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Good times at G4G9!

G4G9 had incredible organized events.  Both at these and at the impromtu happenings, I met and connected with some really incredible people.  It wasn’t always centered around discussions about puzzles, mathematics and magic,  (most of the time, just not ALL of the time) sometimes it was belting out tunes at the piano or hanging out in the lobby.

Tom Rodgers hosts an event during the G4G at his beautiful Japanese-style home.  This is one of my favourite events because you have the chance to meet new people as well as spend time talking with old friends.  Also, Tom’s property is a mathematics sculpture wonderland.  Before we all boarded the buses to Tom’s house, there were talks by the artists responsible for the sculptures.  Organized by THE George Hart, these talks were fascinating as you realize all the thinking that goes into each beautiful sculpture. 

When you get to Tom’s the first thing that happens is that people begin to build some of the new sculptures in teams.

George Hart and Jillian Hinchliffe

Jerry Slocum lending a hand

Fibonacci Tea House Roof

Elijah with a Vi Hart Balloon sculpture

 

This Gathering I had the opportunity to talk with John Conway quite a bit.  This was fun.  He’s a brilliant man.  Here are some of my favourite shots of him.  He had his son Gareth with him.  Also, Siobhan Roberts accompanied him as she is currently writing his biography.

Gareth and John Conway

Siobhan Roberts and John Conway sitting at Tom's Koi pond

G4G9 participants are so talented!  One of my favourite  memories is from an impromtu singing jam.  Adam Brooks who I met for the first time this year is a very talented musician and singer.  Next thing I knew, we were all gathered around the piano singing any and all songs we could think of.  Myself, Adam, Colin Wright, Chris Morgan, Gary Foshee, Vi Hart, Erik Demaine, Paul Ottaway, Nicholas Cravotta, Jillian Hinchliffe and others were belting out tunes until around 2 am.  So much fun!

Adam, Colin, Me, Nicholas, Matthew, Vi, Chris, Paul

I will have to give Martin (Gardner) my blog address so he can read all about it.  When I visit him I will bring him photos as well as many cards that I collected during the Gathering of peoples best wishes.  I did this also from the last Gathering and he was so touched.  He has treasured the album.  Mainly I want him to know how much he inspires people.  He is ever so humble when he is given accolades however he deserves every one.  We love you Martin!

more G4G9!

It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been a month since the Gathering.  I have so much to write about my incredible trip to California that I just got back from but want to finish my posting on G4G9 first, two more should do it!

First, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Neil Bickford.  Ed Pegg Jr. did a presentation where all attendees who weren’t giving presentations were invited to introduce themselves to the group.  Ed had prepared a power point slide on each participant.  It was a surprise to some of us that we had to go up and give the introduction.  I talked about my relationship with Martin and my work with ThinkFun.  Well, Neil’s name came up and up went this 13 year old.  He talked about his blog called Random and some of his interests in mathematics.  It was remarkable to see this very young person speak so well.  Even when Neil was done and was walking off the stage, Ed himself said, “Wow I’ve read his blog and didn’t realize he was so young.”  I was intrigued so I went up and introduced myself to Neil.  It turns out his mom home schools him and they had gotten an invitation to G4G through Bill Gosper who they knew.  Neil was a delightful young person and it turns out he had an insightful conversation with Stephen Wolfram at G4G as well.  Neil has read Stephen’s A New Kind of Science (multiple times which is no small feat as it’s a 5 lb book – I know its weight because he included it as part of the exchange gift so I carried it home!) and they discussed cellular automata and other things.  An amazing young man I look forward to following as he’s sure to do some incredible things.

Me and Neil Bickford

I met the father of polyominoes Solomon Golomb.  I use his Polyominoes book whenever we are developing a game with polyomino pieces.  I talked with him at Tom Rodgers house and he generously signed a note to Martin for me.  It was fun to sit with him and Jeremiah Farrell and Ivan Moscovich over dinner and listen to them banter with each other.

Father of Polyominoes - Solomon Golomb

At Tom’s house there was a Go board set out to play.  Elwyn Berlekamp was in the middle of a game when I walked by.  I asked him later if he had won and he said he had.  Elwyn is one of the authors of the best book on the mathematics of games called Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays so I can imagine he’d be a difficult opponent to beat for most games!

