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Dear Mitch,


I'm pretty sure that this question is not one you're going to put up on your website, but I read that you answer hundreds of questions every day in regular emails, and I'd be happy with any answer at all. Just so you know, even I don't think this one should be posted for everyone to read.  Anyway, I've been visiting your site for about a year now, and it's easy to see that the part you spend the most time on are the questions people send in.


So, what I'm curious about is this:  Is it my imagination or have you gone from answering AT LEAST one or two questions a week (I mean the ones you post), to only one or two a MONTH!?!?   And if you really have decreased it as much as it seems, is there a reason that you could say?  I'm not criticizing; I'm just wondering if it's part of a plan to change the site into some other kind of website or something like that?


And since this is a private email (You're definitely not going to publish it on your site!!!), can you tell me the truth?  Because there are hundreds of other math websites, and you probably know every one of them, and I always like yours, but I am really getting concerned for you that if this trend continues, your top rank might start to sink.


So what's going on?



Brad D.


Dear Brad D.,


First, I feel it's worth taking a moment to point out the obvious:  Your letter IS being posted here on the website.  Now, anyone who visits with similar concerns will also have an opportunity to find out 'what's going on'.    

      First, a little sob story, which is wholly true and worse than I'm describing it here (so we don't get derailed from the focus of all the interesting and positive developments that follow).

      So here goes: To begin with, as many people know, (but, of course, that typically means me in particular, though there are several others whose contributions are critical) encountered a severe and unexpected setback: was robbed. Worse, is that the person responsible did his 'homework' to make sure he obtained as many things as he could that have high sentimental value, high monetary value, or both.  Then came the phone calls: first came the one in which he reveals the fact that he is holding my cherished book collection (the result of a lifelong passion collecting first editions, many signed, others special for other reasons).  He was holding everything for ransom.  (The story gets worse and worse, as I quickly realized the gentleman also helped himself to a number of things of little monetary value but irreplaceable – such as my childhood violin, which I had just spent two years tracking down before regaining possession.)  But most pertinent here are the basic office supplies for the functioning of, including the new computer which had been programmed to make everything easier to run..., and over a thousand pages of documents I had been working on.  (Most of which was to be an illustrated math book that was meant to entertain as well as teach).

I have an older brother who lives in the same town, and I sought his advice.  He told me to forget trying to deal with the person to retrieve my possessions, and just "Move forward". 

I decided to follow his advice. But I also saw it as my own opportunity to find new ways to become re-excited by the process of learning and teaching math.  Now for the miraculous twist: At about the same time, my son, who is eight-years-old, woke up with a keen interest in magic.  Out of the blue, he was seized with a desire to become a young magician. (More about this, and about how it ties in, to follow).

Well, I must have mentioned to him at some point, though I cannot recall when or where, that as luck would have it, I was a professional magician for several years during my teens, complete with large stage-sized illusions, live doves, rabbits, and an assistant. In fact, somewhere in one of my parents' homes, there is a collection of me at the age of fifteen with such performers as Doug Henning, with whom I enjoyed trading tips on one of the most exciting afternoons of my life.

I also took time to help my eleven-year-old daughter prepare for the Eleven-plus exam, which is one of the most important tests student take in England, which is where she attends school.  I am proud to say, she was one of the most attentive and appreciative students I have ever encountered, and she gained admission to her first choice school for next term!

I tutored another young girl for the same test, the Eleven–plus exam, and she too gained entrance to her first choice school.  So although I have been taking a small step back from the website, there has been no shortage of teaching and learning going on.

And now, to sum things up without giving away the surprises to be encountered on this website in the coming days, I found my interest in math merging with my interest in magic, and I have developed a program in which a student learning the two together (if magic interests that student) produces some of the best results I have ever attained.  This has been true not only for the typically eager student, but has proved to be a powerful method to get the reluctant learner to become motivated in a way one often doesn't see.  It's been fun and productive.  And so, on this website, I will be sharing magic tricks, and, in order not to reveal too much of any cherished secret unnecessarily I will await follow-up questions from people, and then respond to them in private emails if they wish to pursue something I present.  In the process, I hope and expect that we will see people of ALL ages suddenly become problem solvers of such high skill that they probably would not have imagined possible.

I am excited, and I hope you will be when you see the results.

After weeks of feeling something coming, it all happened in one BAM:  It just hit me, magic and mathematics are parallel arts, both involved with solving mysteries and making connections, and though there are many math teachers who take pride in throwing in some magic (often card tricks or something related to probability), I saw that as akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. No, they should be more integrated. Good magic involves: angles of mirrors, diagonals of secret curves, rates of movement of items being pulled to invisible places, etc., ..

And so, in a nutshell, I have developed something that, as far as I know, is an entire new approach to making math real and desirable. One main point which returned quickly is this: One should not teach a math concept and then show a magical application.  NO, the only way anyone I have ever know has come to love magic and appreciate all the math involved is to FIRST be presented with a baffling mystery, and then figure out how to apply concepts already known with whatever new ideas need be learned to make everything work... magically.

And one the critical parts is in the MAKING of the items. Buying pre-made magic tricks or using a simple deck of cards for hundreds of different illusions is not exciting to most learners -- no, the two parallel prongs are equally important, and the student who is interested needs to be hardworking and diligent so that he/she ends up building an entire set of professional equipment to perform as well as ANYONE while learning the connections.

The personal bonus in returning to various tricks I had not seen or touched in decades was this:  it fertilized the small part of mind that invents. One example, without giving too much away, is this:  a classic of magic, called "Skeleton in the Closet", was a very nice illusion when performed well, but there had always been one thing about it that everyone I've ever known who performed it sort of wished would not be required.  Well, it no longer is!!  As I immersed myself in my hobby of building things, inventing along the way, and building more things, I found myself coming up with ways to incorporate unique improvements to things that I felt needed updating, and now I've incorporated the innovations into my own otherwise classic illusions as well as into my son's!

Finally, during my "non-math time", I have been exercising a part of me that hadn't seen fresh air in years:  I have been giving magic lessons and performing shows.  And having a ball with it.

And, as had hoped, the mathematical part of my mind has expanded in a way that feels, well... magical!

Hope that answers your question,