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MIT Places 4th in Putnam

By Eva Moy
Editor in chief

MIT placed fourth in the nation in the 54th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition administered early last December. In addition, many individuals performed very well. The results were announced in early March.

Teams from Duke University, Harvard University, and Miami University placed first through third. Overall, 2,356 students from 402 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada participated in this annual contest.

Harvard, which usually places first, was bested by Duke this year. MIT hasn't won the competition since 1978, according to team adviser Professor of Mathematics Hartley Rogers Jr.

While a total of 60 MIT students took the exam, three were chosen beforehand to represent MIT. The winning team consisted of Henry L. Cohn '95, Alexandru Ionescu '95, and Andrew Przeworski '94. MIT received $2,000 for the fourth place finish, and each team member won $200.

Cohn said he was surprised by MIT's strong showing. "MIT doesn't tend to do that well. ... We really didn't expect to place in the top five," he said.

In addition, two other students finished among the highest individual contestants -- Adam W. Meyerson '97 and Thomas A. Weston '96. Four others received an honorary mention rating -- Cohn, Ilya Entin '95, David A. Friedman '97, and Ionescu.

"The exam was unusually hard this year, and I thought our team did very well," Rogers said. "I'm actually very pleased about that."

The Putnam is divided into two three-hour exams, with six questions on each part. Full credit on a question earns 10 points, with a total of 120 points possible. While the top individuals usually score around 90 or 100, the median score is about three, Rogers said. This year, the highest score was in the 80s, he said.

The team score is determined by adding the ranks of each of the three team members, and the team with the highest score wins.

Meyerson said, "I was kind of surprised at the range of problems. ... There were a couple of problems that seemed really easy."

Cohn said that most of the problems do not require a large background in math, but Rogers added that "they involve some careful proofs."

"I think that the MIT performance has been improving in the past two years," Rogers said. He added that the special seminar he and Professor of Mathematics Richard P. Stanley teach has helped individuals' performance.

"Anybody can take the exam that wants to," Rogers said. But "usually the team is made up of the people who did the best the previous year."

Meyerson added, "My goal was to be the best at MIT. I wanted to do at least well enough that I was better than someone on the team."

(Daniel C. Stevenson contributed to the reporting of this story.)