Montana Mathletes competing in Wednesday's state MATHCOUNTS Competition had 45 seconds to answer questions such as this: What's the smallest number of people you would need to have in a room if you wanted to be certain that at least 25 of them had the same birth month?

The answer? 289.

The top 78 math students from 26 middle schools across the state crowded the Strand Union Ballroom at Montana State University Wednesday afternoon, vying for a chance to qualify for the national MATHCOUNTS Competition in Washington, D.C. in May.

Amy Chou, a seventh grader at Bozeman's Sacajawea Middle School, was among four students who qualified.

"My hands are numb right now," the 13-year-old said after winning. "I can't even feel them."

Chou buzzed in and answered correctly within five seconds of a math problem being shown on an overhead to earn her spot at nationals.

Chou has completed Algebra II, usually a high school course. She took fifth place in Saturday's Gallatin County spelling bee. She plays the piano, violin and French horn.

Chou took the SAT test and got a perfect score in math, said her mom, Fengjen Luo, who is an assistant professor of mathematics instruction at Montana State University. Her father is an engineer.

"She's way smarter than I am," said Doug Kraft, Sacajawea math team coach. "I can't coach her. I just sign her up and bring her and tell her to calm down."

The other three students who qualified for the national MATHCOUNTS competition are Daniel Smith and Arthur Befumo, both of Missoula, and Isabella Whitworth, of Billings.

MATHCOUNTS tests students on topics such as probability, statistics, linear algebra and polynomials. The competition consists of written tests and a fast-paced oral match, where kids answer problems in Jeopardy-style rounds.

More than 6 million students have participated in the MATHCOUNTS program since its inception in 1983.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at or 582-2628.