Maths: Ben Sparks Bamboozles Bede’s First Years


Mathematical magician Ben Sparks visited Bede’s recently to speak to First Year students, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

As we shuffled into the Miles Studio Theatre we were met with funky music and all sat down with our paper and pens. Suddenly, the music stopped in the middle of a really good song and Ben appeared on stage.

The room was tense!

He started by introducing himself and making us swear the magician’s oath: to not reveal any of the secrets to the tricks he was about to show us to any non-magicians.

I hope he’ll forgive me for breaking that oath in this article!

The first trick Ben presented us with was a challenge to guess the first word on a random page in a random book. He did this by getting a member of the audience to carry out a certain sum with a 3 figured number of their choice.


While they were doing this, Ben skimmed through the book and found a certain page and its first or ninth word.

He also gave the book to a member of the audience and asked them to find the first or ninth word, depending on the circumstances, on the page number that was the answer to the sum.

While they held the solution in their mind, Ben suddenly declared the answer.

After some expressions of astonishment from the audience, Ben then revealed that he knew what the solution to the sum would be as the answer would always be the same with any three figured number.

Basically, he was able to sneakily give a miraculous answer as if he had read the mind of the child holding the book – but really it was inevitable!

Ben then showed us a number of other tricks which all involved maths.  As he performed, he explained trick after trick and we were mesmerized!


We learned along the way that Ben works part-time with the Further Maths Support Programme (FMSP), based at the University of Bath, as a speaker, tutor and co-ordinator.

He also gives presentations on math all around the country, has a BA in Mathematical Science and an MSC in Mathematical Science and Scientific Computing.

We all took away a lot of things from the experience, but the most powerful lesson was that most magic consists of obvious scams based on distraction.

Maths similarly features weird patterns and extraordinary loop-holes that confuse and astonish us, but very often the solutions to the problems aren’t all that complex – once you know how the trick works!

Personally, the experience changed what I think of as ‘magic’ and what I think of as ‘maths’ as well, and that might well be Mr Sparks’ most amazing trick of all!


Learn more about the Bede's Mathematics department >

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