Elwyn Berlekamp

Another author of Winning Ways was at the Gathering, Richard Guy.  I first met Richard a few years ago after Martin (Gardner) had told me about the Strens Collection that Richard had brought to the University of Calgary.  I was speaking at a conference at Banff and had contacted Richard prior to my trip.  Richard invited me to come see the collection.  So I was honoured to have a personal tour of the collection by Richard himself.  This collection has over 6000 recreational mathematics books and puzzles and games including original Escher prints.  Strens and Escher had been friends so many of the books also have beautiful book plates that were made by Escher. 

Me and Richard Guy

I met David Singmaster once again at the Gathering.  He is most famous for his solutions book he published on the Rubik’s Cube.  He’s fun to talk to because he knows so much about puzzles and books.  He’s someone I’d go to if I ever had any historical questsions about books or puzzles.  He must have an incredible collection.

David Singmaster

Dale Seymour was again at the Gathering.  He gave a presentation this year on the sculpture below he had made as well as the many math sculptures he has at his own house.  His property looks like a mathematical wonderland!  He had shipped this sculpture to Tom’s house and this was no small feat!  When I was in the classroom I used a lot of books from Dale’s publishing company and have always respected the work he has done for mathematics education.  He is a giant in my world so it is always a thrill for me to talk with him.

Dale Seymour

 The first day of the Gathering I met Catherine and her husband Paul.  Catherine had told me about how she had just ventured through the journey of building a Green House.  They looked at the embodied energy of building a house right from harvesting the resources to living in the home.  She had just given a TED Talk about her experiences. 

Catherine Mohr

 I met Adrian Fisher for the first time at G4G9.  I have spoken to him on the phone numerous times so this was a treat to meet him face to face.  Adrian is a world renowned maze designer.  His presentation at the Gathering showcased the numerous newspaper puzzles, magazine articles and games he has designed using mazes.  I look forward to working on a project with him one day!  I also saw Kate Jones at the Gathering.  Kate is a fellow IPP’er so it’s always a pleasure to see her again.  We are kindred spirits when it comes to puzzles and their use for good in education.  She is very passionate about puzzles and I love that.  Her website Kadon Enterprises is wonderful!

Adrian Fisher and Kate Jones

There were two people I regret not making an introduction to at the Gathering this year.  I listened to their talks and would have loved to have met them.  The first was Stephen Wolfram.  His talk was on Wolfram Alpha and he gave a similar TED talk.  His Mathematica, Wolfram Alpha and A New Kind of Science are incredible.    It would have been fascinating to talk with him as this is one very passionate individual.  The other person I would have loved to personally have met was Pablos Holman.   His talk on Hackers & Invention was fascinating.  I found a similar talk he gave at another conference on ForaTV.  He talked about looking at things from the eyes of a hacker.  A hotel room is not simply a place to sleep but rather an opportunity to hack into the hotel network.  He also talked about his work at Intellectual Ventures Lab where they look at creating futuristic inventions. 

I have one more post I’d like to write about G4G9.  As you know, it is the people that I love connecting with.  There were some great social moments I’d like to write about next.  Stay tuned…

Off to California!

Tomorrow morning bright and early I’m leaving for California.  Bill Ritchie, C.E.O of ThinkFun, Charlotte Fixler, Curriculum Specialist for ThinkFun and I are exhibiting at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in San Diego. 

Bill and I are both doing workshops.  My hands-on workshop will show over 100 teachers how to use ThinkFun games to teach problem solving.  My session will focus mainly on the games Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix and Math Dice.  Bill’s session is exploring our on-line Education programs.  Also, exhibiting allows us to touch base with so many teachers who will drop by our booth.  It’s a very valuable experience for us and we’re all excited to be going.  Being a former teacher myself, I know what it takes to be a teacher.  I admire this profession so much as so many teachers put their heart and soul into their work.  Its one of the toughest jobs on the planet as they nurture our most valuable little treasures.

