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Martin Gardner died
May 22, 2010 4:55 PM   Subscribe


 
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posted by grouse at 4:58 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by cropshy at 4:59 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by DU at 4:59 PM on May 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Awww, damn. One of the good guys...
posted by newfers at 5:01 PM on May 22, 2010


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Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener was pretty damn gangsta.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:02 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you don't know who he is or what he did, click his name in the post, and feel at least a little ashamed.
posted by hexatron at 5:02 PM on May 22, 2010


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I'm going to go weep into my copy of The Annotated Alice now.
posted by Hactar at 5:03 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by LSK at 5:03 PM on May 22, 2010


I was just thumbing through The Annotated Alice today.

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posted by Faint of Butt at 5:03 PM on May 22, 2010


(My ? was in honor of his curiosity and skepticism)
posted by DU at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by jquinby at 5:07 PM on May 22, 2010


Damn.

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posted by brundlefly at 5:08 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by wanderingmind at 5:08 PM on May 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


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posted by motty at 5:10 PM on May 22, 2010


Ugh. So sad now. I have a near-tattered copy of Aha! Gotcha that my mom first brought into the house about... god I'd say 20 years ago. I've lived in about six places since then and it's moved with me to five different states. I still read it at least once a year the way some people read their favorite novel.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:11 PM on May 22, 2010


Sticherbeast: "Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener was pretty damn gangsta."

In it, he expressed an admittedly groundless hope that death was not the end.

I hope he's delighted to have learned he was right.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:13 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by localroger at 5:14 PM on May 22, 2010


Martin Gardner! Alas! Completely and wholly responsible for my interest in recreational mathematics and the reason why I have forced so many in my past to play The Game of Life before boring them with the joys of non-transitive dice. For those still curious, check this previously, which is wonderfully extensive traipse through his career and links this documentary on his life.

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posted by youarenothere at 5:18 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by alligatorman at 5:24 PM on May 22, 2010


I still have my hexaflexagon.
posted by SPrintF at 5:24 PM on May 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


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posted by biddeford at 5:27 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by DaddyNewt at 5:28 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by equalpants at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2010


I don't know who I'd be if Martin Gardner hadn't existed, but it would be someone very different and far duller. Thank you, Mr. Gardner.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


God, what a kick in the gut. I think this is the first death of a public figure where reading the news has literally caused me to gasp, cover my mouth, and then burst into tears. I can't even convey how influential Annotated Alice was to me as a young girl, how many times I've read it, how much it's meant. It took me down so many paths of inquiry that I hadn't imagined even existed, and it meant I picked up pretty much any book that I came across that had Gardner's name on it, and usually did more reading based on that book, and so forth. This habit has been recursively enriching to me for almost as far back as I can remember.

I was supposed to meet him at an event a few years back, but he took ill and couldn't make it, which was a huge disappointment. I only hope I can honor his memory by forging ahead and being the total nerd he's raised me to be.

Thanks, Mr Gardner, for everything. I don't know who I'd be without you, but I wouldn't be the me I know and love, that's for sure.
posted by little light-giver at 5:31 PM on May 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


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I didn't know that he was still alive. I read a ton of his mathematics books when I was young. Alice too.
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 PM on May 22, 2010


After I discovered him in tenth grade (I don't recall how it happened), whenever we had free library time, I plagued the school librarian with requests for microfiche copies of old issues of Scientific American so I could read his Mathematical Games column.

He made me realize it was my math instruction -- not math itself -- that was utterly boring and uninspiring. I still have a major math deficit in my educational background, but that one little realization has shaped my life in astonishingly deep and important and wonderful ways.

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posted by treepour at 5:37 PM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by gingerbeer at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Casuistry at 5:43 PM on May 22, 2010


There's two signs that one is approaching a certain age: when our daughters are old enough to pose for Penthouse, and when our heroes make the obituaries.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously: Martin has turned thousands of children into mathematicians, and thousands of mathematicians into children.

