Michael Tang scrunched up his face and scratched his head as he read the math problem, while his teammates looked for any sign that he knew the answer.
Tang's perplexed look was all for show in the South St. Paul High School auditorium Monday. He confidently raised his whiteboard with the correct answer at the 33rd annual Math League State Tournament math bowl.
A three-time math bowl champion and Edina High senior, Tang came close to a repeat, but he was ultimately beaten by Frank Han, 16, an Eden Prairie High sophomore.
The problems were more difficult than last year, Tang said. "I was happy to do it again in my last year."
Out of 10 students Monday, Han took home the math bowl trophy, outsmarting not only his competitors, but also the judges. The solution to the final problem on the screen was wrong, and Han proved it.
"It was pretty fun," said Han.
To enter the math bowl, 67 students took a 14-question exam Monday morning. The final 10 students then competed in the bowl in the afternoon. Jenny Zhang from Edina High School was the only female competitor.
None of the students left without points.
"I was happy that all the students broke through without zeros," said Tom Kilkelly, math bowl judge and retired Wayzata math teacher. "I was a little disappointed that there was only one female up there."
Math bowl participants had between 30 seconds and two minutes to finish questions.
In the final round, Tang made the audience laugh. The question asked competitors to guess how long a candle had been burning, when one candle was melting faster than the other and one candle was only guaranteed to burn for seven hours and the other for six hours. Tang mimed the question as the presenter read it aloud.
Dassel-Cokato High School senior Nathan Weckwerth competed wearing his red "Cuz Math" hoodie. While Weckwerth did not make it to the final round, he already was gearing up for another test later in the day.
As soon as he was done, Weckwerth dashed off to try out for the United States Mathematical Olympiad Team, where he could become one of six students to travel to Rio de Janeiro in the International Olympiad competition. Weckwerth already took tests to compete with the team.
"It's a long selection process," he said. He, like Tang, plans on attending MIT in the fall.
Weckwerth finished his high-school-level classes as a sophomore and has moved on to online college classes.
"It is amazing watching him grow," said Melissa Weckworth, Nathan's mother.
Each team in the Math League tournament had their own ways of standing out, like Minnetonka with their Hawaiian leis.
St. Charles High School students made shirts honoring the memory of their math teacher, Craig Walz, who was killed when a storm knocked a tree onto his campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in June. His former students wore shirts with "Continuing the legacy of Craig Walz" at the competition.
Grace Davis, an 18-year-old senior, said Walz would be proud of how far his team has come since 2003 when they made it to the tournament for the first time.
Walz, a brother of U.S. congressman Tim Walz, taught his students to make sure they were enjoying the competition and to try their best, said Aric Kittleson, a math teacher at St. Charles and close friend of Walz.
"I'm proud to carry on that same mantra," Kittleson said.
After the math bowl, student teams faced off in the final tournament, with Edina, Eden Prairie and Wayzata taking first, second and third place, respectively. Tang was one of several students to finish the tournament in first place, along with Han, Weckwerth, Zhang, and Nikhil Marda, a senior at John Marshall High School in Rochester.
Beatrice Dupuy • 612-673-1707