Math is hard

I constantly try to organize my life story so I can have a record to look back upon. Whether it be to other people, to the internet, on a spare sheet of paper, to my own Google Keep, there’s some days I can’t help but frame in a nostalgic light even as I’m writing, though the events themselves were in no way glorious at the time.

Today is one of those days.

Starting at 6:45 AM, we are standing at the circle drive in front of our school waiting to be shuttled over to A&M. There’s a bus leaving for debate on the other side of the building, and it’s SAT testing day, but we’re here for math.

As the huddles of Asian parents made small talk with each other, we stood in small circles ourselves, trying to withstand the cold and laughed about how screwed we were for math.

When everyone arrives, we split up into our respective cars. The carpool groups are self selected, and I’m in a car with most of the power team members. Because we have important things to get done. Our answers to the power team questions, complete with solutions and explanations, are due at A&M by 9:15. It is currently 7 o’clock. There are 11 questions. We have 3 solutions written out. And we are still in Houston.

So as we’re speeding down the highway at 65 mph guided by a GPS, the four of us in the back are writing math on our laps, trying to organize the messy work we had scrawled earlier on random sheets of paper into presentable solutions. Ideas and jokes are bounced around, requests to check algebra or reasonability of argument are made, papers are passed back and forth, and by the time we arrive at A&M, we have compiled a set of 9 and a half solutions, some better than others (one of our explanations was pretty much, “by randomly guessing, we found that 3 was a solution.”), but nonetheless, stapled together and ready to turn in.

I’m still sleepy and all the writing in the car has made me a bit carsick, and stepping out of the car is refreshing. One of the other cars from Bellaire arrives right behind us, and  Immediately I notice the overwhelming number of Asians and guys walking along the sides, and I am reminded that I am indeed at a math competition.

A group of students are playing frisbee out in front, and when we walk inside, the foyer is filled with clumps of students, parents, and sponsors, either talking math, joking around, or doing who knows. I recognize a couple famous faces in the world of math, but asides from that, I don’t know anyone. We find a tiny bar-sized table with two chairs near the entrance and set our stuff down. The people from the last car arrive, and while our sponsor is registering us, we sort out who’s taking what test. Some of us (including me) pull out practice tests and review some important trig identities, while the others stand around and talk.

I see someone else I recognize walk in, and with a hushed whisper, I tell the rest of the group. They call out his name, he gives us a wave, and walks into his group of math friends. Our sponsor returns with a folder with the schedule and room numbers for our respective tests. People pull out their phones to take pictures, and turn their head and rotate the map to make sense of where their room is supposed to be.

5 minutes before our exam is supposed to start, I walk with A to our room. The door is closed but unlocked, and the black gauze over the window makes it hard to look in. Only a few people are waiting outside, and we don’t want to be disqualified. Finally, one of us decides to open the door and walk in. The auditorium is almost full.

We walk in and try to find two empty seats in a row. Someone calls out A’s name, and I see a middle school classmate sitting near the front. We take the seats in front of him and  laugh at the chairless seat adjacent to us. As we catch up with our friend, throwing back various math competition terms back and forth, the proctors are getting competition materials ready.

We end up starting nearly 20 minutes late, and I spend the next hour busting out my brains to various problems completely unlike the ones I had prepared for. I’m unsure of most of my answers, but record all of them down and make guesses for the ones I have no clue about. When the proctor calls time, I have no regrets, but when I walk out of the room and our sponsor has the solutions ready, I start panicking.

The rest of the people are hogging the solutions manual, checking over which questions they missed, while I’m nervously holding my questions page and really hoping that I didn’t make any stupid mistakes. (When I eventually do check my answers, I learn that I made two mistakes, though I did randomly guess one question correctly.)

Half the people leave at this point to go back to Houston, and I consider doing so too, until I decide that a 2 hour car ride isn’t worth an hour of exams. We go to our next round, which is in a large auditorium and sit down. By this point, I’m already brain dead and brute force my way through as many of the problems as possible.

Our sponsor and A’s parents are waiting for us when we walk out of the round. It’s lunchtime, and we need to find some place to eat. The only place open nearby is a Chick-fil a, (which I later learn has a really snarky cashier)  so we eat lunch there. We look over questions as we eat and debate over whether it’s worth doing the Buzz contest. None of the us want to do it, but A’s parents persuade (read: force) us to give it a try. (“We didn’t drive for 2 hours for you not to do the Buzz round.”)

Begrudgingly, we walk into another auditorium and take a series of 5 seats next to each other. We’re trying to work out how the rules work, (to anyone interested, look here) and as the seats fill up around us, the nerves start to wrack up. There’s no way that we’re going to win, but we all still want to do our best.

By the end of the first round, the original 5 Bellaire people we had have become A and I, and nearly half of the people had been eliminated. Having A to talk to makes the round much more bearable, as we can whisper what number we’re on and which conditions the current number satisfies. The two of us make it through another round before we both trip up on 157 (clearly the sum of two squares, 121 and 36. *sarcasm*) and get eliminated. However, this also means that we can finally return home.

After a restroom break and while we’re waiting for the other, A realizes that the building we’re in has talking elevators and insists that we take one up to the top floor. This is all fun and games until we reach the top floor, where we try to find a stairwell to go back down. However, we find a fire extinguisher and a fire alarm and fire precautions next to each staircase, and we don’t want to set off any fire alarms.

I slowly push one of the doors open. Nothing happens. I laugh, and the three of us quickly run down 5 flights of stairs, back to where we were supposed to be in front of the first floor elevators. The others have hid in a hallway and attempt to jump out at us when we arrive, it’s a failure.

Finally, we can go home. Without a power round to work, the ride back is a lot more relaxed, and we talk about random topics while A attempts to do homework. J plays some K-pop, and after another two hours. we’re back in Houston, back at the circle drive where this entire day started.

Music to this post. (I feel like it’s relevant somehow)


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