Brian Hunt: He was the #1 math team kid in our team (Montgomery County, Maryland). I think he came in first place in the international olympiad the next year (yup, here’s the announcement). We carpooled once or twice to county math team practices, and I remember that his mom would floor it rather than slow down when she came to a yellow light. I looked Brian up, and he is now a math professor at the University of Maryland. On Google scholar, his most cited paper is “Efficient data assimilation for spatiotemporal chaos: A local ensemble transform Kalman filter.”
Benji Fisher: He was quite a character, larger than life in some ways. He came in first place in the regional math competition (this required getting 8 problems out of 8 correct, which was difficult; maybe I got 4 correct that year, or maybe only 2?). I remember him (perhaps incorrectly) as a big guy with long hair in a ponytail. When I came to Columbia in 1996, I noticed that he was teaching in the math department. I gave him a call (“Hi, Benji, you probably don’t remember me, my name is Andy Gelman . . .”) and suggested getting together. He told me he was leaving Columbia to teach at the Bronx high school of science. We never did get together, nor did we speak again. I googled just now and here he is, mentioned in the NYT in 1981 (it says he could do the Rubik’s cube in 2 1/2 minutes, which was really the least of his talents at the time), then I found a linked-in page that says that he only taught high school for one year, and now he’s a web developer in Boston.
Jack Brennen: He and Noam were the two youngest kids in the Olympiad program. I and some others were 15, a bunch of the other kids were 16 or 17, Jack and Noam were only 14. Jack felt a bit of rivalry with Noam which was unfortunate because Noam was obviously the best of all of us. I did some googling and it appears that Jack is now a full-time software engineer, or at least he was as of 2011.
Andrew Gelman: I’ve written about my olympiad experiences before (see also here). I was probably about the 20th best out of 24. Had I practiced, I think I could’ve been 10th or 15th (then again, if everyone had practiced, maybe I would’ve been 23rd or 24th), but the important thing was that I realized there were other people better than me at this. I feel very lucky that I came to this realization and didn’t hit a dead end later on. At the time I was disappointed not to make it to the international olympiad but in retrospect it all worked out just right.
Gregg Patruno: A super-nice guy. That’s all I remember about Gregg: he was one of the top kids in the program and he was super-nice, very friendly. I was pretty shy at the time, I was younger than most of the other kids and mostly tagged along with the 3 others from Montgomery County. So I appreciated when some of the older kids were friendly. I googled and it appears that Gregg is a musician. More googling yields this page: it appears that Gregg is “a Vice President in the Fixed Income Division of Goldman Sachs.” That’s too bad.
Also I remember there were 2 or 3 participants in the training program who were from the Boston area. 2 guys and a girl, I think. Or maybe 1 guy and 2 girls. All 3 were, like me, near the bottom of the pack. Anyway, I remember that one of those Bostonians was really funny. Near the end of the four weeks, this guy was really stuck on one of the homework problems and he asked Gregg for help. He wrote up Gregg’s solution and then, at the end, put a long footnote with a citation to “Patruno, G., Solution to Problem 11 of Mathematical Olympiad Program,” etc. This joker (unfortunately, I can’t remember his name) was also amused by Gregg’s near-palindromic name and suggested that he change it to Grerg.
David Yuen: I don’t remember him well but I do remember his name, so that’s something. Here he is—he’s a professor of math and computer science. Most-cited paper appears to be “Linear dependence among Siegel modular forms.”
David Wollen: I remember him as a very comfortable guy, with lots of friends, I was envious of how at-ease he was. In the middle of the pack in terms of success on math olympiad problems. I can’t find him on the web but I do seem to be finding a David Wolland so maybe I’m misremembering the name. I remember that he went to Hunter College High School. In any case, Wollen or Wolland, I have no idea what he’s up to now.
Ken Zeger: He was the kid who was interested in engineering. All the rest of us cared only for pure math, he wanted to solve engineering problems. And here he is, he’s a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California. How cool is that? His most-cited paper appears to be “Closest point search in lattices.”
Dougin Walker: My roommate. Also from Montgomery County. Like me, a silly kid, also another guy who was trying his best but was no star. His distinctive name makes him easy to google! He appears to be a triathlete, and it looks like he’s a “principal” of the Watermark Group—a hedge fund?
Stephen Mark: A really mellow guy. The rest of us really cared where we ranked. Brian was a top scorer and that was important to him, Benji was a big shot and that came from his success solving math problems, Noam—well, Noam was not competitive with the rest of us, exactly, but he know how good he was—and I cared too. It’s all well for me to say, now, that I was lucky not to be among the best in the group. But, at the time, I did want to be the best. Not that I had any plan of how to get there, I just wanted to be #1. Or at least #2. Or #5, whatever. But Stephen (no, I can’t remember if he went by Steve, although I can only assume he did) just didn’t seem to care in that way, he was more aloof (in a good sense). The other thing I remember is that at one of the tournaments he wrote the anagram Peter Shmank on his nametag. And he was also from Montgomery County. And . . . that’s about it. I can’t find Stephen Mark on Google.
Hmmm, let me be clear on one thing. I’ve written how my mediocre performance on the olympiad training program pushed me to a new view of where I was heading in life, how I realized that (a) there were others who were better at math than I was, which led me gradually to the realization (b) that there were other things I could do. But this didn’t happen right away—even step (a) took awhile. I was in that program as a 10th grader and so I figured, sure, I’ll just get better each year. Every time I did a math competition I fully expected to get a perfect score and come in first place. The next year, I was pretty bummed when, after taking the national math test (from which the highest scorers got picked to do the olympiad), I didn’t score so high. Maybe I was in the top 100 in the country, maybe not, I can’t remember, but not in the top 8 or even the top 24, that’s for sure. And then the same thing happened in 12th grade. That was ok, I still did math team and was on the county math team at the regional competition, I still looked forward to these things. Which is fine: school sports would fall apart if only the very best kids participated (and of course there were lots of kids on the team who weren’t at my level, either). It’s funny in retrospect, though, to think that I kept sort of expecting I’d do better. And, again, I’m glad I didn’t do better. If I had, maybe I’d’ve gotten a math Ph.D. and now I’d be working at a hedge fund. Ulp.
