Recreational mathematics

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, many topics in this field require no knowledge of advanced mathematics. Recreational mathematics involves mathematical puzzles and games, often appealing to children and untrained adults, inspiring their further study of the subject.[1]

The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) includes Recreational Mathematics as one of its seventeen Special Interest Groups.[2] Mathematical competitions (such as those sponsored by mathematical associations) are also categorized under recreational mathematics.


Some of the more well-known topics in recreational mathematics are Rubik's Cubes, 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

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 studied in the mathematical field of combinatorial game theory, but no mathematics is necessary in order to play it.

Mathematical Association of America

The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) includes Recreational mathematics as one of its seventeen Special Interest Groups.[3] commenting,

Recreational mathematics is not easily defined because it is more than mathematics done as a diversion or playing games that involve mathematics. Recreational mathematics is inspired by deep ideas that are hidden in puzzles, games, and other forms of play. The aim of the SIGMAA on Recreational Mathematics (SIGMAA-Rec) is to bring together enthusiasts and researchers in the myriad of topics that fall under recreational math. We will share results and ideas from our work, show that real, deep mathematics is there awaiting those who look, and welcome those who wish to become involved in this branch of mathematics.

Mathematical puzzles

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

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



Prominent practitioners and advocates of recreational mathematics have included:

Full nameLast nameBornDiedNationality Description
Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)Carroll18321898English Mathematician, puzzlist, Anglican deacon and photographer best known as the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Sam LoydLoyd18411911American Chess player and composer and recreational mathematician, regarded as America's greatest puzzlist
Henry DudeneyDudeney18571930English Civil servant regarded as England's "greatest puzzlist".[4]
Yakov PerelmanPerelman18821942Russian Author of many popular science and mathematics books, including Mathematics Can Be Fun
Martin GardnerGardner19142010American Popular mathematics and science writer; author of Mathematical Games, a long-running Scientific American column
Joseph MadachyMadachy19272014American 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  Golomb19322016American Mathematician and engineer, best known as the inventor of polyominoes
John Horton Conway  Conway1937English Mathematician and inventor of Conway's Game of Life

See also


  1. Kulkarni, D. Enjoying Math: Learning Problem Solving With KenKen Puzzles Archived 2013-08-01 at the Wayback Machine., a textbook for teaching with KenKen Puzzles.
  2. Special Interest Groups of the MAA Mathematical Association of America
  3. Special Interest Groups of the MAA Mathematical Association of America
  4. 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

  • W. W. Rouse Ball and H.S.M. Coxeter (1987). Mathematical Recreations and Essays, Thirteenth Edition, Dover. ISBN 0-486-25357-0.
  • Henry E. Dudeney (1967). 536 Puzzles and Curious Problems. Charles Scribner's sons. ISBN 0-684-71755-7.
  • Sam Loyd (1959. 2 Vols.). in Martin Gardner: The Mathematical Puzzles of Sam Loyd. Dover. OCLC 5720955.
  • Raymond M. Smullyan (1991). The Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-286136-0.
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