Part math and part magic, the March 13 MCSP Conversation Series talk “Penn and Teller Pun and Taylor Present Mathematical Magic and Mystery” entertained a large audience in Massengill Auditorium. This was the very off-Vegas presentation of Mathematics professors Roland “Pun” Minton and Dave “Taylor” Taylor.
Some of their tricks are mathematically-based magic tricks. For example, Pun had the audience choose numbers on a grid at random, and the sum of the numbers magically appeared on the “Trick III” folder. Other magic tricks were not mathematically based, and therefore left unexplained, including one in which Taylor successfully read the minds of three volunteers from the audience. There were “tricks” that were purely mathematical. Pun demonstrated some of the strange (even magical?) properties of the Mobius strip, with accompanying one-sided jokes. Taylor performed a magic trick with an apparent mathematical contradiction: after removing box B from inside of box A, he then casually placed box A inside of box B. Hmmm. Pun performed a calculator trick based on infinite series from calculus, then showed a slide with The Most Interesting Man in the World and the caption, “I Don’t Always Differentiate X Squared, But When I Do It’s Dos Equis.” Taylor’s final trick was based on cyclic subgroups, a key concept in abstract algebra. While it is not true that making math fun is a magic trick of its own, it is a treat to see math being enjoyed in the context of the world of magic.