Harry Nelson at IPP 2009

After NCTM, I will be heading to Oakland to visit with Harry and Claire Nelson.  Harry Nelson is said to be “one of the world’s most prolific puzzle creators. Annually, he invents and sells a charming collection of puzzles often based on geometry, or algebra or logic.”  Harry Nelson, computer programmer, mathematician and editor, graduated from Harvard College, A.B. Math, in 1953. He served two years in U.S. army and received M.A. in math from Kansas University in 1957.  Harry became a computer programmer at University of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory until retirement in 1991. He discovered, with David Slowinski, the then largest known prime number in 1978.  He was the editor of the Journal of Recreational Mathematics for five years.  Harry became associated with the Cray Blitz computer chess programming endeavor with Robert Hyatt. Cray Blitz won the Computer Chess World Championship in 1983 and retained the title until 1986.  There are currently 20 mechanical puzzles and/or games on the U.S. market for which he has made substantial contributions including ThinkFun’s Treasure Quest.

Harry has invited me to California the past couple of years to visit him to see some puzzle and game inventions he has done.  With NCTM in CA, it was perfect timing.  The exciting part too is that Harry has organized a puzzle gathering.  Thus I will be seeing Nick Baxter and Scott Kim there as well.  There will be others but I’m not sure who yet!  And Harry has also planned a visit to George Miller’s Puzzle Palace.  I visited George’s place during IPP29 last year and it is beautiful.  I can’t wait to see everyone and see any new inventions they might have!

Movie about Toy Inventions!

A new film called Toyland premiered this week at the Sarasota Film Festival.  I can’t wait to see it and hope that it will reach a theatre near me!  It’s all about the invention side of the toy industry and features great inventors of some really classic games – like Slinky, Operation, Twister, Lite Brite  and more!  It also follows Tim Walsh as he pitches a new idea to major companies.  Many of the people I met at the NY Toy Fair are friends with Tim and I’m sure that I will meet him in person this year (outside of being friends on Facebook that is!).  Here is a description as featured on the Toyland website.

“Welcome to the high stakes world of the 22 billion dollar toy industry. Director Ken Sons introduces you to the inventors behind the biggest toys and games in history while following the ups and downs of game designer, Tim Walsh. From prototype to pitch, follow Walsh along his winding road to New York City’s Toy Fair, one of the largest trade shows for toys in the world. Will his toy light up the imagination of kids everywhere or never see the light of day?  Welcome to Toyland!”

My favourite part of this trailer is Mike Hirtle’s laugh at the end and his quote “I love this business!”.  I met Mike at the NY Toy Fair this year.  I was thrilled to meet Mike as he does for Hasbro what I do for ThinkFun.  He invited me to contact him anytime if I had questions.  I’ve talked with him since and he’s been very helpful as I try to navigate the world of Inventor Relations.  I remember at the close of our first conversation, I asked Mike if he loved his job.  I asked because I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world and I wondered if he loved it just as much.  His response was the same as the video.

Toyland has been very well received at the Sarasota Film Festival.  Tim told us yesterday on Facebook, “All three showings of Toyland were sold out. Last one tomorrow night is Rush Order only, which means you can get tickets at the door if you come early! Come over and play!“  There was an interesting article published Monday about Toyland’s premier called Meet the Minds Behind the Toys

This is an incredible industry and I’m proud to be a part of it!

 

More Incredible People from G4G9

I’ve been reading other blogs on the Gathering 4 Gardner 9 and it is amazing what each of us takes away from this conference.  Of course for me, it’s mainly the people I meet but also the things I learn.  I can’t possibly write about all the people and incredible conversations I had yet here are a few more that stood out for me.

Me and Andy Liu

My world changed when I met Andy Liu in 2003 – one of those crucible moments in one’s life.  Andy has mentored me and become a very dear friend.  It began back when I was still teaching.  I wanted to do something different at a small private school that would rival the very successful science fair.  I wanted to do a “math fair” but didn’t know what that was.  I started asking around in the math community.  Ian VanderBurgh at the University of Waterloo (where I write one of their National Mathematics Contests) informed me about two professors from the University of Alberta who were doing math fairs.  So I contacted Andy Liu and Ted Lewis who told me about their initiative called SNAP Math Fairs.  Here students create projects based on recreational mathematics and puzzles.  Sounded perfect to me so I jumped in.  My first math fair was so rewarding for my school community that I was hooked.  I became increasingly more involved and started speaking at conferences about SNAP Math Fairs.  This is how I met Bill Ritchie as he was also involved in SNAP.  I’ve now done presentations all over the world including Australia and at the International Congress of Mathematics Education (ICME) held in Mexico, 2008.  Andy has supported me every step of the way.  He is a world-renowned mathematician who travels the world bringing mathematics to everyone he meets.  In the Edmonton area, if a math prodigy is discovered, the education community brings that student to Andy. To know Andy is to also know how much he loves working with kids and how much he loves puzzles.  Personally, he was the person who introduced me to the world of IPP (International Puzzle Party), Martin Gardner, the Gathering, and the inner circles of ThinkFun.  One of my fondest memories of Andy was when he came to my hometown and went into my children’s school to do cool math stuff.  He has been so good to me.

