As every MO user knows, and can easily prove, the inverse of the matrix $\begin{pmatrix} a & b \\\ c & d \end{pmatrix}$ is $\dfrac{1}{ad - bc} \begin{pmatrix} d & -b \\ -c & a \end{pmatrix}$. This can be proved, for example, by writing the inverse as $ \begin{pmatrix} r & s \\ t & u \end{pmatrix}$ and solving the resulting system of four equations in four variables.

As a grad student, when studying the theory of modular forms, I repeatedly forgot this formula (do you switch the $a$ and $d$ and invert the sign of $b$ and $c$ … or was it the other way around?) and continually had to rederive it. Much later, it occurred to me that it was better to remember the formula was obvious in a couple of special cases such as $\begin{pmatrix} 1 & b \\ 0 & 1 \end{pmatrix}$, and diagonal matrices, for which the geometric intuition is simple. One can also remember this as a special case of the adjugate matrix.

Is there some way to just write down $\dfrac{1}{ad - bc} \begin{pmatrix} d & -b \\ -c & a \end{pmatrix}$, even in the case where $ad - bc = 1$, by pure thought—without having to compute? In particular, is there some geometric intuition, in terms of a linear transformation on a two-dimensional vector space, that renders this fact crystal clear?

Or may as well I be asking how to remember why $43 \times 87$ is equal to $3741$ and not $3731$?

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