98 Years of Martin Gardner

Published on Sunday, October 21, 2012 in , , , , , , , , ,

Konrad Jacobs' photo of Martin GarnderOn October 21, 1914, Martin Gardner was born. After having an enormous and positive effect on the fields of magic, mathematics, philosophy, literature, science, and many other fields, he died on May 22, 2010.

On the 98th anniversary of his birth, I thought it would be fun to look back at Martin Gardner's influence.

Back in 1956, Martin Gardner submitted an article on flexagons to Scientific American. They not only ran the article, but offered Gardner his own monthly Mathematical Games column. The first column ran in January of 1957, and he kept it going regularly for the next 25 years! Martin continued to write the occasional column until the May 1986 issue, retiring both himself and the column.

In honor of the flexagon column that started it all, and Martin Gardner's birthday, Vi Hart has dubbed October 2012 the month of the flexagon. Below is the first video she made to honor this month:

Vi Hart also made a second video on their surprising mathematical qualities, and even a third on flexagon safety.

All of Martin Gardner's columns were assembled into a series of 15 books. The books themselves have since been assembled into the Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games CD-ROM. This series of PDF eBooks is searchable and portable, making the joy of surprise and discovery even more accessible.

Even though it's Martin Gardner's birthday, you can get a few free goodies to get an idea of his influence. The January 2012 issue of the College Mathematics Journal was entirely dedicated to his work, and remains free to download as either the full issue or individual articles. The Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation has several Martin Gardner posters available for free download, and even a full free PDF copy of a tribute book called The Mathematician and the Pied Puzzler.

Probably one of the most famous Gathering 4 Gardner giveaways, thanks largely to this YouTube video, would be the paper dragons whose heads seem to turn and follow you. The PDFs that will let you build your own green dragon, red dragon, and/or blue dragon are still available as free downloads.

Many of the puzzles he created and/or popularized over the years can be found in Puzzles.com's Martin Gardner section. It's surprising how many now-classic puzzles can be traced back to him. He even gets a mention in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:

[Bill and Ted are working on their history report]
Bill: Okay, Ted, George Washington. One: the father of our country.
Ted: Two: born on President's Day.
Bill: Three: the dollar-bill guy.
Ted: Bill, you ever made a mushroom out of his head?
That mushroom reference is to a puzzle originally published in Martin Gardner's April 1968 column on dollar bill puzzle, and later reprinted in both Mathematical Circus, as well as Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers (solution can be found here).

Even today, people are help keeping Martin Gardner's memory alive. Besides the Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation above, you can also follow @WWMGT on Twitter. WWMGT stands for “What would Martin Gardner tweet?”, and the author does an excellent job of living up to that title.

I'll wind this with a full 1996 episode of David Suzuki's The Nature of Things which focused on Martin Gardner. It gives a great idea of not only his life, but his legacy, too:

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