Magic Number Spelling Cards

Get this special pack of cards, and amaze your friends with this trick.


Imagine yourself as a magician - you produce a special pack of cards, and ask a member of the audience to choose one card... the card has a number on it, and a letter, L-14. Then, you give the pack of cards to the audience member, and ask them to spell out the number on the card they just chose.

Carefully, with all eyes on the table, they find the letters - F, O, U, R, T, E, E and N. The cards each have a number, and come in two colors, so you sort them into two piles - the F, O and two E's together in one pile, the U, R, T and N in another.

Building up the suspense, you ask them to add the numbers in the first pile. 24 plus 2, plus two zeroes, for a total of 26. Then, the numbers in the second pile. A 1 and a 9, to make 10. Then, a 12, making 22. Finally, another 18, making 40.

"And now!" you announce, and with a flourish, carefully subtract the two totals. Forty subtract twenty-six, and the total is.... Amazing! It's fourteen, exactly the number on the card first picked! Rapturous cheers follow as you bow, and with a swish of your mathemagician's cape, leave the stage.

You can do this trick yourself - all you need is the special set of cards. On this page, I'll show you several ways to get one, but first, here's a video of the trick :

Making a set of cards like this is not easy - you have to get two things right, or the trick simply will not work.

  • First of all, you need to make sure the number/letter combinations are exactly right. One wrong number or one wrong letter, and the tirck will not work.
  • Secondly, you have to get the colors on the cards correct.
While reading this excelent book, I came across a way of making a pack of 16 cards that would work, originally invented by Lee Sallows. I wondered if I could do better, so started trying to find my own set of number/letter/color combinations, with a bit of help from a computer.

Sure enough, I found a way of assigning a number and color to every letter of the alphabet that would make the trick work! Now, I'm going to share it with you....

For these cards,

  • Each card has one letter of the alphabet on it.
  • Each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a particular number.
  • You need a few extras, since some numbers, when written out, contain more than one of certain letters.
Also, when doing the trick,
  • be sure that you know how to spell all the numbers, and make sure your audience spells the numbers correctly. Be sure you know that 'FOURTEEN' has a 'U' even though 'FORTY' doesn't, and that 'EIGHTEEN' has only one 'T'. Oh, and the number 0 must be spelt as 'ZERO', not 'NOUGHT'.

The cards must be as follows :

  • for the first color : C=25, D=39, E=0, F=24, H=19, J=34, K=4, L=14, M=10, O=2, S=30, W=5 and Z=16. Also, you'll need an extra W (in case they choose TWENTY-TWO) and two extra E's (in case they choose EIGHTEEN)
  • for the second color : A=26, B=36, G=20, I=7, N=1, P=35, Q=32, R=18, T=9, U=12, V=22, X=29, Y=6. You'll need an extra R (for 34), an extra I (for 39), two extra N's (19) and two extra T's (22).

Now you know the letter/number/color combinations, you can make your own set of cards with some index cards and a couple of textas. If you want a beautiful full-color set with fractal patterns, you can get a PDF from fastspring for pocket change. Print out as many as you like onto cardboard, cut them out carefully, practice a couple of times and you're away. If you don't have a color printer, bring the download to your local print shop, or get a ready-printed version from zazzle

Magic Number Spelling Cards
Magic Number Spelling Cards

I've provided some free black-and-white downloadable versions here.

  • If you just want to print, cut and play, get the single-sided version, for A4 size or US Letter size paper. This version shows the two colors as solid black for one color, or hollow text for the other color.
  • If you want to color the cards yourself, either using two different colors of cardboard, or pencil or crayon or texta, download the A4 size or US Letter version, and print the pages one at a time, being careful to get the colors of the two pages right.
  • I've also provided some two-sided versions of the cards - you'll have to be extra careful to make sure each page of numbers is printed on the back of the correct page of letters, and printed the right way up. Choose the A4 size or US Letter version, and print. Make sure, at the end, that each letter has the correct number on the other side of the card.
  • Finally, if you're super-expert at taming your printer, here's a set of two-sided cards where you also need to get the colors right, in A4 size and US Letter. Use with extra care!
When you've got your cards all printed out and cut, check them carefully, practice the trick a few times, then have fun amazing your audience!