May 23, 2010

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner would have been 96 this year, and no doubt if asked he would have offered all kinds of interesting characteristics of that number, including puzzles. Sadly, that won't happen, for he died yesterday.

He was probably best known for his long-running column in Scientific American, "Mathematical Games". In the years I had a subscription to that magazine, it was the first thing I read in every issue. It was always a cornucopia of puzzles and theorems and mathematical curiosities, and it spoke of a keen and always questioning intellect. In that sense, Gardner was an inspiration to me from my teenage years.

But Gardner was also, notably, nobody's fool, and he made it his business to debunk all kinds of pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo -- from Uri Geller's spoon bending "feats" to UFOs and much more. His books doing this debunking are an object lesson in clear thinking and no-nonsense writing, and that was an inspiration too. I have Fads and Fallacies on my shelf, among some of his more mathematical books, and it's a book I will always treasure.

Go well, Mr Gardner. For me, you made mathematics real. You made it fun. I can't thank you enough.

(Scientific American's profile of Gardner is here).

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