Martin Gardner's Magic Influence

Martin's first and last publications during his lifetime—the latter appearing 80 years after the former—were magic tricks.

What follows is adapted from "Martin Gardner’s Influence on Magic" by Chris Morgan, presented to the Gathering 4 Gardner in Atlanta in 2006, and reprinted on pages of 3–13 of A Lifetime of Puzzles: A Collection of Puzzles in Honor of Martin Gardner's 90th Birthday, edited by Erik Demaine, Martin Demaine & Tom Rodgers (AK Peters, 2008),

Martin was listed in the "100 Most Influential Magicians of the Twentieth Century" by MAGIC magazine (Jun 1999, p60). In 2005, Martin received the "Lifetime Achievement Award" award from the Academy of Magical Arts, the Magic Castle, Hollywood, CA.

In Martin Gardner Presents, a comprehensive 1993 collection of Martin’s extensive magical creations, magician and author Stephen Minch notes that,

"Card magic, and magic in general, owe a far greater debt to Martin Gardner than most conjurors realize."

Max Maven, one of the most creative mentalists and magicians in the field, says the following about Martin:

"Martin is one of the great teachers, not only of magic, but of science and mathematics. Although Martin’s work in magic is not primarily invention, he has in fact devised some excellent material, and several of his creations (most notably the 'Lie Speller,' both for plot and method) have become standards. But his great gift is gathering really good information, separating the wheat from the chaff, then explaining those ideas with writing skills that make them engaging and understandable. He has been a conduit—perhaps a better word is 'synthesizer'—for a great deal of magical information that has filtered out into the larger magic world.

A lot of his influence has been secondary and tertiary, simply because many people who've come up in magic more recently have not realized that they were being influenced by him. That’s because a lot of his ideas, or the ideas he was conveying, had already passed through other people. In my case, I had the benefit of having a father who was a physicist, and therefore I was reading Martin’s [Scientific American] 'Mathematical Games' column from a very early age. I owe a lot to Martin Gardner, for expanding my intellectual horizons."

The late Ken Krenzel, a respected name in the field of magic, and an old friend of Martin’s, once said:
"Martin is brilliant. He has always been one of my magical heroes. He’s a very quiet, almost shy person. When I first met him in New York [in 1956], I saw him in the New York Public library on 42nd Street. He was always up in the reference room, collecting material. That was back when he published Mathematics, Magic and Mystery. The depth and breadth of Martin’s writing is just incredible."

Magician Steve Beam says that, for magicians, one of the most attractive aspects of Martin’s writing is the emphasis on elegant principles rather than finished effects. Martin encourages the readers to embellish the ideas:
"There’s a lot of great raw material in Gardner’s writings. People can 'run' with his material because he doesn’t work it to death."

Gordon Bean well-known magician and magical author, says:

"As the son of a physicist, I lived in a house visited regularly by Martin Gardner's column in Scientific American. After my interest in magic kindled, I can remember few satisfactions greater than the tantalizingly infrequent times 'Mathematical Recreations' would veer into the realm of magic. Apart from the actual principles and effects explored, I've never escaped the reverberations of visiting a place where being able to magically predict the position of red and black cards after a legitimate shuffle seemed only a little less important than being able to predict the rotation of planets.

English-speaking magicians have long been frustrated by the inadequacy of the word 'trick' to describe what they do. This is a lack that we'll most likely never fill, but Martin Gardner has gone a long way in bringing our little mysteries a sense of dignity without ever losing a sense of fun.”

Atlanta-based magician Joe M. Turner says:
"Martin Gardner’s long and continuing influence in magic is – if you’ll pardon the pun – puzzling. After all, some of the most common advice we magicians give ourselves is to 'perform magic' and not just to 'do tricks.' We are encouraged to enchant and mystify our audiences by creating a theatrical experience, and to lift them above the perception of magic as a 'mere puzzle.'

And yet, Martin Gardner remains one of the most cited and revered names in our field. Martin Gardner! His Encyclopedia of Impromptu Magic is guaranteed to show up in any poll of magicians’ favorite magic books. His magazine columns are the source of endless fascination among magicians as well as actual human beings. Throughout his work we find items which bear frighteningly close resemblance to (gasp!) puzzles. Why does a mathematician with a predilection for impromptu tricks and puzzles command so much attention that magicians jockey to get invited to a convention named in his honor? It must be more than simply the prestige of telling other magicians you were there.

Perhaps Martin Gardner, for all the perception-twisting puzzles and tricks he has created, has a clarity of perception with regard to magic that transcends even what magicians understand our art to be. Magic is more than the special effects we see on a stage or in the practiced hands of a trickster, however talented. Martin Gardner shows us that magic, like mathematics, may in fact be an intrinsic and often surprising part of how the universe is put together. Just when we think we’ve got something figured out, he shows up with a different way of looking at it and we are surprised by the very thing we thought we knew – whether it’s a mathematical principle, a deck of cards, or a piece of string. Martin Gardner reveals the surprising in the familiar, which—if one wishes to create the illusion of magical powers—is a skill devoutly to be wished.”