It is great that the AMS is able to conduct this competition which values and encourages mathematical talent. While sports are usually celebrated, it is wonderful that students interested in mathematics can also be encouraged. I sincerely hope that many more students gain the opportunity to participate in this competition.
Who Wants to Be a Mathematician is a game in which high school students compete for cash and prizes by answering multiple choice mathematics questions. The cash prize in each game is donated by the AMS. Other prize donors are: Maplesoft Inc.--our Technology Sponsor--Art of Problem Solving--our Online Community Sponsor--Texas Instruments, and John Wiley & Sons.
The game is a program of the AMS Public Awareness Office and was developed by Mike Breen (AMS Public Awareness Officer) and Bill Butterworth (DePaul University). Both Mike and Bill have math and game shows in their blood. Bill used his math skills, specifically in probability, as a consultant with The Price Is Right (in the Age of Barker) so that individual on-stage games would have the right amount of victories. Mike was a contestant on Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. The only question/answer Mike got wrong in his Jeopardy! appearance was Final Jeopardy (not optimal), but he did win a trip to Hawaii. In his other game show appearance, Mike actually cut his hand on the wheel. No way to put a good spin on that!
Given their history, it was natural for Bill and Mike to create Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, which they did in 2001 for the Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans. The game has changed a lot over the years but is still designed to reward good math students, and give them a chance to shine in an entertaining and mathematically challenging format.
Mike and Bill interviewing potential co-hosts (cf Vanna White) in the home of cassoulet, Castelnaudary, France.
There are two versions of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician. Both involve high school students answering multiple choice math questions for cash and prizes.
Championship (formerly the national version): In the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Championship, students from schools in nine regions in the U.S., one from nearby the host city for the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM), one from Canada, and one from the United Kingdom compete for a US$10,000 first prize at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in January. The 12 students qualify for the Championship by taking two rounds of tests in the fall, most doing so online courtesy of our technology sponsor Maplesoft. Every school in the U.S. and Canada that participates in qualifying receives a gift certificate from Art of Problem Solving. Those who score 8 and above (out of 10) on the round one test, move on to round two. The top scorers in each of the regions (often determined by tie-breakers) and Canada compete in the semifinals at the JMM (six contestants in each semifinal). (The UK representative is chosen in a live competition among the top-scoring students in round two.) The semifinal winners go on to the finals, also at the JMM. Each cash amount won by the contestants is matched by the AMS and awarded to the math department of his or her school (or for homeschooled students, to their homeschool association). So the first-place winner receives US$5,000 as does his or her math department. The AMS pays for (reasonable) travel, food, and lodging for each contestant and one accompanying adult.
In 2017, Maplesoft and the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) agreed to sponsor a student from Canada in the Championship game, starting with the 2018 game at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego. The University of Southampton is sponsoring UK participation in the Championship game.
Regions for the Championship game (plus the UK):
Regional games occur across the country throughout the school year. So far we've traveled from Boston to Honolulu and many places in between: 31 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Vancouver, British Columbia. There are usually around six regional games held at colleges and universities during the school year at which 6-10 contestants compete for a first prize of up to \$3,000. Winners do not qualify for the Championship game, though. Every school that participates in qualifying receives a gift certificate from Art of Problem Solving. The game offers a good way for math departments to have a half-day (or more) of mathematics for area students. Often someone from the department will speak for 30-40 minutes, then a snack break, then the game. Departments who would like to host Who Wants to Be a Mathematician should contact the AMS Public Awareness Office.