Cover Image: Erik Demaine delivering his keynote address, “Having Fun with Math and Computers.”
On February 28, 2019, the University of Oklahoma held a free public event, “Martin Gardner’s Legacy: One Oklahoman’s Imprint on Math, Magic, and Philosophy.” It was well attended by mathematicians, magicians, educators, students, philosophers, and scientists. Gardner’s extraordinary life and career as a prolific science and math writer was highlighted by his Scientific American column, “Mathematical Games,” which ran for a quarter of a century.
The event began with remarks from his son, Jim Gardner, esteemed in his own right as an Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Oklahoma and for his research in the use of technology in educational settings. Next on the agenda was “reflections” of Martin Gardner from a few speakers familiar with his work. These topics included “Mathemagic with a Deck of Cards” by Colm Mulcahy (professor of mathematics at Spelman College); “Gardner, Play and Disciplinary Boundaries” by Robert Crease (Philosophy Department Chair at Stony Brook University); and “The Gathering for Gardner Foundation” by Nancy Blachman (Foundation Chair).
Then it was time for the main event. The keynote address was titled “Having Fun with Math and Computers,” presented by MIT computer science professor and MacArthur Fellow Erik Demaine. This riveting address was both educational and entertaining as the topics he presented were all Gardner-inspired: geometric folding algorithms, origami, polyhedra, unique mathematical fonts and typefaces, and puzzles of all kinds, including the Instant Insanity puzzle created in 1967. Demaine didn’t just discuss them—he demonstrated them himself or with the use of computer graphics and videos. To give a sense of how moving this presentation was, he showed some puzzles that even computers could not solve. This was a presentation that Skeptical Inquirer readers would have thoroughly enjoyed.
It’s with special thanks to Jim Gardner and the University of Oklahoma for keeping alive the legacy of this very special science and mathematics writer, skeptic, magician, and philosopher. His work still inspires both children and adults all over the world.
Special thanks to Cole Harroz, who served as a consultant on this piece.