Dice stacking is fun discipline for any budding magician, and they don’t come any more budding than the kids in this video. One of them is a toddler.
The video, originally uploaded by two enterprising young lads working under the name That’s Amazing, has racked up over 3 million views on Facebook in less than 24-hours. Not bad for a trick that takes about 30 minutes to learn.
If you want to get started with a little dice stacking yourself (you have no idea how many angry editors I’m fending off right now) the general consensus on The Magic Cafe is that Todd Strong’s book and DVD on the subject are a good place to start.
On the other hand, if you were looking to get into the competitive field of being a crotchety jerk who feels threatened by the accomplishments of literal children, dive into the comments on that video. Like, damn.
Dice seem like one of the fairest tools of chance ever designed. Six sides, each one equal size and smoothness, with pips distributed in such a way that the sides opposite each other all add up to seven. As long as everyone’s honest, the only thing controlling them are your own throws, physics, and gravity. But according to a new study, arriving at that design took thousands of years of evolution and iteration, and that some of the earliest dice were likely made to represent the ethereal value of fate over scientific chance.
The study, entitled “The Evolution of Cubic Dice from the Roman Through Post-Medieval Period in the Netherlands”, was conducted by Jelmer W. Eerkens and Alex de Voogt, anthropologists from the University of California and the American Museum of Natural History New York, respectively. The two studied and analyzed over 100 examples of dice unearthed in the Netherlands, with some dice dating as far back the Roman Era of 650 CE.
The earliest Roman dice share some common features (namely, the “sevens” configuration, where numbers on opposite sides of the dice add up to seven), but vary wildly in shape and size, to the point where some sides are clearly going to come up more often than others when rolled. According to an interview with Eerkens conducted by The Atlantic, this is likely because those cultures were more likely to believe divine intervention, rather than chance, played a role in their games.
“Some of the non-symmetry that we see in the earlier dice might be a by-product [of the idea] that it wasn’t thought to be very important in the function of the dice,” Eerkens told The Atlantic, “that it didn’t matter too much, because other things were controlling whether you would win or lose the game.”
The study then describes how dice became more uniform over time, especially in the late 1600s, when Blaise Pascal’s probability theories grew in popularity. This shift in design may be attributed to a culture that began to value “chance” over “fate”, at least when it came to their games.
Both the study and The Atlantic article are fascinating reads, and show how even the little things we take for granted (like playing cards) have a wealth of human history behind them.
Stacking dice looks impossible. I mean, you’re taking these bouncy plastic cubes, grabbing them with a cup with a flick of the wrist, and bring them down on the table in a perfect column. But like most things magical, anyone can do it; it just takes lots and lots of practice.
Mike Boyd is the host of Learn Quick, a popular YouTube channel where he sets out to learn how to perform a wide array of tasks in as little time as possible. This week, he partnered up with magician Chris Ramsay to teach him how to stack four dice on top of each other, then four dice on top of that stack. Watch Ramsay’s technique above (along with a bonus dice trick!) to see how you can replicate the move at home.
And if you want to see Boyd try not to lose his mind over the incessant clacking of plastic on wood, check out how he taught himself to stack dice last year in the video below.