The Personalised Birthday Square

David has used this effect at a number of special events where he was asked to pay tribute to a friend. For instance, at the 80th birthday dinner for Caroline Ratcliff, the mother of his good friend, John, David stood up and gave the following presentation.

He began by recalling that every time he met Caroline she would ask him to show her a card trick. He took out a pack of cards as if about to show magic but instead took time to explain the parallels between a deck of cards and a calendar, the bible and an almanac (Soldier's Almanac). "There are, for instance, four seasons and four suits. Twelve court cards and twelve months in a year. Thirteen weeks in a season and thirteen cards in a suit. Fifty-two weeks in a year and fifty-two cards in a pack. And perhaps most surprising of all, the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year are matched by three hundred and sixty-five spots in a pack of cards." He wrote the numbers down on a white board: 13,52,365,4,12 and then asked Caroline to choose one of them, remember it and wipe it from the board. Then he asked her to wipe away the rest of the numbers, all except for one, which, for the moment at least, she kept secret.

He then delivered the following speech to the assembled guests:

Caroline was born exactly halfway through the 1914-18 war and today we are celebrating her eightieth birthday with twenty-two of her immediate family present.

She was only fifteen when she took her firstjob at the White Horse in Widford. At the age of nineteen she was married and had three wonderful children, one son and two daughters. Her son John, my best friend, was born at 3 Queen Street in Chelmsford when she was only twenty. And it wasn'/ long before his sisters Margaret and Jean arrived.

In her immediate family she now has twelve offspring: three children, four grand children and five great grandchildren.

It is amazing that she can remember all their birth dates but then she is lucky because they seem to be consecutive. Graham, her first grandchild, was born on the 16th of December. Carrie, the last grandchild was born on the 11th October and so on.

Last year Caroline thought she had a secret admirer. A bouquet of twenty-one roses was delivered regularly. In fact she knew that it must be the 11th of the month as soon as the roses arrived. She's still intrigued by this. Maybe that is what has kept her looking so young. This was his introduction to a novel presentation for the Magic Square. It would be played out on a board that had sixteen nails protruding from it, arranged in a diamond shape. And instead of writing down numbers, the numbers were already boldly written on paper plates. Numbered 1 to 50 the plates were arranged in three rows upon a cloth covered side table.

"It is strange how many numbers play a part in all our lives," said David. "Take Caroline for instance." David quickly went through the speech again and each time he mentioned a number he asked for the appropriate paper plate to be handed to him. It was then hung upon the board.

At the finish fifteen plates, all with different numbers, were on display. But there was one space on the board left. Turning to Caroline he asked her which number she had thought of and wiped from the whiteboard. "Thirteen," she said and David asked for plate number 13 to be handed to him.

"I must have known you were going to choose that. Look." He turned the plate around. There, printed on the back, were the words, "Caroline's Choice." It was the only marked plate.

The plates hung in a diamond formation (a prettier arrangement than the traditional Magic Square). David asked Caroline which number she had left written on the whiteboard. She held the board up. On it was the number 52. A column was chosen by a member of the audience and the four numbers totalled. They added up to 52!

This appeared to be a miracle but the audience were even more amazed when another column was chosen and it too totalled 52. One by one David introduced the audience to the fact that, incredible as it may seem, every vertical and horizontal row on the board added up to Caroline's 52. The diamond, in fact, contained all the combinations possible in the traditional Magic Square.

Finally Caroline was asked for her birth date, which was given as the 14th of March 1916. David indicated the numbers at the four points of the diamond, 14, 3, 19 and 16. An

David with Caroline Ratcliff, and the Magic Square constructed for her 80th birthday. The date, 14-3-1916 is shown in the four corners of the diamond.

incredible coincidence! The guests applauded and then David pointed out that if they added up those four numbers, they too totalled 52! Funny how numbers play such an important part of our lives.

At the end of the party David presented Caroline with a special birthday card. Inside it contained an abbreviated text of the speech he had made and a diagram of the Personalised Birthday Square, making an unusual memento of a memorable occasion. As you will have gathered by now all the preparation for the speech had been made well before the show. It was hard work and involved David in considerable research in order to find enough numbers to make up a square that incorporated Caroline's birthday. And no matter how much research David does sometimes he won't come up with enough numbers and will have to stretch a point here and there to make the speech work. The most important thing was to write the speech so that the numbers didn't leap out as he said them. He didn't want the audience thinking about the numbers prior to him drawing attention to them.

The text for the speech was printed out in an attractive font and inserted into a commercially produced birthday card. The insert also contained a diagram of the diamond and a caption explaining that there were over thirty-two ways to arrive at the number 52. David used Magicians Choice to arrive at the numbers 13 and 52. Usually he would only need to force one number as the prediction but on this occasion he needed a number "13" to complete Caroline's Personalised Birthday Square. Unable to find it in her life story, he decided to force it from those on the whiteboard, drawing the numbers from the story of the Soldier's Almanac. Necessity is the mother of invention!

David performs the Personalised Birthday Square at functions where a stage performance would either be impossible or out of character. Anyone wishing to use it had best be prepared for a tremendous amount of work. But, for special occasions, David finds it more than worthwhile. The presentation transforms a dry mathematical stunt into a charming piece of after dinner theatre and one that will be remembered for its personal touch.


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