Martin Gardner is well known for his famous ‘Mathematical Games’ articles in ‘Scientific American’ magazine. He contributed that column for almost twenty years. It seems intellectual youths of the period between later 50s and early 80s enjoyed much of his puzzles.
For me, Writer Sujatha introduced Martin Gardner in his famous ‘Katrathum Petrathum’ series in Vikatan. In one of the article, if I remembered correctly, while telling the ‘Lady or the Tiger’ story (I hope every one knows that story and its mathematical significance!) he told about Gardner and his famous ‘Mathematical Games’. Later, I found his ‘My best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles’ in central library of Karur. But the book is in reference section and I supposed to write down some problems everyday and tried solve it. Obviously, I even don’t understand most of the puzzles and give-up within a week.
Then during my under-graduation days, I once again gone back to Gardner, when one of my Math professor talk about recreational mathematics during an lecture. This time, I’m capable of solving many of his problems and got addicted to such puzzles. This practice fairly helped me while attending an bank exam (Cleared that exam but luckily or unluckily I opt to do Ph.D rather than to become a teller!).
Then, puzzles and Gardner gone into the thin air for many years. Few days ago, I don’t know how but, while searching some random stuff, I once again came across Gardner and found an interesting book, ‘Martin Gardner in the 21st Century’ by MAA (Mathematical Association of America).
Martin Gardner : The Puzzle Man (1914–2010)
Even though its a tribute edition, the book discussing the solutions of some of his famous problems, rather than discussing his contributions or his biography. Some interesting articles of Gardner are also included. Non mathematician may feel prosaic while reading the text, yet its a good book to give a try. At least one could wonders the usability and applicability of Maths in different arena.
To seek your attention towards the book, let me to tell you two tricks discussed in the book (Demonstrated!). First one is a coin trick named as three penny trick in the text. Consider three coins, which are placed in a row. You’re blindfolded and requested to assemble the coins in a way either all heads or all tails. The only condition you know is that there should be at least one head and one tail in the sequence. The idea is to flip the left coin first then the middle coin. Now check with the spectator, whether the required condition is reached. If not, go for one more left flip. Now it should be aligned in a way as requested, independent of whatever be the initial position. It may seems so simple. But when you replace the coins by cups and a question with the condition of at least three flips to achieve all-ups or all-down could be interesting.
The second is a card trick. Take about 15 cards and arrange them as 5 piles with each pile consists of random number of cards (say 4,1,1,5,4). Now remove one card from each pile and place the removed cards as a new pile. If the piles are arranged in a row, the new pile can be placed anywhere in the row, front, middle or at the end. Repeat the process, after ’n’ number of iterations, you always end up with an arrangement of 5,4,3,2,1. Depending upon the initial arrangement, the ’n’ may vary. But always end up with the above order!
Some more interesting problems such as Courier problem, RATWYT and Monty Hall Problem (MHD) are discussed in the book (There are three doors and opening one particular door would leads you to a car. Another two will leads to a goat. Now you allowed to choose one door, say A. Then either one of the other two doors will be opened, but not the door with a car. After this you have an option to switch from your selection. Even though it seems 50–50 problem, its not actually. There are many famous solutions available for this problem.).
Gardner not only wrote about Maths and Maths articles. He had wrote two novels, many books on magic and many short stories. Two of such short stories are also included in the book. The last one (both in the book as well as by Gardner himself) ‘Superstrings and Thelma’ is enough to showcase the Gardner’s writing skills to captivate the reader.
The only book reviewed by Gardener is also included in this collection. The book’s ‘name is ‘popco’ and in which the grandfather of lead character was influenced by Gardner. It is such a modest and appreciable review with the summary of the novel (He doesn’t disclose the climax). He complains about only one thing, about the usage of ‘f’ word through out the text!
With lot of maths the book may persuade somebody towards the subject. For others, especially those who interested in early bird numbers, flexagons or how to find the cube root of 52367419803 or any equivalent number in seconds may try once.