He was definitely one of the good guys.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


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posted by ZeusHumms at 5:47 PM on May 22, 2010


How very sad. Walter Rudin on Thursday, and now Martin Gardner. Mathematics is much worse today than it was a few days ago.
posted by TypographicalError at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2010


An extraordinary man and a powerful influence on my early thinking.

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posted by darkstar at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by sappidus at 5:57 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by painquale at 5:57 PM on May 22, 2010


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I loved reading his column every month and he's 90% of the reason I got a degree in mathematics.
posted by ged at 5:58 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by mike3k at 5:59 PM on May 22, 2010


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I'm actually halfway through reading his last book, in which he mentions that at 94 he has a tough time getting to the library and so most of his research is via the internet.

Maybe I'm reading too much into that, but how many people do we know who can learn to be competent internet users in their 90s? I hope that when I'm an old man I will be able to learn about the new hotness, whatever it is.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:59 PM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


A battered copy of the Dover reprint of Fads And Fallacies In The Name Of Science from like 1956 remains on my shelves today. As much as anything, Gardner was the embodiment of rational skepticism for me. For like, my whole life.

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posted by tspae at 6:02 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by Doktor Zed at 6:03 PM on May 22, 2010


That is sad. Loved his work. :(
posted by edheil at 6:07 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by jenkinsEar at 6:13 PM on May 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


In the dark days before the internet, it was often the case that individuals - particularly pre-adolescent individuals - could reasonably think that they were the only person on the face of the planet, possibly in all recorded history, who could be interested in some particular thing. Its almost impossible to recollect that feeling anymore: the sense, the absolute conviction, that nobody ever, anywhere, really gave a shit about that thing that you loved. Nowadays it only take a couple of seconds of googling to find a dozen websites to vindicate your own personal obsessions, and a thousand comrades to share in the joy that you find in something particular, esoteric, strange.

When I was a pre-teen, mathematical word and logic problems were my own little particular, esoteric, and strange obsession. I loved them. This was weird in itself - who likes math? - but doubly weird because math teachers had an annoying tendency to assigns these things as extra-credit, which bugged the shit out of just about everyone but me. But I loved them, I looked forward to the homework assignments that included them, I relished rising to the challenge they presented, and I gloried in my ability to vanquish them. Yet I was, I was sure, completely alone.

Then one day I ran across Martin Gardner. I'm not sure whether it was his column in Scientific American or one of his books, but no matter. For the first time, I found a kindred spirit who relished these problems the same way that I did. Remember, again, that this was the pre-WWW days, when finding such a kindred spirit was a rare and beautiful thing. Here was someone who not only loved the same thing that I did, but expressed that love with agility, eloquence, wisdom, and creativity. For Gardner, these weren't just diversions, they were exercises in understanding how the world works. I read and re-read his books many times, even after I knew all the answers to all of the problems, not only because I loved them, but because it was a lifeline to someone else who saw what I saw too.

So I am very sad to hear of Garnder's passing. Reading his columns and books wasn't just fun, or diverting, or edifying: it was a comforting assurance that I wasn't alone in finding beauty in the simple numerical and geometrical relationships that surround us. Rest in peace, MG.
posted by googly at 6:14 PM on May 22, 2010 [37 favorites]


Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers (1969) was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I still use many of the skills I learned from solving those awesome puzzles. The illustrations in that edition were also very cool.

He really had a way of making you feel extra smart when you solved one of his puzzles.
posted by sciatica at 6:15 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by strixus at 6:16 PM on May 22, 2010


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Ugh. So sad now. I have a near-tattered copy of Aha! Gotcha that my mom first brought into the house about... god I'd say 20 years ago. I've lived in about six places since then and it's moved with me to five different states. I still read it at least once a year the way some people read their favorite novel.

