If you grew up, as I did, devouring every puzzle book you could get your hands on, you probably owe at least a little of your geekiness to Martin Gardner. His ability to craft unusual and interesting mathematical and logical puzzles has been second to none since he started in the field over a half-century ago.
Gardner, who turns 95 years old today, never limited himself to puzzles, either. In 1952 he published the first edition of what would become Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, widely considered a classic of scientific skepticism, and possibly the first modern book to attack pseudoscience head-on. He also published a wonderful annotated version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, not to mention several short stories of his own. He has published many books of essays, the most recent of which — When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That — saw publication only last week.
I must have been 7 years old, at most, when I started borrowing my (older) brother’s copies of several of Gardner’s books. Some of the puzzles were beyond me, of course, but I was hooked anyway. Ever since, solving puzzles has been one of my favorite activities, and that fact is certainly one of the chief reasons I became a programmer. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have found my way to puzzles without Gardner’s books, but they certainly helped.
If you’re interested in learning more about Gardner’s life and works, he gave an excellent interview several years ago, and it’s a great read. If you’d like to commemorate Gardner’s life and career, why not try your hand at some of his geekier puzzles? (Unfortunately, few of Gardner’s puzzles can be found for free online.) The New York Times‘s TierneyLab blog is celebrating Gardner’s 95th with a few puzzles as well as a contest to win a copy of his latest book.
From all of us at GeekDad: Happy birthday, Mr. Gardner! We look forward to celebrating your 100th birthday in 2014.
Hat tip: MetaFilter.