Neil Meets His Heroes at G4G9

As I discovered, the dress code for G4G9 is “math professor.” I made the mistake of dressing “business,” and ended up being confused with Ritz-Carlton staff. However, my costume turned out to be handy for crashing a business party upstairs and making off with a free glass of champagne.

G4G9 is Neil’s ultimate party: it’s a math conference, and better yet, one where his fellow attendees are the people whose works, and projects, and websites he’s been following for years. I only recognize the names of people who’ve written lots of books, because I’m the one who has to help Neil get them.

So, when I found myself in the registration line behind Clifford Pickover, I knew who he was, because Neil has almost everything Pickover–or as those in the know call him “Cliff”–has written. Pickover asked whether Neil had enjoyed making mazes, and yes, Neil went through a phase of maze-making last year and the year before that. (This year, it’s sliding puzzles, as in the Valentine’s Day puzzle which shows me trying to solve it.)

I took Neil up to the G4G9 sales room during the first break, where Pickover happened to be signing books and got a picture of Neil and one of his favorite writers:

And who just happened to be nearby–why the author of multiple logic puzzle books which Neil adores: Ivan Moscovich!

Charybdis and Scylla Academy may not be in session, but G4G9 has all the bases covered. I told Neil I’d get him a Sandro Del-Prete book, but only if it had an inscription from Del-Prete in German. Everytime he wants to read it, it’s a German review lesson. Bruce Oberg covered history in a 9 lecture informing us that nothing happened in 9 A.D. and that our ninth president died after only 31 days in office…of a head cold. PE was in place thanks to a lecture called The Art of Throwing Up, which turned out not to be the kind of throwing up you do after sneaking too many glasses of champagne at a business party you crashed, but rather, learning how to juggle. And needless to say, we’re totally covered on the subjects of math and art.

During a later break between lecture sessions, Neil ran off to speak to one of the other attendees, while scribbling on paper. He came back with a spinning top. When I asked Neil what he had done, he told me he’d helped a college professor solove a problem that had been posed in the lecture. Well, nice to see him getting along with his new friends…

Neil had another charming encounter with Ivan Moscovich. He made a cube with 6 business cards for Moscovich, and happened to give it to him in front of Mary Chrestenson-Baker. She in turn, showed Neil how to make an even stranger shape (kind of like a ball) with just 4 business cards.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. After dinner, I saw Caspar Schwabe and Akio Hizume go off into a side room, where a stage was set up for a magic show. In the front of the room was John Conway, another person who has written a lot of books Neil cherishes. Here Conway is also The Man. To me, he seems just like a math professor on break, though his lecture was amusing, though largely over my head.

So I dragged Neil away from the table and set him down (thanks to Caspar’s help) next to Conway’s son. Neil finally mustered up the courage to talk to Conway, and they got along just great.

As far as Neil could explain to me, they talked about turning one puzzle into another puzzle.

Then the real show began, and we had the treat of seeing six incredible magic shows. We saw a ring disappear and reappear instantly on a key ring in the magician’s back pocket. A card, not named to the end, appeared in a backpack underneath a chair, without the magician ever having gone near it. A deck of cards in Neil’s hands turned invisible without the magician visibly touching anything. One ball turned into nine within my closed hands.

How did those magicians do it?! Why simple! They just bend time, just like Hiro Nakamura. And here you were thinking that was fiction!

Today, the first set of presentations, to our surprise, included a meet the attendees (who aren’t giving lectures) part which included a beautiful slide showcasing some of Neil’s published work:

Neil went up and gave an impromptu description of what he did, which he described as “Strange Attractors.”

Neil really looked forward to the Stephen Wolfram lecture. He’s the guy who wrote two particularly fat books Neil wanted for Christmas in 2008. One of these is called A New Kind of Science, and it appears to be fashionable among those who know this book to admit to never having read it all the way through. Neil has read A New Kind of Science six times, and I think he likes the Wolfram Alpha web site too. Bill Gosper teases Neil about this, but it doesn’t dissuade Neil.

So perhaps Neil will meet Wolfram here, too.

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