By Shannon Sigafoos

You have four piles of stones. You rearrange them into five piles. Prove that at least two stones end up in a smaller pile.

For students who could figure out this and five other challenging and fun problems presented in this semester’s Team Barge math competition—with the narratives for each problem written by Jonathan Bloom, associate professor of math—they earned bragging rights among their classmates and cash prizes that made their hard work worth it.

The winning team: Beth Anne Castellano ’22, Anna Zittle ’22, Deniz Ozbay ’22, and Corey Beck ’22.

Team Barge Math Competition Winners Fall 2021

Left to right: Beth Anne Castellano ’22, Corey Beck ’22, Anna Zittle ’22, and Deniz Ozbay ’22 pose with their pizza box solution for the Team Barge math competition.

“In the early 1990s, (Associate Professor Emeritus) Tom Yuster and I created the Team Barge Contest, with teams of three to five people competing for cash prizes. Over the years, students have been very creative in their approach to solving these problems, including solutions that were written on pumpkins and others that were baked in a pie. We give eight problems each semester, with five to 10 teams competing, typically,” shares Gary Gordon, Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Mathematics.

The original deed of the cash gift for the competition goes back to the early 1900s when Benjamin F. Barge provided the College funding for math prizes. The idea behind the first Team Barge contest was to encourage collaborative work. Today, teams work together on problems that are posted every other week of the semester, sometimes submitting their solutions to Bloom on objects related to each problem.

“This term, not only did the winning students answer all six questions correctly, but they also responded in kind. For example, for the question that involved rocks, they wrote their solution on a rock and then gave me the rock. For a question involving the lottery, they wrote their solution on a giant check. For another, they wrote their solution on a pizza box,” says Bloom. “They were all very creative about it and made it a lot of fun.”

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