Working Mathematicians’ International Olympiad and Games?

There’s such a thing as an International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). It’s for children, though — well, children and children — since you must be under 20 to enter. (Years, not inches.)

Now, why isn’t there a similar thing for adults? And don’t tell me doing actual mathematical research is that, since in research you don’t often have a lot of people pitted against each other in a bitter timed and graded contest, each working on the exactly same and already well-documented problems.

What the world clearly needs — as a PR vehicle for maths if not for anything else — is a big-spectacle Working Mathematicians’ International Olympiad and Games.

The sports could include things like Tricksy Integration, Proof By Tricks Beyond the Undergrads, “Trivial or False?”, Pi Memorization, Six-Digit Integer Speed Factoring (with or without paper), Blackboard Ballet, Handout Out-Handing Gymnastics, Pronunciation of French Mathematicians’ Names, Smooth Anecdote Insertion, Duplex Copies, Soporific Audience-Baiting (held before nine in the morning), Hide the Faux Formula, and Coffee Drinking (speed, endurance and underwater).

Me, I would immediately join the Finnish Bad Bad Bad Math Jokes team. (“What’s purple and commutes?” — “An Abelian grape.” — “Aaand Finland takes the lead with three facepalms and a groan!”)

My suggestion is this: every country in the world takes 10% off its regular Olympics budget and puts the money into this. I think holding the first Mathematolympics in, say, Helsinki in 2011, is quite doable. (I would suggest Hawaii, but one has to suggest a place one can reasonably get funding to get to.)

Or rather the doability depends on how long it takes to mock up rigorous definitions and rules for the sports, because for a mathematician rules are all, and if the rules allow participating naked in the slim hopes of getting more points from that female judge, or with a faucet in your neck for the endurance coffee, well, that’s what a mathematician will do.

And sooner or later there would be something like a doping scandal: “No wonder he’s so fast! He’s approximating!

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