Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Martin Gardner (1914-2010)

I recently found out that mathematics and science writer, Martin Garnder passed away a couple of weeks ago.

I first discovered Gardner at Xaverian High School, browsing the library shelves, probably looking for a puzzle book. I found a copy of The Incredible Dr. Matrix, which was a fun book to read. Besides being the first place where I ever encountered the Lincoln/Kennedy connections (complete with corrections, such as Lincoln's secretary's name was John, not Kennedy), but it had some great puzzles that got me thinking (a dangerous pasttime).

One problem that I remembered was that Gardner listed
32 + 42 = 52,

which everyone knows, and then added that
102 + 112 + 122 = 132 + 142,

which I had to independently verify.

It hadn't occured to me that this progression might continue. The puzzle was to find four consecutive numbers which, when squared, have the same sum as the sum of the squares of the next three consecutive numbers after that.

Having already had Algebra under my belt by that point, it turned out not to be a problem at all.

My brother, Joseph, saw the book and mentioned that Gardner had puzzles in Asimov's Science Fiction, which he had a subscription to. The one story that comes to mind had this as the basic puzzle:

A family is riding a rocket ship from the Moon to Earth. A child looks out the front window and then runs to the rear window. He then tells his father that the Earth and the Moon appear to be the same size. The puzzle, which included some information that I'd have to look up, was find the position of the spaceship relative to the Earth and Moon.

I haven't read anything by Gardner in quite a while, but I should probably stop by the library and find a book or two of his and see if I can find some good puzzles for my students.

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