Allison Loudermilk

Mathlete Extraordinaire Bobby Shen Crushes the Competition

Quick. How many 2-by-2-by-2 cubes must be added to an 8-by-8-by-8 cube to make a 10-by-10-by-10 cube? Got your answer? Did you come up with it in less than a minute? Was it 61? If you didn't answer "yes" to those last three questions, then you lost out to Bobby Shen of Sugar Land, Texas, this year's winner of the 2009 Raytheon Mathcounts National Competition held on May 8. You also lost an $8,000 scholarship and a free trip to space camp, according to the related press release.

Spelling bees get all the hype and the indie movies, but mathletic competitions should be given their due, too. After all, isn't watching someone solve for x in some algebraic equation just as exciting as watching a fifth-grader shift from foot to foot and carefully spell out "guerdon" -- the winning word in the 2008 National Scripps Spelling Bee?

Speaking of spelling bees, the national competition is coming up fast. ESPN will broadcast the semifinals May 28. If you're more inclined toward words rather than numbers, see how you rate on this spelling phenom quiz. I qualified for the quarterfinals. I can't tell if that's good or bad, given my chosen profession of editor.

And that's my public service announcement for the day. Keep learning people, whether it's math, science or obscure Russian literature.

Head to the home page or cram more into your brain: How are Fibonacci numbers expressed in nature? There's a mathematical formula for the "beer goggles" effect? How Numerology Works How Bits and Bytes Work