back to article We lost another good one: Mathematician John Conway loses Game of Life, taken by coronavirus at 82

Mathematician John Conway has died after suffering from COVID-19. Conway, 82, had most recently served as a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, earning the John Von Neumann emeritus title. According to the local Planet Princeton, Conway took ill with the virus last week and died on Saturday following a brief struggle …

  1. Dinanziame
    Unhappy

    Game over

  2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    Thank you

    ... for the game of life.

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Thank you

      It was the only board game I enjoyed as a kid. It should still be in a box I took from my parents house 11 years ago, but haven't got around to opening yet. Now I'm spending more time with the children it's an ideal time to rediscover it - as long as I can tear them away from their tablets!

      1. KarMann Bronze badge
        WTF?

        Re: Thank you

        You… do realise that that's not the same Game of Life, don't you? You're talking about the Milton Bradley one, with the jobs and the marriages and such, right? I mean, one could play Conway's Life on a board, but one wouldn't generally call it a board game.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Thank you

          "I mean, one could play Conway's Life on a board, but one wouldn't generally call it a board game."

          I don't know. I think if I tried to play it myself, I'd get bored fairly quickly, to be honest.

        2. druck Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Thank you

          My mistake!

          1. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: Thank you

            It was a very funny mistake on such a sad article. Conway sounds like a guy who'd have laughed at it. I like a smart person who carries props. I used to pocket an unexpanded plastic bottle that more than one scientist confused with a test tube.

            I knew the game of life as it came with the ZX computers, but it never came with a proper explanation so my understanding is no better than yours, and less excusable. The beauty of this place is that various folk commenting here not only studied with the bloke, they have anecdotes as eulogies. We could ask them anything, if we studied for a couple of years to learn what we should be asking.

            Little known facts - the game 'Crossfire' was invented by Niels Bohr to illustrate splitting the atom. Steven Hawking invented 'Hungry Hungry Hippos' to illustrate radiation and the pull of black holes. 'Operation' was James Young Simpson showing the benefits of chloroform.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Thank you

              Game of Life was a staple of programming courses. I vaguely remember implementing it in Pascal mumble mumble years ago.

  3. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    The Game of Life excited us Biologists as well. Dawkins writes about it in The Selfish Gene. He is mourned here in Biology too.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: excited us Biologists

      "Not Life as we know it, Jim." A simulation slightly related to how some organisms replication is affected by environment. But not alive in any sense at all.

      It is a fascinating algorithm. Though ultimately Conway thought it overshadowed his more important work.

      XKCD Tribute

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: excited us Biologists

        Aha yes, the flyer. That self-perpetuating group of cells that would launch off and stimulate growth in other cell groups it hit. Getting a flyer to spawn another flyer was a neat trick.

      2. Psmo Silver badge
        Go

        Re: excited us Biologists

        Also a good introduction to complex systems with emergent behaviour, as when you added rules or modified the start position you could get some really strange and beautiful things happening (division, cycles, etc.).

      3. Corporate Scum

        Re: excited us Biologists

        Emergent systems have a strange tendency to overshadow their creators. And the later work by others on his creation has gone to some strange places. For example people have built whole Turing complete state machines inside it. Some of that work has since moved on to Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft, but their is are unbroken chains of causality leading from GoL to many of those project.

        The game of life was a simple tool to explore complex systems, and one that many of us have a sense of nostalgia for. Conway should be missed for many other reasons, but this little thing that I first stumbled across on a dusty 5 1/4" floppy disk cast a long shadow.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: excited us Biologists

          > Emergent systems have a strange tendency to overshadow their creators

          Like human beings? :-)

      4. swm Silver badge

        Re: excited us Biologists

        If you start with the XKCD figure and let it run a few generations everything disappears except for a single glider headed north east. I thought that was very appropriate.

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          Re: excited us Biologists

          Probably the most poignant and respectful tribute anyone could make. Randal is particularly adept at these.

  4. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    On Surreal Numbers

    I recently bought this book, written by Donald Knuth. It is said that Conway adopted name "Surreal Numbers" after Knuth, previously he called them simply numbers. Another nice definition has been written by Stephen Wolfram, and there is also a demonstration in Mathematica.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: On Surreal Numbers

      > written by Stephen Wolfram

      Rather Eric Weisstein?

