2018 Summer Game #2: Magic Squares Memory

Beth and I might have had a tussle over who got to write about this next game if it weren’t for the fact that we live about 1300 miles apart. Opps, sorry Beth, that should say “about 2092 km.” Beth’s from Canada.  🙂  This is her son’s favorite game and now we understand why. What a magical game!

Magic Squares Memory, game A60 in the Math Card Games book, brings the creation of magic squares to life by adding the element of competition without too much stress. If you are not familiar with magic squares, you are in for a treat. Would you believe they date back to at least 2800 BC? While they can be very elaborate, we will work with simple 3×3 squares.

Magic squares have rows, columns, and diagonals that each add up to 15. The corners are even numbers and the 5 is in the middle. There are eight possible solutions. Here is one solution.

You will need the numbers 1 to 9 for each player. The basic number cards are ideal here. We played with four people but two to three works just as well. The goal is to complete your magic square first, using only one of each number, making sure that each row, column, and diagonal adds up to 15.

Shuffle all the cards together and lay them out face down. Each player should have an area in front of him to build the square. You can put masking tape on your playing surface in a tic-tac-toe pattern with the openings the size of the cards. We cut stripes of paper to make our grids or you can just let the square form as you lay out the cards. Here’s our setup for two players.

As each person takes their first turn, whatever card is turned over is a keeper. As play progresses, any duplicates are returned to the center face down after showing the card to everyone. Play then moves to the next player.

Notice, in the second move here, Ian put the 3 on the left knowing that a 5 must go in the middle.

At one point, Ian wanted to put the 6 in the upper left corner but, given the 3 already in place, he realized that would have required a duplicate 6 in the bottom left corner to make 15. Duplicates are not allowed, so that wasn’t a good plan. Here’s what he did instead.

And the winning move!

My nine-year-old, Peter, loves this game, even when he doesn’t win. The older kids and Dad also enjoy this game. We note the first person to complete their magic square and consider them the winner, however we  continue playing until everyone finishes their magic square. Of course, the finished magic squares are very satisfying for everyone. Never minding the addition they practiced along with problem solving….

Here are some variations to consider for your players:

  • Easier Variation – Allow the players to move the cards around the grid as they realize that a particular combination won’t work out. For example, putting a 4 and a 7 in the same row or column won’t work because another 4 would be need to equal 15 and we can’t have duplicates. So let them move the cards as they explore options.
  • Harder Variation – Once a card is played, it takes another turn to move it on the grid. This way, players must think ahead to make sure that their card placement is accurate and will result in the proper total while following the rules. So if a mistake has been made, the player may move the card in lieu of drawing a card.

We hope you enjoy the magic as much as we did! See you next week!

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