Me and Jerry Slocum

Jerry Slocum has done more for the world of puzzles than anyone else.  He is an avid puzzle collector, historian and author.  I remember in 2006 talking to Andy about wanting to attend IPP.  Andy had told me so many cool stories and shown me so many cool puzzles from his IPP adventures that I really wanted to see it for myself.  Andy told me that one needs 500 puzzles in their collection to apply for an invitation.  So I catalogued my collection and applied.  I didn’t really believe I’d get accepted with my first application but thought I’d give it a try anyway.  To my delight, Jerry sent me an acceptance email.  My first IPP was in Boston in 2006 which included a post-trip to Indiana University where Jerry opened his puzzle collection at the Lilly Library.  Jerry owns over 30 000 puzzles and has an additional house where his puzzles are stored.  You can see a  3D tour of his collection.  Jerry has donated his entire collection to the Lilly where it is accessible to all.  So I was honored to see the grand opening of the beginning of Jerry’s collection at the Lilly.  Since that time I’ve come to know Jerry and his wonderful family.  Jerry seems to publish puzzle books every year as he is the foremost expert is everything puzzles.  At work, if I ever have any puzzle questions, I just ask Jerry.

Me and Clifford Pickover with "The Math Book"

I met  Clifford Pickover for the first time this year.  I met him first at the New York Puzzle Party (NYPP) and then again at G4G9.  I’ve collected his books for a while.  When I was visiting Martin (Gardner) in December, he showed me Cliff’s new book called The Math Book.  I fell in love with it instantly and went out and bought it during my visit in Oklahoma.  The book describes and beautifully illustrates mathematical milestones beginning from 150 Million B.C.  It was a pleasure to meet Cliff and to find out he’s a really, really nice guy.

Sandro Del-Prete and his Love Poem of the Dolphins

Do you love optical illusions?  If you do, you probably have seen some of Sandro Del-Prete‘s work.  His work is both beautiful and mind blowing.  In my photo you can see my signed copy of his Love Poem of the Dolphins.  Follow his link and you can see this work up close.  Can you see the dolphins?  I couldn’t at first but they are there.  They say that really young children who are shown this picture will only see the dolphins.  But anyone over the age of about 8 will likely see the entwined nude couple.  I asked my two older kids and they didn’t see the dolphins.  My youngest who is 8 said he saw both.  Sandro did a talk about his illusions at G4G9.  He was also selling his book Master of Illusions but they sold out before I could get one. 

Me and Al Seckel

Another great mind regarding optical illusions is Al Seckel.  Al did a very thought provoking talk called the Nature of Belief and it was one of the talks I most enjoyed.  He really has an incredible way at looking at how we perceive things.   I have many of his illusion books and one of my favourites is  Masters of Deception .  You can also see Al’s TED Talk.

Me inside Jerry Andrus' box

One illusionist I never had the pleasure of meeting was Jerry Andrus.  But during G4G9, Gary Foshee constructed at one of the events (Tom Rodger’s outdoor party) a Jerry Andrus box.  You can see a photo of me inside it.  Jerry Andrus also worked with Bill Ritchie on the G4G Dragon  as part of the gift exchange at an earlier Gathering.

It’s hard to believe that the G4G is only five days long (four if you don’t count registration day).  There are lectures during the day and social events at night.  Tom Rodgers and all the other organizers deserve a lot of credit for making this happen.  It’s a bi-annual highlight for many of us.

Rush Hour IPad Launch!

THINKFUN LAUNCHES UNIVERSAL RUSH HOUR APP FOR IPADTM

Renowned game and puzzle manufacturer, ThinkFun Inc., is proud to announce the release of Rush Hour for the new Apple iPadTM.  Rush Hour for iPad is the latest addition to the suite of Rush Hour apps available across a wide range of mobile platforms.  The new iPad app is designed to take advantage of iPad’s larger screen and Multi-Touch user interface to enhance the play experience.  The universal app costs $2.99 while existing Rush Hour for iPhone and iPod touch customers will receive free upgrades.

