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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » Martin Gardner (1914–2010): Polymath and Puzzler

CRF Blog

Martin Gardner (1914–2010): Polymath and Puzzler

by Damon Huss

Last month, noted mathematics and logic puzzle columnist Martin Gardner died at age 95. He gained notoriety for his “Mathematical Games” column at Scientific American, but was also well-known for his book The Annotated Alice on Lewis Carroll’s classic.

He was a prolific author of 70 some books on a broad range of topics. He was what’s known as a polymath, a person with expertise in diverse areas (think here of Benjamin Franklin: statesman, politician, publisher, writer, scientist, and inventor). Gardner wrote about science, politics, religion, literature, mathematics, and philosophy and even wrote some fiction. Importantly, he was a founder of the modern skeptical movement, which seeks to apply the scientific method to claims of paranormal activity and pseudoscience, and to just promote scientific literacy generally.

I once exchanged a couple of letters with Gardner, after reading his fascinating analysis of politics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and his semi-autobiographical novel The Flight of Peter Fromm. His responses were quick and appeared to have been typed on an old manual typewriter, with his own penciled-in copy edits. His writing was unsurprisingly down-to-earth and gracious.

If you are interested in paradoxes and logic puzzles but, like me, you’re nothing close to a math wizard, I would highly recommend his book Aha! Gotcha as a good start. The paradoxes he illustrates are simply fun to think through and are laced with amusing literary and historic references.

Another enjoyable place to start would be this remembrance by Pradeep Mutalik at The Crossword Blog of The New York Times. Mutalik gives some examples of logic puzzles and also links to several obituaries and remembrances that may tempt you to go deeper into the world of Gardner.

Below is a video on Gardner.