Toothpick Magic

The effects which we're going to show you here are all intended to be done with toothpicks or wood matches.

Magic Writer Karl Fulves has coined the term "Magic Show in a Matchbox", and effectively you can create a fairly complete routine using just matches or toothpicks, which are possibly just a little more closely linked to our theme of shrimps. Perhaps, with a bit of imagination, you could substitute other common things such as skewers or birthday candles to use in many of these.

One suggestion about combining a number of these into a complete magic show: since many of these items presented here are more like puzzles or brain-teasers than tricks, you might consider alternating them such as:

  •  puzzle
  • trick
  • puzzle
  • trick ... etc.,

to produce a more varied and entertaining interlude for your guests.

The Triangles of Euclid

This puzzle has the object of using six toothpicks to produce eight triangles without bending or breaking any of the toothpicks. You might want to challenge the person to do it in a certain time limit ... or allow as much time as they want. They're likely to give up, and claim it's impossible.

When they do, you start by making one triangle with three pieces, stating, "There's one triangle, right?"

"And here's seven more," you state, placing another triangle on top of the first, rotated about 30° from the first one. There's six small triangles around the outside perimeter and two large ones in the center, as you can see in the illustration.

toothpick magic illustration 1
Euclid's triangle -toothpick magic

There's actually another solution which was accidentally discovered by my daughter as she was trying to solve this, but she didn't recognized it until I pointed it out to her. (This is the same one who believed peas were magic crystals when she was 3 --maybe it's true!.)

If you place 4 of the toothpicks to form a square, then place the other two crossing from corner to corner inside the square, you'll also end up with eight, four small ones which are 1/4 of the inside of the square, and four more which each are 1/2 the square from each of the two diagonals.


Euclid's solution 2

Two Squares from Four

Toothpick Magic #2

You might offer this puzzle as an easier one to solve than the triangle puzzle, even though it is probably more difficult. It just looks easier.

Tell your companion that you'll even do most of the work for them, and proceed to make a group of 4 squares each bordering on two others as shown in the illustration.

toothpick magic 2
4 squares into 2

Explain that what you need them to do, is to remove exactly 2 toothpicks, without moving any of the others and end up with only 2 squares, instead of the four which they see.

When they give up, show them that the solution comes from removing the two that are colored darker in our illustration (but are normal when you do this), and ending up with one small square inside a larger one.

Note, if your companion is very sharp they might note that when you started there were really 5 squares, if you counted the bigger one to start with, but you don't want to draw attention to that one at the beginning because it makes the solution much more obvious.

This leads to two notes about presenting magic. First, is that much of what happens in magic is due to mis-direction, in which you get a person to pay attention to only one thing while you're preparing to do something somewhere else. (eg. Point out the small squares and ignore the big one).

Next, after you're finished, quickly move on to something else and put the evidence of the current trick out of sight. By doing this, you preserve the mystery which made the trick so delightful and surprizing.

Next puzzle: Four Squares from Five.

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