Coup de Grâce

Yes, it’s official now. I’m on the 2012 International Mathematical Olympiad team bound for Argentina, and if I didn’t make a post about this I would be ashamed to call myself a blogger. So, a little moment of smug self-satisfaction should be justified, I hope? And not to mention, last year’s title of youngest Taiwan contestant is not yet passed? Let’s cue the evil laughter!

Obligatory xkcd where a guy pops up and toots a literal air horn

…or maybe not.

Here is a simple tabulation of our selection problems:


Algebra x9, Combinatorics x7, Geometry x12, Number Theory x8. In other words a distribution in perfect negative correlation with my estimated ability in each subject. At least, that’s how I’ve always estimated them before about a month ago. Ouch, the last stage was the only one of the three where problem distribution for combinatorics actually reached its fair share. (Alternative interpretation: 2011’s distribution was majorly f123ed up with only one real geometry problem, which just means that this year’s battle will probably be difficult for me. (Alternative alternative interpretation: the evil, nasty, wicked, depraved windmill was actually an outrageous negative for me. Gee, I don’t know how to feel. But I should actually do stuff instead of wildly speculating; let’s get back to the topic.))

The last stage of selection had a pretty steady “Individual Study” was steady. The first mock test had slightly easy problems as 1 and 2 and a completely insurmountable NT problem that was basically adding a zillion unrelated numbers up and having the result magically be divisible by a prime. I finished the first two problems in an hour and spent three and a half on the third, calculating over a hundred values modulo 19 trying to find a pattern. Nothing.

The second mock test was pretty crazy though… an algebra problem given to us by PYC for #4, shortlist G4 as #5, shortlist C6 for #6. #4 looked innocuous, but I waded into the algebraic structure randomly and bam! Wild Logarithm appeared! I stumbled through it despite it more-or-less devolving into a wickedly non-standard functional equation, because it was a #4, and the #4 two weeks ago was also essentially a functional equation and also evil-looking but not very hard but which I had failed. Important lesson: Figuring out when to switch problems is hard! But I dealt with it and was relieved.

#5 was a weakened G4 (part I: cite obvious theorem, part II: draw twenty different magical auxiliary lines). I didn’t take very long to solve #6… a few small cases and I had a complete procedure, after which I quickly returned to #5. I regretted not taking the time to really learn complex bash; I couldn’t even figure out how to drop the perpendicular from a point on the unit circle onto another chord. The tiny bit of regret at losing any chance at significant partial credit was how I ended the test.

Amazingly, after the tests were turned in, I learned that my performance was ridiculous on the opposite side of the scale. Nobody else had found the magical logarithm solution. Most people had only solved or tried #5; some people had stumbled through #4 and found only the all-constant solution, which I was pretty sure was wrong since I verified my magical logarithm solution carefully. Most people stayed away from #6 and nobody else solved it either. So this left me with the crazy situation of being the only person to solve #4 and the only person to solve #6. Not to mention (1) the trivial first part of #5 was worth three out of seven and (2) CLK said my #6 solution was simpler than the official one.

All this meant that I was really not surprised to see my name on the list, ready for lots more problem barraging and PuyoPuyo battles, although this also unfortunately means tons of skipped classes I will have to prepare to make up for, plus the hassle of graduation trip and performance and blah blah blah. It’s not an easy task, that much I will say. But I also feel like my whole passion for math thing has been recharged, so I still have the drive to be in it for the math, as opposed to the competition feeling or scholarships or huge advantage at entering an Ivy League school.

Great, another anticlimactic conclusion paragraph. Okay, the post title sounds cool but only barely makes sense. I’m sorry.

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