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MIT wins 2nd in Putnam math contest

Just behind Harvard, MIT took second place in the 2012 William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, winning $20,000 for the math department and $800 for each of the three team members. The prestigious contest is 12 questions and 6 hours long, and is administered every December to undergraduate students studying in the U.S. or Canada.

In third, fourth, and fifth were UCLA, Stony Brook, and Carnegie Mellon.

The top five individual performers each year become Putnam Fellows. This year, they are Ben Gunby ’15 of MIT, Eric Larson of Harvard, Mitchell Lee ’16 of MIT, Zipei Nie ’15 of MIT, and Evan O’Dorney of Harvard. All five were gold medalists at the International Mathematical Olympiad, a contest for high school students.

Though MIT fielded three of the five Putnam Fellows and 12 of the top 25 contestants, the MIT team fell to Harvard’s because the school awards only depend on the three members selected for the team. Neither of the two teams ended up being the optimal choice for its school.

“The following strategy would improve MIT’s chances of winning the team award: choose a three member team. Then give the Putnam to those three people and forbid all other MIT students from taking the Putnam,” wrote Kent Merryfield when he announced the results, perhaps not half in jest. “Yes, that is a ludicrous strategy — but then the whole team rank thing is pretty loopy.”

—Leon Lin