“It’s fitting for Rush Hour to be one of the first apps launched on the iPad,” said Bill Ritchie, CEO and Co-Founder of ThinkFun.  “Rush Hour is the original sliding block logic puzzle, and it is the granddaddy of all the ‘beginner to expert’ logic puzzles now on the market.  The iPad is a genuine game changer, and we are thrilled to again be at the beginning of a new era in game playing.”

The Rush Hour iPhone App has received rave customer reviews on iTunes for its clever challenges and intuitive navigation.  For the iPad, ThinkFun has completely rebuilt the game graphics to take advantage of the iPad’s innovative Multi-Touch interface and large screen. 

Rush Hour for iPad is packed with features, such as:

  • The free application has 35 original challenges and the $2.99 full version has 2500 Challenges — Challenges ranging from EASY to EXPERT will entertain novice players as well as test advance players with super-hard expert levels.
  • Perfect Score — Rush Hour tracks the distance that players move to get out of the traffic jams and compares it to the shortest path possible. You win when you get the Red Car out the Exit Gate… but you can’t claim challenge mastery until you tally a perfect score.
  • Hint Button – If you feel a little lost and want a nudge in the right direction, you’ll find a HINT button ready for you to press.  Again and again, if you want.
  • Solve Button — No matter where they are in their challenge, the solve button will show players how to solve it, and then put them back where they left off so players can learn and complete the challenge themselves.
  • Multi-language – In addition to English, Rush Hour is now available in German, Spanish and French.

“Rush Hour is a game that should be in every home, on every cell phone and on every computer,” says Liz Deakin, Director of Marketing and Sales at ThinkFun.  “With digital distribution being the platform of the future, it was a company priority for ThinkFun to quickly introduce the universal Rush Hour application to the iPad market.”

For more information on the ThinkFun Rush Hour iPad app, please visit: www.ThinkFun.com/RushHour

About Rush Hour

The story of Rush Hour began almost 15 years ago when famed Japanese inventor Nob Yoshigahara traveled to America to present his Tokyo Parking Lot puzzle to ThinkFun.   While the company’s game designers created the Beginner to Expert system and added the Tail Finned Red Escape Car and the Rush Hour name, Nob and his collaborators supplied the Rush Hour challenges. The creative alliance lasted until Yoshigahara’s death in 2004. 

Rush Hour is one of the most successful puzzle games in history, having won Games Magazine Puzzle of the Year, a Mensa Select Award, Consumer Reports Top Game, and a Top 25 Toys of the Past 25 Years by Parents Choice Foundation as well as numerous international awards.  More than 5 million Rush Hour games have been sold since 1996.

Rush Hour has had an influence on popular culture as well.  Jerry Seinfeld used the Rush Hour vehicle color palette as the background colors for Bee Movie, released in 2007.

“Rush Hour was late to the mobile app market, and we knew we needed to do something special to make an impact”, said Ritchie.  The company contracted with a master computer programmer to reimagine how to generate the puzzle challenges, developing a system that was able to create literally tens of thousands of fresh, new Rush Hour challenges, and to rate them by difficulty and other measures.  “Bringing that program up to speed was like discovering a gold mine, it brought a whole new dimension of play to what was already the world’s most fun puzzle!”

So is having Rush Hour available at the launch of the iPad a pinnacle of success for this venerable puzzle game?  “Not at all”, says Deakin.  “We are now working on a Multi-Player version of Rush Hour, slated for release this Summer, where players will compete for fastest times over the internet.  We are developing an online version of Rush Hour to help teach thinking skills as part of a disciplined program for families and schools.  For us, the Apple iPad release doesn’t represent an end, it’s more like a new beginning.  We are very excited!”

Follow ThinkFun: Web: www.ThinkFun.com

Blogs:  www.thinkfun.com/puzzlehunter/, www.thinkfun.com/smartplayblog, www.thinkfun.com/bbp
Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThinkFun
Facebook: www.facebook.com (ThinkFun Fan)
YouTube: www.youtube.com/ThinkFunInc

Inventors at G4G

I was pleased to connect with many inventors at G4G this year.  I have collected puzzles and played board games for as long as I can remember.  I also was an avid user of both in my classroom when I was a teacher.  You can imagine how thrilled I was to first meet Bill Ritchie.  And now it is a true pleasure to meet so many inventors in my new role as Inventor Relations with ThinkFun.