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: On Surreal Numbers

        Oh yes, thank you - I missed the footnote!

  5. LucreLout Silver badge

    RIP

    I've no recollection of hearing about him prior to his death, which is a disgrace really - his achievements are rather greater than the Kanye West's, Jade Goodies etc that I have heard of despite my intentional avoidance of all things celebrity.

    "Society" needs to change.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: RIP

      I'd heard of him and vaguely knew he was a top notch mathematician, but really knew him for his Game Of Life simulation which I first typed in and ran on a 16KB TRS-80. I was almost as saddened to hear of his passing as I was when I heard Tim Brooke-Taylor also died of CV the other day. There'll be not only be an empty seat on the Goodies Trandem, but he was also a co-writer of the Three Yorkshiremen sketch, well known around these parts.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Coat

        Tim Brooke-Taylor

        I'm sorry, I haven't a clue.

        The one with the map of The Underground in the pocket.

  6. DavCrav Silver badge

    I only met John Conway once. His challenge was 6 x 6 dots and boxes. You play against him 10 times, and you 'win' if you win one game. I am rubbish at dots and boxes, but I did know a little about the theory of games. I won after about 6 games, entirely because he also let you choose who goes first.

    At the time I knew him mostly because of his Leech lattice work and the Atlas, and I only later found out about all of the other things. I also spoke to his (I don't remember which one) wife. She said that at the end of the month she would collect all of the random bits of paper left lying around the house into a box, write the month on it, and put it in the loft. Occasionally he would ask for a bit of paper from March last year, for example and this filing system made it much easier to find.

  7. jake Silver badge

    "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

    Technically true. But actually, he had been very ill with other problems for several years. He's in a better place now.

    My dad handed me the October 1970 edition of Scientific American and said "Read this and tell me what you think". I didn't have the heart to tell him that we were already fiddling about with Life at SAIL (and SLAC, LLNL, Sandia, ...). I can't remember who introduced it to Stanford, but for several months there every spare CPU cycle was devoted to it, much to the administration's deep dismay.

    RIP, John. You will be missed.

    1. holmegm Bronze badge

      Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

      "Technically true. But actually, he had been very ill with other problems for several years."

      And that worries me.

      There is a difference between dying *with* COVID-19, and dying *from* COVID-19. Anybody confident that the difference is being respected? It *is* kind of a big deal when it comes to assessing risks and tradeoffs (as a mathematician would appreciate).

      Sorry to bring it up at a somber moment, but actually I didn't bring it up, the article did.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

        To get a general feel for the numbers, look up the average numbers of deaths for your area/region/country for the same period of previous years and subtract from current total reported deaths. In many places, it's still a significantly larger number. In others, there's barely a difference. Naturally you need to follow the numbers and trends over time since one place may be less well advanced in the coronavirus spread sequence.

        I'm sure maths'n'stats people are already doing this.

        1. Notas Badoff

          Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

          The term is "excess mortality".

          Illustrated by an Italian town where they only slowly caught on that CV was rampant, and so only started testing later. The mayor said that he can only point out that during Jan-Mar they had ~150 deaths, some of which were confirmed to be CV. However, during that same period *last* year, the count of deaths was ~35.

          In the next year or so you'll start hearing references to the excess mortality figures, and they *will* be much larger than 'confirmed' deaths. NYC just today added 50% - 3800 - to their count of deaths, because not everybody died in hospital or after being tested.

          Reality bites, but we seem really good at not being educated by it. (sigh)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

            And even if they're people who would soon have died from the underlying cause in say the next 1-2 years, that is still lost time. Lost time to the individual, lost time spent with their relatives, lost time to spend on hobbies and other accomplishments. Everyone will eventually die, anything that makes them die before their time is a tragedy.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

              And not just that they will die a year or two sooner, but they will often deteriorate quite quickly, and the death is (I'm told by hollow-eyed friends from the frontline) often unpleasant with no family or friends around as they pass, and very few at their very low-key and perfunctory funeral, the latter having particularly affected one friend who, I think, would otherwise have been able form a much better acceptance of the passing of her elderly father.

