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Review: Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games CD

I remember riding the subway to high school in the late 1970's. I rode from Manhattan to the Bronx five days a weekMartin Gardner's Mathematical Games for four years. When I wasn't chatting with one of the other kids I'd often be reading some "Mathy" thing or working out a Math problem. Yes, I was geeky even back then. A number of my very favorite mathematical excursions came from Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American. Gardner's column ran from 1956 to 1986. Gardner is one of my Math heroes, and I know his writing is enjoyed by many many people who enjoy recreational mathematics. In my opinion, Gardner has done more than anyone to popularize recreational Math in the US.

Over the years I've read a number of Gardner's books and enjoyed many of his diversions. A year ago for my birthday I received a copy of Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games CD, published by the Mathematical Association of America. The CD contains every single one of Gardner's articles in Scientific American. Wow! I was pleased.

Here are some details about the CD:

  1. The CD contains the full text of 15 of Gardner's books plus illustrations. Some of the illustrations are not of the best quality but such is life. Collectively they include every one of Gardner's Mathematical Games columns. The books have been scanned and the images put into PDF files. Each file has a clickable table of contents. These are the books included:1. Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions
    2. The Second Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions
    3. New Mathematical Diversions
    4. The Unexpected Hanging and Other Mathematical Diversions
    5. Martin Gardner’s 6th Book of Mathematical Diversions from Scientific American
    6. Mathematical Carnival
    7. Mathematical Magic Show
    8. Mathematical Circus
    9. The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix
    10. Wheels, Life, and Other Mathematical Amusements
    11. Knotted Doughnuts and Other Mathematical Entertainers
    12. Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments
    13. Penrose Tiles to Trapdoor Ciphers
    14. Fractal Music, Hypercards, and more Mathematical Recreations from Scientific American
    15. The Last Recreations: Hydras, Eggs, and Other Mathematical Mystifications.
  2. The CD contains 4500 pages. No, I didn't count them. I'm taking the publisher's word for it.
  3. Included is a fascinating 39 page biographical interview with Martin Gardner, including numerous black and white and color photographs.
  4. The CD has a start page for easy navigation. The start page includes clickable images of the covers of the 15 books, the interview link and a search link.
  5. The collection of books is searchable so the text of each of the books must have been run through OCR (optical character recognition) technology to extract text from page images.
  6. Fortunately I was able to copy the contents of the CD to my laptop's hard drive as accessing the contents directly from the CD was slow and annoying.

Now for my thoughts about the collection.

Wow! As a Math blog publisher this is an invaluable resource. It's great to be able to research interesting diversions that Gardner wrote about or popularized. These include:

Conway's Game of Life, flexagons, the Game of Hex, polyominoes, Nim, digital roots, the four-color map theorem, peg solitaire, Flatlands, he eight queens problem, curves of constant width, lots of Math magic tricks, Penrose tiles, and many more.

As someone who loves recreational Math the collection is phenomenal. So many of the excursions are suitable to exploration by motivated junior high school students and at the same time challenging to professional mathematicians. This is a gift of Gardner, he can reach an audience with a range of experience and skill and please everyone. His excursions are both deep and very accessible to those who want to stay at the surface.

Perhaps the biggest reason for my loving Gardner's work is that, as a high school student, my love of Math served as an escape from the stresses of family life. While exploring Gardner's offerings I was transported to a world I enjoyed much more than the physical one. Life is much much better now but I'm still happy to transport myself into the world of mathematics when the muse calls in the form of a compelling challenge.

I wish each of you a joyous holiday season. Expect to see posts and videos referencing Gardner's writings in the coming year.

Comments (5) Trackbacks (5)
  1. I agree this is a great CD and cheaper than buying all 15 books. Even better, you can perform searches on the CD over all 15 books, this alone is worth the price! The only thing I miss is being able to read the columns on a train …

    The 15 books are to be republished in the next few years by Cambridge Press. Martin will be adding more recent references, but probably not much else. So the book versions will survive as well!

  2. George,

    I agree, nothing beats paper books for reading on the train. I’m glad to hear the 15 books will be republished. Someday I’d like to look up the 15 books on Amazon and see which other books reference his. That list would likely make a good list of books to explore.

    Happy Christmas!

  3. I bought it a year ago, and set it aside for a rainy day. I guess Christmas break is sort of a rainy day…

    Thanks for the review.

  4. Jonathan,

    It’s snowy here in Santa Fe. I don’t know how the Bronx is although I did go to high school in the Bronx.

    There’s some real classic stuff in that CD that brings back memories. I especially like to read Gardner’s original writings about problems and explorations that are now commonly written about that were popularized by Gardner, like Conways’ Game of Life.

  5. Thanks for dropping by Sol and great to see another ‘Gardner enthusiast’! Hope to catch up with you in the New Year.


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