Me and Ivan Moscovich inventor of Visual Brainstorms

Ivan Moscovich is the creator of ThinkFun’s Visual Brainstorms.  Ivan was also one of the first inventors who I was thrilled to meet when I began working for ThinkFun.   I had used his book 1000 Play Thinks in my schools to introduce students to puzzles.  His beautiful illustrations were exactly what I needed to attract students’ attention.  I later found out that Ivan himself had created all these illustrations.  So I was well aware of Ivan’s many books and was thrilled at the chance to meet him.  At that time, I had no idea of the interesting man he really was.  His life story is an incredible one including being an Auschwitz survivor that is described in this Wired magazine article.  I am pleased to now call Ivan a friend and someone I am always pleased to meet at the Toy Fairs and G4G.

Me and Jimmy Stephens with TipOver

At G4G9 I connected for the first time with Jimmy Stephens, the inventor of ThinkFun’s TipOver.   I have had a lot of classroom experience with TipOver and it is always a favorite amongst students.  I met Jimmy and his family and I look forward to working with him on future projects.

Iwahiro with Straight Arrow

Another brilliant inventor is Iwahiro.  Iwahiro is from Japan and a part of the International Puzzle Party community.  I have come to know Iwahiro over the past few years and I am always amazed at the variety of his puzzles and how innovative they are.  I remember bringing his rectangular jam into ThinkFun and was thrilled when it was chosen to become a part of our Aha! Brainteaser line.  I connected with Iwahiro this year at G4G9 as well as at the Nuremburg Toy Fair (Spielwarenmesse).  His new ThinkFun puzzle is called Straight Arrow.  The goal of this puzzle is to slide the four planks inside the tray (without lifting them) such that you move the green plank horizontally from the top of the tray vertically out the slot at the bottom of the tray.  It seems impossible at first as its hard to align the green plank to slide out, but with some patience, it is possible!

Bill Cutler inventor of Square Fit

Another inventor of an Aha! Brainteaser was also at G4G9.  Bill Cutler is the inventor of Square Fit.   Avid puzzlers may recognize this Cutler original as Sneaky Squares or Stark Raving Cubes.  I’m so proud to have this puzzle be a part of our current line.  This is one of my favourites!  The goal is simple, fit the four “cubes” into the open red box.  It looks so simple but it is actually very tricky!  A brilliant puzzle!

Me and Derrick Niederman with 36 Cube

Derrick Niederman was also at G4G9.  He’s the inventor of ThinkFun’s 36 Cube.   The goal is to place the towers on the base such that there are no two colors in any row or column and that all the towers are the same height.  Derrick was the brains behind this puzzle and it sparked a lot of controversy.  You can read about it on the link above under the contest heading.

Scott Vorthmann and Paul Hildebrandt and Bill Ritchie

There were many other inventors at G4G as well.  I was thrilled to meet some of the faces behind Zome Tools.  Scott and Paul were a pleasure to meet.  Zome tools is a really cool construction system.  Also, Dick Hess, Nicholas Cravotta, Bram Cohen, Pavel Curtis, Markus Goetz, Bob Hearn, Norman Sandfield, Tom Lensch, Kate Jones and Derek Bosch, to name a few, are some of the other inventors that I admire so much and was pleased to spend some time with in Atlanta.

Working as Inventor Relations for ThinkFun has enabled me to meet so many talented inventors.  I love sourcing new ideas and bringing them into the company.  I hold these creatives in such high regard as without them, ThinkFun wouldn’t be the company it has grown to be today.  Do you have a favorite inventor of a puzzle or game that you’d love to meet?

Oh The People You Meet!

What an incredible time I had at Gathering 4 Gardner 9.  It was amazing.  My first G4G8  in 2008.  I remember thinking then how could this experience get any better?  Now I know how – the people.   Since I started working for ThinkFun in 2007, I have come to know many in the international puzzle community.   So now these gatherings feel like a gathering of friends.  And icing on the cake is that now I’m getting to know many of the magicians and mathematicians here too.  I’d like to introduce you to some of them in this post.   There are so many, however, I’ll start with these.