              This is a terrible diseause, whether it's killing children, parents, grandparents or the great grandparents who've 'had a good innings'

              RIP John Conway

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

        This thread is deviating somewhat from what I intended.

        holmgren "got it" when he asked "There is a difference between dying *with* COVID-19, and dying *from* COVID-19. Anybody confident that the difference is being respected?"

        In my opinion, the answer is no, it is not being respected. I know of a guy who had been dying of terminal cancer for around 6 months. He managed to come down with Covid-19, and passed away in about ten days. His death certificate says he died of Covid-19 ... but is that true? Would he have died from it if he wasn't already weakened from cancer?

        His family is trying to get the reason of death changed, because in their minds it is patently incorrect. They are being stonewalled by the authorities. Apparently they are in touch with a few other families in a similar situation. I have no idea what the numbers for this kind of thing are ... and I suspect that nobody else does, either. But I'll bet they are rather high.

        I will ask if they would like to comment here (the guy's son is a friend).

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: "has died after suffering from COVID-19"

          "I will ask if they would like to comment here"

          He has indicated that he might, but not in this thread. As he put it, "A wake is not the place to discuss such things."

          He's right of course.

  8. Dr Paul Taylor

    Conway in Cambridge

    The Atlas of Finite Groups was published while Conway was still in Cambridge. Before then, it consisted of a huge scrap book that lived on a table in the DPMMS (Pure Maths) common room, containing the character tables of the groups.

    I knew him well when I was a student in Cambridge from 1979 to 1986.

    Conway's lectures were always lively, popular and full of insight.

    But it was next to impossible to take notes from them. I remember attending one in a room with two parallel sets of blackboards that moved up and down on pulleys: he drew diagrams on one, with arrows across to the other one, and then moved the boards around.

    In those days there were SIX student maths societies in Cambridge (the University one and five "college" societies, three of which have since folded). Every year the secretaries would fight for who got Conway to give a lecture to their society.

    Although I did my PhD in category theory,

    For Part III (equivalent to MSc) I was the only student who took the exam for Conway's course, which was about sphere packing, leading up to the 24D Leech Lattice and the monster group.

    While I was a PhD student after that, I would be sitting minding my own business in the Pure Maths common room and Conway would come and sit beside me to describe his most recent construction of the Monster Group.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: Conway in Cambridge

      Great reminiscences, Paul. He was a fellow of my college (Caius) and I saw him around college, but I only met him to talk to a few times. He was my supervisor for the (undergraduate) Rings & Modules course (one term) and he came to a few of the College Maths undergraduate annual dinners. I still have an origami peacock he made at one of those dinners.

      Although my main mathematical interest was algebra and number theory, it was his rings and modules supervisions which convinced me that I would not look to become an academic mathematician. His explanations and insights into groups were wonderful but I just didn't have quite the insight necessary. I did know one of his graduate students quite well, who was working on what became the Atlas, and he would give us updates on work on the sporadic groups.

      I did enjoy Surreal Numbers - I think it came out while I was there and it helped seal Conway's reputation among the (mathematical) public. It was a great time to be at Caius (1979-1982), with the world's best Pure and Applied mathematicians in the college (Conway and Hawking), seeing them around and even talking to them occasionally. I seem to remember that they alternated attending the mathematical dinners - certainly both did attend at least once during my time.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: Conway in Cambridge

        " I did know one of his graduate students quite well, who was working on what became the Atlas, and he would give us updates on work on the sporadic groups."

        Was it one of the Robs? Curtis or Wilson?

      2. cshore

        Re: Conway in Cambridge

        I arrived in Caius in 1983 as a NatSci, later changing to CompSci. I only heard of both Conway and Hawking after leaving three years later. Had the pleasure of sharing Christmas Dinner with Hawking some years later, though, and the Hawking Lift is still there...

    2. Julian Bradfield

      Re: Conway in Cambridge

      Hi Paul :)

      My strongest memory is when he was lecturing about ordinals using a blackboard on an easel, and having earlier written ω^ω^ω^.. (in normal layout, I mean), he then went on to talk about epsilons, and rather than writing ε_ε_ε_... he just picked up the blackboard and rotated it 90°. I give a lecture about ordinals every year or so, and I've always wanted to do that, but I've never had a blackboard on an easel.

