Work, persistence add up to `24' win

Fifth-grader Ryan Wyatt takes trophy in county's annual math competition


In the heat of competition Thursday, Ryan Wyatt, 11, a fifth-grader at Quarterfield Elementary School in Severn, had to stop and catch his breath.

"I just can't take the pressure," he said.

But Ryan soon recovered and went on to become champion of the county's annual 24 Game competition, playing a math game that requires pupils to manipulate numbers so they equal 24.

Accepting a large trophy after the game, Ryan had some advice for future competitors: "To win tournaments, what you need is hard work and determination."

Math skills don't hurt, either. Ryan's mother, Gina Wyatt, proudly noted that her son had won a state chess tournament two weeks earlier. "I love math," Ryan said.

The game of 24 can seem daunting to anybody not familiar with it, but it looked effortless to the fourth- and fifth-graders playing at lightning speed in the cafeteria of the Board of Education offices in Annapolis.

The game, which has gained an international following, requires pupils to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers on a card so that the total is 24.

Thursday's competition began with four-digit cards, but the ante was upped in later rounds with six-digit cards that required the use of a variable to solve two different problems.

"The kids basically have to tell you what the missing number is and solve both wheels," explained Betty Elder, a specialist in gifted and talented programs for the county.

For each round, a proctor placed the cards face-up on a board. The first pupil to tap the card had to say the variable that would be used to create 24. Then the auctioneer-style rumble began.

"The variable is two," a contestant might say. "Six times two is 12, six times two is 12, 12 plus 12 is 24." Then the same variable - two - must be used to solve the second half of the card.

The game of 24 was invented in 1988 by Robert Sun and is sold by the company he founded, Suntex International. The goal is to make math fun, and it seems to be working.

Vicki Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher at Lake Shore Elementary School in Pasadena and one of the proctors at Thursday's competition, said the game gives kids confidence.

"Even the kids who are unsure of their facts, when I teach them patterns of 24, they just take off," she said.

Anne Arundel County has been holding 24 Game competitions for six years, Elder said. This year, Elder said, 60 elementary schools took part. Throughout the academic year, the schools hosted 24 clubs that let the kids work on the game during recess and after school.

They also held competitions, and the best pupils from each school went on to one of four regional contests. The top six pupils from each of those four regional competitions - 24 pupils in all - took part in the championship Thursday.

"They had to do really well to get here," said Johnson. About 45 pupils participate in her school's 24 club, but only four from each school could go to the regional tournaments. Two pupils from her school - Kayla Miller and Megan Wood - made it to the championship.

Thursday's competition was played in four 10-minute rounds, with the four-highest scorers from earlier rounds playing each other in the final match. Those four were Ryan, Kayla, Christopher Kim from Glen Burnie Park Elementary and Jonathan Lin from Folger McKinsey Elementary in Severna Park.

At the end of the 10-minute round, Ryan had won 10 times and Christopher eight. As the game picked up speed, parents and teachers came to the table to watch. "That is amazing," said Kathy Farris, a teacher at Jones Elementary in Severna Park and a proctor watching the round, when it was over. "You guys are terrific, all of you."

This year, the variable cards had been added for the first time, and the kids still did remarkably well, Elder said. "We thought that would slow them down a bit, but that wasn't working," she said.

To make the game more complicated, especially for pupils who had memorized the cards, several unsolvable cards had been inserted. "If the kids touch it, there's a penalty," Johnson said. "Nobody fell for it."

Elder said that next year the competition will be more grueling. Double-digit cards will be used, so pupils will be working with numbers as high as 99. Previously, the cards had only single-digit numbers. "We'll see how it works out," Elder said.

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