Archive for March, 2010

Gathering For Gardner 9: Prelude

I’ll have to break up a single long post about Gathering For Gardner 9 into several medium-sized posts, as WordPress could crash before the post was completed.

Gathering For Gardner is a large puzzle, mathematics, optical illusion, magic, and generally everything Martin Gardner-related conference held biannually in Atlanta, Georgia from  March 24-29. There are usually 300 people there, each specializing in a unique topic. Many famous people are there, such as Stephen Wolfram, who made Mathematica, John Conway, Scott Kim, Bill Gosper, Jerry Slocum, and many others. When I heard about this conference a few months ago from Bill Gosper, I was definitely very excited, and even more excited when Bill managed to get me an invitation.

Every participant is required to bring 300 copies of an exchange gift, which is simply defined as “something that you would want to give to Gardner”. This can be from puzzles to mathematical bookmarks to folding polyhedra.  The theme for Gathering for Gardner 9 was naturally 9, and many exchange gifts were based on this. My exchange gift for the conference was the 9-9-9 Puzzle, which is a packing puzzle where you have to combine nine nonahedral pieces to make a nonahedron.

We set out for Atlanta in an airplane on March 23, and arrived at around 5:00 P.M., so my mom and I had time to go to Tom Rodger’s, one of the organizers of the event and a puzzle collector’s, house. Lennart Green, Akio Hizume, and Caspar Schwabe were already there, so we weren’t the only people who were early for the conference.

Tom Rodger’s house shows how much of a puzzle collector he is. His front two gates have the Tangram and the Sei Shonagon, two very old pattern puzzles, embossed in the wood. In his yard, there are an amazing amount of great mathematical sculptures, such as this sculpture of five interlocking tetrahedra:

He also had a huge sculpture of a hyperbola made out of rare black bamboo which is conveniently right next to Tom’s house:

There was a smaller version of the hyperbola made with more common bamboo which can actually open and close.

Caspar Schwabe demonstrated this by asking me to step inside the hyperbola in its unfolded position and then closing it up around me. Obviously these people are not worried about damage, especially the “no touching” rule:

We soon went into Tom Rodger’s house after lots of amazing-sculpture-viewing.

Tom has a large and absolutely amazing Japanese-style house complete with an interior courtyard and a koi pond:

His house is also absolutely filled with puzzles, with a room and 3 closets, as well as a basement (supposedly) stuffed with amazing puzzles from around the world. Here he is demonstrating one of Oskar Van Deventer and Bram Cohen’s puzzles, the Caution Cube:

He has lots of drawers full of various puzzles, from puzzle boxes to locks to dexterity puzzles, and I was especially amazed when he showed us his large collection of sliding block puzzles, many from Minoru Abe, an excellent puzzlemaker from Japan. He even has 2 versions of the Panex puzzle, and all 4 of Minoru Abe’s Climb-24 series. He also allowed us to play with the puzzles, which of course made me very happy. Here are some pictures of the puzzles:

I also, after playing with the puzzles for some time, got to meet Lennart Green, probably the best card magician in the world. He showed me a few card tricks, involving taking any card I named out of the deck perfectly, even though I shuffled the deck terribly. He also separated 16 cards into 4 piles, each of which I saw the cards in, each pile containing a single ace. I took one of the piles which definitely had 1 ace, and then he picked another pile. It turned out that he somehow had all 4 aces, even though I had one of them. He then whacked his 4 cards against the 4 that I was holding in my hand, and then it turned out that I had all 4 aces and he had 4 normal cards. Of course how he did this is completely mysterious to me.

We then had a very tasty dinner at Tom’s house, and Akio Hizume showed me a certain structure he had made out of 6 interlocking stars, where the normal one could fold to a ring but the mirror image couldn’t. Many of the people there (Scott Hudson and Bruce Oberg had joined) couldn’t figure out why this was, and I pointed out to them that it was because of the places where 3 rods pass by each other. Aiko also gave me the set of 30 rods with which it can be constructed, but I have yet to assemble them in the correct way.Caspar Schwabe also gave me a kaleidoscope-like structure made out of mirrors that, when you looked inside, made a stellated dodecahedron and an unfolded circular net around the outside. It is a very convincing illusion, and the center stellated dodecahedron changes color depending on what you point the kaleidoscope at:

I also gave them one of the puzzles that I brought, specifically the one where you have to simply get the marble out. It only requires one move, but they almost didn’t solve it until my mom and I were getting ready to go.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, and a great sampler for what Gathering For Gardner would be.