The Puzzle Project

Online puzzle contest tests the problem-solving skills of prospective students. Assistant Professor Sarah Wolff demonstrates puzzle contest.

The Denison Department of Mathematics and Computer Science has created a series of online math and computer science puzzles to share with prospective high school students and anyone who’s interested in math and computer science. May Mei, assistant professor of mathematics, participated in a Q & A about the program.

Q. How does the contest work?

A. Our faculty take turns coming up with ideas for the puzzles, and both the puzzle and the answer are videotaped. At the beginning of the semester, we email interested students an invitation to participate in the puzzle and they register in teams of up to three. For the duration of the puzzle contest, we release a new puzzle every Monday and give them until Sunday of that week to answer via email. We enter all the correct solutions into a raffle. At the end of the week, we randomly select two teams to receive t-shirts and send out the video answer. Then we start again with a new puzzle. At the end of the contest, we award cash prizes to the teams that have correctly solved all puzzles.

Q. What kind of prizes are there?

A. The Office of Admission supplies us with Denison swag and we have a cash prize as well. The prize is generously drawn from the Doris Gordon Fund, a fund donated by two sibling alumni, Jim Gordon ’50 and Janet Gordon ’55, in honor of their mother, Doris Gordon, who dedicated her life to teaching high school math. The fund is additionally used to put on lecture series for the department.

Q. How do you know if the puzzles are an appropriate level for high school students?

A. The puzzles are not necessarily content that a high schooler may or may not have learned, but rather they are problems you just have to think about. The problems emphasize reasoning, problem-solving, and basic computational skills that allow for multiple pathways to the given solution. No formulas or numbers are needed to solve the problems, but they do take some serious thinking.

Mathematics and computer science are about creating tools to solve cool problems - that is what I’m hoping the contests will convey.

Q. How did you conceive of this idea?

A. We want to show prospective students the type of awesome, energetic teachers they will get to work with here at Denison. The puzzle contest is a way to do that and to have some fun along the way.

December 1, 2015