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chalkdust

The Mathematical Games of

Martin Gardner

Alex Bellos

Matthew Scroggs

I

 all began in December 1956, when an article about hexaflexagons was published in Scientific American. A hexaflexagon is a hexagonal paper toy which can be folded and then opened out to reveal hidden faces. If you have never made a hexaflexagon, then you should stop reading and make one right now (instructions on page 43). Once you’ve done so, you will understand why the article led to a craze in New York; you will probably even create your own mini-craze because you will just need to show it to everyone you know. The author of the article was, of course, Martin Gardner. Martin Gardner was born in 1914 and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago and aer four years serving in the US Navy during the Second World War, he returned to Chicago and began writing. Aer a few years working on children’s magazines and the occasional article for adults, Gardner was introduced to John Tukey, one of the students who had been involved in the creation of hexaflexagons. Soon aer the impact of the hexaflexagons article became clear, Gardner was asked if he had enough material to maintain a A Christmas flexagon. The monthly column. This column, Mathematical Games, was writtemplate can be found at ten by Gardner every month from January 1956 for 26 years until chalkdustmagazine.com December 1981. Throughout its run, the column introduced the world to a great number of mathematical ideas, including Penrose tiling (see page 9), the Game of Life, public key encryption, the art of MC Escher, polyominoes and a matchbox machine learning robot called Menace (see pages 18–22). chalkdustmagazine.com

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