Monday, May 24, 2010

The Juggler of Mathematics

If you meet any mathematicians this week, please be extra nice to them as they're going to be a little bit teary. On Saturday night, Martin Gardner died.
There are very few mathematicians who wouldn't cite Gardner as an influence while they were growing up. He certainly lived a long and rewarding life. In fact he was so old his age was the largest number with only two factors, where the two numbers below it also have only two factors each.
Some people reading this are now trying to work out how old he must have been. If you're not one of them, you won't mind me spoiling it by revealing that he was 95. He spent 95 years coming up with interesting puzzles and fascinating pieces of mathematics. Like a forerunner to sudoku, Gardner spent 25 years writing a weekly column about maths puzzles for Scientific American. This is as well as authoring over 70 books. It was actually an old copy of his second book, Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, that first got me interested in mathematical magic tricks. Most mathematicians over the past half a century would have a similar story.
Interestingly though, Gardner was not a mathematician himself. When he started working for Scientific American in 1956 he hadn't done any maths beyond the normal high school classes. He was purely a populariser of what became known as Recreational Mathematics.(read more...)

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