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Myth, Magic and Math

# Myth, Magic and Math

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You'll often find that hidden behind cheap parlour tricks are some genuinely fascinating scientific insights. For instance, ever noticed how every multiple of the number 9 ALWAYS collapses back to nine when its digits are added together?

9 x 5 = 45.....4 + 5 = 9

9 x 13 = 117....1 + 1 + 7 = 9

9 x 5124 = 46116....4 + 6 + 1 + 1 + 6 = 18....1 + 8 = 9

And so on. Try it for yourself with ANY multiple of nine; you'll find it's always true. Weird, huh?

So what exactly makes 9 so special? What gives it this special property?

You'll often find that hidden behind cheap parlour tricks are some genuinely fascinating scientific insights. For instance, ever noticed how every multiple of the number 9 ALWAYS collapses back to nine when its digits are added together?

9 x 5 = 45.....4 + 5 = 9

9 x 13 = 117....1 + 1 + 7 = 9

9 x 5124 = 46116....4 + 6 + 1 + 1 + 6 = 18....1 + 8 = 9

And so on. Try it for yourself with ANY multiple of nine; you'll find it's always true. Weird, huh?

So what exactly makes 9 so special? What gives it this special property?

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11/13/2012

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Myth, Magic and Math
Most of us don’t
really
believe in magic. Not the Harry Potter kind, anyway. However, we’ve all probably
seen some rather astounding feats performed by magicians on TV (does David Blaine ring a bell?). And
when we don’
t understand how the
“magic” works, we
often think to ourselves,
Well
, there’s gotta be
some cheap trick to it; secret trapdoors and mirrors- something along those lines.
Two things about this sentiment strike me as rather strange.The first is the inversion of the roles of
magic
and
science/craftsmanship
that takes place here. Foralmost the entire span of human history, peoples and cultures have attributed the occurrence of enigmatic events to magical powers. The Ancient Greeks believed that it was a god (with suprememagical powers) who carried the sun around the Earth;
the Amerindians saw Columbus’s guns as
magical weapons; and so on. In other words, when people failed to comprehend the processes by whichthese events and contraptions worked, they turned to magic as an explanation.Today, however, when we are faced with magical acts beyond our comprehension, we turn to
science
asan explanation. Thus, rather than to accept magic, we would prefer to believe that smoke and mirrorsare behind the
magician’
s vanishing act. Such is the extent to which the scientific worldview haspervaded our consciousness.The second notable fact
about people’s reactions to magic is the
ir tendency to underestimate the valueof the
trick
s”
that make theatrical magic possible. The realization that something perfectly ordinary isbehind extraordinary magical acts is often accompanied by a wave of disappointment.
And that’s
despite the fact that most people never really believe in magic in the first place! In these cases, thefascination with the mystique of the unknowable overshadows the contentment that comes with actualknowledge.
What’s strange about this is that people fail to realize that the mechanism that makes a magic trick
possible is often far more interesting than the trick itself. A few months ago, I came across a computer
program that claimed to be able to read people’s minds. And sure enough, it did manage to put up a
reasonable semblance of telepathy
. The “magicality” of the program,
however, did not stand up undercloser scrutiny, as I was soon able to uncover the trick that allowed it to work. And
that’s
where the fun
really began. As you’ll soon see
, there can be a lot of fascinating science hidden within these cheapmagic tricks. And it probably makes more sense to admire the
science
behind them, rather than the
possibility
of magic.
The Amazing Mind-Reader is a program that claims to be able to read your mind. To prove to you that itis actually able to do this, it asks you to pick a number, perform certain operations upon it, and think
really hard
about the result. Supposedly, the Amazing Mind-Reader is able to intercept your brainwavesand therefore tell you exactly what result you got, even though you never told it what number youbegan with. The exact setup of the program is given below.

