Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Martin Gardner Centennial

Martin Gardner was born on October 21, 1914, so today is his Centennial (he died on May 22, 2010, at the age of 95). We've mentioned him in the blog before:

  1.  The Life of Martin Gardner
  2.  Contribute to the Gardner Centennial
  3.  Another Post on Martin Gardner
  4. I used the anagram Tim Andrer Gran in both my review of the Lipton-Regan book (see here) and my Applications of Ramsey Theory to History paper (see here)

So what can I add on his centennial?

  1. He was not the first person to write on recreational mathematics, but he was certainly early and did it for a long time.
  2. I suspect he influenced everyone reading this who is over 50. For every y, y is under 50 and reading this column, there exists x such that MG influenced x and x influenced y.
  3. The line between ``recreational'' and ``serious'' math is sometimes blurry or hard to see. An obvious case of this was Euler and the Bridges problem leading to graph theory. At one time solving equations was done for competition, which seems recreational. Galois theory is not recreational. 
  4. Donald Knuth's book Selected Papers in Discrete Math (reviewed by me here) states I've never been able to see the boundary between scientific research and game playing.
  5. I am reading a book  Martin Gardner in the 21st century which is papers by people who were inspired by him. The papers really do blur the distinction between recreational and serious. Some are rather difficult but all start out with a fun problem.
  6. Aside from recreational math he did other things- magic, and debunking bad science.  (Fads and Fallacies in the name of science was excellent.) He was a well rounded person which is rare now. 
  7. Brian Hayes and Ian Stewart and others do what he did, but given the times we live in now, its hard capture the attention of a large segment of the public. (analogous to that when I was a kid there were only a handful of TV stations, now there are... too many?)
  8. When I was in high school I went to the library looking for math books I could read (naive?). I found one of his books (collection of his columns) and began reading it. I learned about casting out nines and I learned what was to be the first theorem I ever learned a proof of outside of class (given that I was probably 12 it may be the first proof I learned ever). It was that (in todays lang) a graph is Eulerian iff every vertex is even degree.


  1. Probably time to go to the library again - for Eulerian it is also needed that the graph is connected...

  2. > I suspect he influenced everyone reading this who is over 50

    Probably even everyone over 40...but probably only those growing up in the US(?)

  3. By no means restricted to US. I read him in Ireland as a teenager. Translated into dozens of languages. His classic "Mathematics. Magic and Mystery" sold over 800,000 copied in the USSR alone, in the bad old days.