RIP – MARTIN GARDNER


EXPIRED: 05/22/10 – Martin Gardner, 95, never took a math class beyond high school, probably because he was so frustrated with trying to learn calculus. So it’s amazing that he would be the guy who got so many people who hate mathematics interested in solving mathematical problems.

He did it with puzzles and dissecting equations to get at the issues. And for over 30 years kids of all ages turned to his “Mathematical Games” column in the magazine Scientific American to be stumped by his wild, geeky puzzles. His ability to craft unusual and interesting mathematical and logical puzzles has been second to none since he started in the field over a half-century ago.

How did a man with no love for math become a math wiz? In the early 1950s, he was editor of Humpty Dumpty Magazine, and wrote features and stories for several children’s magazines. His paper-folding puzzles at that magazine led to his first work at Scientific American.

Interestingly, during this time he lived on Euclid Avenue in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. For those of you who don’t know, Euclid was a Greek mathematician, often referred to as the “Father of Geometry.” Coincidence? I don’t think so! Just part of the puzzle….

And with a mind like Gardner’s, you don’t limit yourself to puzzles. He wrote entire essays on the process behind the SOMA cube toy that was so popular in the 70’s. He also published over 50 books of his own including a wonderful annotated version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books that brings new insights to the tale. And his annotated versions of the Wizard of Oz and The Night Before Christmas are spectacular.

In 1952 he published the first edition of what would become Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, widely considered a classic of scientific skepticism, and possibly the first modern book to attack pseudoscience head-on. His most recent  — When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That — saw publication just last year.

Ridiculously shy, Gardner would never accept an award for which a public appearance had to be made – so it was very difficult for him to accept the fact that an annual gathering in his honor was taking hold. Called the Gathering for Gardner, followers get together to discuss puzzles and debunk theories and – well – honor Gardner. The ninth such gathering, called the G4G9, took place this past March.

Gardner didn’t show up – and if my math is correct, he won’t be attending any future gatherings either.

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