Instructions
Choose any two-digit number, add its digits together, and then subtract the total from your original number. For example, if you choose 23, you begin by adding 2 and 3, and then subtracting the total (5) from 23.When you have the final number, look it up on the chart below, and find the symbol that corresponds toit. Concentrate on the symbol. Once you have it clearly in your mind, click the NEXT button.
1

21
µ
41

61
81
¥
2
22
£
42

62
µ
82
µ
3
£
23
¤
43
£
63
¥
83

4
¥
24

44
µ
64
α

84
5
25
α

45
¥
65

85
α

6

26
¤
46
66
86
¥
7

27
¥
47
α

67

87
£
8
α

28

48

68
£
88
¤
9
¥
29

49

69

89

10

30
µ
50
µ
70
£
90
¤
11
µ
31

51
¥
71
α

91
£
12
32
52
α

72
¥
92
¤
13
¥
33
£
53
α

73
α

93
α

14
µ
34

54
¥
74
94
15

35
α

55
¤
75

95

16

36
¥
56
76
¤
96
¤
17
£
37
µ
57

77
£
97
£
18
¥
38

58

78
¤
98
¤
19
α

39
59
¤
79
£
99
¥
20

40

60
¥
80
¤
100
NEXT
, the program displays the symbol that you should have ended up with. And yes,it gets it right
every time
. Is this evidence of supernatural powers? Not quite. As we shall soon see, it’s
more mathematical magic than it is supernatural magic.
Hidden (Immediately)
Beneath the Surface…

First of all, allow me to amaze you with extraordinary powers of my own. Go back and follow theinstructions that come with The Amazing Mind-Reader. Concentrate really hard on the symbol that youend up with. Now wait with bated breath as I read your mind

And the symbol that you ended up with is
(a drum roll would not be out of place here):
¥

Relax; I don’t actually have magical powers. But I was able to predict the symbol you would end up with
because I know how this system works. And the really great thing is that it works on several differentlevels, each more fascinating than the last. In order to uncover the truth about The Amazing Mind-Reader, you have to keep digging, right until you hit the gold.
In fact, it isn’t very hard to figure out the first level at which this magic trick works. Try the entire process
again, but this time start with a different number. Then do it again, with yet another number. A patternshould begin to emerge. You will probably notice that you end up with the same symbol every time.However, if you tried this with The Amazing Mind-Reader (meaning the actual program), you would endup with a different symbol each time- because the symbols in the given list would change- and theprogram would
still
know what you end up with.
It’s just that I can’t show you that here. So, no, the
solution to this problem does not lie in that direction.Instead, look closely at the values of the
numbers
you end up with (not the numbers you begin with).
They all have something in common: they’re all
multiples of 9
. Furthermore, notice that when you startwith a two-digit number, and subtract the sum of its individual digits from it,
you cannot end up with athree-digit number
. In fact, your final answer must be between 9 and 81 (since 10 is the smallest two-digit number and 99 is the largest). The final salient fact is that there are only 9 multiples of 9 between 9and 81. Assign the same symbol to each one of those nine multiples every time, and you
know
that anyunsuspecting victim of your magic trick will end up with
that
symbol.If you like, you can consider that to be the end of our quest to find the secret behind The Amazing Mind-Reader. Start with any two-digit number, and you must end up with a multiple of 9. So all you have to do
is assign the same symbol to every multiple of 9 in your list, and that’s the symbol that your victi
m (?)will have ended up with.You are now set to conquer the masses with your newfound magical prowess.However, the truth is that there are yet more revelations to be gleaned from this simple magic trick. Inorder to arrive at them, you must ask the right questions. Do not remain content with the insignificantstuff that lies immediately below the surface.
Dig deeper.
What’s up With the Number 9?

We’ve just seen that whenever you subtract the sum of the two digits of a two
-digit number from theoriginal number, you always end up with a multiple of the number 9. As a matter of fact, this rule appliesnot only to two-digit numbers, but to all numbers, regardless of how many digits they have. Forinstance, take the number 4,335,286. The sum of its digits is 31. Subtract 31 from 4,335,286 and you get4,335,255. And guess what, 4,335,255
is
a multiple of 9!
Weird,

isn’t it?

But it doesn’t end there. Those who regularly watched
Sesame Street
in their childhood (I readilyconfess myself to be a member of that demographic) may be familiar with another magical property of the number 9: multiply any number by 9, and the product will eventually collapse to 9.
By “collapsing” to