For my generation of scientists, Martin Gardner, who died May 22 at 95, was a beloved father figure. From 1956 to 1981, he published a monthly column in Scientific American that turned wild mathematical arcana into puzzles and games. He also wrote scores of books, many of which returned to certain beloved topics: curved space, the fourth dimension, logic games and Alice in Wonderland.
Oddly enough, he had no mathematical training at all. As he once remarked to me, "I'm like a person who loves music and enjoys listening to it but who doesn't compose or even play very well."
When he retired from Scientific American, I arranged to interview him at his house. The graying Martin was kindly and sharp. Immediately he showed me a magic trick in which he made a coin move right through a sheet of latex that he'd stretched tight over a shot glass. He claimed he'd made the coin move through the fourth dimension. I begged him for the secret, and he showed me how to work the trick. The next morning he lent me a box of his rare books on the fourth dimension.
Although Martin was also known for his blasts against pseudoscience, he was fascinated by religion and metaphysics. Once, when I spoke to him on the phone, he showed off his newly learned ability to speak in tongues. He'd gotten curious about the topic and, being Martin, had mastered it. He was a fascinating and warmhearted man, always learning, always in flux, a benign trickster who cajoled thousands of us into scientific careers.
Rucker is the author of the cyberpunk omnibus The Ware Tetralogy