Donald Simanek: You have had a long career
in writing, and have won much acclaim for your
work. How did you get started in writing?
Martin Gardner: My first job was as a reporter for
the Tulsa Tribune, shortly after I got out of college.
That was good training because you had to meet
deadlines. I had the great title of “assistant oil
editor” of the Tulsa Tribune. I was there for a
year or so, then I went back to the University of
Chicago and eventually got a job in the press
relations office, writing science releases sent to
The first time I got any money for writing was
after I got mustered out of the Navy and I went
back to the University of Chicago. I sold a short
story to Esquire magazine. It was a humorous
story titled “The Horse on the Escalator,” about
a man who collected jokes about horses. He
thought the jokes were hilarious. His wife didn’t
think any of them were funny, but she pretended
she thought they were funny and laughed every
time he told a horse joke. The title came from a
joke that was going around at the time about a
man who entered the Marshall Field’s department
store with a horse. At that time elevators all had
elevator operators. The operator said, “You can’t
take the horse on the elevator.” The man replied,
“But lady, he gets sick on the escalator.”
This is in a collection of my short stories, most
of which are from Esquire, called “The No-Sided
Professor.” The title story was one of the earliest
science fiction stories based on topology. Then for
about a year I lived on sales of fiction to Esquire
magazine — about 12 stories. When Esquire got
a new editor and moved from Chicago to New
York City, I lost my market. The new editor didn’t
think my stories were funny.
DS: Were you interested in science at an early age?
MG: Yes. Partly because my father was a professional geologist, with a Ph. D. in geology, who wrote
many technical papers, mostly about limestone
caverns. From my father I got a big dose of geology.
He was also interested in astronomy. I learned
from him the order of the planets from the sun.
82 Make: Volume 12
When I was in grade school I even constructed
a model of the solar system, with pictures of the
planets pasted on cardboard, with a crude drawing of their orbits. So, my first interest in science
was mainly through my dad’s influence.
DS: Magazines such as Science and Invention
were popular in the 1920s. Were you a fan of these?
MG: I was a big fan. Science and Invention was
the delight of my youth, partly because of the
type of articles they ran and partly because they
had a science fiction story in every issue. They
had a series called “Doctor Hackensaw’s Secrets.”
Each one was a science fiction story, and editor
Hugo Gernsback published 40 of them.
When he started Amazing Stories magazine
I was a charter subscriber. I’ve often regretted
that I didn’t save the first 12 issues. I gave them
all to my high school physics teacher. He was
interested in reading them, and also made them
available to his class. He had a big influence
on me. I made very poor high school grades in
history and English lit, but I got good grades in
physics and math. My father bought me a copy
of Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of 5,000 Puzzles,
Tricks, and Conundrums, and I was hooked on
DS: You have written a huge book, The Encyclopedia of Close-Up Magic, and also articles for
magician’s magazines. When did you first become
interested in magic?
MG: Again I have to go back to my father. He
was not a magician at all, but he taught me a few
magic tricks when I was very young, that he did
very skillfully. One involved a table knife on which
he put little bits of paper on the two sides. One
at a time, you pretend to remove the bits of paper
until the knife is empty on both sides, then you
wave it and the bits of paper come back again.
It uses what magicians call the “paddle move.”
It was the first magic trick I ever learned.
There was a trick where you put a match on a
handkerchief and break the match, then open the