Remembering Elwyn Berlekamp

Elwyn Berlekamp departed peacefully on the evening of Tuesday, April 9, 2019. He was a dear friend to many of us and one of the founders, together with Tom Rodgers and Mark Setteducati, of what became the Gathering 4 Gardner Foundation. His creative contributions to mathematics and electrical engineering were outstanding and will live on, as will his tireless work in many other arenas. His quick mind, generosity, and kind heart will be dearly missed.

For anyone wanting to follow up with Elwyn’s family, write to his home address.

Berlekamp Family
120 Hazel Lane
Piedmont, CA 94611-4033

I’m very saddened by the news of Elwyn’s passing.


Aside from his great intellect and many accomplishments, Elwyn had a very playful and curious mind. He was a close friend of Martin Gardner; both had great love for and were strong advocates of recreational mathematics. Without Elwyn’s wisdom and guidance, the Gathering For Gardner would not have grown and matured to what it is today. Although he has now left us, his influence will continue for a very long time.


– Mark Setteducati

The founders of G4G: Tom Rodgers, Elwyn Berlekamp, and Mark Setteducati (2004)
Elwyn Berlekamp had died peacefully.

He was an exceptional mathematician and a most generous person. I first met Elwyn at a 1966 Combinatorics conference in Chapel Hill. He told me that he had used my Cambridge Philosophical Society paper with Cedric Smith to help him advance his analysis of Dots and Boxes. A bit later he said that we should write a book on games. I said that I knew just the person who could help us out and for the next twenty years we three did that. My sympathy to all his family and friends. 

– Richard K Guy

He was an amazingly creative mathematician, ex chair of both the UC Berkeley math dept and the EE department, and super person in every respect. I got to work with him on several projects, nonprofit and for profit, and in a startup too. He was a cofounder of the world’s most successful hedge fund, the original source of lots of math published under other people’s names, and with Solomon Golomb a designer of error correcting codes used in the USA space program….I could go on and on.


Thane Plambeck

For me personally, one of the highlights of my speaking career and fondest memories is to have been complimented by him on one of my talks.

– Colin Wright

For a full account on Elwyns generosity and encouragement visit Colin’s Post on Solipsys here.


We lost a great mathematician and a superior man. I lost a good friend.


Jorge Nuno Silva


The notice of obit as honorary member of the Ludus Association in Portugal can be found here.

One [memory] that amuses me the most is that, though I’ve known him well since ca. 2001, for years he would call me Tony. He knew exactly who I was. But “Tony Hearn” (another computer scientist, I believe) was just more deeply ingrained in his brain. I felt a little boost when he started consistently calling me Bob.


Bob Hearn

Elwyn and I met at G4G when I was in 3rd grade. He was very open to spending time with me and was a good mentor. I loved playing dots and boxes with him.


James Lee


Here’s a clip of Elwyn and James playing dots and boxes together:

Elwyn was my Elementary Circuit Theory recitation instructor at MIT, ~1962. He always hurried through grading my homework so he could talk about Dots and Boxes! He made me wonder if all EE grad students were smarter than the Math grad students.

Long after MIT, but long before G4G, Elwyn made something that helps many of us every single day—the Berlekamp polynomial factoring algorithm! Prior to this, it was believed that polynomial factoring was harder than integer factoring. Early computer algebra systems used Kronecker’s algorithm: Plug in numerous integer special-cases and then try to fit polynomials to the integer factorizations. Elwyn’s algorithm makes polynomial factoring vastly easier than integer factoring!


— Bill Gosper

I remember meeting Elwyn Berlekamp during the offsite event at G4G11 – it was a joy to talk with him, and I recall him being quick, wise, and very kind. 

Like many others, Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays was my first major introduction to combinatorial game theory and the surreal numbers, and its size and scope – everything from Nim to topological puzzles to the Game of Life – is still incredible. I don’t know if there is (or even can be) an index of which authors contributed what or else I surely would list more here, but the more I think about it, the more outstanding Berlekamp’s analyses on Dots and Boxes becomes, especially for the level of depth and insight these analyses gave to something which like so many other things could have been too easily overlooked.

It is also difficult to overstate the impact of the Berlekamp-Welch and Berlekamp-Massey algorithms, from their near-universal impact on QR codes to their implications for pseudorandom number generators, to name just a few. I know Bill Gosper has also mentioned the nearly inexplicable-at-the-time existence of Berlekamp’s polynomial factoring algorithm! The world has lost an incredible person.


Neil Bickford

Tribute Presetnation at MSRI (Source)

– Aron Siegel


Cindy Lawrence kindly shared these pictures of MoMath’s 2015 MOVES conference commendation of Richard Guy, John Conway, and Elwyn Berlekamp.


2 thoughts on “Remembering Elwyn Berlekamp

  1. Carolyn Bickford Reply

    I remember Elwyn Berlekamp charmingly inviting me (and my son) to play Dots and Boxes with him after the talks at the 2013 Celebration of Mind in Stanford. But we both were far too intimidated to play against someone who studied it so much he’s developed theorems around how to win it. Braver kids did take him on, and had fun.

  2. Barry J Forster Reply

    I had the privilege of working very closely with Professor Berlekamp 1979 – 1981 on both the Reed Solomon encoder and the the Reed Solomon decoder for the Hubble Space Telescope as the lead engineer for Fairchild Space. He treated me more like a graduate student than a customer, and was very patient with me making sure I grasped all the math theory in great detail for his “reversible polynomials” concept for the real time bit serial RS encoder breadboard we built together. Without his guidance and confidence in me I would have never been able to successfully incorporate the RS encoding real time into the HST flight science data stream logic design. Dr Berlekamp also gave me a glowing recommendation in a letter later that secured a position with Lockheed for me as their Chief Engineer/Project Manager for the design and development of the Space Telescope Science Data Capture Facility at the Goddard Space Flight Center. I owe Dr Berlekamp a life debt that I could never repay. Rest in peace my mentor and a good friend.

    Barry J Forster

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