  9. Jedit
    Pint

    Definitely playing the misere variant

    With this, sadly, all three authors of Winning Ways For Your Mathematical Plays have passed away in the last year: Richard Guy last month (aged 103 and working to the end, so you can't really grouse) and Elwyn Berlekamp in April 2019.

  10. amacater

    See also xkcd 2293

    Very sad to hear this news: a great man, a great character. As ever xkcd absolutely nailed it with a tribute cartoon.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1

      Re: See also xkcd 2293

      ...see also^2 http://smbc-comics.com/comic/life-2

  11. Juha Meriluoto

    Farewell, Professor

    Game of Life was one of my first contacts with a computer... and still as fascinating as back then.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: Farewell, Professor

      GOL was why I learned machine code on the 6502 from the book "Programming the 6502" by Rodnay Zaks. On a Apple ][ clone that I had to assemble myself. The machine code was almost a thousand times faster than the BASIC code I had written before. I still have the hand-written listings. Happy memories.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Farewell, Professor

        Almost exactly the same here - I had written a version in BASIC for the Commodore PET (my mathematically-inclined 'cello master had one of the first in the country - long story) and I taught myself 6502 assembly from the Zaks book to get a M/C version going. Like you I had to hand-assemble it.

        I had sort-of learned assembly language a year or so earlier, after getting a copy of the Motorola MC6800 programming manual out of the local Technical Library. But I had no hardware to play with my knowledge on. I still remember how inelegant the 6502 seemed compared to the 6800! (later I went onto the 6809...)

        I also worked on a version of Life for the PET with four times the resolution, using the chess-board type graphics characters in the PETs character set. I can't fully remember if I ever finished that; I have a memory of doing so, but the 'tearing' across the screen due to its slowness made it a bit disappointing.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Farewell, Professor

        I wrote an assembler version that ran directly on the monochrome frame buffer memory of a Sun 2 workstation at maybe 5-10 transitions a second(*). It was quite amusing watching someone's desktop explode into a boiling mass of GoL shapes.

        (*) This was ~35 years ago so the memory is a bit rusty.

  12. andy 103 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Makes me sad

    I'd never heard of him, which makes me sad.

    As I write this (in lockdown whilst taking a coffee break from work) I hear an episode of The Kardashians on the TV, being watched by someone else I might add. I was lucky enough to be born in a time** when social media and "celeb culture" wasn't such a thing.

    It amazes me how people who make real contributions to the world and betterment of society are sometimes never really heard of, and in some cases get no recognition at all. But then I also greatly admire that as it reminds me of a time when nobody gave a shit about the sort of thing that's now being presented on my TV. This has actually been a big thought of mine during lockdown.

    Can we have more people like this, and teach people that this is a better way of contributing to life than Instagram posts of cocktails in a throwaway fashion outfit?

    RIP

    (** I'm mid 30s.)

  13. LenG

    Inspirational

    I had the luck and privilege to attend lectures by Conway while an undergraduate at Cambridge. He had the ability to make even a mundane first-year analysis course an inspirational adventure, to the extent that the lecture room was always overfilled with people sitting on windowsills and floors. A great man and a great loss.

  14. richardcox13
  15. elDog

    Paul Davies in "The Demon in the Machine" has a wonderful description of Conway and the Game of Life

    with application to genetics non-genetic evolution.

    He talks about cellular automata and the "Game of Life". I know you and I were fascinated by Conroy's ideas. I thought, "well, why not have a game of life using non-square repeating patterns. Many others have thought that and taken it into vast realms - including Penrose fields.

    https://codegolf.stackexchange.com/questions/35827/implement-the-game-of-life-on-anything-but-a-regular-grid

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22134-first-gliders-navigate-ever-changing-penrose-universe/

    Davies talks a lot about the demon involved in the molecular biology of the cell. I just saw this today and it dovetails nicely with his exposition.

    https://www.ted.com/talks/janet_iwasa_the_wonders_of_the_molecular_world_animated

  16. Richard Tobin

    Pennies and coat hangers

    That's old wire coat hangers. He'd bend one into a diamond shape, then hang it from his finger with the hook at the bottom. Then he'd balance a coin on the tip of the hook, and start to spin the coat hanger round, with the coin staying balanced there. While doing this, he would fetch a broom or window pole, and balance it on his chin and walk around the lecture room. The point was - so he said - to illustrate the difficulty of finding a basis to simultaneously diagonalize two matrices.

