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Catawba College's "Solve This and Win!" Draws Area Math Lovers

November 18, 2005

Category: Academics, Mathematics, Students

"Solve This and Win!" occupies just a small portion of the Catawba College Mathematics Department web pages, but both Catawba students and area math lovers are visiting it   regularly, vying to solve the posted math problem.  The payoff for visitors is mostly intrinsic — they get the opportunity to prove their mental prowess, and if they're really lucky and solve the problem correctly, their names are selected during a bi-monthly drawing for a Catawba College t-shirt.

Baker and Zerger"Obviously, it's not really about the t-shirt," says Dr. John Zerger, Catawba College Chair and Professor of Mathematics. "It's about giving people the opportunity to challenge themselves, apply their problem-solving skills, have fun in the process, and maybe win a t-shirt.   This is just one way we can encourage people to use critical thinking skills."

Since the "Solve This and Win!" portion of the mathematics department web pages went live in September, four different problems have been posted and more than 125 individuals have visited.  And, these visitors are not just Catawba College students, but rather they include both teachers and students from area schools.

Respondents have included Catawba College Senior David Smith of Granite Quarry, a business major, who has solved all four problems correctly and has two t-shirts to his credit; Owen Crater, a Special Projects Analyst at Catawba, who correctly solved Problems 3 and 4; Thomas Dowell, a West Rowan High School student enrolled in an AP Calculus Course there, who solved Problem 3 and was a t-shirt winner; Nancy Brooks, an Academically Gifted Specialist for the Kannapolis City Schools, who correctly solved Problem 4; and Erik Cox, another West Rowan High School student, who solved Problem 4 and was a t-shirt winner.

Just why did these people participate?   Here's what they say:
Student Thomas Dowell notes he attempted to solve a math problem on the Catawba website "for something to do one afternoon when I was bored."   Math, he says, "builds logic, abstract thinking and problem solving skills more than it has an applicable use in everyday life." He encourages others to attempt "Solve This and Win!" because "it's rewarding to finally solve the problems."

Teacher Nancy Brooks says one of her fourth grade students challenged her to visit the Catawba website and to attempt to solve a problem which was similar to the Sudoku puzzles she shares with her classes.   "I enjoy mind-stretching puzzles and I love to find challenges that I can pass on to my students.

"Math is so much a part of daily life, that I'm not even smart enough to recognize all of the ways I use it," Brooks continues.   "I know that logical thinking skills are very important in day to day problem solving.   As an educator, I strive to provide students with meaningful, fun ways to discover and apply their thinking skills."

Dr. Paul Baker, a Catawba College Professor of Mathematics, posts the math problems on his department's site, checks for correct answers, and notifies t-shirt winners.   He, like Zerger, sees "Solve This and Win!" as a way to make math more accessible and fun for a variety of different people.

Here's one of the mathematics problems (Problem #2) on the site:


Two night watchmen, Smith and Jones, arrange for an evening together away from work.   Smith is off dutyevery eighth evening starting today, while Jones is off duty every sixth evening starting tomorrow. In how many days from today can they get together?


The correct answer is posted at the end of this article.  To view the other problems and answers to them, visit the Catawba College Mathematics Department page at






;ANSWER to Problem #2
They will never be able to get together.   Hypothetically, if Jones had every 6th day off starting the same day as Smith, then the two would be able  to meet every 24 days from the start day. As it is though, the two will never be able to meet  because Smith has the day off an even number of days  from today, while Jones has the day off an odd number of days from today.

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