4
$\begingroup$

This concerns the Stephen Barr who wrote Experiments in Topology in 1964, available from Dover Publications.

All I know about him is:

  • He wrote the above book.

  • He was a friend and possibly colleague of Martin Gardner, who included some of his work in his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American.

  • He also published in Recreational Magic Magazine, and so credited Joseph Madachy in the above book

  • He was apparently taught by Milton Boyd.

  • He may also be the same Stephen Barr who wrote the (apparently mathematical) whodunnit "The N-Plus-1th Degree" in 1968.

Note: he is very probably not the same person as the physicist Stephen Matthew Barr, who was born in 1953 (which would have made him 11 years old when he wrote Experiments in Topology).

Somebody must know something about him.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ I just checked my personal-use bibliography, and pretty much all I have is the following (I've personally examined both the 1964 edition and the 1989 Dover edition): Stephen Barr (??-??), Experiments in Topology, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964, viii + 210 pages. [No preface. The front matter pages are not numbered and I have assigned p. i to the title page. Reprinted by John Murray in 1965 (?? + 168 pages). Reprinted (unabridged and unaltered) by Dover Publications in 1989 (viii + 210 pages). Reviews exist in Mathematics Magazine and Mathematical Gazette.] $\endgroup$ Jul 30 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @DaveLRenfro Yes, that's about as much as I've got. How bizarre that so little about him can be found, anywhere. $\endgroup$ Jul 30 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @njuffa My father had a colossal quantity of SF magazines which I (metaphorically) devoured in my childhood, and I'm distinctly positive that I read Callahan and the Wheelies. It's a name that sticks in my memory. No idea what it was about though. And I am pretty sure Barr's Belt is named for the same man. I remember reading that in its original Mathematical Games column. Yes, my father also had a practically complete set of Scientific American from 1958 through to the early 1970s. I read those cover to cover as well. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @njuffa That grave marker has been misreported on that website, if you look at the picture it's actually 1904 - 1989. $\endgroup$ Jul 31 at 10:53

2 Answers 2

7
$\begingroup$

The cross references to other titles by the same author in Stephen Barr's books quickly revealed that he is also the author of the following:

Stephen Barr, A Miscellany of Puzzles: Mathematical and Otherwise, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell 1965. Republished as Intriguing Puzzles in Math and Logic, Dover 1994.

Stephen Barr, Second Miscellany of Puzzles: Mathematical and Otherwise, New York: Macmillan 1969. Republished as Mathematical Brain Benders, Dover 1982.

Stephen Barr, Puzzlequiz: Wit Twisters, Brain Teasers, Riddles, Puzzles, and Tough Questions, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell 1978. Republished under the same title by Harper & Row 1990.

The most important clue provided in the question was Barr's friendship with Martin Gardner. Gardner makes an appearance in blurbs for Barr's books, while Barr is mentioned multiple times in Gardner's publications, with indications that besides having an interest in topology as an amateur mathematician he was also an avid creator of puzzles. Two examples:

Martin Gardner, New Mathematical Diversions: Revised Edition, Mathematical Association of America 1995, p. 37:

  1. Barr's Belt
    Stephen Barr of Woodstock, New York, says that his dressing gown has a long cloth belt, the ends of which are cut at 45-degree angles [...]

Martin Gardner, Martin Gardner’s 6th Book of Mathematical Diversions from Scientific American., American Mathematical Society 2020, pg. 13:

Now, it is true that at the time he wrote this apparently no one had tried to make a paper Klein bottle, but that was before Stephen Barr, a science-fiction writer and amateur mathematician of Woodstock, New York, turned his attention to the problem.

Given that Barr is identified as a science-fiction writer living in Woodstock, NY (a small town of some five-thousand inhabitants), one quickly finds various SF short stories by him, mostly published in Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which I gather were premier American outlets for this genre in the relevant time frame.

Barr's science fiction writings range from the 1950s to the 1970s, for example: "I Am a Nucleus" (1957), "Callahan and the Wheelies" (1960), "A Sense of the Future" (1972). A comprehensive list can be found at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. The Atlantic published two articles by Barr, in 1955 and 1961, and identified him as a

[...] free-lance writer who lives in Woodstock, New York.

