The Auburn Mathematical Puzzle challenge drew middle schoolers to campus Saturday from nine schools, including Auburn and Opelika and surrounding areas like Birmingham, to grapple with puzzles created by Auburn graduate students.
“It started as an idea from a former graduate student in the math department here,” said Mike Guyer, a graduate student at Auburn. “He kind of got it up and running and now it’s just sort of this event we do every year.”
Pizitz Middle School Team 1 took first place, Madras Middle School won second and Central Educational Center Team 1 took third.
Students worked on three puzzles in the morning session and three more after lunch. After students completed a puzzle they would take it to a graduate student to check.
When all puzzles were completed, the top three teams competed in a final round to determine the first, second and third place winners.
The puzzles and theme for the day were all “safari” based.
Guyer said the math presented to the middle schoolers is based off what the graduate students study.
“The math that we have to do is actually not easy,” he said. “Typically, it is stuff that we would encounter even sometimes in like graduate level math classes. Now we do it much more formally.
“We’re doing proofs and all that stuff, but it’s amazing if you just take the core ideas from it and sort of just phrase it differently. Don’t throw in all the lingo and the technical terminology and all that stuff and just sort of present it as a puzzle that they can solve. They solve it.”
One of the morning puzzles was the “Tower of Hanoi,” Guyer said.
“[The Tower of Hanoi] is just sort of a manipulatable moving disks along pegs and asking them what’s the fewest number of moves possible to complete the game,” he said. “There’s actually a nice simple answer once you know how it works.”
The students for each class split up into groups among themselves to tackle the problems they’re given. Time can be a factor in determining a winner, in the event of a tie, Guyer said.
“It’s a lot of fun and I think the best part about it … just seeing kids that into math, which isn’t common,” he said. “I mean they’re spending their Saturday going to do math, and that is not typical. So it’s fun to see their excitement and enthusiasm.”
Wyatt Turner, a student at Sanford Middle School, said that one of the best parts about the competition is how nervous he gets, which he said, is exciting.
“No one’s going to judge you about anything,” he said. “So there’s really no reason to worry. And it’s a lot of fun, there’s really no reason not to come. But you do have to try your best to get in.”