Martin Gardner is celebrated yearly around the world.
Thousands of people join in at schools, science centers, museums, coffee shops, etc. to share mathematical activities. Yes, we are talking about mathematics!
Why do people gather to spend a few hours doing mathematics?
The reason for this odd behavior is the life and works of Martin Gardner (1914-2010). For twenty-five years (1956 to 1981) he published the column “Mathematical Games” in Scientific American. His articles are some of the best ever in promotion of mathematics. As Richard Guy wrote, Gardner brought more math to more millions than anyone else.
Gardner wrote novels, books on magic, and many other subjects, but his mathematics-related writings are enough to amaze us and change the way most of us look at the Queen of Sciences.
Martin Gardner got a college degree in Philosophy and worked most part of his life as a journalist and a writer. He never took a single mathematics course in college. However, he managed to learn difficult mathematical theories that he then exposed with unsurpassed clarity and enthusiasm. Maybe his lack of mathematical training is part of the reason Gardner’s articles were so clear and enthralling. For each topic he intended to bring to the pages of SA, Gardner had to learn from scratch the main ideas of the subject and its context. If you have been trained in mathematics, you can navigate through technicalities at ease, but that proficiency does not promote mathematical appreciation. Martin Gardner’s texts are all about mathematical appreciation. He can write on Mandelbrot’s Fractals or Conway’s Game of Life, it does not matter much, the soul of the article will always convey the pleasure of thinking creatively within the tight rules of logic.
This is why so many different activities fall within CoM’s scope.
Gardner points the right direction to all of recreational mathematicians — occasional or not. The celebration can consist of an interesting talk on Fermat’s Last Theorem, a workshop of Origami, the practice of board games, card tricks, magic … as long as it is intelligent and playful.
Recreational Mathematics is becoming more present in the lives of mathematicians and communities in general. The Gathering for Gardner meeting, which occurs every other year in Atlanta, now has a counterpart on odd-numbered years, in Portugal (Recreational Mathematics Colloquia).
With the global CoM we intend to give continuation to Gardner’s work. Martin Gardner worked alone and reached millions; we are many. Let’s take the enjoyment of mathematics to all.