Back when Scientific American was worth my money, the first feature that got my attention every month was Martin Gardner’s “Mathematical Games,” where I learned such arcane arts as tangrams and polyominos. Gardner retired from the magazine in 1981, aged sixty-seven, and more or less dropped out of my consciousness until about five years ago, his return accompanied by the exclamation, “Holy flurking schnitt, the smartest man on earth lives in Norman?”
Which he did, starting around 2002; his son James is a professor of educational psychology at OU. Gardner was a skeptic, in the Randian (James, not Ayn) sense, and wrote extensively on pseudoscience; unlike several of his questioning colleagues, he was a theist. Dr Irving Joshua Matrix (apparently né Bush) was a regular visitor to “Mathematical Games,” and according to legend, was killed in some sort of conflict with Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, whom I thought had been iced by someone else entirely.
Gardner, of course, would never have approved of this sort of rambling, disjointed prose, especially if it was about him. Perhaps, though, he might have appreciated this remembrance by old friend James Randi:
Martin Gardner has died. I have dreaded to type those words, and Martin would not have wanted to know that I’m so devastated at what I knew — day to day — had to happen very soon. I’m glad to report that his passing was painless and quick. That man was one of my giants, a very long-time friend of some 50 years or so. He was a delight, a very bright spot in my firmament, one to whom I could always turn to with a question or an idea, with any strange notion I could invent, and with any complaint or comment I could come up with.