Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Columnist Spread Joy with Numbers, Games

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Columnist Spread Joy with Numbers, Games

Article excerpt

I credit the Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" column with sparking my interest in mathematics when I was in high school. For more than 25 years, Martin Gardner wrote a monthly column in Scientific American that mixed magic, art, games and math with clarity. He died on May 22, 2010, at 95 but not before drafting his autobiography, which was recently published.

The book is just a delight to read, especially for those of us who followed his Scientific American column at some point in the past. In addition to the text, the book contains 24 pages of photographs of him from ages 3 to 94, but it was his personal views on life that were most fulfilling to learn.

Gardner grew up in Oklahoma, attending Tulsa Central High. He succinctly stated, "High School was like four years in prison." Ah, yes. Many of us who went on to successful careers had similar thoughts. Clearly, Gardner survived. Later in the book, he even admitted to liking high school mathematics and physics, which led directly to his future career, along with a strong interest in magic that began long before high school.

In contrast to high school, Gardner relished his college years at the University of Chicago, where he was free to audit a wide variety courses in addition those taken for credit. His B.A. in philosophy was his only degree, but his skills as a writer would lead to rubbing shoulders with the scientific elite. The book does a fair amount of name-dropping, but it's done in a way that is curious rather than obnoxious.

For example, readers of his column would know of John Conway, the creator of a popular cellular automaton game called "Life," and Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractals, but they may not know that it was Gardner who introduced them to each other for the first time at his house.

So how did an amateur magician with a B.A. in philosophy end up writing the most famous mathematics column for Scientific American? He called it the second luckiest event in his life after meeting his wife, Charlotte, to whom was married for 48 years. …

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