Sum the Spots 🎲🎲🎲🎲

I like to perform this trick when playing dice games, such as Yahtzee, with friends and family. However, it would also work well in a more formal setting, like a parlour show. Please don't dismiss the trick because of its simplicity. If performed correctly, people will believe you have superhuman counting abilities!


You offer to perform a demonstration of "speed counting" with some dice. One of your friends rolls two dice and stacks them, one on top of the other. You then quickly count the visible spots on the dice tower, writing down the total when you're finished. Next, you repeat the demonstration using three dice to make the feat more difficult. Each time, you sum the spots at lightning speed.

With your back turned, you ask your friend to create another tower with three dice. Then, you add another die to the tower to make things more challenging. Your friend covers the dice with the cup. Yet somehow, you're still able to announce the total number of visible spots without touching the cup!

Background & Credits

This routine was inspired by "Iced Dice" by Karl Fulves, found in his book Easy Magic (Dover, 1995, p. 14). The trick relies on the fact that the opposite sides of a six-sided die always total seven. Over the years, many magicians have exploited this principle in various cunning ways.

In "Iced Dice", the principle is used to predict a randomly-generated number. Three dice are rolled, stacked one on top of the other and hidden under a paper bag. The magician writes down a prediction on a piece of paper. The spectator is then asked to add up the numbers on the top and bottom of each die and then subtract the topmost number on the top die. The magician's written prediction matches the total.

Although I liked the overall effect, I was never keen on asking a spectator to complete the calculation. Even something this simple can be intimidating, especially if you're not confident with numbers. The process also hints at the mathematical nature of the method. If you'd like to see a very similar trick in action (along with a decent explanation), watch the following video from Numberphile:

The version demonstrated in the Numberphile video is taken from Martin Gardner's seminal book Mathematics, Magic and Mystery (1954). The trick is called "Frank Dodd's Prediction" and can be found on page 43. I prefer this version because all your spectator has to do is add up the numbers on all the hidden faces. This makes the calculation a little easier and the method more difficult to backtrack. In fact, "Iced Dice" appears to be a variation on Frank Dodd's trick, which was first published in The Jinx in 1937.

After playing around with the principle behind both of these tricks, it occurred to me that you could add up all of the visible numbers while the dice were still stacked and present the trick as a form of extreme mental mathematics. This approach also has the added bonus of better justifying the process because the calculation can be completed without disassembling the dice tower.

Below is my updated handling of "Sum the Spots", which was first published in Mind Blasters II (Duffie, 2009)—an excellent compilation of mental magic by various English performers, myself included (the ebook is still widely available). I originally suggested that a blindfold peek be used during the finale. Although the blindfold adds some much-needed theatrics, nowadays, I prefer to use a dice cup instead.

Requirements & Preparation

You need the following items to perform this trick:

  • Four regular dice (known as D6 dice) 🎲🎲🎲🎲
  • An opaque cup (I prefer to use a classic dice cup)
  • Notepad 🗒️
  • Pen or pencil 🖊️

All of these things often come packaged in a single gaming set. For example, many of the inexpensive travel Yahtzee sets produced by Hasbro include five dice, a cup, scorecards and a pencil. Another good option is to buy a game called Liar's Dice. This is the game featured in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. It usually comes with several cups and lots of dice.

Depending on how you achieve the final effect, you might also need the help of a secret accomplice (see afterthoughts for more details).

Method & Presentation

This routine relies on a few key numbers and good acting skills. Commit the following information to memory:

  • 2 dice = 28
  • 3 dice = 42
  • 4 dice = 56

Turn your back on your audience and ask someone to roll two dice and then stack one on top of the other. Once this is done, turn to face your audience. Take note of the number on the top of the tower. Add this to your first key number (28) to calculate the total number of visible spots. For example, if the top number is a 6, your total is 34 (28 + 6).

The rest is just acting; make sure you quickly look at every side of the tower before announcing the total, or your performance won't be believable. Then, write down the total on your notepad (so your audience doesn't forget it). Next, slowly verify the number by verbally counting each spot one at a time. Doing this is very important. It subtly suggests that this is what you did previously, making the feat more plausible and impressive.

Repeat the demonstration with three dice. This time, your key number will be 42. At this point, you might want to ask a member of your audience to have a go at counting the spots to highlight how long it usually takes someone to add them up.