Me with John Conway

I met John Conway again this year.  It was great to talk with him.  His presentation on Lexicode or C3 was interesting.  I was thrilled I could follow along.  The main problem was “Are lexicodes closed under any natural notions of (coordinatewise) addition and scalar multiplication?”  I talked with John later and he said this lecture was an old standby for him.  I think he’s looking well in this photo.  He had a mini-stroke last year and physically it was affecting him.  John is an incredible mathematician.  He is a professor at Princeton and has had many accolades in his career.  Martin Gardner told me about a beautiful book on current mathematicians.  It is called Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World by Marina Cook.  Martin’s favourite article in the book was about John Conway.

Siobhan Roberts and I

Interestingly, John Conway was accompanied to the G4G9 by Siobhan Roberts because she is writing John’s biography.  I got to know Siobhan at this conference and she was really wonderful.  She is a fellow Canadian and I first heard about her a couple of years ago when Martin Gardner recommended I read her book King of Infinite Space:  Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved GeometryI love reading about the human side of famous mathematicians and I found this book delightful.  I remember at the last Gathering, John told me then about his concerns about having a biography written about him.  He was trying to decide at that point if he’d allow Siobhan do his biography.  He obviously did!  I can’t wait for this one to be published!

Me and Will Shortz

I was happy to see Will Shortz again at the Gathering.  I met Will for the first time in 2006 at my first International Puzzle Party.  At that time he was promoting his movie called Word Play which is a journey into Will’s life and his fame in crosswords.  I talked with him at this Gathering about Sandra Bullock’s movie All About Steve and how she mentions him at the end of the movie.  He told me that Sandra had visited him at his house and they had spent some time together as she was trying to learn more about the world of crosswords.  He’s an extremely nice guy and he is also very passionate about table tennis too!

Mark Setteducati and I

I should also introduce you to some magicians at G4G9.  I have to start with Mark Setteducati.  I met him in 2008 at the NY Toy Fair.  He always hosts a dinner during the fair.  It was then when I met David Blaine as he is a friend of Mark’s.  But it was this year at the Nuremburg Toy Fair that I really got to know Mark.  We were at a dinner with other puzzlers and magicians where Mark gave me such encouragement in my new role as Inventor Relations.  I was feeling very green and he was so supportive.  It meant a lot and I was so happy to get to know him better.  He attends all the toy fairs around the world so I will luckily be seeing him lots!

Lennart Green and I

Another magician I met was Lennart Green.  Mark approached me on Friday and asked if I’d be Lennart’s personal assistant at the magic show that night.  I was honoured!  So I took care of Lennart during the show to make sure he was traveling to the correct places and I shuffled and cut cards when he asked.  It was a lot of fun and I really appreciated Mark asking me to help out!  Lennart is a world class magician and so highly respected.  Some of the magic tricks he did were mind blowing.  The brains it takes to remember some of the intricacies of the tricks is incredible! 

I hope you enjoyed reading my first post about the incredible people who attend  G4G.   The buzz around the conference this year was that the bar was raised for subsequent years as the conference was so phenomenal.  And it was!  One thing that was really evident during all the incredible talks at the conference was that the common thread of all the attendees is that this was a group of very passionate people.  Whether it be about polyonimoes, reptile tiling, magic, or hacking didn’t matter, what was clear, these people are passionate about what they do. 

What kinds of things are you passionate about?  Is it hockey, bird watching, backgammon, sky diving, pencil collecting, your pet rock collection??  I’d love to hear about yours!

Going to the Gathering 4 Gardner!

Do you have mentors in your life who have inspired you?  I have been fortunate to have had many people help me become the person I am today.  First, my parents.  My mom has taught me that an independent woman can do anything she sets her mind to.  My dad was a mathematics teacher who instilled in me a love for math and was my biggest cheerleader up until his death just 1.5 years ago.  My husband, Chris, is my rock and my foundation.  I couldn’t travel and do what I do today if it wasn’t for him. 

And then there are people who I’ve met in my life who have mentored me to get to where I am today.  One of these people is Martin Gardner.  If you don’t know who he is, you need to.  I’m not sure if I can put into words the influence he’s had not only on my life, but on countless others.   I’ve been lucky enough to have developed a friendship with Martin over the last four years.  I’ll never forget how it all began. 

