Dem Bones!

A short article about performing magic tricks with dice. You will also learn a fun trick with four regular dice called "Sum the Spots".

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2023 is to play more traditional games with my two eldest daughters to help them improve their mental arithmetic (without them realising that they're doing maths). To help me do this, I'm organising a "games day" every Sunday. I've decided to start with some simple dice games, such as Beetle, and work up to more complex games like Yahtzee, Farkle and the famous bluffing game Liar's Dice1. Researching the rules of these games has encouraged me to contemplate the benefits of performing magic with dice, a prop which I believe is often overlooked by modern performers.

I've always enjoyed playing dice games, although I rarely meet other adults who play them regularly (unless they have children). For the casual magic performer, teaching someone the rules of a game like Yahtzee, or even a simple children's dice game like Beetle, gives you the perfect excuse to perform some magic. You can also borrow a couple of dice from a board game and use them to amuse and amaze your tabletop-gaming friends. 

Finding organic opportunities to perform magic is a big challenge for an amateur magician. It is much easier to start by playing a card or dice game with someone rather than immediately offering to perform magic tricks for them. Once someone is already having fun and is in a playful mood, they tend to be much more receptive to the idea of magic.

Dice have always been a popular prop for magicians. They can be used for lots of sleight-of-hand tricks because of their regular shape, small size, affordability and the fact that they're available in various colours. They also lend themselves well to routines with a gambling theme and can replace coins, balls and other small objects in many classic tricks, such as Two in the Hand and One in the Pocket. And, of course, they can be used for dice stacking, which is one of the more magical forms of object manipulation. However, the most logical use of dice is to roll one or more to generate a random number. This makes them particularly useful when performing mental magic (or pure mentalism). 

Unlike playing cards and other magic props, dice are noisy and can be used to generate interest (or occasionally annoyance if you're not careful). You can use them in a similar way to the Chinese Linking Rings, which also attract interest through the sound they make (professional street magicians often use the rings to build a crowd for this reason). 

It has always puzzled me why more magicians don't make regular use of dice, especially in combination with card tricks. Maybe dice are seen as old-fashioned? There are some notable exceptions, of course. My friend Doug Conn has several excellent card routines that utilise dice; one of his best is called "Coincidice", and while it isn't easy, it is a very impressive piece of mental magic and well worth the effort.

Digital Dice

Over the last ten years or so, lots of electronic dice have appeared on the magic market, most notably the products made by Craig Filicetti (founder of the well-respected ProMystic line of magic products) and Marc Antoine. More recently, Tony Anverdi's "Mental Die" effect has been re-designed and re-released by Murphy's Magic Supplies2. The relatively high cost of these devices might also put people off from using dice. While these utility props are unquestionably useful, they're not necessary if you want to incorporate dice into your magic. There are plenty of impressive tricks that use ordinary dice (I've included a link to one of my own at the bottom of this post).


Mental Die by Anverdi and Murphy's Magic Supplies. Photo Credit: Murphy's Magic Supplies.

I'm also not a fan of using technology to achieve an effect that can be performed more easily without it. If all you're going to do is mentally discover the number rolled on a hidden die, you might as well perform the trick found in many beginner magic kits—the one that uses two small black plastic canisters with red lids—and save yourself some money. In addition to this, with the advent of the Internet of Things and smart devices, such as smart speakers and watches, connected devices have become mainstream technology. There is even a set of "connected" or "smart" dice, called GoDice, that are targeted at a more general consumer audience. They're marketed as a new digital way to play physical dice games with the aid of a smartphone or tablet. The dice seamlessly pair with a companion app that is able to read the numbers that are rolled. Interestingly, the technology used in GoDice was first developed for a product designed for magicians and mentalists called MystiCube Dice (the company responsible was called EStooge and is no longer in business).

GoDice smart connected dice and app. Photo Credit: GoCube.

The more common connected devices become, the more suspicious our audiences will be if we use electronic props in the wrong way. However, if we're careful and treat the die as an inconsequential part of the routine (or give away a normal die at the end of the trick), we can effectively counteract any thoughts of technological trickery.


Black and white Mental Die by Anverdi and Murphy's Magic Supplies. Photo Credit: Murphy's Magic Supplies.

Charging docking station for Mental Die by Anverdi and Murphy's Magic Supplies. Photo Credit: Murphy's Magic Supplies.

Another option is to avoid electronic dice entirely. As someone who has never owned any expensive electronic props, I'm happy to save myself some money and take this approach (at least for the moment). This allows you to use borrowed dice or even gift a complete set of dice at the end of your routine.

Learn "Sum the Spots"

Many magic tricks that use dice take advantage of the principle that the opposite sides of a six-sided die always total seven. Unless a person is interested in magic, recreational mathematics or Dungeons & Dragons, it is unlikely they will be aware of this principle. For this reason, these tricks can be deeply fooling, even when repeated. I've also found that these dice tricks are still deceptive and entertaining when people do know about the principle (so long as it is well-disguised).

Book Cover of Easy Magic by Karl Fulves. Illsutration of coin and silk manipulations are on the cover.One of the first magic books I owned as a teenager included a great trick that uses this principle with three normal dice (the book was a surprise present from my mum). On page 14 of Easy Magic by Karl Fulves, you'll find a puzzling mental mystery called "Iced Dice"3. In it, a spectator rolls three dice and covers them with a paper bag. The magician then writes down a prediction. Next, the spectator is asked to add the numbers on the top and bottom of each die and then subtract the topmost number on the top die from the running total. When the magician reveals his prediction, it matches the spectator's randomly generated number!

Based on the trick published by Fulves, I developed a trick called "Sum the Spots" that gives your audience the impression that you have superhuman counting abilities! It was first published in Mind Blasters II by Peter Duffie (the ebook is still widely available). I've revisited by original write-up and updated it to reflect how I perform the trick today. 

You can learn "Sum the Spots" by answering a simple question (hint: the answer is on this page). I've done this to stop the idly curious from learning the secret to this trick.

Answer the question 👈

Now I'm off to play another game of Beetle with the kids! 🎲🎲🎲🎲🎲

P.S. For more FREE tricks, please subscribe to my magic Ruseletter.


Footnotes

  1. Liar's Dice is a family of dice games in which two or more players must deceive and detect their opponent's deception. It is sometimes called Perudo or Dudo (the Spanish word for "doubt"). This fantastic bluffing game provides an excellent opportunity to perform some magic because it uses multiple dice and cups. It is believed that the game was originally invented by the Incan Empire. However, some historians think it might have been invented on pirate ships. Either way, the rich historical background of the game provides plenty of inspiration to develop an engaging presentation.

  2. There is some controversy surrounding the release of "Mental Dice" and "Mental Die" by Murphy's Magic Supplies. While Murphy's Magic Supplies owns the rights to the entire back catalogue of Tony Anverdi's electronic magic tricks, these recent products bear little resemblance to the original Anverdi "Mental Die". It was a stage-sized prop in a black box, not a regular-sized die. It appears that Murphy's Magic Supplies have copied some of the innovations made by Craig Filicetti and Marc Antoine without permission or credit. Tony Anverdi, who died in 1995, was always careful to credit other people when he used their ideas, so this is a very sad state of affairs.

  3. Karl Fulves, Easy Magic, (Dover Publications, Inc., 1995), 14.