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Who Wants to Be a Mathematician at the College of Charleston

College of Charleston administration building

Trees on College of Charleston campus

Who Wants to Be a Mathematician traveled to Charleston, South Carolina on February 21 to be part of the College of Charleston's 2009 Math Meet, which drew approximately 800 participants. There were many winners in the Math Meet and the big winner in Who Wants to Be a Mathematician was David Richman of Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC, who won US$3000 from the AMS and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments. The eight contestants are pictured and listed below.


The eight contestants and Mike

Front (left to right):
  • Carlie Dial, Lakewood High School
  • Philip Cross, Dreher High School
  • Sean Soni, AC Flora High School
  • Sage Price, AC Flora High School


Back (left to right):

  • Steven Ren, Ben Lippen High School
  • David Richman, Spring Valley High School
  • Mike Breen, American Mathematical Society Public Awareness Officer, and game emcee
  • Brendan Fletcher, Charlotte Math Club
  • David Zhang, Academic Magnet High School



Game one contestants

Game one was pretty close, with a three-way tie between Philip, Sean, and David for the first part of the game. This became a two-way tie between Philip and David that wasn't resolved until the last question, which David answered correctly but Philip missed. The win guaranteed David $500 and a TI-Nspire graphing calculator, and a spot in the Square-Off Round against the eventual winner of game two. (At left, front row: Philip Cross and Carlie Dial; back row: David Richman and Sean Soni.)




Part of Sage's rooting section


Game two contestants

Brendan Fletcher won an exciting game two, in which 600 points separated the top three contestants. Part of the excitement came from trying to figure out the contestants' scores. The software used in the game tallied the scores correctly but did not assign them to the correct person because of a misspelling in the underlying spreadsheet. Unfortunately, the rearrangement of names was a permutation of order three, not two (but fortunately not four), which made it a little hard to know the true standings in the game. The very intelligent audience and contestants were able to determine the true rankings, however. (Normally this kind of glitch would be discovered in the practice round, but all four contestants had the same score in the practice round, so the mistake was unnoticed: Practice makes overconfident.) One highlight of the game was David Zhang getting help from his twin brother, both of whom did very well in the Math Meet. (Front: Brendan Fletcher and Sage Price; Back: Steven Ren and David Zhang.)

Brendan and David squared off on one question worth another $500 and a trip to the Bonus Round, for a chance at another $2000. They both worked on the question for the same amount of time, but David signaled in just an instant before Brandon could. David's answer was correct and so he earned his way into the Bonus Round.

David in the Bonus Round


Time was not a factor in the Bonus Round. About halfway through the allotted time, David reached for his Rubik's Cube, which, since its faces didn't spell out any of the four choices, was a sure sign that he was done thinking about the problem. In fact, David decided not to use the rest of the time he had, and so the extra time was used to poll the audience. The audience, like David, also chose the correct answer, which was a great way to end that edition of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.

Some of the audience



David Zhang
David Zhang, already with a prize and going to get another




David, Brendan, and Mike

David and Brendan with their graphing calculators, and "checks" which Mike hopes they don't try to cash.

Here are the prizes won by the eight contestants:

  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments, and $3000 from the AMS: David Richman
  • TI-Nspire graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $500 from the AMS: Brendan Fletcher
  • Maple 12 from Maplesoft: Philip Cross and Sage Price
  • Calculus with Early Transcendentals by Anton, Bivens and Davis from John Wiley and Sons: Sean Soni and David Zhang
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences from the AMS: Carlie Dial and Steven Ren

Thanks to the sponsors Texas Instruments, Maplesoft, and John Wiley and Sons, for their continued support of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, and the NSF for its support of this event. Thanks also to Alex Kasman, his wife Laura, and Deanna Caveney, who did much work preparing for Who Wants to Be a Mathematician (and the Math Meet) and who helped out a lot that day. The Meet drew students and teachers from South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia to the beautiful city of Charleston and the college.

Photographs by College of Charleston math professor Brenton LeMesurier, Who Wants to Be a Mathematician judge and co-creator Bill Butterworth (DePaul University Department of Mathematical Sciences), and AMS Public Awareness Officer and Who Wants to Be a Mathematician host Mike Breen.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician.