Secrets of Mental Math Update

Published on Sunday, July 30, 2006 in , , ,

Secrets of Mental MathBack in March, I announced that Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer were releasing a new book in August 2006. However, according to this page from the Skeptic store, this is apparently not the case.

The “new book” is a reprint of their previous work, Mathemagics: How to Look Like a Genius Without Really Trying. If you haven't had the opportunity to pick up this book before, I highly recommend it. Thanks to Amazon.com, you can even view some excerpts from Mathemagics to help get a better idea of the contents.

The re-release of this book is still scheduled for August 8, 2006, so you should be able to pre-order at most bookstores by now.


Mind Blogs

Published on Thursday, July 27, 2006 in ,

Mental FlossI have two new mind-focused blogs to share with you today!

While I first mentioned Mental Floss magazine just over a year ago, they didn't have the Mental Floss blog yet. Just like the magazine, their blog is great for knowledge junkies (a nice way of saying trivia geek).

The other blog I wnat to mention is spenen.se, which focuses on memory techniques applied to the real world. Among the articles I find interesting are the one on memorizing basic blackjack strategy (for those who don't have my basic blackjack strategy shirts), the peg system article and the poker hand hierarchy article (although, living in Vegas, the latter has never been a problem for me).


Review: Dramatica

Published on Sunday, July 23, 2006 in , , , ,

Dramatica: A New Theory of StoryStorytelling is an important part of creating any type of performance art. It's also very scary to look at a blank page, and try and create something complete enough to satisfy an audience. How exactly can you get from point A (blank page) to point B (a coherent and consistent story)?

One of the best guides I have run across is the Dramatica theory of story. Unlike most oversimplified theories of story creation, this one is very complete, and even a little complex. However, there is such a wide variety of potential in storytelling, the complexity actually works for it, not against it.

Dramatica is intended solely as a way of creating what are called “Grand Argument Stories” A Grand Argument Story is a logically and emotionally comprehensive story in which many ways of considering an argument are considered, and it is finally shown that only one approach solves the argument for the characters.

The complete approach is taught in the book Dramatica: A New Theory of Story. The new edition is available for less than US$20, but the original edition is available as a free PDF file!

I highly recommend downloading and taking the time to read the book. It's broken into two main parts. The first part teaches the Dramatica approach to characters, themes, plots and genres. Once you understand those parts, the second part of the book teaches you how to form, weave and “encode” your story.

If a 343-page PDF file seems daunting, you can ease into the theory with the Dramatica comic book, which presents the story theory in the course of the adventures of a writer. Speaking of comic books, another great storytelling resource presented in comic book form is the classic Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, but for now I'm returning to Dramatica.

Once you've gained familiarity with the theory, it can still seem daunting to apply, even though you have a strong set of guidelines. One thing that makes it easier is support from the Dramatica community, including such things as the Daily Dramatica blog.

Of course, if you really want to get hands-on experience with the theory, there is software available to help you work through the Dramatica theory! Their main program is Dramatica Pro, which goes for about US$270. However, the same story engine is also available in the Writer's DreamKit software, which is available for less than US$60, and focuses more on the main story and characters and less on the minute details of the story.

Take some time to explore these links and the Dramatica website itself, and if you're interested in good storytelling, I think you'll find it will be time well spent.



Published on Thursday, July 20, 2006 in , , , ,

instructables.comAs you've probably guessed from the previous two entries, I'm in somewhat of a do-it-yourself mode lately. Naturally, this led me back to instructables.com, which has grown radically since I first mentioned the binary counting HowToon back in October, 2005.

I'm glad I went back, because I've found more great projects of interest to Grey Matters readers.

First, there's the method for solving Sudoku puzzles without thinking. Personally, I prefer the method taught in How To Solve Every Sudoku Puzzle, but the instructables method does work. Either way, you can practice your Sudoku skills at the Grey Matters Mental Gym!

No, Rubik's Cube fans haven't been forgotten. You can find ways to make a clear magnetic Rubik's Cube, or simply “pimp” your existing Rubik's Cube.

Finally, for fans of the classic Simon game, there's an awesome interactive drumming game based on the same idea. If you want to see what this looks like when it's completed, check out the movie (Quicktime required) of the drum game in action.


Clue Memory

Published on Thursday, July 13, 2006 in , ,

Clue: The Card GamePersonally, I think it's fun to take things out of their expected uses, and see how I can use them in a performance of magic, memory or mental math. Besides the previous entry, I've also talked about different uses for numbered cards, DVDs, the 15 puzzle, calendars, celebrity names and more!

My latest discovery is Clue: The Card Game. It's similar to the classic board game of the same name, but there is no board, and the game itself focuses more on solving the crime than the original. In Clue: The Card Game, Mr. Boddy has been murdered again, and you're supposed to figure out who did it, what their getaway vehicle was, and to what famous landmark they're headed.

Instead of using it for the game, I recognized that the included cards are perfect for a different version of a classic, yet rarely-discussed, memory feat. In this feat, you have each of 6 spectators select one of the suspect cards (Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum or Mrs. White), one of the getaway vehicle cards (Airliner, Automobile, Hot Air Balloon, Limousine, Seaplane or Train) and one of the destination cards (The Alamo, Coney Island, Old Faithful, Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, Lincoln Memorial, Miami Beach, Niagra Falls or Mt. Rushmore). As they make their selections, they announce them out loud, and show them to you.

