Mathematics Awareness Month 2014: Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery

Theme Essay

Mathematics has long rewarded its practitioners with a sense of mystery: Why does it work? It can be magical too, literally. While traditional magic and illusion spinning depends of sleight of hand and misdirection, with the aid of mathematics one can perform mysterious card tricks, and entertain with made-to-order magic squares. Then there are complex, mysterious activities, such as juggling and lightning-fast mental calculation, which also draw heavily on mathematics.

In 2014, Mathematics Awareness Month is dedicated to the presentation of 30 magical, mysterious, mathematical phenomena. They can easily be appreciated and enjoyed by anyone, from young child to professional mathematician. Each day in April, a new item will be revealed at www.mathaware.org. An introductory video will provide a compelling demonstration of that day's topic, and the underlying mathematics will be revealed and explored in supplementary materials for those who wish to attain a deeper understanding or use the phenomenon in a classroom demonstration.

The association of "mathematics, magic, and mystery" has a distinguished history, going back to a seminal book from 1956 of the same name by prolific author Martin Gardner (1914-2010). Gardner had an extremely influential column in Scientific American called "Mathematical Games," which delighted both amateur and professional mathematicians for more than a quarter century. It is particularly fitting to celebrate the centennial of the birth of a writer some have dubbed "the best friend mathematics ever had" with Mathematics Awareness Month activities that engage a new generation, leading people to their own magical and mysterious Aha! moments.