Math at the market

November 1, 2019
Children assembling a Tangram puzzle

On October 19 OSU joined Celebration of Mind for the first time ever. Celebration of Mind is a yearly event in which people all around the world gets together to share their love for puzzles, games, math, and magic. It is also a commemoration of Martin Gardner's legacy on his birthday (October 21).

But, who was Martin Gardner? He was an American popular science writer and pioneer of the field of Recreational Mathematics. For many years, he wrote a column, "Mathematical Games", in Scientific American. He's column brought mathematics to a big audience and captivated their minds. His monthly puzzle special compelled readers to try solving them, or else they had to wait a full month to know the answer. Gardner is an inspiration for us and many people who works on popularization of mathematics.

A young couple trying to solve the snake cube puzzleThis year, the Department of Mathematics, through the outreach initiative, participated in this great Celebration. Erika Roldan, the Director of Outreach, had an idea: what if we could bring math to the streets and put it side by side with what people nurtures from? So we went to Clintonville Farmer 's Market and "sold" math between apples and tamales, for free! What a better way of celebrating Gardner than bringing math to all people and mix it up with everyday life, like he did?

Our booth in the Market featured games and puzzles Gardner wrote about. We also had posters with challenges and puzzles to go.

At first, people looked at us with suspicion. More than one was probably wondering what was their worst nightmare doing at their favorite market. We offered pi and pentomino shaped organic cookies for those who solved a puzzle, and a few decided to give a try. Little by little more people approached our table. Some stopped, continued shopping and then came back. Once a puzzle was solved, people gained confidence and wanted to try another. Children were seriously engaged playing with math and their parents almost have to drag them away to continue with the shopping.

Then came the bubbles. You can always capture and audience when showing the amazing shapes soap film takes when sticking to the skeleton of a Platonic Solid. By the time the Market was about to end, people were asking if we were going to be there every Saturday.Erika showing a cubic bubble inside the skeleton of a cube

The purpose of the outreach initiative from the Department of Mathematics is to reach the general public of all ages and backgrounds. Events like this fulfill that purpose. When our events take place at a school, a science fair, or even here at OSU, attendees have to be interested enough to make the effort of coming. At the Market, we gave math to people who was not looking for it or even expecting it. We will continue to organize more of these activities to keep up with our mission.

A special thank you to the volunteers who were at the booth sharing their love for math: Maritza Sirvent, Yiwei Ren, KT Goldstein, and Rachel Skipper for baking cookies.