.
Picture shows the order when k = 7
Patterns to be aware of:
If the deck has an odd number of cards, then
the middle card will always be fixed.
If the deck has an even number, the middle
two cards will switch places.

SYMMETRY OF A DECK OF CARDS


When reverse transferring the same number of cards over and over, there
are three sections of the deck to keep an eye on.
First, note that since k n /2 , we have 2k n = k (n k) 0
Let n = k + (n k)
= [(n k)+(k (n k))] + (n k)
= (n k) + (2k n)+ (n k)
Packet of n cards naturally breaks symmetrically into three pieces T,M,B, (top,
middle, and bottom) of sizes nk, 2k n, nk.

T nk
M 2kn
B nk

T nk
M 2kn
B nk

Example:
n = 13, and k = 8, and therefore the deck is ordered: {1, 2,..., 12, 13}
T = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}
M = {6, 7, 8}
B = {9, 10, 11, 12, 13}
Counting out eight cards results in: {9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1},
that is B followed by M reversed followed by T reversed. The middle card, in
position 7 in this case, remains fixed throughout.

Reminder: the goal is to get the last card to


be on the top of the deck
In general, counting out the first k cards
(always at least T and M together) and
dropping the rest on top leads to:
T,M,B B,,
The second round yields: B,, , M,
The third round yields: , M, , T
Hence, the original bottom card will now be
on top.

THINGS ARE MEANT TO BE TRICK


You claim that some things are simply meant to be, and set about proving it. You need your friend to
help you create a random target number. But before she even picks the number, you predict that
the total is 1089.
To prove, you get your friend to secretly write down any three-digit number.
The digits must all be different and the biggest digit must be at the front.
Then you get them to reverse their selected number and write it underneath the first number.
They should then subtract this lower number from their first number.
Finally, have them write their answer backwards and add this new reversed number to their answer.
After all of this, you now have a random number even your friend couldnt have predicted in
advance. But as predicted the final number is 1089

Say your friend chose 742:


742
- 247
495
+594
1,089

WHY DOES THIS WORK?


Let ABC represent the chosen number:
Subtracting: ABC CBA

Since we know A>C we cant to subtraction without borrowing

Lets try this instead:


If you add 100 to ABC and then take away 100, then youre still left with the same number, ABC.
Representing adding 100 as 10+90 and subtraction of 100 as A-1: ABC = (A-1) (B+9) (C+10)
We now have:

(A-1)-C

(A-1) (B+9) (C+10)


B
(B+9)-B

+ (C+10)-A
9

18

A______
(C+10)-A
(B+9)-B
9

(A-1)-C___

A=9 , B=18, C=9

1089

REFERENCES
Magical Mathematics: The mathematical ideas that animate great magic
tricks
By Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham

Mathematical Card Magic Fifty-Two New Effects


By Colm Mulcahy

http://www.mathematicalmagic.com/docs/mathsmagic_full.pdf