Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner died earlier this year.

I am one among many mathematicians who grew up with his “Mathematical Games” columns in Scientific American, though I was better acquainted with the Pelican reprint collections which were around when I was a student. I learned a lot of real mathematics from these books; Gardner was always entertaining as well as informative.

I enjoyed too some of his longer forays, explaining the hidden references in Lewis Carroll’s writing, explaining the role of symmetry in the universe, and so on.

I once wrote to him, about something concerned with the thirty coloured cubes which I mentioned in my post on the outer automorphism of the symmetric group S6. I received a handwritten reply. He suggested that I tell John Conway about my observation. In fact, I didn’t follow his advice; I knew Conway, and knew that he knew everything and that what I had to say would be old news to him!

But the main purpose of this post is to illustrate another influence that Gardner had on me. When I arrived in Britain in 1968, I was very struck with the amount of modern art available in London, even on postcards. I lived in a bedsitter in Earls Court for six weeks, and in that time I collected postcards and cut out pieces to make hexominoes, which I arranged into a packing of a rectangle with a Swiss cross removed taken from one of Gardner’s books, and pasted onto card. Part of the art was choosing which hexomino would cover the essential part of the image on each postcard.

Later when I was a student in Oxford I briefly took up oil painting, and made a picture of the standard British stamps of the time arranged in a dissection into squares which was also taken from Gardner. (This is “Mrs Perkins’ quilt”, courtesy of John Conway.)

So here they are, a belated tribute to Martin Gardner.

London stamps
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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to Martin Gardner

  1. Manjil P. Saikia says:

    He has been an inspiration for many youths in the past few decades. I think a better expositor of fun math concepts would never be seen again.

    May his immortal soul rest in peace.

  2. Jair says:

    Martin Gardner has had an enormous influence on me. Hearing about his death was like a slap in the face. I’ve spent many hours devouring his various books, and his conversational style made me feel like he was a good friend, even though I never met him.

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