Martin Gardner and I - Dec 2009

I mentioned to Bill Ritchie how much I admired Martin and what he’s done.  I am very interested in recreational mathematics and Martin had redefined this subject through writing a column for 25 years in Scientific American called Mathematical Games.  Bill told me that he’d be happy to introduce me to Martin.  I was thrilled!  Bill talked with Martin and told him I’d love a chance to talk with him.  So I’ll never forget on May 15th, 2006, I gave Martin a call.  I remember talking with him for about an hour as we shared introductions and I told him all the things I was trying to do in education through puzzles and recreational mathematics.  I remember at the end of our conversation I got emotional as I told him how much it meant to me that he took the time to talk with me amd how much I admired his work.  To my surprise and delight, he told me how much he enjoyed our conversation as well and asked me if I’d like to call him again tomorrow.  Well that was the start of a wonderful friendship.  I still call him now every few weeks and even visit him once a year.  As Bill calls it,  “my pilgrimage” to Martin.  He’s now 95 years old and his friendship is one of the greatest treasures of my life.

John Conway and I - Gathering 2008

Tomorrow I leave for the Gathering 4 Gardner.  This is a conference that occurs every other year in Atlanta where by invitation only about 300 people from all over the world congregate to celebrate Martin’s main bodies of work – mathematics, puzzles and magic.  Here some of the top people in these three fields gather to discuss recent works.  My first time at G4G was in 2008 where I met so many incredible people including many of the authors of the mathematics books in my personal library.   Too many to mention here but one of the highlights was meeting the authors of one of my favourite books (all four volumes) called Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays, by Elwyn Berlekamp, John Conway, and Richard Guy.  I had all three of them sign my volumes. 

So I’m off to the Gathering tomorrow!  Bill and I have put together a collection of every product ThinkFun has produced in its 25 years.  It will be exciting to see it all together!  I also can’t wait to touch base with some great inventors and in general just really smart people.  Martin won’t be there, he doesn’t attend himself.  But we’ll all be thinking of him as we continue to celebrate how he’s affected all of our lives. 

Who are the mentors in your life?

Meet the Puzzle Hunter!

Do you love mechanical puzzles?  Do you love games?  I do and I’m lucky enough to be making a living at the things I love.  For me, I feel like I have the best job in the world.  My name is Tanya Thompson and I work for a wonderful mind challenging game company called ThinkFun.  My title at ThinkFun is Inventor Relations.  This means I get to travel the world meeting inventors to source the new ideas to bring back into the company.  What could be better than that?

I haven’t always worked in the toy industry.  For twelve years, I was a mathematics teacher.  I used games and puzzles in my classroom to inspire my students to learn.  I began to speak at mathematics conferences where I met Bill Ritchie.  He is the co-founder and C.E.O. of ThinkFun.   Four years later, he asked me to join ThinkFun to build a new education division.  This education division was under the umbrella of Product Development at ThinkFun.  Product Development is the process where a product begins as an idea from an inventor and then is developed to what you’d see on the store shelf.  As the Director of Education, one of the things I loved the most is meeting the inventors and helping to develop a product from an idea.  So about eight months ago, I was asked to take on the role of Inventor Relations.  Since the company was founded, Bill Ritchie was responsible for this for ThinkFun.  But after 25 years, he was now looking to pass the reins onto someone he trusted.  And I was honored to be that person!

In my life, my career has already taken on many twists and turns and I’ve had many crucible moments.  I love mathematics, I love puzzles and I love games.  I’m not the smartest at any of these; in fact, I can’t hold a candle next to most of the people I’ve met so far.  However, what I lack in talent, I make up for in passion.  I am very passionate about this business and what I love most is the people I meet.  I’ve been lucky enough to have many supporters and mentors along the way.  I’ve met people that I’ve admired since I was young girl.  My friends have said, “Tanya, I can’t believe all the incredible people you’ve already met in your life and all the amazing places you’ve been!  You should be writing this down!”   And so, with this blog, that is what I plan on doing.  I want to share with you the incredible adventures I have as I search the world for ThinkFun’s next best games and puzzles.  And I want to connect with you as I love connecting with people.  So welcome to my Puzzle Hunter blog!  I hope you enjoy the ride!  I know I will!