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An account of my first Gathering for Gardner, a conference for recreational mathematicians, magicians, puzzlers, philosophers, and other curious types.
On Sunday April 1st I returned from the 10th Gathering for Gardner, a biennial (once every two years) conference for people who are deep into recreational mathematics, magic, puzzles, and philosophy — basically the topics that interested Martin Gardner, after whom the conference is named. It’s an invitation-only event, and I was honored to receive an invitation thanks to Les Shader.
For those who don’t know, Martin Gardner wrote the “Mathematical Games” column for Scientific American magazine between 1956 and 1981 and made an amazing network of connections between people in a wide variety of fields. He brought “more mathematics, to more millions, than anyone else” (Richard K. Guy). Gardner was also the co-author (with Lewis Carroll, of course) of the very popular The Annotated Alice. Gardner only attended the first two Gatherings, and died in 2010 at 95.
If you have 45 minutes for an enriching experience, watch this episode of “The Nature of Things” about Martin Gardner and an early Gathering for Gardner. It’s well worth your time. (Source: Grey Matters blog.)
The event took place in Atlanta, Georgia, USA from Wednesday 28 March to Sunday 1 April, 2012, at the Ritz Carlton downtown (two blocks south of the venue for PyCon 2010 & 2011). I missed the initial (informal) reception on the evening of the 28th, arriving in Atlanta on a late flight. While I was checking in to my hotel (a few blocks away from the venue) I happened to notice walking through the lobby, Kate Jones of GamePuzzles/Kadon Enterprises, so I introduced myself. We had corresponded via email since 2007, but we had never met before.
The conference consisted mostly of 5-minute talks from participants, in a single track. Topics included Rubik’s Cubes (including 4-dimensional cubing), Sudoku, hyperbolic crochet, mathematics education, magic, the psychology of observation, rubber bands, games, fractals, pseudoscience/fruitloopery, and origami (including a two-headed crane folded from a right-angle pentagon sheet of hyperbolic paper). It was a really varied and eclectic mixture of subjects, almost always interesting, and sometimes mind-blowing.
Several talks touched on flexagons. Afterward I related to the speakers how I proposed to my wife with a hexahexaflexagon (I’ve been a puzzle geek for a long time).
In addition, there were some longer talks. John Conway reminisced at length about visiting Martin Gardner. (Conway is famous for inventing the Game of Life automaton, although he claims to be rather sick of it now.) There was a debate on the pros and cons of the number 10. A panel on illusions, perception, neuroscience, and sleights of mind. And more.
I met lots of people, including Oskar van Deventer & Bram Cohen (of BitTorrent fame), both designers of puzzles in the Hanayama Cast Puzzles series. I also met Solomon Golomb, author of the book Polyominoes, but I couldn’t get my copies of the first & second editions autographed as I’d neglected to pack them. Magic Tony Barnhart taught me one card trick then blew my mind with another. Ed Pegg showed me BurrTools, which I’m having trouble compiling on my Ubuntu Linux machine.
There was a lot of creation going on during the talks as well. I saw people making geometric forms from binder clips, others making intricate Zome forms. I got to play with Skallops and playing cards.
There was a vendor hall with about a dozen individual vendors, including GamePuzzles with Kate Jones’ wonderful puzzles and games, Grand Illusions from the UK, beAd Infinitum (geometrical beadwork), Pavel’s Puzzles (bought two small pieces), Zometool (already have a set), the mathematical art of Robert Bosch, and others.
I had ordered a set of Super Deluxe Quintillions and the Poly-4 supplement from GamePuzzles, something I’ve wanted for many years. I also bought an Iamond Ring made of transparent acrylic in a variety of colors. All of Kate’s creations are beautiful, but I could only get so much with my limited budget.
On Saturday morning I spoke on “Polyform Puzzler, New Polyforms, and Recent Results”. The talk went well and I got some good feedback afterward. I showed several X-shaped puzzles I designed in the talk, but there were a lot of variations I didn’t show (“X” and “10” were the Gathering’s themes). The remainder of the puzzles are all here.
Saturday afternoon and early evening were spent in the garden of the home of Tom Rogers and Sarah Garvin, founders of the Gatherings for Gardner. Unfortunately Tom is ill and was unable to enjoy the afternoon with us. They have a wonderful Japanese-style home surrounded by bamboo forest and a garden full of mathematical sculptures (the “sculpture zoo”), that I understand has grown over the years in no small part thanks to these Gatherings. Scott Kim made me a custom ambigram, combining “polyform” with my family name, “Goodger”. I had a good talk with William Waite of Puzzle Mist. George Bell and I discussed Lominoes (L-shaped polycubes). I shared dinner and conversation with Kate Jones and Jay Schindler. New sculptures were set up, including ephemeral geometrical arrangements of balloons and rubber bands.
Back at the conference venue there was an exhibit hall with a wide variety of pieces on display, from dozens of twisty puzzles (variants and descendants of Rubik’s Cubes, including a 17x17x17 cube by Oskar van Deventer, as well as wild mutations), to a giant chrome Tangle, to some wild kaleidoscopes and 3D-printed sculptures.
There was also a related exhibit at a nearby public library, but I didn’t make it there. See some pictures from G4G10 (including some from the library exhibit) here.
Gatherings have a twist that was new to me, a “Gift Exchange”. Participants are asked to either send (ahead of time) enough physical gifts for each participant, or to write a paper for (and help fund the production of) the Gift Exchange book. After the last talk on the last day, everybody participating in the Exchange received a bag full of interesting things: models, puzzles, art, toys, origami, games, and knickknacks. After a quick game of Go and as the crowd was thinning out I picked up my Exchange bag. The day after I returned home I quickly went through the bag to get an idea of what it contained, and I think it will keep me occupied for months.
I went up to the exhibit hall to collect the Special Edition Frabjous sculpture I had arranged to purchase from the artist, George Hart (of New York’s Museum of Mathematics and Make Magazine’s Math Mondays fame). The sculpture is truly frabjous (a nonce word in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky meaning “fabulous and joyous”).
My flight wasn’t until the evening, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in the vendor hall, repacking my bags (and a box to bring all the extra goodies home in), and talking to Kate Jones and her son Eric.
G4G10 was a blast. It was great to meet so many interesting and creative people and cross-pollinate ideas. I look forward to G4G11!
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|David Goodger has been using Python since 1998, and began working on reStructuredText and Docutils in 2000. A proud Canadian, he lived in Japan for 7 years, where a stint at a document processing company in Tokyo began his love/hate relationship with structured markup. David is a Python Enhancement Proposal (PEP) Editor and a member of the Python Software Foundation. He currently lives outside of Montreal, Quebec, with his Japanese wife and their two children.|