New: Book Report: Mathematical Snapshots

I just went out to see that crossword puzzle movie "Wordplay" with my parents and their friend Carol Kare. Carol is a crossword puzzle enthusiast, but she wasn't always. But the first time she picked up a New York Times crossword puzzle, she solved it all the way through--and thus she was hooked. A while later, she was with some friends. They had a copy of the paper, she had a copy of the paper. They worked on the puzzle, she worked on the puzzle. She finished first. And thus she was double-hooked. Now she buys books full of crossword puzzles; she feels most comfortable if she has a crossword puzzle handy.

It's all about making the first few puzzles accessible, that's how you reel the people in. That is not the approach taken by the book Mathematical Snapshots

I picked up this Hugo Steinhaus book because it was referenced by some old Martin Gardner "Mathematical Games" articles. Wow, this book contains a lot of recreational mathematics, so it's not surprising that a recreational math magazine column would explore some of its ideas. Wow, this book is short. It throws ideas at you very quickly. There'll be some diagram and a paragraph about the diagram...

This book was pretty much over my head. It was too dense for me and/or I was too dense for it. There's like, some photo of a screw and a paragraph about helices and it seems like I'm supposed to be getting something out of it... Oh man. I was glad that there were items in this book which Martin Gardner had written about, because for those I could understand the diagrams and figure out what the explanatory paragraph was trying to tell me--because it was telling me the same thing that Gardner did. Fortunately, Gardner allowed himself several paragraphs, enough space for his words to penetrate my thick skull.

If you already know plenty of recreational math and you'd like a thin book you can flip through to remind yourself of many tricks, then this book might be good. But I don't recommend it as a way to learn new math tricks unless you're way smarter than me.

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Posted 2006-07-02