Remembering Raymond Smullyan

It is with great sadness that Gathering 4 Gardner notes the loss of the renowned logician, mathemagician, philosopher, chess challenge composer, puzzle master, author, and musician, our friend, Raymond Smullyan, who died Monday, February 6th, at the age of 97. Raymond has been an important member of the G4G family for many years and his death is a significant loss to our community. He will be deeply missed.



Smullyan at G4G

Raymond attended many Gatherings with his wife, Blanche de Grab, where he could often be found playing Bach on the Ritz-Carlton piano. His infectious charm, humor and curiosity were always a delight to behold. At the age of 93, he captivated a G4G evening audience with some standup comedy delivered with his usual casual brilliance.

“Is ‘No’ the correct answer to this question?”

More G4G11 videos of Raymond:



Smullyan the Author

Raymond was a multifaceted man who wrote important books well into his 90s, and he also helped with Jason Rosenhouse’s book, Four Lives: A Celebration of Raymond Smullyan.

Below Rosenhouse talks at G4G11 about Smullyan and discusses a number of his books:



Smullyan and Gardner

Martin Gardner and Raymond were old pals with great respect and admiration for one another. Martin once described Smullyan’s book, What is the Name of This Book? (1978), as “The most original, most profound and most humorous collection of recreational logic and mathematics problems ever written.”

And Raymond said of Martin: “His writings certainly meant a great deal to me! They have inspired the creation of many of my own logic puzzles. I was also greatly influenced by some of his religious writings–particularly by The Flight of Peter Fromm.” 



Smullyan Featured Online

Raymond Smullyan Appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (1982)

How to Solve the Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever (2015)
Read how in 1957 Raymond used logic in an ingenious way to elicit a kiss from his future wife.

Many wonderful tributes to Raymond have published since his death, including:


G4G Community Tribute

In his honor, Gathering 4 Gardner has gathered thoughts and memories to save for posterity and to share with the community at large. We hope you enjoy these memories:

Raymond Smullyan was (and will always be, thanks to his brilliant and engaging writing) a unique cultural treasure. I had the good fortune to speak to Professor Smullyan several times recently and always found him full of enthusiasm, insight, and endless good humor. He seemed to find both lightness and depth in anything. Pure genius. 


– Gary Antonick

Overleaf is a copy of a page where I refer to what (in my mind) is one of Ray Smullyan’s greatest masterpieces. One can still go to: [URL updated] to read it, and I believe that page still has many hits. 


– Don Knuth

Don Knut Smullyan Letter

Don Knut Smullyan Letter2

I only met him once, he came to my old university (Slippery Rock University of PA) to give a talk. He was, of course, gracious and charming. What I remember most was how the talk came about. A colleague of mine was doing a lot of “Knights and Knaves” in his classes. He and another professor got into a discussion of whether or not Raymond was still alive. This was in the pre-internet days. To determine the answer they called information and received his phone number. When the call was answered they asked and Raymond was nice enough to confirm he was still with us. The phone discussion lasted over half an hour and ended with him being invited to come give us a talk. It was a packed lecture hall and the dinner afterwards was enjoyed by all. 


– Robert Vallin

My name is David Rosdeitcher, better known as the Zipcodeman who has performed at G4G in ’06 and ’12. I had been a fan of Raymond Smullyan’s books since the 90’s, books like the “Tao is Silent” and “Lady or the Tiger”. before attending G4G I had never met Raymond or knew what he looked like. As I was performing my show on stage at G4G, I picked a tall elderly man with long hair to give me his zip code. I asked him his name, and he said “Raymond Smullyan”….and that’s how I got to actually meet him. I hung out with him that night and it was the highlight of my G4G experience. One memorable moment was him telling a beautiful young woman he met in the area we were chatting, “I bet I can kiss you without touching you.” And she said, “ok”. And Raymond kissed her on the cheek and said, “I lose!”. I’m sad to hear of him passing as he represents so much, wonder and possibility. 