Using the Link System, you mentally memorize the selected combinations. For example, if the first person selects Colonel Mustard, who travels by limousine to Hoover Dam, you might picture a limosine with a jar of mustard jumping out, and then sliding down the face of Hoover Dam. You would do this for each of the 6 spectator's combinations.

Once you have the combinations linked, you ask each of the audience members to give you the name of any one of their cards. You can then recall the other two cards in their hand! If one person says, “limousine”, you can instantly recall that Colonel Mustard took it to Hoover Dam! If someone else says, “Professor Plum”, you might recall that he took a balloon to Mt. Rushmore (or whatever the combination was).

This may not sound like much, but being able to recall 18 details (6 spectators times 3 details each) out of 324 possible combinations (6 suspects times 6 getaway vehicles times 9 destinations) comes across as very impressive! Performing this as if you were a detective who is solving crimes also makes this much more entertaining than remembering a list of 20 random items, which is the classic use for the link technique.

Speaking of perfoming this as a detective, you could also take this demonstration a step further, and make it more in keeping with the classic spirit of Clue. For the improved version, you would simply eliminate 3 of the destination cards, giving you 6 suspects, 6 getaway vehicles and 6 destinations. You would, of course, have to memorize the contents of each set via linking, as well.

Once you've prepared yourself and the cards in this way, you would have 5 (instead of 6) spectators each select card combinations. When the combinations are called out during selection, you not only have to link them to each other, but picture each item frozen in a giant block of ice, as well. For our earlier example of Colonel Mustard taking the limousine to the Hoover Dam, you would picture a jar of mustard frozen in a block of ice, hopping out of a limousine frozen in a block of ice, sliding down Hoover Dam, which is also frozen in a block of ice.

Once you've recalled all the combinations, as in the original version above, you point out that there are 3 cards which weren't selected. You then reveal the 3 cards that were never picked! How?

You go through your list of memorized suspects, and recall which one wasn't frozen in a block of ice! You also do the same for the list of vehicles and the destinations. As long as you've memorized the complete sets of each, it shouldn't take long to recall which ones were never imagined as being encased in ice. If you go through your lists, and realize the Professor Plum, the seaplane, and the Lincoln Memorial weren't encased in ice, then the remaining cards must be those three!

Try either version of this feat, add your own presentational touches, and have fun with it!


Giant Knight's Tour!

Published on Sunday, July 09, 2006 in , , , , , ,

Black KnightEvery so often, I run across regular items that are perfect for use in a mental feat demonstration, such as this entry from May.

This time, we have some great items for presenting the Knight's Tour. Naturally, over at Wholesale Chess, there are any number of items that could be used, but I especially want to draw your attention to their giant chess section. For about US$160, you could get a 9 foot by 9 foot nylon chessboard and two 18-inch-tall knight pieces (one white and one black). You would then have your audience put the black knight on any black square, the white knight on any white square, have them choose one as the start and the other as the end, and then demonstrate the Knight's Tour by actually stepping from square to square!

If you want to perform the blindfolded Knight's Tour from Train Your Brain and Entertain, get a real (or fake) blindfold, get plenty of practice stepping from square to square blindfolded, and you'll have a remarkable feat on your hands! You'll also save money with this version, as you would only need to buy one knight, for use as the starting point.

Oh, and to carry all this around, don't forget a Giant Chess Carrying Bag!


Sessions With Terry LaGerould DVD

Published on Thursday, July 06, 2006 in , , ,

Sessions with Terry LaGerould #1Many of you may know Terry LaGerould from Pasteboard Presentations I or my book, Pasteboard Presentations II.

If you are familiar with his work, and have ever wanted to see him perform, then I've got great news for you! Terry has just released his Sessions With Terry LaGerould #1 DVD!

Terry's gift has always been his ingenious and unique way of melding technique with whimsical and commercial presentations. To see this combination in action is to truly begin to understand what magic is supposed to be.

At this writing, I don't have a copy to review, but rest assured, as soon as I do, I'll post the review here.


Basic Blackjack Strategy T-shirts

Published on Sunday, July 02, 2006 in , , , , ,

Las Vegas Strip 2-deckYes, I've been neglecting the Grey Matters Online Store for too long, due to other projects. However, that has now been remedied!

The newest products in the store are my Basic Blackjack Strategy line! These items will feature basic strategy charts for differing versions of blackjack, which can be used while you're playing the game. To make the T-shirts easily usable while you're playing, they're printed upside-down.

Currently, the only strategy chart available is for a 2-deck game on the Las Vegas Strip. More precisely, it is intended solely for a blackjack game with the following characteristics:
* Played on the Las Vegas strip
* 2 decks are used
* Dealer stands on soft 17
* Doubling any 2 cards is allowed
* Doubling after a split is allowed
* Surrender isn't allowed
* Hole card rule: Original bets only

However, I plan to expand this section with a wider variety of charts in the near future.

Please remember that, as with all forms of gambling, there are no guarantees of returns that will result from using these charts. Any gain or loss is solely the user's responsibility.