Wednesday 1st August 2018

Ishan Nath: IMO 2018 Romania Report


The 59th International Mathematical Olympiad was held this year in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, from the 3rd to the 14th of July. The IMO is prestigious mathematical tournament held annually, taking six of the best young mathematicians from every country around the globe and pitting them against both others and themselves as they try solve 6 immensely hard math questions over a 9 hour period, split over two days. This year, our team consisted of two newcomers - Johnathan and me, as well as the returning cast of Andrew, Kieran, Tony and William. Unfortunately, our set team leader Chris was unable to make it, so after a shuffling of roles, this year we had Ross Atkins as our Team Leader, Peter Huxford as Deputy Leader, and Phil Truesdale, as our Observer C.

July 1st

I arrive at midday at Auckland International Airport, and am left with 8 hours of free time before our next flight. This is filled with discussions over animals in paradoxical pens.

July 3rd

48 hours after my departure from Rotorua airport, we finally arrive in our accommodation in Romania. After unsuccessfully designated the beds between us, we decide to sleep.

Upon waking, we begin our stay with a geometry worksheet, as well a walk down to the town square, consisting of a visit to the grocery store and currency exchange shop. We ended the day with an introduction to Romanian cuisine, which consisted of pasta, burgers and wedges, which were stylistically written as ‘rustic potatoes’.

July 4th

Our first mock IMO took place today. This was my first formal IMO-esque experience, and so I was anxious, yet slightly excited. As the four and a half hours passed, I managed to solve one and a half questions. Today is also the day we say goodbye to Ross, at least until after day two of the competition. At dinner today, I seem to have recognized a recurring motif with ‘rustic’ foodstuffs and Romania. After food, we tried our hands at living like locals of Cluj by joining in a protest happening right outside the restaurant we were dining at. Only William was partially successful.

July 5th

The second mock IMO did not affect my nerves quite as much, but still it did cause me a bit of commotion. Learning of the Apollonian circles-driven solution to problem 3, however, re-instilled my sense of nervousness. I mean, who thinks of that?

July 6th

The last of the mocks is over. Overall, I didn’t do too badly, getting at least 9 marks on every test. I spend the last day in this accomodation playing resistance and set.

July 7th

It’s our first official day at the competition. In the morning, we are shuttled into town and thrust into the Hotel Victoria. Immediately, William, Andrew and I sense something was wrong when our three person room has a double bed with a single strapped alongside. Phil, using a bit of voodoo magic, then proceeds to get us an extra room, in which Tony and I gladly move into. After this, we get to introduce ourselves to the Dutch team, who were very confused as to ‘why Chris won’, as were we. To end off the day, I joined them, as well as some of the Irish, in a friendly game of fake monopoly, in which our team of Tony and I got completely destroyed.

July 8th

Today’s the day of the Opening Ceremony. We listen for over an hour to what I assume was highly encouraging speeches, spoken in Romanian. Then we parade onto the stage for our fifteen minutes - rather, fifteen seconds - of fame. This year, along with us as part of our souvenirs we brought kiwis which could be clipped onto people. At the ceremony, we get our first taste of clipping kiwis onto unsuspecting others. Later, we return to the same exact venue, which has now been reorganized to fit 600 tables, to see our positions for the competition tomorrow.

July 9th

The first day of the competition is here. Breakfast is a solemn ordeal, save for me getting brutally chastised for my refusal to wear our sanctioned NZIMO t-shirt. We make our way to the competition hall, all nervous. That is, we were nervous until we learn that it is still an hour and a half from the competitions start. In this time, we discuss how easy it would be for someone to cheat. Finally, they get us in our seats and start the actual competition. The first question was a Geometry that should have been easy, but was non-trivial to all but one New Zealand team member. The second was again a relatively easy problem 2, but after the behemoth that was problem 1, only one of us fully solved problem 2. Problem 3 was hard.

July 10th

Day two. This time, instead of wasting our 90 minutes of free time before the exam, we organize a sort of unofficial IMO student parade, with each country grabbing their flag and patriotically waving it around the hall. Then, the second batch of problems start. Problem 4 was a weird one. It was a stereotypical optimization Combinatorics problem, and despite being standard in difficulty, many managed to score more on problem 5 than 4, with some scoring more on problem 6 than 4. The fifth problem this year was a Number Theory problem that supposedly was easier than normal, even though that didn’t seem the case for me. Problem 6 was hard. I closed the day in the games room, staying far away from the monopoly board, but playing all the other games.

