He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He studied at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Copenhagen (later to become the Niels Bohr Institute), and Technical University of Denmark. Yale awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1972. He died in his home on Funen, Denmark in 1996.
He is known to a wider public for his thousands of short, aphoristic poems called Grooks and creations like the game of Hex, Tangloids, Morra, Tower, Polytaire, TacTix, and the Soma cube. He advocated the use of the super ellipse curve in city planning, furniture making and other realms.
He was a direct descendant of Piet Hein, the Dutch naval hero of the 16th century.