He wrote that?! And I knew about Gardner without knowing that? Damn. I got that book when I was little, and adored it. Like most loved toys or stuffed animals, it turned up missing one day when I couldn't remember where I wandered off with it, and I never could find it again. Time to head to alibris.com.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:23 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by weston at 6:28 PM on May 22, 2010


Sad. I hear a grave gathering of puzzle geeks now shall remember perplexing Gardner.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:35 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by jepler at 6:36 PM on May 22, 2010


My mom went to the doctor a lot, and one of them, Dr. Zoret, had a selection of Scientific American issues in his waiting room.

Although the focus is vastly different of course, when I write @Play I think, on some level, I'm emulating him. He is (was) literally the most awesome person I could name. He's like Steve Allen plus one!
posted by JHarris at 6:38 PM on May 22, 2010


oh no, this is such sad news...
posted by milestogo at 6:38 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by milestogo at 6:38 PM on May 22, 2010


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I, too, grew up from an early age reading his Mathematical Games column. Most of the time it was way above my head, but somehow, I always learned something that made me feel like an intellectual giant, yet inferior to the real geniuses who thought this stuff up in the first place. I think that was Gardner's trick, making math accessible, and giving everyone a sense of accomplishment for following along, to whatever degree they were able. I hardly know of anyone else who has done this, at least, in math.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:41 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by jgaiser at 6:42 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by b1tr0t at 6:48 PM on May 22, 2010


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His Encyclopedia of Impromptu Magic is highly regarded in magic circles.
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:48 PM on May 22, 2010



posted by Smart Dalek at 6:54 PM on May 22, 2010


Man, fuck.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:00 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


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He was my favorite non-fiction writer for decades. Loved his columns in Scientific American. Wrote him a letter once pointing out an error in one of his pieces and he was gracious enough to write back and thank me. One of the greats, no doubt.
posted by MarioM at 7:11 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by toodleydoodley at 7:12 PM on May 22, 2010


One of the greats. And such a long life.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:24 PM on May 22, 2010


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I owe at least half of my math degree to him; the other half to my first college math professor who used the same sort of puzzles and had that same spirit of joyous curiosity. He will be missed.
posted by krakedhalo at 7:25 PM on May 22, 2010


Goddammit all my geek heroes are dying. EO Wilson and Freeman Dyson had better be taking it easy or I will cry.
posted by elizardbits at 7:25 PM on May 22, 2010


Oh no. :( :(

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He was one of my childhood heroes. :(
posted by zarq at 7:27 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by interrobang at 7:35 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Tesseractive at 7:42 PM on May 22, 2010


=[

I've been steadily working through a huge stack of his books for the last couple years. I was always happy and inspired to think of him out there somewhere writing more. What a great person.
posted by doteatop at 7:45 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Mblue at 7:52 PM on May 22, 2010


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When I was nine, I found my uncle's old copy of the original Annotated Alice on my mom's bookshelf and stayed up all night reading it. It was like all of those times I'd poured over the World Book Encyclopedia, jumping from one entry to the next, immersed in information, but better. This was years before the internet made information immediately accessible for me, and to find such a wealth of it, on one subject, in one place, pretty much blew my mind. I thought I might become an academic, and dreamed about discovering something about Alice that I could send to him. Thanks, Martin.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 PM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


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posted by parudox at 7:52 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by eriko at 7:56 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by jlkr at 7:58 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by LobsterMitten at 7:59 PM on May 22, 2010


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sad, sad. I've been waiting to show the young'uns what fun it is to read his books, what fun is math and logic and analytical thinking. Fads and fallacies was my first one. I'll miss him, but he would probably reason me out of it.
posted by carmina at 8:07 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by dopeypanda at 8:12 PM on May 22, 2010


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Annotated Alice is certainly my first and true love of his works, but when I was I a kid I found in our barn a box of old Humpty Dumpty Magazines from the 50's or 60's, and the puzzles in those pages (which I suspect Gardner was totally responsible for) helped me understand that math and logic didn't have to be dry, hard, and frustrating.
posted by anastasiav at 8:16 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by The Potate at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2010


It is wonderful that he had such a full life, providing us all with so much to ponder and puzzle over and delight in.

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posted by Nabubrush at 8:26 PM on May 22, 2010


So, there I was, age 14, in the Math section of my school library, working my way through his "Mathematical Games and Diversions." I still have my hexaflexagon. I learned about celluar math. And I solved the damned Coconuts problem!
posted by SPrintF at 8:34 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by a small part of the world at 8:35 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by oonh at 8:47 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Kinbote at 8:49 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by sammyo at 8:52 PM on May 22, 2010


Aha! Gotcha was an amazing book.

Easily in my "top 10 most influential books I've read" list.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:59 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by sigmagalator at 9:19 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by bruce at 9:22 PM on May 22, 2010


The world is a mirror of Infinite Beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace did not man disquiet it.

We'll get there. Thanks for representing, Martin.
posted by Twang at 9:24 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:30 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:35 PM on May 22, 2010


I can't remember where I first read Gardner. He'd retired from SciAm before I was paying attention. Maybe I copied some of his classic columns at the library first. Maybe it was one of his books. I do remember a friend recommending The Annotated Alice about a decade ago and I picked it up on sale from Powell's. I finally cracked the cover this winter to read Alice to my son this winter and the annotations nearly stopped me in my tracks. Thanks for sharing your mind with us, Martin!
posted by Songdog at 9:58 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:58 PM on May 22, 2010


Scientific American has re-posted a very nice profile of Gardner from 1995.
posted by RogerB at 9:58 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aha! Gotcha was an amazing book.

It was one of my favorite books, growing up. A sad day indeed.

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posted by rifflesby at 9:58 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:03 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Ron Thanagar at 10:09 PM on May 22, 2010


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(Not to mention: without Mathematical Games, we would never have had Metamagical Themas!)
posted by otherthings_ at 10:22 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Vibrissae at 10:46 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by Robin Kestrel at 11:07 PM on May 22, 2010


I can't add anything to the marvelous words that others have already posted, but it does appear that many were touched by his work, including The Annotated Alice, which I can safely say was one of the ten or fewer favorite books of my childhood. He opened so many windows onto Lewis Carroll and his obsessions (including his mathematical interests) to me, and in the process helped demystify and make math less frightening for me. For that I will forever be grateful to him.
posted by blucevalo at 11:07 PM on May 22, 2010


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posted by cerebus19 at 11:45 PM on May 22, 2010


One of my childhood idols and mentors as well. And not a hyperbole to say I would be a different person without him.

His Mathematical Games column was an oasis for those of us who persisted in the belief that mathematics was strange, beautiful and full of wonder, despite what anyone else around us said.
posted by vacapinta at 12:32 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by hattifattener at 12:41 AM on May 23, 2010


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Is it just me, or wouldn't our modern world look a lot different if he hadn't inspired the couple of generations of little nerds that went on to create the computer revolution?
posted by Skeptic at 1:02 AM on May 23, 2010


Wow, damn. I was just thinking the other day about how one of his columns was at least partially responsible for my atheism. In retrospect, he contributed to a lot more of my worldview than that.

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posted by hades at 1:05 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by fleacircus at 1:23 AM on May 23, 2010


I still remember the time I spent in the University library, working my way through their collection of Scientific American, just reading the Mathematical Games section and then moving on to the next issue...
I really need to dig up my copy of the Anotated Alice again

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posted by YAMWAK at 1:25 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by Phssthpok at 1:33 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by gcbv at 1:47 AM on May 23, 2010


Argh, the Ambidextrous Universe guy? I'm going to have to read some of these other ones by him.