July 11th

Our first excursion was to the Turda Salt Mines outside Cluj. We spent our time playing ping pong, visiting the underground lake and demonstrating our physical prowess at the game of hopscotch. Later on, in the afternoon, we attended the IMO Lecture, where three pretty important and smart people gave talks on math or things related to math. As well as this, I gave an interview.

July 12th

At breakfast, I see people pass around the latest edition of the IMO magazine with hushed murmurs. At first, I pay no attention. It’s only when one of the Dutch come over to our table and explicitly point out my photo being printed above the name ‘Ethan T, Australia’, do I understand. I am now Ethan forever. Our second excursion is to Alba Iulia, a pretty city. We see the local parade, as well as the cathedral in the city. With so many bags around, it is prime kiwi-ing time. On the bus ride back, we see the published results. I have got 18 points and thus have scored a bronze! I didn’t think much of it at that time, mainly because at that time I was asleep. In the afternoon, Johnathan and I, as well as our guide at the time, Paula, went out for a mini-excursion. We visited the biggest park in Cluj, where we bumped into the Austrians. Then we scaled a hill on the edge of the city, which gave us a beautiful view of the city at sunset. After a photoshoot, we settled down at a nearby restaurant and stayed there till dusk, before returning.

July 13th

Today is the closing ceremony. We have been instructed to make sure our flag is in front of everyone else's using whatever means necessary. The ceremony starts, we listen to more speeches in Romanian, and then I go up. I immediately make it known that my flag was superior than the two beside me. Unfortunately, the Dutch team member beside me was not very compliant, and so a flag fight ensued. For our efforts at the competition this year, all of us, competitors, team leaders and observers, are awarded with permanent ear damage as a result of the extremely loud folk dance that ensued. After the ceremony came the farewell banquet. It was at this time that I noticed my proficiency in handing out souvenirs. At the beginning of the banquet, some of us were wondering why there was a DJ set up at the front. As time progressed this became more apparent as a crowd formed in front of the stand.

July 14th

For most teams, it was time to go. We said goodbye to the Dutch team, and I received a letter from one of the Austrians who had left. The remainder of the day is spent wandering around the city and playing card games.

July 15th

Now, it was our turn to leave.


From my experience at the IMO, one of the most fascinating things was the talk given by Victor Nistol. Not for its content - I didn’t understand much of it - but for the message it gives to us. We, here, at the IMO, are at the pinnacle of High School Mathematics. All of maths so far, for us, can be summarized in this one event. But here we are, unable to make sense of this ‘trivial’ theorem. It just shows how deep maths extends. It has shown me that, comparatively, we know pretty much nothing, and that a career in science, whether it be math or physics or chemistry, can extend indefinitely, for there is no final point. There is no limit to knowledge. For me, this is exciting. This is refreshing. Throughout Primary and all the way up to High School, I used to know everything in math at the time: all the theorems, all the strategies, everything you could teach a kid. But this left me with a blank spot in my timetable, a wasted opportunity. Now, knowing of further discoveries, of unknown knowledge, makes me want to pursue a career in science. By organizing this international event, it has opened my eyes to the fact that, yes, other people are also interested in sciences. This is an epiphany to me. By being with other like-minded individuals, it has made me come to terms with the fact that a career in science, with others who like science as well, is indeed possible. I used to believe science and technology was a career with a low teamwork aspect, but this has shown me otherwise.

It’s second nature to think that those who are able to do this, who are given the opportunity to travel to the IMO, are born with a mathematical talent of some sort. But, this simply isn’t the case. What’s really needed is perseverance and time. In theory. In practice, hard work and time are still not enough. We also need our parents, teachers and friends, if we want to grow and rise up to the challenge. Behind every contestant you see, is a network of other people who have driven them to this moment. I’d like to thank those who supported me and made me able to attend this fantastic event. First, I’d like to thank Ross, Peter, Phil, Chris and everyone at NZMOC for their organizing of the trip, training and preparation for the IMO. I’d also like to thank the organizers of the IMO 2018. Finally, I’d like to especially thank the Royal Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Mathematics Enrichment Trust for giving me the opportunity to participate in this event.