Happy Birthday Alice

Happy Birthday Alice! – 159 years an inspiration on this earth or under it today. LCSNA member Bob Mitchell has sent us this birthday musing:

Let me ask the two of you a curious question: Lewis Carroll was born in 1832 and Alice was born in 1852. Since 1842 is exactly half way between those two numbers did that peak his interest in the #42?

The question was caused by an extremely odd dream I had a few weeks ago.

Most excitingly, this is the very first non-spam response to the question I posed back in October 2010: Why were both Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams so interested in the number 42? As a non-mathematician it seems to me quite random. Let me mark the occasion of Alice’s birthday by reopening the question: What is so cool about the number 42? Explanations drawn from mathematical theory, literary studies or odd dreams are all welcome (particularly the latter).

May the 4th be with you.

Dodgson "perched in the middle" of the "two chunks" in the history of voting math

Lewis Carroll and the Liddell family made the July 26th 2010 issue of the New Yorker in reference to his work on election mathematics. Anthony Gottlieb, in his article in the book review department called “Win or Lose: No voting system is flawless. But some are less democratic than others“, gives Dodgson praise for considering voting systems that are more fair than, for instance, the U.S.’s current winner-take-all method.

The history of voting math comes mainly in two chunks: the period of the French Revolution, when some members of France’s Academy of Sciences tried to deduce a rational way of conducting elections, and the nineteen-fifties onward, when economists and game theorists set out to show that this was impossible. Perched in the middle is the Reverend Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.”


National politics weren’t on Dodgson’s mind, it appears, when he first became interested in the theory of voting, in the early eighteen-seventies. Ostensibly, he was pondering the best way for the governing body of Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a tutor in mathematics, to decide on the design for a controversial belfry, and to pick new members of the college. As to what explained his sudden interest in college politics, some people—notably the late economist and Dodgson scholar Duncan Black—have suggested that Alice Liddell, who inspired the Wonderland tale, in 1862, was at the bottom of it. Alice’s father, the head of Christ Church, had forbidden Dodgson further contact with his daughters, and meddling in college politics may have been Dodgson’s way of getting back at him.

The whole article is pretty interesting, and concludes that one of the fairest methods of voting might be similar to how people regularly rank favorites on internet sites like Yelp (“Approval Voting”).

Remembering Martin Gardner

With great sadness we note the passing of Martin Gardner this past Saturday, May 22, 2010, in Norman, Oklahoma at the age of 95.  Martin Gardner was not only a founding member of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America but also, it is surely safe to say, the founder of serious Carroll studies through the publication of his book The Annotated Alice. That work, which went through three editions (The Annotated Alice, 1960; More Annotated Alice, 1990, and The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, 2000) introduced countless numbers of people to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, thereby bringing Carroll’s works to the popular mind as never before.  His Annotated Alice also set the standard, one seldom equalled, for a numerous succession of annotated works by other authors.  In 1962 he published his Annotated Hunting of the Snark, reprinted in 2006 in an expanded, definitive edition with a brilliant introduction and appreciation by Adam Gopnik.

Like Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner had a deep appreciation for serious and recreational mathematics [he wrote the famous “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American for 25 years with more than a few touching on Carroll], a love of language and paradox, and a profound interest in religion.  Like Houdini, he was keen on magic tricks and equally intolerant of paranormalists and other charlatans.

Martin was always willing to help those who corresponded with him and, although some of us never had the privilege of meeting him, we all knew him and counted him both a learned guide and an always generous friend.