Find a Grave is a good resource for finding information about dead people, and given the dates of Barr's publications, I considered it very likely that he was no longer alive, and looked there for someone of that name buried in Woodstock, NY. Sure enough, they have a picture of a relevant grave marker in Woodstock Cemetery, which shows that Stephen Barr was born in 1904 and died in 1989.

With all the preceding information in hand, I was finally able to track down a brief biography of Barr which confirmed the biographical data already found and adds new details:

Otto Penzler (ed.), The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries, Knopf Doubleday 2014, pg. 584:

Barr was born to American parents in England and grew up there before moving to the United States, possibly around 1930. He worked as a commercial artist and architectural draftsman before turning to writing full time in 1955.

From the fanzine Yandro, Vol. 15, No. 8, September 1967:

Remember that fuss about Stephen Barr allegedly plagiarizing stories for fanzine submission? Well, he had an entry in CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS and besides such things as his birth in England (in 1904) and present home in Woodstock, N.Y., we learn that he was long a commercial artist and architectural draftsman, turning free lance writer in 1955. He also contributed stories and articles to Vogue, Mademoiselle, Atlantic, Harpers, Playboy and similar such crudzines.

Google provides only a snippet view of Contemporary Authors, Vol. 1, Gale Research Company 1975, p. 39:

BARR, Stephen 1904 PERSONAL: Born 1904, in England, son of U.S. nationals; married Anna Keiley. Education: Attended schools in England. Residence: Woodstock, N.Y. CAREER: Commercial [...]

A 1940 civil list for the City of New York shows Anna Keiley Barr working as a social investigator at District Office 25 (212 E. 125th St. Manhattan) of the Department of Welfare, with a start date of Jan. 1, 1938.

UK records show that the birth of a Stephen Barr was registered in Oct.-Dec. 1904 in Uxbridge in Middlesex. This is a suburb of London. What is publicly available is a summary page; I have not found a way to access the actual birth record.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ (+1) for the slam dunk analysis! Now I can replace (??−??) with (1904−1989) in my own bibliographical stuff. $\endgroup$ Aug 1 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ I got a copy of the Wenzler collection (arrived today) and it confirmed 1904-1989, as well as the fact that as a writer he was actually pretty prolific. If only we can get the specific dates ... $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @PrimeMover When I searched the UK records, there was only one Stephen Barr born in 1904, the one in Uxbridge, although that could be an artifact of the potentially incomplete volunteer-driven data gathering process of the site I used. Since UK birth / marriage / death records are public, one should be able to find the actual birth record with the exact birth date and presumably some information about the parents. Outside of paid genealogical websites that may already have collected that information, I would not know how to get at that information. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Aug 4 at 19:30
4
$\begingroup$

I found some (very little) information in a preface (by Yaglom) to a Russian translation of some of Barr's books:

Предлагаемый читателю сборник головоломок составлен американским писателем и любителем математики Стивеном Барром. В США он вышел в свет в виде трех отдельных книг, имевших значительный читательский успех,— возможно, даже больший, чем успех чисто беллетристических произведений Барра. К математике Барр обратился довольно поздно, заинтересовавшись задачами моделирования сложных поверхностей, обсуждаемыми в последней части настоящей книги. Его интерес стимулировали внимание и поддержка такого корифея занимательной математики, как хорошо известный нашим читателям Мартин Гарднер.

A rough translation:

The collection of puzzles offered to the reader was compiled by the American writer and mathematician Stephen Barr. In the USA it was published as three separate books that had a significant success, perhaps even greater success than Barr's pure fiction. Barr turned to mathematics rather late as he got interested in problems of modeling of complex surfaces, which problems are discussed in the last part of this book. His interest was stimulated by the attention and support of such a leading figure of entertaining mathematics as Martin Gardner, who is well-known to our readers.

EDIT (7/31/2022): Sorry for the (grave) error in the translation: it is actually "writer and amateur mathematician", not "writer and mathematician".

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.