Crunching the Numbers

Would-be masters meet their match in the Putnam Competition, the world's toughest math test

Every year, on the first Saturday in December, 2,500 of the most brilliant college students in North America take what may be the hardest math test in the world. How tough is it? Although there are only 12 questions, the test lasts six hours. And although these are the best and brainiest young minds our country has to offer, the median score on last year's test was 1 point. Out of a possible 120.

Welcome to the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, which was administered for the 63rd time in its grueling history on Dec. 7. The Putnam is arguably the...

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