A final comment on Martin Gardner
Posted by Joe M. Turner | TurnerMagic.com on May 24, 2010
In March 2005, I was asked to contribute my thoughts on Martin Gardner to a book which included a section on his contribution to the magic world.
Here is what I submitted. It represents how I will remember the life and work of this fine American mind.
Martin Gardner’s long and continuing influence in magic is – if you’ll pardon the pun – puzzling. After all, some of the most common advice we magicians give ourselves is to “perform magic” and not just to “do tricks.” We are encouraged to enchant and mystify our audiences by creating a theatrical experience, and to lift them above the perception of magic as a “mere puzzle.”
And yet, Martin Gardner remains one of the most cited and revered names in our field. Martin Gardner! His Encyclopedia of Impromptu Magic is guaranteed to show up in any poll of magicians’ favorite magic books. His magazine columns are the source of endless fascination among magicians as well as actual human beings. Throughout his work we find items which bear frighteningly close resemblance to — gasp — puzzles!
Why does a mathematician with a predilection for impromptu tricks and puzzles command so much attention that magicians jockey to get invited to a convention named in his honor? It must be more than simply the prestige of telling other magicians you were there.
Perhaps Martin Gardner, for all the perception-twisting puzzles and tricks he has created, has a clarity of perception with regard to magic that transcends even what magicians understand our art to be. Magic is more than the special effects we see on a stage or in the practiced hands of a trickster, however talented. Martin Gardner shows us that magic, like mathematics, may in fact be an intrinsic and often surprising part of how the universe is put together. Just when we think we’ve got something figured out, he shows up with a different way of looking at it and we are surprised by the very thing we thought we knew – whether it’s a mathematical principle, a deck of cards, or a piece of string. Martin Gardner reveals the surprising in the familiar, which – if one wishes to create the illusion of magical powers – is a skill devoutly to be wished.
Plus, there’s always that little thing about him being a bloody genius, which may have something to do with it as well.
For those interested in a peek behind the scenes, here is a clip of Martin teaching me his card sleight, “The Wink Change.”