Can you solve it? The man who changed the course of magic

David Copperfield’s History of Magic is a beautiful new book by the eponymous magician, which tells the story of magic through objects in his private museum, the largest and most impressive collection of magic memorabilia in the world.

The International Museum of the Conjuring Arts is housed in a gigantic building on the outskirts of Las Vegas, the city where Copperfield, aged 65, still performs 15 shows a week. (His industriousness has helped make him the highest grossing solo entertainer of all time.)

Prof. Hoffman
Prof. Hoffman Photograph: Homer Liwag

Copperfield’s new book has a chapter on Angelo Lewis, a Victorian barrister who wrote magic books under the pen-name Professor Hoffman. Hoffman’s Modern Magic, which was published in 1876, “played an essential role in elevating the art of conjuring and may have acted as a catalyst for the entire golden age of magic,” Copperfield writes. The museum’s collection includes Hoffman’s personal copy of Modern Magic as well as his letters and notebook.

Hoffmann was also a puzzle lover and in 1893 published Puzzles Old & New, one of the definitive puzzle books of the Victorian era. Today’s ten puzzles are taken verbatim from that text. Oldies, but goodies.

The questions mostly involve lateral thinking; like a magic trick they present something seemingly impossible, easily solved once you look at it in the correct way.

1. Required, to take one from nineteen and leave twenty. How is it to be done?

2. Place three sixes together so as to make seven.

3. How would you write in figures twelve thousand twelve hundred and twelve?

4. Out of six chalk or pencil strokes—thus, | | | | | | to make three, without striking out or rubbing out any.

5. You undertake to show another person something which you never saw before, which he never saw before, and which, after you both have seen it, no one else will ever see again. How is it to be done?

6. You undertake to put something into a person’s left hand which he cannot possibly take in his right. How is it to be done?

7. You undertake to place a lighted candle in such a position that it shall be visible to every person save one; such person not to be blindfolded, or prevented from turning about in any manner he pleases. How is it to be done?

8. A window in a certain house has recently been made twice its original size, but without increasing either its height or width. How can that be?

9. A draper, dividing a piece of cloth into yard lengths, found that he cut off one yard per second. The piece of cloth was 60 yards in length. How long did it take him to cut up the whole?

10. How many hard-boiled eggs can a hungry man eat on an empty stomach?

I’ll be back at 5pm UK with the solutions.

PLEASE NO SPOILERS. Please discuss the your favourite magicians, magic books and the links between puzzles and magic.

David Copperfield’s History of Magic, by David Copperfield, Richard Wiseman and David Britland is out in the UK and the US. You can buy it at the Guardian Bookshop.

Thanks to Richard Wiseman for helping me with today’s column.


I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. I’m also the author of several books of popular science, most recently The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, out in paperback in the UK, and just out in the US.


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