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Simplifying the complex: some of the mathematical constructions at G4G13; Bjarne Jesperson’s “Knotted Cube” is second from right. (Courtesy: Robert P Crease)

Topics: Education, Mathematics, Logic, Philosophy, Physics, STEM

When Roxana started to juggle balls with her feet it was proof, if any were needed, that G4G is the most disciplinarily diverse conference around.

G4G, or “Gathering for Gardner”, is a biennial event in honor of the recreational mathematician Martin Gardner (1914–2010). As a columnist for Scientific American, Gardner inspired generations of physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, puzzle-makers, logicians, magicians and others, including me. The 13th gathering this past weekend was called G4G13.

The conference began last Wednesday in the usual fashion: early-bird registrants flocked to the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta to show their favourite mathematics, physics, logic and magic tricks. These are called “bar bets”, for their only practical purpose is to give you cool ways to try to win money off sceptical strangers. I saw some classics on Wednesday, such as the challenge to guess whether a red wine glass is taller than its circumference – as a stranger is likely to think – or shorter, as it almost always is. The events of the next four days shared the same spirit, combining learning about the world with a spirit of playfulness – linked wherever possible to the number 13.

Gardner’s special skill was to get people to enjoy maths by acquainting them with the pleasure of solving problems in areas that ranged from physics to card playing and magic. About 120 talks were given – almost all a mere six minutes long, and each delivered to the entire gathering. We learned about such things as mathematical knitting, hyperbolic tiling patterns, the physics of dice and tops, fine points of logic, and pseudoscience. One celebrity participant was the 2014 Fields medallist Manjul Bhargava. Another was Erno Rubik, the Hungarian inventor of the eponymous cube that in the 1980s became the bestselling toy of all time.

Martin Gardner would have smiled, Robert P Crease, Physics World

Related link:

Home website: Martin Gardner dot org

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