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2014 Caltech-Harvey Mudd Math Competition

by Benjamin Chen, Diamond Bar High School, Class of 2017

The long-awaited day had finally arrived. Hundreds of competitors from various Californian high schools and organizations flocked to Harvey Mudd College, where the sixth annual Caltech-Harvey Mudd Math Competition was to be held. Teams of six lined up before the check-in table to begin their adventure into this competition. Participants picked up their complimentary CHMMC t-shirts, and walked into the nearby auditorium.

A short introduction to CHMMC was given, followed by a brief talk about the Putnam, a college-level proof-based mathematics examination. The speaker gave the students a sample Putnam problem to mull over, and then it was down to business. Teams were called down to travel to their assigned rooms for the combined team/power round. In this round, teams were allotted 75 minutes to solve two tests, the team and power tests, simultaneously. The team test consisted of 10 short-answer problems of increasing difficulty, while the power round contained 4 multi-part proof-based problems. Team members had to decide how to use their limited time wisely in order to garner the most points: skilled proof-writers worked hard on the power test while perceptive problem solvers bashed through the team test.

Following the team/power round, teams were free to go to lunch, go on a tour of the campus, or attend an information session. Most decided to head directly to Harvey Mudd’s cafeteria, where they enjoyed a complimentary buffet-style lunch. After their hunger had been sated, all contestants went back into the auditorium for the next part of the competition, the individual round. The contestants were given one hour to solve 15 challenging problems that required ingenious thinking and extensive mathematical knowledge. 60 grueling minutes later, tests were handed in as over 300 participants leaned back in their seats and discussed their answers to the difficult test.

Participants listened attentively as a short talk on topology was given by Harvey Mudd’s own faculty. The talk focused on a mathematical shape called the torus, which resembles a donut. The people listening had a great time figuring out different ways to cut the “donut”, and many laughs could be heard when what seemed to be a new cut was shown not to be a cut at all. At the end of the talk, a list of select individuals were called down to participate in the tiebreaker round. These mathematical geniuses had managed to tie each other in the top spots, and more math was needed to break those ties.

As the participants of the tiebreaker round left the auditorium, the rest of the participants began a different round: the mixer round. First, the participants were “mixed” up into teams in an effort to let them make new friends. Then, they were given a set of 13 fun problems that were mostly based on estimation, and the teams with the closest guesses won free food. Meanwhile, the tiebreaker participants sweated it out in another room, racking their brains for a solution to the problem before them. The tiebreaker round had a special format: contestants were given problems one-by-one in decreasing difficulty, with ten minutes per problem. The time that mattered was the first time a contestant solved a problem; for example, if contestant A solved the first problem in 9:59, they would have beaten contestant B who solved the second problem in 00:01. This was quite a stressful round, but after 4 problems, all ties had been broken.

It was time for the awards ceremony. Hundreds of onlookers listened as the CHMMC volunteers thanked their sponsors of the competition. Then, the individual winners were announced. From OCMC, Benjamin Chen won first place, Samuel Reinehr followed with a very close second, and Michelle Chen received seventh place. The OCMC team won second place team overall! It was a glorious day for the OCMC team and many other winners. The participants gradually went home, some with prizes, some determined to win the next year, and some satisfied with the exciting experience they had enjoyed.

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