Putnam Competition

Each year, in early December, the Mathematical Association of America sponsors a problem-solving competition for undergraduates known as the William Lowell Putnam Competition.

Over 5000 students from 500 schools across the US and Canada take the Putnam exam, which consists of 12 extremely challenging problems. A single completely correct solution is already a significant achievement, likely to result in a score well above the median. (The participants are self-selected from among the best in the continent.) The cash prizes and fame that the top winners receive are enviable, but the real thrill of taking the Putnam exam, or ofattending the practice sessions, is the pleasure of tackling and solving interesting and unusual problems. The emphasis is on ingenuity: first-year students can do as well as seniors.

Wellesley students have done quite well on the Putnam in recent years. In 2003, Wellesley's Putnam team was ranked 60th in the country and our individual top scorer was awarded an honorable mention. In 2004, Wellesley's Putnam team was ranked 15th in the country!

Practice problem sessions for the Putnam competition will be held throughout the Fall 2010 semester. All are invited to attend the practice sessions. It is a great opportunity to tangle with challenging problems and hone your problem solving skills.

A sample problem: Players 1, 2, 3, ... , n are seated around a table and each has a single penny. Player 1 passes a penny to Player 2, who then passes two pennies to Player 3. Player 3 then passes one penny to Player 4, who passes two pennies to Player 5, and so on, players alternately passing one penny or two to the next player who still has some pennies. A player who runs out of pennies drops out of the game and leaves the table. Find an infinite set of numbers n for which some player ends up with all n pennies.

If you are intersted in participating in the Putnam exam, be on the lookout for an email from the departmental Putnam coordinator, or contact Melanie Chamberlin to ask who is organizing the exam.

Upcoming Events

Monday, Sept 15

The math department's student seminar kicks off for the semester.  Join us at 12:20 in room 362 for food and a mathematics talk by a fellow Wellesley math enthusiast.

Wednesday, Sept 17

This year's Math Games will be held from 4-6 in room 362 of the science center.  No particular mathematics experience is needed; bring your friends and come join the fun!

Monday, Sept 22

The weekly student seminar meets in room 362 at 12:20.  The department will provide lunch, and one of your peers will provide a great talk.  All are welcome to attend!

Tuesday, Sept 30

Dan Rockmore from Dartmouth College will deliver our annual Martha Davenport Heard lecture. The talk starts at 4:15, and afterwards we'll go to the College Club for dinner

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