John Horton Conway, a ‘Magical Genius’ in Math, Dies at 82

John Horton Conway, a ‘Magical Genius’ in Math, Dies at 82


Dr. Conway’s mother, a wonderful reader, primarily of Dickens, experienced worked from age 11. Household lore has it that she boasted about locating her son at age of 4 reciting the powers of two. At 18, in 1956, John remaining dwelling for the College of Cambridge, exactly where he acquired his Ph.D. His adviser, Harold Davenport, a variety theorist, as soon as said that when he would give Dr. Conway a challenge to address, “he would return with a incredibly excellent option to yet another difficulty.”

As a university student, Dr. Conway cultivated his acknowledged lifelong choice for being lazy, taking part in video games and undertaking no operate. He could be conveniently distracted by what he referred to as “nerdish delights.” He at the time went on a flexagon binge, courtesy of Mr. Gardner, who described flexagons as “polygons, folded from straight or crooked strips of paper, which have the interesting house of shifting their faces when they are flexed.”

He constructed a water-driven personal computer, which he termed Winnie (Water Initiated Nonchalantly Numerical Integrating Engine). He browse and annotated H.S.M. Coxeter’s edition of W.W. Rouse Ball’s traditional function, “Mathematical Recreations and Essays,” and wrote Coxeter a lengthy letter that commenced a lifelong friendship concerning these two classical geometers.

Employed at Cambridge as an assistant lecturer, Dr. Conway acquired a standing for his higher jinks (not to mention his disheveled overall look). Lecturing on symmetry and the Platonic solids, he may well convey in a turnip as a prop, carving it one particular slice at a time into, say, an icosahedron, with its 20 triangular faces, consuming the scraps as he went. “He was by much the most charismatic lecturer in the school,” his Cambridge colleague Peter Swinnerton-Dyer when said.

Dr. Conway invented a profusion of game titles — like Phutball (shorter for Philosopher’s Football, which is a minor like checkers on a Go board) and collected them in the book “Winning Approaches for Your Mathematical Plays,” in collaboration with Elywn Berlekamp and Richard Male.

All the gaming was supported by a faithful subsequent of graduate pupils, among the them Simon Norton, with whom Dr. Conway posted the Monstrous Moonshine conjecture, investigating an elusive symmetry group that life in 196,883 proportions. (His Ph.D. scholar Richard Borcherds received the prestigious Fields Medal in 1998 for his evidence of the conjecture.)



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