Leonid Fridman, Zachary Franco: I remember only their names, and I think they were nice enough, also in that middle-of-pack range in math-problem-solving ability. Some googling appears to show that Zachary is now a medical researcher and does volunteer math coaching. I’m not sure what Leonid is doing.
Jeremy Primer: He was, like Patruno, one of the top kids but not the very top. I ran into him from time to time in grad school at Harvard; he was studying math while I was in statistics. My impression was that he was not so thrilled with it. What’s he doing now? Hmmm . . . “Jeremy Primer” shouldn’t be hard to Google . . . uhhhh, “Head of Research & Chief Risk Officer” at Tilden Park, looks like another hedge fund. He also worked at Goldman Sachs. Uh oh. I wonder if he stays in touch with Gregg? According to one online source, Jeremy was a “Harvard-educated maths genius whose computer models alerted the bank to how small levels of defaults would quickly turn apparently sound assets into junk,” leading Goldman to start selling off at the end of 2006. OK, whatever.
Dan Scales: Am I misremembering this name? I can’t find anything on Google.
Noam Elkies: Obviously the most talented math kid in the group (and thus, by implication, in the country); in retrospect, the most successful mathematician as well, maybe the top mathematician of our generation (not counting Stephen Wolfram ha ha ha). At the time, I don’t recall that we saw him as so brilliant; pretty much we saw him as being really weird. But, what can you say, we were all pretty weird and he had a lot going on in his brain. I ran into him a couple times in grad school. He’s now a math professor at Harvard. I haven’t looked him up in a long time. I guess I could—I could just walk over to his office one day. Maybe I should, although I don’t really know that we’d have much to talk about. His most-cited paper: “Alternating-sign matrices and domino tilings (Part I).” Hey, that’s got a bit of a Mel Brooks feel to it! And here’s Noam’s paper with the most math-team-like title: “On A^4+B^4+C^4=D^4,” which begins, “We use elliptic curves to find infinitely many solutions to A^4+B^4+C^4=D^4 in coprime natural numbers A,B,C, and D, starting with 2682440^4+15365639^4+18796760^4=20615673^4. We thus disprove the n=4 case of Euler’s conjectured generalization of …” It’s like a really really hard olympiad problem!
Sam Greitzer: The old guy who ran the mathematical olympiad program. A cranky, mean old man. On the other hand, I suppose he was doing it all on a volunteer or quasi-volunteer basis, and maybe you had to be a mean guy to keep a bunch of teenage boys under control. Still, he was not a pleasant person by any means. According to Wikipedia, he was born on August 10, 1905, so he was already 74 years old when I met him. A cranky old man indeed. I’ll give him a break. When I’m 74, I’ll probably have difficulty relating to 15-year-olds too.
Murray Klamkin: The second banana. Not so young himself, he was 59 when I knew him. More mild-mannered. According to Wiki, Klamkin “worked at AVCO, taught at SUNY Buffalo, and served as the Principal Research Scientist at Ford Motor Company,” among other things.
Mike Larsen: A former olympiad competitor who was serving as a coach. I think he was about 18. I don’t remember much about him, I suppose he (wisely) spent most of his time coaching the top kids, as the goal was to improve the national team, not to bring the laggards up to par. And, hey, here he is on Wikipedia! He teaches math at the University of Indiana. His most recent published paper: “Deformation theory and finite simple quotients of triangle groups I.” That, I’ll have to say, is the kind of thing we all imagined doing when we grew up. Pure math. You can’t get much purer than this.
OK, those are the names I can remember. But this is frustrating: I can only remember 15 kids out of 24. The closest to an official site I could find was this, which seems be from 2000 or 2001 and is on the Mathematical Association of America website. It has many omissions: it does not include me or most of my friends listed above!
P.S. I sent the above to Jordan Ellenberg, who added the following:
I [Jordan] have memories of lots of these people, though they’re a MOP generation older than me. Some disorganized thoughts.
Brian Hunt — I remember him as captain of the Montgomery County Math Team! I think 1980 or 1981 was the first time I went to ARML. I haven’t seen him in years and years even though we’re both in math academia.
Benji Fisher — left academic math a long time ago but wrote a very beautiful paper with Sol Friedberg that presents questions I still strongly feel need answers…. “long hair in a ponytail” fits my memory too. But was he also from Montgomery County? Weird that I would forget that!
Jack Brennen — remember the name, nothing else.
Gregg Patruno — he was the director of MOP by the time I went, when I was in high school! He was already working in the financial industry at that time. But great guy, “intense in a low-key way” if that makes sense; he really made me feel it was worth it to become ultra-strong at contest problems. I remember at one point the whole team went to Gregg’s house in Staten Island, the one and only time I’ve ever been there.
Leonid Fridman — he was a Harvard grad student when I was an undergrad. He founded a group called “The Society of Nerds and Geeks” and had an op/ed in the New York Times about it and was very briefly a national expert on nerds.
Noam: That A^4+B^4+C^4=D^4 paper was something he wrote in high school, I think! And people were like WHA-A-A-A-A-T? He is still an elliptic curves master (and master of many other things as well.)
Mike Larsen is a really good mathematician, who like Noam is very broad; I guess I would call him a group theorist but you could as well call him a number theorist, algebraic geometer, or many other things. He and I wrote a paper together about motives.