  17. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    We had a cellular automata machine (a CAM if anyone knows it) and from that developed some extremly interesting and very much larger boxes to do novel 3D rendering (some of which have even survived 30 odd years later). http://people.csail.mit.edu/nhm/cam8.pdf - it was a wonderful demonstrator when we were gettin our own hardware up to scratch. I still have the book that came out of the MIT press somewhere.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ""Perhaps his greatest achievement (certainly his proudest achievement) is the invention of new system of numbers, the surreal numbers,""

    Oh, he was the one behind surreal numbers ? Like, the set in which every polynom of the set have a first root product of the set, unlike with the real set of numbers ?

    Blimey ! Didn't know that .... Kuddos to him !

    PS: sorry, I never studied maths in english, so the above may look weird ...

    1. Graham Cobb

      Like, the set in which every polynom of the set have a first root product of the set, unlike with the real set of numbers ?

      I think what you are saying there is more usually said in English as:

      The set in which every polynomial function has roots in the set, unlike the Reals (in which x^2+1 has no roots, for example).

      If so, you are referring to what are called, in English, the Complex numbers (basically by starting with adding the square root of -1 to the set). If so, no, Conway did not invent those.

      The Surreal numbers basically add infinite numbers (starting with adding a number to represent countably infinite - the size of the set of integers - but it rapidly gets more complicated).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "If so, you are referring to what are called, in English, the Complex numbers (basically by starting with adding the square root of -1 to the set). If so, no, Conway did not invent those."

        Yes, thanks for clarification, that's exactly what I meant. Funny thing is they're called complex also in french :) So I was confused ...

  19. Simon Harris Silver badge

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  20. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Two's company, infinity plus one is a crowd

    I bullied a four year old when I was five. We were sitting around in a group on our street arguing about what the biggest number was. He said it was a googol, because his dad had told him that. I'd already ruled out zillions so I told him googol wasn't a real word, but I'd also ruled out trillions and said billions was just in American. I think he went into search engines...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Two's company, infinity plus one is a crowd

      Interestingly, the so-called "geniuses" at go ogle misspelled Googol when naming their search engine.

      I'd have responded to your friend with "a googolplex is bigger!". (On-topic: I learned of this in one of Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American ... the very same column that was used to bring Conway's Life to a wider audience.)

      Note that the Brits legally depreciated the long scale billion in favo(u)r of the French short scale billion back in 1974. (Yes, the short scale is French, not American, contrary to popular belief/myth.)

      The real reason for this response: My, how the meaning of "bullied" has depreciated since I was a kid.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: Two's company, infinity plus one is a crowd

        The real reason for this response: My, how the meaning of "bullied" has depreciated since I was a kid.
        Well...I perhaps wasn't clear, I really did beat him up. Not because of the googol comment, more his speculation and our older sisters breasts expanding. He was precocious in a small town. This was pre-GamerGate by a few decades.

        One of his older pals stood up for him and called me a bully, leaving me in the classic bullies dilemma. I could have just beat him up too, but that would lose the argument. Instead I told him okay, no violence if the younger rapscallion stopped talking about our sisters, but if he did then I would hold him responsible and beat him up instead. So he schooled the younger child and in effect became his bully in lieu of me.

        I'm not making excuses or confessing, that is just the way society was then. Teachers beat us up, parents beat us up, and most often with no reason. Punk didn't come out of a vacuum.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Two's company, infinity plus one is a crowd

          "Punk didn't come out of a vacuum."

          I am very well aware of that. At least the Punk scene kept us older kids alive. A gig, two pints & 5 fags for under a quid and a half. Seemed like a good deal at the time. And we always had John Peel(RIP) to listen to on the transistor when we got home.