– David Rosdeitcher

Jeremiah Farrell Letter about Smullyan

Click to view Farrell’s G4G13 paper dedicated to Smullyan

Because of an excerpt in Martin Gardner’s column I bought Raymond’s puzzle book, “What Is the Name of This Book” when it first came out in the late 70s. I became an instant fan. A few years later I was performing my standup magic show at Bear’s Place, a bar in Bloomington, Indiana. I look down and there in the front row is a fellow who looks just like Raymond Smullyan. I was so excited that this guy, who looked exactly like his book dustjacket photo, was laughing and clapping like a six year old through my whole show. As soon as the show was over I rushed over to this man to see if he was, in fact, Raymond Smullyan. “Excuse me sir,” says I, “are you by any chance Raymond Smullyan?” “Yes, I am,” says he. “And this is my wife.” “It is a pleasure to meet you. I am such a big fan of your books,” I tell him. “Oh, thank you,” he says and turns back to his wife. I stand there awkwardly. His wife looks at me. Raymond looks at me. I know he liked the show because he was going crazy with delight the entire time, and I am desperate for some connection with this person I love from his writing, so I really don’t want to just walk away. Everyone is uncomfortable. Finally Raymond realizes that I’m not gonna leave until he talks to me at least a little more. He tries making small talk. He asks me, “So, did you enjoy the show? Wasn’t the magician wonderful?” His wife looks thunderstruck. “Raymond! It’s him!” she screams. He is suddenly a different person. “OH!! Sit down. Sit down! Join us!” 


– Mac King

Although I had read his books for many years, perhaps my most indelible memory of Prof. Smullyan was not anything to do with his love of logic and puzzles. It was his advice(s) (both critical and complimentary) to me about playing Bach preludes on the piano in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the G4 gatherings. 


– Anonymous

I discovered Raymond Smullyan’s books as a young teen and was so enamored by them that I looked up Prof. Smullyan’s number and called him at home. He took more than an hour out of his day to talk with me – just some kid who had called him out of the blue – about chess puzzles, and logical paradoxes, and corny jokes. It was wonderful and so encouraging to the nerdy kid that I was. When I finally met him 30 years later, at G4G, he was just the same. Kind. Funny. Brilliant. Amazing. 


– Joe Kisenwether

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Raymond. We had been close. I first heard of him in 1979, and credited him for saving my life even though we had not yet met. I was seriously ill in hospital. Someone gave me a copy of Raymond’s “The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes”. I made up my mind that I must solve all the puzzles before I died, and the book helped me come through. I actually found a subtle error which Raymond corrected in the second edition. He then sent me his manuscript of “The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights” for proof-reading. I am sure that our first meeting was in fact at the G4G. Paradoxically, the Gathering is not a place for intimate conversations. There are just too many people and too many activities. The afternoon at Tom Rodgers house was the best opportunity. There are many stories people can tell about Raymond. My only one related to the Gathering was more a story about Richard Guy. I was walking with Raymond up the hill to Tom’s house. Richard came by and said to me, “Shame on you, Andy, leaning on Raymond for support. Let me help you.” He yanked me abruptly away, and Raymond was about to topple. Fortunately, my student David Rhee was with us, and he caught Raymond just in time. I attach two G4G photos of Raymond and Blanche.




You probably recognize the meeting room in the basement of the Ritz Carlton. The other six photos were taken in I believe Raymond’s only trip to Alberta. I invited him as a Distinguished Visit to the University of Alberta. In a “town and gown” program, he gave a talk at the Department of Computing Science (two photos), one at the Department of Philosophy and one at the Edmonton Public School Board.



Murray and Irene Klamkin hosted a dinner for the Smullyans (two photos).



During the weekend, I took them on a quick tour of the Canadian Rockies (two photos).



Raymond was very keen on stereographic photography and really indulged himself in the scenic panorama.


– Andy Liu

I wrote three posts on my blog about Raymond Smullyan:  – BTW, he replied to this post.


– Tanya Khovanova


Our whole family is very sad to hear of the passing of Louis’ first mentor and a truly entertaining and kind friend, Raymond Smullyan, at the age of 97. He was well-known for his books on math, logic, puzzles, and philosophy, but he was also a skilled pianist, magician, and all-around nice person. I admit, I wasn’t fond of his driving skills by the time we met him around the age of 88. He insisted on driving us to dinner one time when I visited without Brian.





