A few weeks ago the world lost one of its most original and unusual intellects, Martin Gardner, polymath and prankster and puzzler, the “Mathematical Games” columnist of Scientific American for 25 years, the annotator of “Alice in Wonderland,” the debunker of superstitions masquerading as science, and a demigod to many.
Gardner was beloved of Auden and Nabokov, Stephen Jay Gould and Douglas Hofstadter. The latter mathematician, writing in homage in Scientific American, said his early discovery of Gardner “was probably the first time I had realized that systematic and critical thinking could extend beyond such precise domains as math and physics, and could demolish ideas in far hazier fields with great power. It was also the first time I had realized how very many crazy belief systems there are out there in the world, and how important it is to recognize this fact and to combat them.”
The New York Times has an exceptionally lovely obituary of Gardner, by Douglas Martin, in which this Gardner stumper is posed, with an unexpectedly nonmathematical solution: What is special about the number 8,549,176,320?