The Putnam Mathematical Competition is a national mathematics test given on the first Saturday of December every year. About 4000 undergraduates in the United States take the test which always has six problems in the three-hour morning session and another six problems in the three-hour afternoon session. The problems are “elementary’’ in the sense that they are easy to understand and think about and one often only needs high school or lower-level college mathematics to solve them. But they can be fiendishly difficult to figure out! Each problem is worth 10 points and partial credit is given, but most problems either earn 0, 1, 9, or 10 points. The median score for all 4000 participants is sometimes zero! Nonetheless, if you like math, it can be a lot of fun and if you get one or two problems correct the bragging rights are enormous! Here is a typical Putnam Problem:
Given a set of one million points in the plane, it is always possible to find a line in the plane that has half the points on each side?
See how easy it is to state the question! It turns out the answer is really simple too, once you think of it!
Each Fall, Harvey Mudd offers a class to prepare for the Putnam. By working through old Putnam Problems, it’s possible to actually get better at solving these kinds of puzzle/math problems. Pitzer students are more than welcome to attend the HMC class. Typically two or three Pitzer students take the test each year and Pitzer offers a $50 prize to the highest (non-zero) scoring Pitzer student. So, the chances of winning the prize are quite good!
To find out more about the Putnam Exam go to: