RMM 2015 – UK Team Blog Part Two

Saturday 28th Feburary

There is much to squeeze into the programme, and so the second paper starts an hour earlier. James and I spend the day based at Tudor Vianu, the specialist maths and computing school that has hosted this competition since its first incarnation in 2008. Even coming from schools which regularly send students to such international competitions, we find it remarkable to see how much explicit emphasis they place on academic excellence here. Where British observers might expect lists of prefects and photos of glorious football teams, here instead we see students posing with medals and Romanian flags from contests around the world.

Our first task is to coordinate yesterday’s problems. Qs 1 and 3 are agreed extremely rapidly, with the problem captains very complimentary of the UK boys’ number theory solutions. Q2 has all the ingredients to suggest a long slog, but coordinators Lucian Turea and Radu Gologan have clearly thought very carefully about the UK scripts. Everything they say is sensible and easy to make consistent, so we are finished and happy comfortably within our 20 minute slot.

James and I also have to supervise the Romanian scripts for Qs 2 and 3 as these are British submissions. My schoolboy Latin helps a little bit, and we eventually agree on how to pair up comments in the solutions with points on the markscheme just in time to meet our students as they finish. Joe is full of excitement, having completed all three in the closing moments, while others are disappointed, having been slightly thrown by the geometry, but overall spirits are high.

The team are squirrelled off by the guides, and I have the afternoon to engage with the Q5 scripts. We have five solutions, and all are fine, but might not appear fine to a casual observer. Liam has opted for the Jackson Pollock approach to truth, where statements of various levels of interest and veracity are independently sprayed freely across three pages, though after a while I am convinced that every line does follow from something somewhere else on the page.

While working, I realise that having a ground floor room in an Eastern European hostel has its drawbacks. That said, opening the window gives the chance for an experiment to determine exactly which genre of music is found least appealing by lingering smokers. Enescu’s sonate dans le caractere populaire roumain proves successful, despite its local heritage.

I have a better idea what’s going on in all our students’ arguments in time to venture down to the slightly baffling Bucharest metro towards the farewell dinner, which retains its name despite not falling on the final evening. The students are deliberately separated from the leaders, but no attempt is made to enforce this and everyone mingles freely. This year the Chinese team comes from the Shanghai area, and their leader teaches at their high school. He has recently spent a term in Reading and, together with Warren and Harvey, we have a highly enthusiastic conversation about differences in education systems between our countries.

The UK students’ table seems to have been chosen for especially ponderous service, but the 30 seconds they are given between their desserts arriving and the bus arriving proves sufficient. I feel judged when I arrive back at my room and find the Hungarian deputy leader still working on his problematic geometry, so make sure to have at least a nominal further glance at our Q5s before setting an early alarm.

Sunday 1st March

The only people in Victory Square at 6.30am are stray dogs, and stray leaders heading to the school to prepare for their coordinations. I’m apprehensive about being asked to go through Harry’s solution to Q5 line-by-line, but though the effort to understand everything felt purposeful, it wasn’t necessary, as we get what we request almost immediately. Exactly the same thing happens on the other second day questions, so James and I are kicking our heels by 9.30, and the possibility of a return to bed feels very inviting while we wait for the other countries’ scores to clear.

Joe write: Meanwhile, we are at the mysterious ‘Hostel X’, in order to visit an ‘escape room‘. This was not actually as dubious as it first sounds. As Dominic explained, we were to be locked in a room for an hour during which we would have to solve a number of puzzles in order to escape. [DY: think of The Crystal Maze but with less leopard-print.] This turns out to be extremely enjoyable, as we gradually discover the collective significance of some masks, a chessboard and a couple of UV torches, but also quite difficult. Sam, Harvey, Andrei and I manage to escape with barely five minutes to spare but the others do not quite finish, although they assure us that their room was by far the more difficult of the two…

We meet the students, who are discussing Morse decoding and similar things with great enthusiasm. En route home, James thinks that we have been too hasty to accept a flaw in Joe’s solution to Q6, since it suddenly dawns that it could be fixed with the addition of a single \ge sign. Our original coordinators have gone home, but chief coordinator Mihai Baluna graciously takes a second look, and agrees with our re-assessment, so James’ defibrillator can go back in the box.

The bronze and silver medal boundaries have settled naturally, and after brief discussion the jury decides to round up the number of golds to ten, which is surely the right decision. This leaves the UK with three honourable mentions, two silvers, and a gold. Though some of our students might be disappointed to lie just below a boundary, they all recognise that this contest features challenging problems and experienced contestants, many from countries with far more strenuous training programmes than ours. By any measure, this is a fantastic team performance, and James and I are very proud of them.

The closing ceremony is held in the atrium of Vianu school, and after an encouraging speech from the headteacher, the medals are awarded fairly swiftly. Joe reports that the hardest aspect of winning a gold at RMM is the necessity to smile on stage continuously for three minutes. Russia is announced as the winner of the team competition, with a very impressive set of performances, closely followed by the USA.

With the entire evening clear, the UK and USA teams head to Piata Romana to celebrate each other’s successes. The Romanian guides and the UK leadership have slightly different views about what constitutes an appropriate venue for this, but in the end everyone is entirely happy to gather in the common area at James’ hotel. This has been an excellent competition, and it is wonderful to see students, guides and leaders from all teams finding so much in common and much to learn from one another.

Monday 2nd March

My roommate departs for a train to Budapest at 4am, and the accommodation staff are enthusiastically dismantling the bunkbeds in the adjacent room at 6am, so it is fair to say I might have slept better. Two cars take us out to the airport, precisely one of which thinks we are having a race through the rush hour traffic. Suffice it to say, I would probably like to cycle round the Arcul de Triumf even less than its Parisian counterpart.

The students’ recently acquired metalwork doesn’t quite take us over the baggage weight limit. The Wizzair boarding procedure leaves a little to be desired, but the party looks keen for little except sleep, so it makes no difference to do this sparsely. As ever, the arrivals barriers at Luton only just manage to hold back the legions of adoring fans. Goodbyes are exchanged before we head our separate ways, though we will meet again for more worthwhile mathematics in just over three weeks at our next training camp in Cambridge.

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