The Math Weeks

IMO 2011: the Windmill problem that tore almost everyone into pieces
IMO 2012: the functional equation that caused an avalanche among both the students and the coordinators
IMO 2013: the ‘hard’ geometry problem that we unfortunately missed
IMO 2014: the Cape Town coin problem that forged itself as a “Number Theory” problem

Two weeks ago, I got myself a brand new pair of compasses, and started scribbling geometry diagrams on pieces of paper. Yes, IMO was approaching. Why did I care?

It’s simply because of math: an obsession that has been with me throughout my later half of my teenage. The obsession extended beyond just the problems themselves: I was virtually at the IMO to watch the news of people’s performance on AoPS, and to track the scoreboards from time to time.

July 18, 2017: that’s when everything started. I read a thread on AoPS that detailed the IMO Day 1 paper, and it didn’t take me long before I try it out. The overall experience was rather frustrating given the unusual difficulty of most of the problems, but I enjoyed being part of the math, nevertheless. Adding to the fun was the official release of the IMO 2016 shortlisted problems. This set of 32 problems managed to keep me busy over the past weeks for me to tackle them and detail my thought processes here. Passion aside, the solving of those shortlisted problems (21/32, currently) also served to alleviate my devastation from the failed attempt on the IMO 2017 papers.

The rest of the fun, however, was derived from my tracking of the news from the people who were actually part of the contest. The following of the news on the IMO through AoPS made me feel as if I was there, whereby I felt much better by realizing that I wasn’t alone in not able to get the difficult problems successfully. The provisional results shown along the coordination gave me more than just a hang of how the contestants and countries did on the problems: they serve as an astonishment to see how problems 2, 3 and 5 practically destroyed even the strongest individuals on the mathematical battle field!

Equally exciting was my staying abreast of what’s happening on my home team-Team Malaysia. Having known all of them, I could vicariously feel their excitement upon leaving from Kuala Lumpur, their anticipation upon waving their flags on the opening ceremony parade, and finally, their pride when receiving IMO medals after their years of diligence. It’s simply heartening to how the next generations perpetuate my mathematical passion and devote their souls and energies to ace it.

My attentive following on the IMO also gave me another opportunity to reminisce my good-old-days of the IMO’s, during which I could care about nothing else but math. That were the days we were together to crack (and sometimes ridicule) a tough mathematical puzzles. That were the days when we made friends who share the same obsession with us, regardless of nationalities. That were the days when we were loaded with the colossal ambition and responsibility to make the country proud with our achievements.

Is this what I am hoping for right now? Honestly speaking, a 100% math world was a complete fantasy: there will be more skills needed from me to get myself a position on the career market. That was a reason I engaged myself in various activities like coding contests, web development and case competitions. But I just couldn’t get my mind from cracking the math problems once they got their ways into my routine. I vividly remembered a casual discussion on how most math students at UWaterloo are either tech- or finance-inclined, during which she suddenly went “and you’re into maths itself!” Only when I started scribbling on the paper with math symbols inscrutable to others did I really feel her words.

“Thanks for appearing in my teenage”–specially dedicated to IMO (a phrase I translated from a Taiwanese movie “A Little Happiness”, featured in Chinese language).


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