Huddled under aged oaks draped in moss, a team of four mathematicians let out a war whoop that shattered an otherwise quiet Wednesday morning.
Team Blue 1 had just nailed the fifth of five questions to earn the maximum 100 points at one station in the annual Math Steeplechase competition at Spring Lake Regional Park.
Team Blue 1 sailed through "What is the product of the 14th and 19th primes?" and other math-heavy problems that resulted in four-digit answers, but faltered on the year "Adams" became president. After much head-scratching, an epiphany.
"Wait. Which Adams?" said Trevor Glynn, a senior at Santa Rosa High School.
"That was clever," said teammate Anthony Dim, a senior at Elsie Allen High School.
Team Blue 1 went on to take third place in the 25th annual competition which drew about 90 high school students from across Sonoma County, as well as a group from St. Helena High School.
"The purpose is to show them that math is not just about book work and problem-doing," said Jim LaFrance, a math teacher at Montgomery High School who helped coordinate Wednesday's event. "Typically, most of them who go out into the workforce are going to be problem-solving as a team."
The event costs about $180 per team, with the money coming from school fundraisers or foundations. Schools pay the cost of hiring substitutes for the teachers who staff the event. Students are treated to deli sandwiches and event T-shirts, as well as prizes and bragging rights for winners.
Students were assigned teams at random and made their way to stations set up at picnic tables located throughout Spring Lake's Jack Rabbit Meadows. An air horn indicated the time was up after 14 minutes per puzzle, and teams moved on. Each station was staffed by a math teacher who recorded the teams' scores.
Teaming students with strangers is part of the challenge, said Bill Spence, a retired Santa Rosa High math teacher who helped launch the steeplechase in 1989 and has never missed an event, even in retirement.
"We didn't want people to come in with a preconceived notion of 'This kid is super smart so we'll defer to him,' " he said.
And super smart kids can get caught up over-analyzing problems, teachers said. How to negotiate is also part of the day's lessons.
"It's hard to do this in a classroom setting," said Sara Raike, a math teacher at Maria Carrillo High School, who monitored a puzzle in which students had only eight tennis balls to calculate how many balls could fit in a 5-gallon paint bucket.
"There are a couple of different strategies. Some are more logic-based and some more formula-based," she said.
The team of Joseph Anderson of Maria Carrillo, Carlos Behena of Elsie Allen, Will Heyman of Santa Rosa and Bailey Armbright of Healdsburg High School, factored in the spherical shape of the tennis balls and increased their final caculation accordingly. The squad went on to win the freshman/sophomore division.
Collaboration proved the key for the team of Isaac Kort-Mead of Santa Rosa, William Tran of Piner, Miguel Salinas of Maria Carrillo and Angela Roze of Montgomery, the team that earned the top score on the day and won the junior/senior division.
"I feel united," Tran said. "I feel like because we had a close team bond, even though we just met each other, we worked together well."