The Putnam Exam

Math Fans: If you are good at solving math problems, and are not doing anything on Dec 2, 2000 (a Saturday), then the NIU Math Department needs you. On that date, the 2000 Putnam exam will be given at hundreds of universities throughout the country. The exam starts in the morning (9 a.m.) and goes to noon, followed by FREE PIZZA and soda pop at a local establishment. The afternoon session goes from 2 to 5 p.m. The questions require mathematical ingenuity more than regurgitation. In fact, Putnam questions are like the Math Department's Problem of the Month--only you don't have a month to solve them.

Here's a typical problem:  Show that it is impossible to draw a four sided figure in the plane whose four sides and two diagonals are all odd integers. (A 3 by 4 rectangle has integer sides and diagonals, but 4 is not odd.)

Here's another problem:  How many primes among the positive integers, written as usual in base 10, are such that their digits are alternating 1's and 0's, beginning and ending with 1? (For example, 101 is prime, 10101 is not.)

If such questions intrigue you, then please see Richard Blecksmith (WH 344) to sign up. (If I'm not in, leave a message in the Math Office or e-mail me at

The test is for undergraduates only, though you need not be a math major. In past years engineering students and science majors have taken the exam. You just need to be good at math brain teasers. But there is one catch. In order to take the Putnam exam you must sign up before Tuesday, October 10. (You may cancel anytime.) We will try to organize several meeting times to look at copies of old exams and do other fun (math) stuff. What a great way to end the millenium!

For more detailed information about the Putnam Exam and other mathematical contests, click here to visit Dave Rusin's interesting compilation of problems and solutions.