Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Martin Gardner, again

     This past weekend a review by Teller (magician of the Penn & Teller team) of an autobiography of Martin Gardner appeared in the NYTimes Book Review.  According to Teller, Gardner (1914-2010) wrote the memoir, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus:  The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, at the age of 95 on an old electric typewriter in his single-room assisted-living apartment in Norman, Oklahoma.    
     Reading the review led me not only to want the book but to pull some of Gardner's work from my shelves. Gardner was not a poet -- the one example I know of his own verse is posted here -- but he knew literature well and his books include many examples of others' clever verse.  In Mathematical Magic Show (MAA, 1989) Gardner gives some of the history of the double acrostic -- a puzzle form that dates back to the 19th century and whose clues often were given in rhyme. Here is a sample (by Tom Hood).  The first stanza gives clues to a pair of 4-letter uprights that form the beginnings and ends of the puzzle words.  (Sometimes these vertical words are required to be identical but, in this case, the two words rhyme with each other.)  The numbered stanzas give clues to words (not necessarily of the same length) that begin and end with the letters of the uprights.  Enjoy:

          We are words that rhyme,
          And we're both in time.
          One is a season, the other is a song;
          If you guess them rightly,
                    you can't be wrong.   

          It is very good fun,
          If it's properly done.

          A beast with two toes,
          How slowly it goes!

          The sun's overhead--
          There's no more to be said!

          The sun's going to sink;
          This is coming I think.

Gardner credits this double acrostic to Tom Hood, son of the English poet, Thomas Hood -- and lists this item in his bibliography: Excursions into Puzzledom.  "Tom Hood and His Sister." London: Strahan, 1879. Earlier postings in this blog about Martin Gardner include: 6 May 2010, 7 June 2010, 5 August 2010, 21 October 2010, and 6 September 2011.


  1. I recite the e/pi poem to my class every year when I cover logarithms. It makes me happy.

    1. Thanks for dropping by -- and for linking to my "error message Haiku" . . .