Recreational mathematics

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Recreational mathematics is mathematics carried out for recreation (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 and classical ciphers are common examples of mathematical puzzles. Cellular automata and fractals are also considered mathematical puzzles, even though the solver only interacts with them by providing a set of initial conditions.

As they often include or require game-like features or thinking, mathematical puzzles are sometimes also called mathematical games.

Other activities[edit]

Other curiosities and pastimes of non-trivial mathematical interest include:


In popular culture[edit]


Prominent practitioners and advocates of recreational mathematics have included:

Full name Last name Born Died Nationality Description
Lewis Carroll Carroll 1832 1898 English Mathematician, puzzlist, Anglican deacon and photographer best known as the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Sam Loyd Loyd 1841 1911 American Chess player and composer and recreational mathematician, regarded as America's greatest puzzlist[by whom?]
Henry Dudeney Dudeney 1857 1930 English Civil servant regarded as England's "greatest puzzlist".[2]
Yakov Perelman Perelman 1882 1942 Russian Author of many popular science and mathematics books, including Mathematics Can Be Fun
Martin Gardner Gardner 1914 2010 American Popular mathematics and science writer; author of Mathematical Games, a long-running Scientific American column
Joseph Madachy Madachy 1927 2014 American Long-time editor of Journal of Recreational Mathematics, author of Mathematics on Vacation and Madachy's Mathematical Recreations, recreational mathematician and mathematician
Solomon W. Golomb   Golomb 1932 2016 American Mathematician and engineer, best known as the inventor of polyominoes
John Horton Conway   Conway 1937 English Mathematician and inventor of Conway's Game of Life

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kulkarni, D. Enjoying Math: Learning Problem Solving With KenKen Puzzles, a textbook for teaching with KenKen Puzzles.
  2. ^ Newing, Angela (1994), "Henry Ernest Dudeney: Britain's Greatest Puzzlist", in Guy, Richard K.; Woodrow, Robert E., The Lighter Side of Mathematics: Proceedings of the Eugène Strens Memorial Conference on Recreational Mathematics and Its History, Cambridge University Press, pp. 294–301, ISBN 9780883855164 .

Further reading[edit]

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