Martin Gardner owes the Mathematical Games column, and its subsequent adoring readership, to a chance article about flexagons
, which ran in 1956
. At that time, Scientific American
was a dowdy, lackluster, geek rag, with blurry B&W photography
and coverage of the latest twirks in nuclear reactors. Something about these cute little assemblages of triangles captured the imagination: people wrote in how they'd managed, through careful manipulation of adding machine
tape, to cut, fold, and paste hexaflexagons of up to 18 sides, two correspondents sent in science fiction
speculating on what would happen if someone were to be flexed "down" into the model, and everyone wanted more math fun.
Accordingly, he was given his own column, where he covered, in quick succession Mobius strips, the number pi, the game of hex, Soma blocks, variant tic-tac-toe, and so on, introducing to the general public the names of such people as John Nash, David Gale, Richard Feynman, and John Horton Conway. A surfeit of mail involving circle-squarers, angle trisectors, and the like caused him to introduce his evil twin, the duplicitous Dr. Matrix, a numerologist, who, with his ravishing daughter Iva, ran rampant across the world parting the credulous from their money while latching on to the latest pseudoscientific fad. Somewhere along the line, and no doubt in part to these scintillating essays, the magazine went colorful and slick, gradually morphing into the lavish periodical it is today.
His presence, cranky though it may have been, is sorely missed.