Marietta students excel on Putnam Mathematics Competition

Matt Bush and Danny Tincher headshots


Two Marietta College students exhibited their mathematical prowess with their performances at the 77th annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition during the 2016-17 academic year.

The North American math contest for college students requires participants to spend six hours, in two sittings, trying to solve 12 problems.

Daniel Tincher ’17 (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and Matthew Bush ’17 (Williamstown, West Virginia) achieved non-zero scores on the 2016 exam, a feat only four other Marietta College students have ever achieved.

Of the 4,164 contestants from 568 institutions that participated, Tincher scored 10 points for an official rank of 1,313.5 and Bush scored 1 point for an official rank of 2,123.5.

Each of the 12 problems participants attempt are scored on a scale from 0 to 10 as either 0, 1, 2, 8, 9 or 10.  Scores of 3 through 7 are not given, for an answer is considered either mainly correct or mainly incorrect.

For Bush, having little time to extensively train for the competition did not discourage him from trying to leverage the mathematical know-how he had amassed while at Marietta to score on the exam.

“I had not heard of this exam until the same semester I took it, but I decided to try it out,” he said. “On one hand, I didn't expect to do well because doing well on this exam is about more than getting As in standard math classes. The people that do well practice these types of competition problems a lot. I didn't have the tools or preparation for that level of success. It’s something you have to train for. However, looking at the past problems online, I found one from the 1980s that I actually got right.”

The only tools Bush and Tincher were allowed to use during the exam were blank printer paper, writing utensils and their own mathematical intelligence.

With the median score on the exam usually zero and the use of calculators, references or collaboration not allowed, Bush hoped there would be at least one question that would allow him to draw on some of the mathematical skills and knowledge he has developed.

“I figured if I could get lucky and solve just one problem, I would be happy,” he said. “So when the first problem on the exam only required knowledge from Calculus I, I spent most of my time on that problem. I know that's the one I got a point for because it's the only one I turned in.” 

The last nonzero score by a Marietta student on the Putnam examination was achieved in 2009, according to Dr. Harrison Potter, Assistant Professor of Mathematics.