IT JUST DOESN’T ADD UP! – A math-extinction / by Bo Gerard

Magicians are always making changes in their performance, based on modern trends, fashion, political climate and technology, but I never thought I would have to change a trick because of dwindling math skills. The comedian in me is having a ball will it, but the magician in me is not as pleased.

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Over the years I have made many changes in my stage show, due to changes in my audiences’ perception, attention span and willingness to play. But the latest change I am faced with is a real doozy. For years I have been performing a “number prediction”, where an envelope is handed to someone in the audience to hold, then three randomly chosen audience members (really!) write a 3-digit number on a pad of paper. When the number are totaled, the sum magically equals the number that is written on a piece of paper in the envelope the audience member has been holding. Over the years I have noticed that, every great once in a while, the audience member that is chosen to add the three, 3-digit numbers has a little trouble with the task. I had chalked this up to the wide variance in math skill that exists in the population.

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But lately, almost everyone that comes up to add the numbers, has some trouble. Some just have forgotten how to manually add numbers, (carry the 3, etc.), but some display a total inability to arrive at the sum. These are all adults! And I ask the audience to choose someone that they think can add three, 3-digit numbers without a calculator. So, I am actually screening for someone that can do it. More than once, I have seen my “On-Stage Pythagoras” add the numbers across FIRST. Then add those numbers down. (See image) I’m not sure what kind of “new math” that is, but it doesn’t get the job done.

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This situation presents an opportunity for a lot of great comedy interaction – sometimes ending up with a committee of audience members on stage checking each other’s math. But, the farther we get from the pure, un-cluttered and un-gimmicked form of the trick, the less magical the outcome of the trick becomes. For now, there might appear to be more of an opportunity for me to switch pads or coerce audience members, etc. So, my current challenge is to keep the trick as pure and magical as is was, and still incorporate the dwindling math skills of my adult audience.

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I’ll get it to add up, somehow!