[Math Lair] Classic Mathemagic by Raymond Blum et al.

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Classic Mathemagic by Raymond Blum, Adam Hart-Davis, Bob Longe, and Derrick Niederman (Sterling Publishing, 2002) is a book of mathematical puzzles and tricks. The first impression that one might get of this book is that it's cheaply done, based on the type binding and the fact that there are typos in the formulas depicted on the front cover. However, you can't judge a book by its cover, so I'll delve inside.

One issue with the inside of the book is that there seems to be some problems with its organization. The book starts with a glossary, followed by a "Tricks of the Trade" section, which consists of mnemonics and a small amount of calculating tricks, all of which seem to be completely irrelevant to what follows. The majority of the book consists of mathematical puzzles, divided into three sections: "Child's Play?", "Working Towards Wizardry", and "Great Math Challenges". The latter two chapters are separated by a chapter called "Magical Math", which demonstrates various mathematical tricks. Not sure why "Magical Math" came there instead of either before or after the puzzles, which would seem to make more sense. Another problem is that, to me anyway, the puzzles in "Child's Play?" seem more difficult than those in "Working Towards Wizardry."

Given that the word "Classic" is in the title, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that these puzzles are not original. The authors have made an effort to create unique contexts for the problems, however. Some of these contexts are good, but others make no sense (e.g. "Chewed Calculator" on page 54). There are also some annoying errors in the questions; for example, on page 201 it states that "10! = 3,556,800". Um, no, it's 3,628,800.

So far, the book seems alright, if not stellar. The answers section is worse, though. One big problem is typos in the answers. For example, the answer to "Are there ever 1,000,000 consecutive composite numbers?" is: "... yes. The 1,000-term sequence 1,000,001 + 2, 1,001,001 + 3, ... 1,000,001 + 1,000,001 consists entirely of composite numbers..." No, it doesn't. I can find lots of primes between 1 million and 2 million. Here's part of an answer for another already complex problem: "The puzzle can be solved in an unusual manner by noticing some interesting facts about the areas given in the question: 388 = 82 + 182 and 153 = 32 + 122 and 61 = 52 + 62." Huh? Now, I can tell that these are typos and what was meant (missing ! (factorial) signs in the first, missing superscripts in the second). However, the challenge of a puzzle book should be in finding the answers, not in figuring out what the answers are supposed to read. There are other problems too, such as some answers being in a different order from the questions for no discernable purpose.

Overall, Classic Mathemagic isn't a horrible book, but there are many better puzzle books out there. Not recommended unless you're able to get it inexpensively.

Rating: 5/10