The 2020 Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Championship

Luke Robitaille, a sophomore at Robitaille Homeschool and the 2019 champion, won \$10,000 and a TI-Nspire CX in the 2020 Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Championship at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Denver on Jan. 18. Luke went up against Austen Mazenko in the finals that day after competing in the semifinals with 11 other contestants from the US, UK, and Canada (seven in the first semi, six in the second). Austen's runner-up finish earned him \$6,000 and a TI-Nspire CX.

Here's Luke just after his victory.

Below are a slideshow of photos from the games; a description of the semifinals and finals; video of all the games; and videos from the awards luncheon hosted by Francis Su (Harvey Mudd College) and attended by AMS President Jill Pipher, Amanda Folsom (Amherst College), Bjorn Poonen (MIT), sponsors, contestants and parents.

Front, left to right: Alex Chung (Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, VA), Andrew Lee (Algonquin Regional High School, MA), Chinmay Krishna (Blue Valley Southwest High School, KS), Benjamin Chen (Adlai E. Stevenson High School, IL), and Timothy Qian (Montgomery Blair High School, MD)
Back (l to r): Jae Young Beck, (American Heritage Plantation, FL), Andrew Cai (Clements High School, TX), Austen Mazenko (Cherry Creek High School, CO), Luke Robitaille (Robitaille Homeschool, TX), Jonathan Qin (Lynbrook High School, CA), Kishore Rajesh (BASIS Scottsdale, AZ), Thomas Frith (Horsford School, UK, and Abbey Park High School, Canada), and Eric Shen (University of Toronto Schools, Canada)

Find out more about the contestants.

Game one contestantsAt the halfway point of the first semifinal, Jae, Ben, Andrew, and Luke were tied for first (all had answered the first four questions correctly). The four-way tie continued after question five, but then Luke and Andrew Lee pulled ahead by continuing their correct-answer streak on questions six and seven. So it all came down to the last question, which Luke answered correctly, but Andrew didn't, which earned Luke \$2,000 from the AMS, a TI-Nspire from Texas Instruments, and a spot in the finals. Timothy finished in second place, Andrew was third, and Alex was fourth.



Game two contestantsAll six contestants in this game answered the first three questions correctly, but Andrew Cai, Thomas, and Chinmay were the only three contestants to get question four right, so they were tied for first place at the halfway point of the second semifinal. That tie continued through question five, but Thomas moved ahead of Andrew and Chinmay by getting number six correct. Austen also answered that question correctly and when he got question seven right, he moved into first place and stayed there after the last question, which all six contestants answered correctly. Three hundred points separated the top four contestants in this semifinal, as Andrew and Chinmay tied for second, 200 points behind Austen, and Thomas finished in fourth, 100 points behind them. So Austen got a place in the finals, along with the same cash prize and TI graphing calculator that Luke won in the first game.




Austen didn't get much of a chance to rest, though, as he was also a winner in the 2020 AMS Math Poetry Contest. He recited his poem, as did the other winners, between the second semifinal and the finals.

In the semifinals, any number of contestants can earn points by answering correctly. In the finals, however, only the first person to answer correctly gets points. Luke was first to answer six of the eight questions correctly, which made him the 2020 champion. So he won the \$10,000 first prize (total) and Austen won \$6,000 as the runner-up.


The cash and prizes won by all the contestants are listed below.

Video of the webcast:

The second semifinal starts at about 39:00, the poetry readings at about 1:07:00, and the finals at about 1:12:00. A video playlist, one video for each question, is below the webcast video.


Playlist of questions from the semifinals and finals:


Videos from the awards luncheon:

Incoming AMS Vice President Francis Su welcomes everyone to the luncheon:


AMS President Jill Pipher on the many aspects of mathematics:


Art of Problem Solving's Dave Patrick explains the importance of connecting:


Paulina Chin, Maplesoft, on her company's support of the game:



For each cash prize, a matching amount goes to the student's math department, or, if the student is homeschooled, to a homeschool association or math circle of his or her choice.

  • TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $5,000 from the AMSLuke Robitaille, Robitaille Homeschool
  • TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator from Texas Instruments and $3,000 from the AMSAusten Mazenko, Cherry Creek High School
  • Maple 2019 from Maplesoft, and $1,000 from the AMS: Timothy Qian, Montgomery Blair High School, Andrew Cai, Clements High School, and Chinmay Krishna, Blue Valley Southwest High School
  • Calculus with Early Transcendentals, by Anton, Bivens, and Davis, from John Wiley and Sons, and $500 from the AMS: Andrew Lee, Algonquin Regional High School, and Thomas Frith, Horsford School, UK, and Abbey Park High School, Canada
  • AHA! Solutions by Martin Erickson and $500, both from the AMSAlex Chung, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and Jonathan Qin, Lynbrook High School
  • Exercises in (Mathematical) Style: Stories of Binomial Coefficients by John McCleary and $500, both from the AMSEric Shen, University of Toronto Schools, and Kishore Rajesh, BASIS Scottsdale
  • What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 11 by Dana Mackenzie and $500, both from the AMSJae Young Beck, American Heritage Plantation, and Benjamin Chen, Adlai E. Stevenson High School

Note: Jae and Ben tied in the first semifinal. Andrew Cai and Chinmay tied in the second. Thanks to Maplesoft for awarding both contestants their Maple 2019 software.

Math departments get their cash prizes:

The Algonquin Regional HS Math Dept gets its check
Algonquin Regional High School: Beth Dore, the Math Department Chair, Andrew Lee, and Brian Calnan. The department plans to buy new graphing calculators with its prize.


Thank You

Our sponsors: DigitalEd, the Who Wants to Be a Mathematician Technology Sponsor; Art of Problem Solving, the Online Community Sponsor; Maplesoft, the Good Thinking Society, Wolfram Research,the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical SciencesTexas Instruments, and John Wiley and Sons

The championship judges: Sarah Greenwald, Appalachian State University, and Susan Wildstrom, Walt Whitman High School.

Bill Butterworth (Who Wants to Be a Mathematician co-creator, judge, and tech guru), DePaul University.

AMS staffers: Annette Emerson, Samantha Faria, Laura Bynum, Louise Jakobson, Don Luther, and Pam Morin for helping that day.

Find out more about Who Wants to Be a Mathematician and how to qualify for the championship.

Videos by Samantha Faria, AMS Public Awareness Office, and PSAV. Text by Mike Breen, AMS Public Awareness Office.