Growing up, my dad would get Scientific American from time to time, a magazine that had some pretty densely written articles back then and now. Still, I would leaf through it from time to time, and avidly read articles that caught my fancy, even if I couldn’t make head or tales of the math or physics behind the concepts yet. ONE column I ALWAYS read was Mathematical Games, penned faithfully by the object of this post, Mr. Martin Gardner. Mathematical Games is one of those little features of your life that you remember years after the fact and you realize, suddenly, that it changed your life. I am either right-brained or left-brained, I don’t know which.. but if there is a natural disposition in some human brains to tune out mathematics and focus on words instead, that would be my affliction. I am not a total washout with mathematics– far from it. PRACTICAL math, that I can get.. theoretical mathematics, that was an entirely different kettle of fish. Gardner had a knack for explaining very complex mathematical gyrations in a style that was steady, informative and never condescending. I think Gardner taught me not to fear complex mathematics, but to “set my mind to the task” and tackle them slowly, one step at a time. Gardner did more than the math column for Scientific American, of course. He wrote a giant gobsmack of a collection of books– mostly on mathematics, but also on logic and game theory and skeptical inquiry. I have about a half dozen of them in my library. Gardner was a famous man with the new wave of critical thinkers and skeptics that had a big influence in my adult life, too. They’ll miss him as much as I will. Martin Gardner passed away three days ago, on 22 May 2010. I’m sure a skeptic like Martin would scoff at the notion, but my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. His was a life well led.
PS: The Subject Line of this post leads off with an anagram of Gardner’s name in his honor (many of his columns featured word puzzles, a favorite of mine). Can you construct one?