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posted by XMLicious at 2:53 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by ardgedee at 3:20 AM on May 23, 2010


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I remember stealing my dad's scientific american magazines just to read Mathematical Games.
posted by sourmike at 3:45 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by edd at 5:21 AM on May 23, 2010


One of my favorite writers. googly's comment above got me to thinking about the loss of Scientific American, which used to be such a great magazine and now is near worthless as People. I have long thought incompetence at Scientific American caused its decline. But now I am thinking there is no way the magazine could have possibly survived the assault of the internet and the web stealing almost its entire audience.

I am going to spend part of the day fooling with Martin Gardner's Table Magic, after I dig it out from the bottom of my closet.

Rest in peace Mister Gardner!
posted by bukvich at 5:34 AM on May 23, 2010


Wouldn't you love to edit his Collected Works? A job for a lifetime, possibly several lifetimes.

I was another kid who found MG in Mathematical Games in my teens. As someone said above, all the geek heroes are going. Donald Knuth is another one we need, but as far as I know he is still going OK.
posted by Logophiliac at 6:27 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by lungtaworld at 6:31 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by Legomancer at 6:47 AM on May 23, 2010


I went and hung out w/ Martin Gardner a few times at his nursing home here in Norman. He loved showing me optical illusions and telling stories of just about every golden age sci fi/fantasy author you can think of. His personal library is a wonder to behold. So is the Escher on his wall that Escher himself gave him.

We talked mostly about Alice & Oz, the Annotated Alice being the reason I found him in the first place. He seemed very healthy for a 95 year old man, and wrote until the very end. Goodnight Mr. Gardner.
posted by broken wheelchair at 9:02 AM on May 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


When I was 9 or 10 I picked up one of his books at the Museum of Science of Industry bookstore because they looked fun. I've been a fan ever since. As I got older I kept going back to his work and interviews and he seemed to get cooler the deeper I dug.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:03 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by lazaruslong at 10:23 AM on May 23, 2010


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There dies a piece of my childhood. :-(
posted by jonp72 at 10:26 AM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


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He was on my "hero" list.
I have written computer "life" more than once.
posted by Drasher at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by Quietgal at 11:44 AM on May 23, 2010


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posted by jtron at 1:20 PM on May 23, 2010


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posted by mecran01 at 2:39 PM on May 23, 2010


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dammit. that guy made my childhood in so many ways.
posted by artof.mulata at 3:27 PM on May 23, 2010


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posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 4:22 PM on May 23, 2010


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posted by Obscure Reference at 4:30 PM on May 23, 2010


Mathematical Games was why I started buying Scientific American in high school, but it's certainly one of the big reasons that I kept buying it.

And knowing that there were people out there that thought math was neat definitely helped me too.
posted by djfiander at 4:59 PM on May 23, 2010


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posted by alms at 8:15 PM on May 23, 2010


Aww, damn, a tremendous loss. Martin Gardener shaped the puzzle-loving part of my childhood brain. I got Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers in elementary school through Scholastic Books, and attacked every single puzzle in it like my own private treasure map. I still remember the details of the problems and how I labored for the solutions. As an adult, several times I learned that some new friend who I seemed to really click with had also loved that book as a kid, and I figured it was like some secret handshake between us.
posted by tula at 8:27 PM on May 23, 2010


No, no, no...

Rest in peace old man. You made me feel less alone.
posted by waxbanks at 8:37 PM on May 23, 2010


.oo
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posted by waxbanks at 8:43 PM on May 23, 2010


This thread makes me feel less alone too.
posted by waxbanks at 8:54 PM on May 23, 2010


Aw man, I used to love his Scientific American articles... My dad got me into 'em when I was young... Hexaflexagrams and all that, eh? *sigh*

Damn. If only there were an afterlife, I wish that his were all number-y.
posted by Vamier at 10:54 PM on May 23, 2010


Sorry, make that hexaflexaGONS. :P
posted by Vamier at 10:55 PM on May 23, 2010


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He inspired so many people to think about things. Rest in peace.
posted by mdoar at 10:30 AM on May 24, 2010


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posted by fluffycreature at 5:37 AM on May 25, 2010


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