          A couple years ago, one of the kids from the Barn came into my office, wondering about the "cool" music I was playing. The music server had chosen early/mid 70s tunage: The Ramones, Heartbreakers[0], New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, Buzzcocks ... As I told the kid, I might be getting older, but I ain't dead yet.

          [0] No, not the Tom Petty version you heathen.

          1. Simon Harris Silver badge

            Re: Two's company, infinity plus one is a crowd

            That playlist definitely deserves an upvote.

  21. oldfartuk

    Fuck. Thats all i can say. John Conway was one of the last people we needed to lose. I have a valued, treasured, book thats followed me about for the last 40 years, packed with the mathematical games and other musings of Johns, its kept me amused and fascisnated and educated for four decades. I can honestly say John Conway was one of the four people whos writings profoundely changed my view of the planet, when i was in my 20's.

  22. Deryk Barker

    Sad news indeed

    Conway was my supervisor at Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, 1968-70.

    I can still clearly recall our first supervision (there were, IIRC, three students) in his rooms in college. An incredible mess of stick-and-string models of polyhedra and other things.

    "You know those dolls, that always stand upright no matter how you knock them down, I think they're called Kelly dolls?" he said.

    "Yeeees" we replied.

    "Well, I have discovered a polyhedron made from uniformly dense material that has the same property: it will always come to rest on the same surface. I'd like you to work out its shape by next time".

    I think that was probably when I realised that I was unlikely to become a professional mathematician.

    A few weeks later I was walking down Sidney Street when this extremely hirsute chap (long hair and beard) coming the other way smiled and waved at me. I did the same and only after he'd passed did I realise that it was not a fellow student but one of my teachers...

    I think the date of 1970 for the Game of Life is not quite accurate; 1970 was the year I dropped out of Cambridge, but I can recall sitting in his office in the Maths Faculty building while he told me about it and that "apparently a million dollars of computer time was wasted last year in the USA playing it".

    He also showed me the printout of the multiplication table of his group, which was arrayed around all four walls of the office. Given that I knew that the order of the group was something massive, like 4.8x10**18, I must have looked a little dubious.

    "Oh, each symbol represents a hundred-square matrix". Well, obviously.

    A fellow Sidney student the year above me told me that he'd had a supervision with JC in the afternoon after he'd discovered the group in the morning. He couldn't talk about anything else and they hardly saw him for the next term, as he was gadding about round the world lecturing on the group.

    I'm afraid I never found him a good teacher (although, for various reasons, at this point in my life I was hardly a good student), mainly because he could never seem to understand that you found anything difficult .

    "Just think of a determinant as a volume transform of two vector spaces." Right...

    Fast forward thirty or so years and I arrive home around midnight one Saturday evening after rehearsing with my band. Flicking TV channels with the remote I came upon a PBS showing of the documentary on Andrew Wiles' proving Fermat's "Last" theorem.

    "Hang on!" I think, "isn't that John Conway?"

    And so it proved, cutting to the chase as ever. The question arose as to whether Wiles's proof was the same as Fermat's. Wiles himself, IIRC, said no, his proof was based upon a lot of 20th century mathematics and could not have been constructed in the 17th.

    Conway: "Fermat said he couldn't fit his proof into the margin of this book [holds book up]. Andrew's is 250 pages long. It's NOT the same proof".

    I still maintain that JC was the only bona-fide genius I have ever known, however briefly and tangentially.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Sad news indeed

      "I think the date of 1970 for the Game of Life is not quite accurate; 1970 was the year I dropped out of Cambridge, but I can recall sitting in his office in the Maths Faculty building while he told me about it and that "apparently a million dollars of computer time was wasted last year in the USA playing it"."

      Life was popularized in the October 1970 issue of Scientific American ... but it got to Stanford University (and Berkeley, UCLA, Utah, etc.) in early 1969ish, possibly through an exchange or transfer student from England. My lizard hind-brain suggests there is a name, but refuses to release it until I stop thinking about it ... watch this space.

      By the time the SA article came out many, many hours of CPU time had already been devoted to it at West Coast Unis, especially at SAIL. Most of the National Laboratories also found it to be a "useful research tool". Programming tips and tricks for Life drove the early Internet far more than the traditional pr0n and cute cats ...

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