A trio from MIT topped the field of 430 three-person teams that participated in the 74th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Winning this most prestigious of collegiate mathematics contests for the seventh time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology receives—besides bragging rights—a $25,000 prize, plus awards of $1,000 for each of its team members (Benjamin P. Gunby, Mitchell M. Lee, and Zipei Nie).
Coming from 557 colleges and universities in Canada and the United States, 4,113 undergraduates took the MAA-administered Putnam on December 7, 2013. Competitors sat for two three-hour sessions, during which they matched wits with two sets of six questions assembled by Djordje Milićević (Bryn Mawr College), Hugh Montgomery (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), and David Savitt (University of Arizona).
The Carnegie Mellon University team of Michael Druggan, Linus U. Hamilton, and Thomas E. Swayze won second, and Stanford University’s Vishal Arul, Ravi Fernando, and Sam G. Keller together took third place.
Rounding out the top five were the teams from Harvard (Octav I. Dragoi, Evan M. O’Dorney, and Allen Yuan) and the California Institute of Technology (Xiangyi Huang, Zhaorong Jin, and Tian Nie).
The 2013 Putnam fellows—the five highest-ranking individuals, each of whom receives a $2,500 prize—are (listed alphabetically) Mitchell M. Lee, Zipei Nie, Evan M. O’Dorney, Bobby C. Shen, and David H. Yang. Four of the five fellows—all but O’Dorney (Harvard)—attend MIT, while all but Nie were winners of the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) as high school students.
In fact, as MAA Director of Competitions Steve Dunbar noted, among the top 25 scorers on the 2013 Putnam, 15 had either won the USAMO or participated in the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program.
The Elizabeth Lowell Putnam Prize, awarded periodically to a woman whose performance on the Competition has been deemed particularly meritorious, went to Yale University’s Xiao Wu.
None of the contestants solved this year’s 12th question, and the 10th stood out to at least some competitors for its aura of realism. MIT freshman Victor Y. Wang, who placed in the top 25, told The Tech that the 10th question seemed like “something one would encounter in the ‘mathematical wild,’ rather than just a problem contrived for the purposes of a contest.”
Interested readers can find all of the most recent crop of Putnam problems in the February 2014 Mathematics Magazine (pdf) and look forward to complete competition coverage in the October 2014 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly.