Each year Denison math majors take on the best and brightest in a contest that tests their math skills, outside-the-box thinking, and ability to work well under pressure. The Four-College Math Contest pits Denison students against their peers at Kenyon, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wittenberg, for bragging rights, and for the experience of working creatively under pressure with very few resources.

This year, our math majors cleaned up, taking first, second, and fifth places, out of an 11-team field. The first-place team of Yuhan Fu ‘24, Niranjan Reji ‘25, and Lewis Nguyen ‘26 took the win with an impressive 93 points. And Denison’s team of Linh Luu ‘24, Linh ‘24, and Gia-Huy Do ‘26 grabbed second place with a score of 76, which could have been high enough to take first place in other years. The team of Fabri ‘24, Charlotte Nguyen ‘26, and Minh Truong ‘25 did well too - finishing fifth with a score of 59.

“This is a really hard test,” says Math Professor Matt Neal. “Students are not allowed calculators or computers. In fact, often the winner’s score in the 70s — 93 is about the highest I’ve ever seen,” Neal adds. “These students are much quicker than me.”

Students are given ten problems and two hours to solve them. Their only tools are chalk and a board to work on. The problems encompass many forms of math: Number theory, geometry, algebra, calculus, and more.

“A lot of these problems require creativity. You have to have the vision to solve them, and understand how to solve problems independently without a clear procedure, ” says Neal.

The contest is great preparation for post-graduate life as well. It’s a primer for grad school where students will have to do original research in math and use their imagination. In fact, many of the problems are similar to those on the GRE test for mathematics graduate schools. And it underscores the kinds of skills in teamwork, creative problem-solving, and working under pressure that many employers are looking for.

Denison students practice these skills regularly. In their twice-monthly Pizza and Puzzles sessions, they hang out together and solve math problems — just for fun.

March 31, 2023