Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner

A hundred years ago this week, on October 21, 1914, American man of letters and numbers Martin Gardner was born, in Tulsa.

Gardner spent his final years in Norman. Over the course of a long and extremely productive life, from his days at the University of Chicago to his heyday in New York City as the writer of the very popular and influential "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American, he authored about 100 books in subjects ranging from science and mathematics to magic, philosophy, rationality and childrens' literature.

His mother had been a kindergarten teacher in Lexington, KY, and his father was a wildcatter. Young Martin learned to read by looking over his mother's shoulders as she read The Wizard of Oz to him, and in time became quite the Oz scholar, publishing a sequel Visitors from Oz in 1998. He was also a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, and his Annotated Alice from 1960 remains his best seller; he once said it sold over a million copies.

His friends and associates included Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and artist Salvador Dali, yet he was a shy, modest man, who shunned bright lights and preferred to bury himself in books instead. Gardner's son Jim, who teaches at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, remembers being miffed to learn that his father hadn't bothered to tell the family he'd been invited to the premier of the movie "2001: a Space Odyssey"--it seems the note on the formal invitation about wearing a tuxedo had put him off.

Gardner's writing appeared in a wide variety of outlets, including Sports Illustrated —a piece on "Casey at the Bat" in 1965—and he ghostwrote a book on 10 pin bowling in 1958. Most importantly, he is widely credited with turning on several generations of people worldwide to the pleasures of mathematics and science, and creative problem solving in general. Over the years, a few puzzles of his even appeared in Marilyn vos Savant's Parade magazine column, and on NPR's Car Talk.

A few years after his wife died, in 2000, Gardner returned to Oklahoma, and lived in a retirement community in Norman, near his son Jim. Between then and his death in May 2010, he wrote another 20 books.

His centennial is being marked by NPR ("Time to Flex Those Math Muscles," Will Shortz), New York Times ("Martin Gardner: The Three-Card Swindle," Gary Antonick), BBC ("Martin Gardner, Puzzle Master Extraordinaire," Colm Mulcahy) and over a dozen magazines.

Furthermore, Celebration of Mind events in his honor are being held all over the globe, from now till the end of the year, where people just get together in small or large groups and have some fun with puzzles, magic tricks, or any other of the large number of things that interested this most modest yet accomplished of men.

Colm Mulcahy is Professor of Mathematics at Spelman College, in Atlanta, GA.  He bought his first Martin Gardner book as a teenager in Dublin, Ireland, never dreaming that he'd one day get to meet the author and have him autograph it.  He treasures the memories of several visits to Norman to converse with this great down-to-earth Oklahoman thinker and communicator.

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