How to be a Mathematical Charlatan

Barney Maunder-Taylor

Wednesday, December 13 2017 at 7:30PM

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Barney Maunder-Taylor

What's the talk about?

The rise of the pocket calculator in the 1970’s led very quickly to the demise of a once ubiquitous mathematical skill: that of the Human Calculator. As a result of this, easy tricks that speed up mental calculations are now little known, allowing amateur mathemagicians to “bluff it” very easily with a few simple techniques.

Concurrently, the curtain has come down on the cheerful “wink at the camera” magicians of the 1980’s, some of whom now seem twee by today’s cultural standards. Instead, the last two decades have seen the rise of a new brand of psychological magician, with the likes of David Blaine, Derren Brown, and others presenting their tricks as feats of Mentalism rather then as conjuring tricks to be enjoyed for what they are. 

While genuine “human calculators” are still treading the boards, these changing times have created an ideally fertile breeding ground for performers who wish to pass themselves off as a genius, together with a public eager to enjoy tricks which are presented as feats of extreme mental agility. From a sceptical viewpoint, how can we tell the difference between real and fake human calculators?

In this entertaining talk Barney Maunder-Taylor will lift the lid on some of the mathematical gimmicks and shortcuts popular with magicians, entertainers and genuine mathemagicians, including a step-by-step guide to convincing someone you are a mathematical savant. The evening will demonstrate some simple maths behind the performing of apparently superhuman feats of mathematical dexterity and mind-reading, but all with minimal effort. Whether you wish to share these secrets with others or keep them to yourself and pose as a mathematical charlatan is up to you.


Barney Maunder-Taylor MA (Oxon) is a freelance mathematical enrichment speaker, the “Guild of Jesters” Jester of Bournemouth, and a former Champion of Countdown (season 62).