Recreational mathematics

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Recreational mathematics is an umbrella term for mathematics carried out for recreation (including self-education and entertainment) rather than as a strictly research and application-based professional activity, although it is not necessarily limited to being an endeavor for amateurs. It often involves mathematical puzzles and games.

Many topics in this field require no knowledge of advanced mathematics, and recreational mathematics often appeals to children and untrained adults, inspiring their further study of the subject.[1]


Some of the more well-known topics in recreational mathematics are magic squares, fractals, logic puzzles and mathematical chess problems, but this area of mathematics includes the aesthetics and culture of mathematics, peculiar or amusing stories and coincidences about mathematics, and the personal lives of mathematicians.

Mathematical games[edit]

Mathematical games are multiplayer games whose rules, strategies, and outcomes can be studied and explained using mathematics. The players of the game may not need to use explicit mathematics in order to play mathematical games. For example, Mancala is a mathematical game, because mathematicians can study it using combinatorial game theory, but no mathematics is necessary in order to play it.

Mathematical puzzles[edit]

Mathematical puzzles require mathematics in order to solve them. They have specific rules, as do multiplayer games, but mathematical puzzles don't usually involve competition between two or more players. Instead, in order to solve such a puzzle, the solver must find a solution that satisfies the given conditions.

Logic puzzles are a common type of mathematical puzzle. Conway's Game of Life and fractals are also considered mathematical puzzles, even though the solver only interacts with them by providing a set of initial conditions.

Sometimes, mathematical puzzles are referred to as mathematical games as well.


Other curiosities and pastimes of non-trivial mathematical interest:


In popular culture


Prominent practitioners and advocates of recreational mathematics have included:

Full name Last name Born Died Nationality Description
Lewis Carroll Carroll 1832 1898 English Mathematician, best known as author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, puzzlist, Anglican deacon and photographer
John Horton Conway Conway 1937 English Mathematician and inventor of Conway's Game of life
Henry Dudeney Dudeney 1857 1930 English Recreational mathematician, Civil Servant, regarded as England's greatest puzzlist
Martin Gardner Gardner 1914 2010 US American Recreational mathematician, popular mathematics and science writer, author of Mathematical Games, a long running column in Scientific American
Solomon W. Golomb Golomb 1932 US American Mathematician and engineer, best known as the inventor of polyominoes
Vi Hart Hart US American “Recreational mathemusician”, creator of online recreational mathematics videos
D. R. Kaprekar Kaprekar 1905 1986 Indian Recreational mathematician and schoolteacher
Sam Loyd Loyd 1841 1911 US American Chess player and composer and recreational mathematician, regarded as America's greatest puzzlist
Joseph Madachy Madachy 1927 US American Long-time editor of Journal of Recreational Mathematics, author of Mathematics on Vacation and Madachy's Mathematical Recreations, recreational mathematician and mathematician
Yakov Perelman Perelman 1882 1942 Russian Author of many popular science and mathematics books, including Mathematics Can Be Fun
Clifford A. Pickover Pickover 1957 US American Author of numerous books on popular and recreational mathematics and science, editor of the IBM Journal of Research and Development for IBM Research
Marilyn vos Savant vos Savant 1946 US American Author of “Ask Marilyn”, a long running column in PARADE, in which she popularised the Monty Hall problem; also known for her high IQ score.
Malba Tahan Tahan 1895 1974 Brazilian Fictitious Persian scholar and pseudonym of Júlio César de Mello e Souza (whose dates are shown), author of several books featuring recreational mathematics, including The Man Who Counted

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kulkarni, D. Enjoying Math: Learning Problem Solving With KenKen Puzzles, A textbook for teaching with KenKen Puzzles.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]