For the first time since 1994 a US team prevailed at the International Mathematical Olympiad.
The Olympiad is a yearly competition for high school students that challenge the math skills of teens from around the world with highly difficult math problems. This year’s event included students from over 100 countries.
The head coach of the US team is math professor Po-Shen Loh of Carnegie Mellon University. Loh described the problems as helping to “bridge the gap between the kinds of problems most kids see on their high school math homework and real math research.”
The competition takes place over two days. On each day the students spend about 4.5 hours solving two sets of three problems. The problems are in no way formulaic. The students are forced to think creatively, to come up with “out-of-the-box” solutions to straightforward, but complex problems.
As an example, one of this year’s problems asked the teams to find all the sets of three whole numbers such that multiplying together any tow of the numbers and subtracting the third number gives you a power of two. The solution cannot be found using any formula; rather it is like solving a puzzle or brain teaser.
Finding the answer requires looking at problems from different perspectives and using creative solutions. That is what the competition is all about.