Nine Competitors Put Math Skills to the Test in School’s First Integration Bee

Finalists Zach Kovner and Kevin Xia compete for the title of “Grand Integrator.” Photo by Nick von Hindenburg.

On Thursday, Mar. 2, about 350 students, faculty and family members gathered in the forum for GDS’ inaugural Integration Bee. The Bee began at 6 p.m. with live jazz music, and the announcers, junior Cole Huh and senior Ethan Wolin, introduced the competition and its competitors.

Sponsoring the Bee was Mugs and Donuts, a club that seeks to explore the “deep realms of pure mathematics,” according to an email from its head, junior Ollie Alfonso-Frank. The Bee was organized by Alfonso-Frank and Wolin. In an all-school email sent on Feb. 22, Wolin described the Bee as “a tournament-style math competition with timed, head-to-head match-ups.”

Wolin and Huh both write for the Bit.

The Bee consisted of four rounds between the nine competitors. In each round, two competitors went head to head, attempting to solve an integral before their opponent. (Integration is the mathematical process of finding the area under the graph of a function.)

Wolin said that the Bee was “designed to enthrall spectators” with live commentary detailing the contestants’ backstories, music and club-sponsored prizes.

Alfonso-Frank had the idea to host an Integration Bee a few months ago during a meeting of Mugs and Donuts. Alfonso-Frank thought that it would be fun to host a math competition for the high school, and he said he was inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s annual Integration Bee.

Alfonso-Frank then called Wolin, whom he had shared a calculus class with, and Wolin was on board with the idea. They began to prepare for the Bee a couple of months ago. They were “dreaming big” and began talking to their friends and teachers and assigning roles to those who wanted to get involved, according to Alfonso-Frank. “It all really came together quite nicely,” Alfonso-Frank said.

Nineteen competitors initially tried out to enter the competition. They were each given 20 minutes to complete 20 integrals. The top ten scorers were entered into the Bee, and their seeding was assigned based on their scores. Sophomore Kevin Xia, who was the fifth seed in the Integration Bee and finished second in the competition, said that he read his calculus textbook and did a few exercises in preparation.

Though ten participants qualified for the Bee, science teacher Gabe Koo was unable to attend, so only nine people competed. Senior Lucie Johnson was supposed to compete against Koo in a preliminary match, and Johnson automatically moved up to the quarterfinals.

To announce the contestants, the Bee’s organizers sent an email to the high school with a link to a video entitled “The Bee Is Buzzing.” Administrators promptly removed the email from students’ inboxes, objecting to profanity in the song that the video played. 

The quarterfinal match was where the biggest upset of the Integration Bee occurred, with Johnson beating math team captain Ashok Tate, the first seed in the Bee. According to the Bee’s organizers, in the “March Mathness” bracket that students and faculty were invited to fill out, Tate was most often ranked first to be the “Grand Integrator.”

When given the first integral in his semi-final match against junior Zach Kovner, junior Max Froomkin wrote an incorrect answer. Kovner won the round, and in the second round, he presented his answer just before Froomkin. The officials ruled that Kovner’s answer was correct, moving him to the finals.

During the final match between Kovner and Xia, Froomkin pointed out to Alfonso-Frank that he believed Kovner’s answer to the second integral of the semi-final match was incorrect. Alfonso-Frank said in an interview with the Bit that it is “unfortunate” there was a disagreement. As the officials did not keep track of participants’ responses, “we have no way of knowing that there was a mistake,” Alfonso-Frank said. Froomkin declined to comment on the concerns he raised to Alfonso-Frank.

In the final match, Xia and Kovner were given 4:30 to complete the first integral. With 1:30 left, Kovner circled an incorrect answer, meaning that Xia had the rest of the time to finish the problem, and Kovner was not allowed to make a second attempt at the integral. Xia circled his answer with three seconds left on the clock, but it was also incorrect. 

On the second integral, neither Xia nor Kovner was able to answer in the allotted time, so they went to a third integral. Kovner solved the third integral with 1:53 left. His answer was correct, and he took a 1–0 lead. Kovner also completed the fourth integral, and he was crowned the “Grand Integrator.”

After the competition, the announcers held a trophy ceremony where they announced that nobody had a perfect bracket but the closest bracket was by junior Abel Elias. Elias was not present to claim his prize of a donut, so the prize was awarded to the next best bracket, which belonged to Kovner.

The overwhelming sense after the competition was that it was a success. “It went so much better than we could even imagine,” said senior Asha Adiga-Biro, who worked with Alfonso-Frank and Wolin to produce the Bee. “It was great to see how committed Ethan and Ollie were to it and how many people came to watch,” she said. 

Alfonso-Frank shared Adiga-Biro’s sentiment. “My favorite part was seeing the crowd—the support we had,” Alfonso-Frank said, mentioning that there was “tons of support” from competitors’ friends and families.

“It was great that everyone was able to make math into such an exciting thing for so many people,” Tate said.

Alfonso-Frank said he planned to hold the Bee again next year, and it would be bigger and better. When asked if he would make changes to the competition, Alfonso-Frank responded, “I guess you’ll have to wait and see. It will be exciting.”

CORRECTION (March 26 at 9:33 p.m.): The original version of the article incorrectly stated that the first video announcing the Integration Bee’s competitors was titled “Meet the Integrators.” The video was actually titled “The Bee Is Buzzing”; “Meet the Integrators” was a video that was released later.

CORRECTION (March 26 at 9:33 p.m.): The original version of the article misspelled the name of senior Lucie Johnson, referring to her as Lucy Johnson.

CLARIFICATION (March 28 at 6:38 p.m.): This article has been clarified to reflect that though ten people qualified for the Bee, only nine competed (Gabe Koo was absent).