Best-selling author and “mathemagician” Martin Gardner died Saturday at Norman Regional Hospital. He was 95.
A prolific writer, Gardner penned more than 70 books over topics as far-reaching as mathematical puzzles to scientific theory to literary criticism of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
His lasting legacy, however, will be as the man who made math accessible to the masses. While writing for a children’s magazine in the 1950s, Gardner decided, on a whim, to write a column about hexaflexagons, 3-D paper figures that can be flexed to show different sides. That piece was picked up by Scientific American magazine and sparked a monthly feature, “Mathematical Games,” which ran from 1956-1981.
Lacking the technical complexities and academic air often associated with mathematics, the column used everyday references and logic puzzles to explain mathematical concepts like fractals. Interestingly, the man who sparked this recreational math movement stumbled into math “almost by accident,” he told Oklahoma Gazette in December. Gardner, who dubbed himself a “math journalist,” learned math up to calculus.
“Martin Gardner influenced not just Oklahoma or the United States, but really the whole world’s mathematical community,” said Boris Apanasov, a University of Oklahoma math professor who studied at the USSR Academy of Science, in a December interview with the Gazette.
Gardner also had a love of magic, much of which he said is closely related to math, and continued ” even at the age of 95 ” to impress visitors with new card tricks and optical illusions.
“Magic is a close circle of devotees who tell each other secrets,” Gardner said.
For decades, he shared the secrets of math, science, literature and a litany of other subjects with millions of followers ” a feat not lost on his son.
“He had such a wide following on such a wide area of interest,” James Gardner said. “It’s remarkable.”
Per Martin’s wishes, no funeral will be held, said James. The family requests no flowers or direct contributions be directed to the family. Instead, those looking to donate may do so through The James Randi Educational Foundation, 201 S.E. 12th, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and The Mishawaka Foundation, 1 Brickyard Drive, Bloomington, Ill. “Nicole Hill