As a finale, you offer to perform the demonstration one last time. Turn to your audience and say, "But this time, I will count the spots without using my eyes!" This line should get people curious.

Turn your back on your audience. Instruct someone to roll three dice and stack them up as before. Next, tell them to cover the dice tower with the upturned cup. As an afterthought, say to your audience, "Let's add another die to make things more difficult." Remove another die from your pocket and roll it on the table. Secretly take a note of the number on top before turning away again. Tell your helper to carefully lift up the cup, place the fourth die on top of the stack and then re-cover it with the cup.

Add the remembered number to 56 to calculate the correct number of spots. Then ask your volunteer to lift the cup and verify the accuracy of your sightless count.

Performance Tips & Additional Ideas

The routine works much better if you use a dice cup; try and get one with a separate lid. Tell your volunteer to shake the dice in the cup, then pour them out into the upturned lid. This reduces the chance that the dice will end up on the floor. It is also good to get them to build the dice tower in the lid. This makes it much easier to rotate the stack when counting the spots (turn the lid rather than the bottom die of the stack).

Avoid using tiny dice. Using larger dice, especially casino dice with razor edges, will make the stacking easier and the dice towers more stable.

Another way to glimpse the top number during the final phase of the trick is to feign a mistake. Ask your helper to roll four dice and stack them, one on top of the other. Turn around and quickly sight the number on top of the stack. Immediately, turn back as you say, "Sorry. Can you cover the stack with the dice cup so that everything is hidden from view?" Because you have framed this action as a mistake, it is psychologically invisible and your audience is very unlikely to remember it even happened.

An even better way of getting the secret information you need during the final phase of the trick is to use a confederate. First, turn your back, then instruct someone to create a four-dice tower and cover it with an upturned cup. As this happens, your secret assistant remembers the top number of the stack. They then secretly communicate this number to you. Any secret code will work. The most straightforward approach is for your confederate to hold on to an extra die. Once the tower is hidden and the top number is known, your secret assistant rotates the extra die to display the same number on top and casually places it on the table to one side. This approach works particularly well if you are playing a game, like Yahtzee or Liar's Dice, that uses several dice because an extra die doesn't look out of place on the tabletop.


This trick is a performance piece; you need a solid presentation to get the most out of the routine. I tell my audience that I struggled desperately with maths as a child. My Mum, a school teacher, created this game to help me improve my arithmetic. This story is partially true. When I was younger, I did struggle a lot with maths, and my Mum, a primary school teacher, did provide me with a lot of help. But she didn't invent this game. This small white lie, however, makes the presentation more plausible. I also explain that I can count exceptionally quickly because I've been practising this since I was a young child, but anyone can learn this skill with sufficient practice. Framing the routine in this manner adds credibility to the pseudo explanation of speed counting.

Do not be tempted to repeat the effect with five dice. Doing so runs the risk of exposing the mathematical method because the key number in this situation is 70. Using five dice would also lengthen the time needed to verify the count, slowing down the routine when you should be building up to a strong finish.

The remote viewing finale adds some much-needed drama to the end of the routine and suggests that your powers extend well beyond that of speed counting. If you decide to perform this in a more formal setting, you may want to use a blindfold. When blindfolded, how exactly do you note the number on top of the stack? You do so by using a secret technique that psychics, mediums and magicians have successfully used for hundreds of years! If you use a rolled-up handkerchief or bandanna as a blindfold, you will be able to see the dice on the table by looking down your nose towards the floor. Of course, you must ensure that you're close enough to the table to see the dice. You also need to be careful not to tilt your head when you make the peek, or people might get suspicious. Once you've made the peek, close your eyes. This will ensure that your body language re-enforces the fact that you really can't see. You can also accidentally knock the dice tower over while gesturing with your hands. This mistake suggests that you cannot see anything, and your clumsiness will make your audience laugh. In fact, there is a lot of opportunity for comedy in this routine, especially if you decide to use a blindfold. I sometimes tell my audience that I have the lamest superpower: I can count really, really fast!

Another way to strengthen the magic is to pretend to write down a number on your pad before the dice tower is assembled. Then use your preferred secret writing device, such as a nail writer, to scribble the prediction on your pad once the dice tower is built (and you've completed the required mental calculation).

This trick isn't earth-shattering by any means. But given the right situation, it is a very puzzling and entertaining mystery. Next time you play Yahtzee with your friends, I hope you give it a try!