Stepping into John H. Conway's office at Princeton University is like stepping into a mathematician's playpen. Dozens of polyhedra made of colored cardboard hang from the ceiling like mirror balls at a discotheque. Dangling among them is a Klein bottle constructed from chicken wire. Several models of crystal lattices sit beside the window, and a pyramid of tennis balls rises from the floor. At the center of it all is Conway himself, leaning back in his chair, his face obscured by oversize glasses and a bushy, gray beard. The eclectic 61-year-old mathematician is clearly in his element.
"What's your date of birth?" he asks me soon after we shake hands.