Alumnus and Famous “Mathemagician” Dazzles MCS Students-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, September 20, 2010

Alumnus and Famous “Mathemagician” Dazzles MCS Students

Art Benjamin talking to a crowd of students
Art Benjamin (center, tie and yellow shirt) talks with MCS students.

Art Benjamin broke the cardinal rule of magicians—he shared his secrets with the audience. But he is no ordinary magician—he’s a “Mathemagician,” and his secrets revealed the mind-boggling techniques he uses to perform feats of mental math for audiences around the world. Benjamin, a 1983 graduate of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, returned to his alma mater on September 13 to perform his “Mathemagics” show for more than 200 MCS students.

Benjamin’s magic is in the astounding speed at which he does complicated calculations in his head. He wowed the crowd by squaring two-, three- and then four-digit numbers—all without the aid of pencil, paper or calculator. To prove his mettle, Benjamin chose four volunteers from the audience who joined him on the stage with calculators in hand. As the students frantically punched in the numbers they needed to square, Benjamin swiftly and efficiently bested the calculators every time, much to the awe and dismay of the calculator-wielding students. Stunned laughter rippled through the audience with every new feat of Benjamin’s mathematical wizardry.

He has appeared on many television programs, including The Today Show, CNN and The Colbert Report, and he has been profiled in The New York Times, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest and among other newspapers and magazines. He currently is a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, and he says that his magic skills and performance experience help him enormously as a teacher.

Benjamin, who said that he chose to study math at Carnegie Mellon because he was able to specialize in what he loved while engaging with students from fine arts, the humanities and business, garnered fame as a Scotch and Soda lyricist, a passion he still indulges. His rendition of Mathematical Pi, done to the tune of Don McLean’s American Pie, had the MCS crowd clapping along.

Throughout his performance, Benjamin showed the students tricks for adding, squaring, and remembering numbers. For his finale, he squared a 5-digit number—and brought the crowd to its feet.

By: Amy Pavlak