ET NEWS: Online Math Jam

Science  15 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5486, pp. 1835c

Sharpen your pencils, set your alarm clocks, and clean your mouses! On 17 October at midnight Universal Time, math mavens will kick off the first international 1-day Internet mathematics competition. The five people or teams that score the most points within 24 hours in Maths Quiz 2000* will win a new Sun workstation.

The free contest was conceived by Manuel Castellet, director of the Centre de Recerca Matemática in Barcelona, Spain, to help celebrate 2000 as World Mathematical Year. Five mathematicians have come up with questions that will challenge even experts but are suitable for computer grading. “It is not a trivial challenge!” says team leader Jaume Aguadé of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Sample stumpers on the MQ2000 site cover both math (What is the maximum number of orthogonal vector fields on the 139,263-dimensional sphere?) and related lore. One question, for instance, notes that a well-known mathematician climbed Switzerland's Bietschhorn in August 1947 and asks, “In what year did he read his doctoral thesis?”

Participants must answer four questions in a row on a Bingo-style card to proceed to the next, higher scoring card. The value of each correct answer is determined by the famed Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, …, in which each number is the sum of the previous two. Says Aguadé, “The intention is to have fun.”

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