Math students puzzle out problems in annual contest.

Indirect proofs, googolplexes, and nonnegative integers were the focus on Saturday, February 11, as college math students from across Ohio gathered at Kenyon to challenge themselves and each other in a friendly annual competition. The stakes weren't high, but the level of enthusiasm was. Relying on sheer brainpower and armed with only paper and pencil, teams of up to three students tackled problems devised by an outside mathematician.

Juniors Matt Zaremsky, Lee Kennard, and Ed Ceaser have been on a team together since they came to Kenyon. "This is my third year participating in the contest," Kennard explained. "I'm in it for the fun. Contest problems are unlike problems you work on for class. They are usually tricky and always have
neat solutions."

The day started at 9:00 a.m., when participants gathered in Hayes Hall for coffee and doughnuts. At 10:00 a.m., teams fanned out to classrooms across the science quad and spent the next two hours trying to crack the brainteasers. After turning in their solutions at noon, all of the teams met for lunch in Lower Dempsey--still talking about the exam. "We continue working on the test long after the time is up," Kennard said. "We talk over the problems we solved and those we couldn't."

Since the number of math majors at Kenyon is increasing, there were four or five teams from Kenyon alone, said Associate Professor of Mathematics Judy Holdener, who organized this year's contest. Typically, the exam has about ten questions. At least half are designed to be accessible to underclassmen, and the questions are more logic-oriented than sheer number-crunching. "As long as the students have fun playing with the questions, I think it's a success," Holdener said. "It's more about tackling challenging questions than winning."

There's no trophy, but the winning team splits the $75 prize. "Last year, it was only $50," Holdener recalled. "And the students immediately knew it wasn't evenly divisible by three."