On the passing of Martin Gardner
Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on May 23, 2010
I learned yesterday on Twitter that Martin Gardner has died.
He has already been and will continue to be eulogized by the many people – and the many kinds of people – that he influenced. Google News already reports over 200 published articles about his passing; here’s the NY Times obit. Mathematicians, puzzlers, magicians, skeptics, philosophers… not to mention the millions of ordinary Americans who read his column in Scientific American for thirty years. (Scientific American’s Philip Yam has published a short remembrance here.) He introduced the American public to the concepts of flexagons, tangrams, and dozens of other nifty little pieces of a delightfully strange and enchanting universe.
One of the great afternoons of my life was spent kneeling with him on the floor of his small room at a retirement home in Norman, Oklahoma, showing each other card tricks. He gave me a personal tutorial on a classic move he invented decades ago. I showed him a trick I devised with a piece of string and a finger ring… he claimed to have been fooled and wanted to know if I would teach him the trick. Me, teaching Martin Gardner! I was hanging on his every word, and never expected those words to include, “You’ve got to show me that!”
That was one of Mr. Gardner’s special qualities – an unselfish willingness to admit the existence of a limit, in order to find a way to grow beyond it. Never egotistical. Always exploring. Always learning. Always giving.
After that visit, he shared a quote about my work that I’ll always treasure:
“He certainly does beautiful magic. My head is still spinning.
He’s very inventive and has very good ideas.”
Earlier this year I had the honor of being a featured performer at the Gathering for Gardner in Atlanta. This is an invitation-only gathering of a few hundred of the world’s top minds in mathematics, puzzles, magic, geometry, technology, and associated fields. The Gathering – and the world-class population that it attracts – is tribute to the lasting effect of Mr. Gardner’s work and influence.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gardner. I consider myself so lucky to have met you!