We really enjoyed knowing him. Louis, a huge fan of his books, first wrote to him when he was 11. We had contacted an old colleague of his and he said “just mail it to Raymond Smullyan, Elka Park, NY”, it will get to him! Raymond called and invited us to come and visit. We did. They became fast friends. Louis, Raymond and I traveled together to G4G in 2008 (I thought Louis a bit young to go on his own with Raymond) and we visited Raymond several times over the years. Raymond was a wonderful mentor who treated Louis as an equal, even at the age of 11. Once, Raymond gave Louis a copy of his latest book; Louis immediately found an error in a logic formula. Raymond agreed, it was wrong. The editors had missed it. He marked it to be fixed for future copies. They had an amazing friendship. Ross, who was 9 when we met Raymond, also found Raymond’s constant jokes (often the same ones, again and again) to be a source of amusement. I’m sure his love of Raymond helped him decide to take his first logic class (at Rutgers) when he was 10. Both kids continued with math majors and philosophy minors. Raymond definitely had some influence there, if only to confirm shared passion in those areas. We all loved him. My deepest condolences to all who mourn. May his memory be a blessing.

Sincerely, Michelle (Brian, Louis and Ross) Brown

By the way, Louis and I returned to G4G in 2016 during his senior year of college. He was 19 this time. A bit different than his first experience, though he loved it both times!


– Michelle (Brian, Louis and Ross) Brown

Raymond Smullyan was the real star at the G4G gatherings and everyone was a great fan of his. I remember one Friday night he joined me and a few other orthodox Jews at a traditional Friday evening supper we held at the Gathering itself and we discussed theology and philosophy. Although he said that he did not believe in God “for lack of evidence”, he was so kind and thoughtful, very interested in our views and not at all condescending. He was particularly interested in the philosophy of Maimonides and we held a very long discussion about his views on God. His recreational math and logic books have been a real inspiration to me, and I am glad that we have been able to introduce some of his riddles to kids, to encourage them to learn math in some of our programs. I will really and truly miss him.


 – Yossi Elran

Typical Raymond Smullyan Autograph

I knew of Professor Smullyan from his prolific writing on logic, recreational mathematics, & paradoxes, popularized through Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games column. It was a pleasure to meet him at G4G8 in 2008 – the first Gathering that Jordan & I attended.

I was really thrilled by the surreal surprise of Jordan hanging out with Raymond, performing tricks, solving puzzles, & telling jokes. Jordan graduated from Indiana University in 2010 with a B.A. Degree, majoring in Magic. Ray had taught formal logic & paradoxes at IU. They had more in common than I ever anticipated.

I was also intrigued to learn that Ray’s Doctoral advisor was Alonzo Church, who was an important influence on John McCarthy, the author of the LISP programming language. I learned LISP from John at Stanford.

The most enduring memory of Ray – beyond his wild-haired Gandalf appearance & personal Martin Gardner anecdotes – was his extraordinary piano virtuosity. He loved to relax at one of the grand pianos off the Ritz lobby, and perform a vibrant rendition of very beautiful compositions, perfectly. His training as a classical pianist was palpable.

He played long passages of difficult pieces masterfully, in a complete trance; eyes almost shut, becoming an integral part of the instrument itself. It was mesmerizing. Every single person walking through the lobby just stopped to listen – riveted in place by the glorious waves of music.

Here are four characteristic photos already in the public domain, that can be posted to G4G’s website:





G4G8 (2008) – Ray watches intently as Jordan performs close-up magic for the dinner guests.

G4G10 (2012) – Ray enchants the G4G crowd with his dazzling piano magic. Ray gets a frisson of pleasure from a pyramid puzzle, as Jordan explains to him why six of the seven Dwarfs are not Happy.

G4G11 (2014) – Although he could not attend G4G11, we enjoyed Ray’s company (& the contradiction) anyway, since he was with us in spirit at the Atlanta Grill post-event dinner, by manifesting his own private label of excellent Napa Valley wine. The Ray–Cabernet Filet was OK exquisite!

We were delighted to enjoy Ray’s company at G4G for a few sparkling moments, far away from Far Rockaway.

R.I.P., Professor. You were a brilliant, unique character who left a formidable impact on your many fans, including our group. 


– Lew Goldklang

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 + three =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.