project euler and social problem solving



~3 min read


436 words

Last night I participated in my first Project Euler Sprint. Until last night, all I could really say about Project Euler was that I had heard of it.

The Project Euler team describes its purpose as follows:

Project Euler exists to encourage, challenge, and develop the skills and enjoyment of anyone with an interest in the fascinating world of mathematics.

As someone who spent most of my Saturdays last summer diving into math concepts in preparation to make a career shift, this spoke to me. It turns out that the project has generated a following of folks who get together in person to work through the problems together. That’s what the sprint was and, I can’t lie, I kind of loved it.

I was definitely out of my depth, but the folks were friendly and I got to work with people I would never otherwise have an opportunity to interact with, let alone work alongside.

When I got home I thought about why I enjoyed the event so much.

Certainly the novelty was nice and the welcoming nature of the group were great, but it was more than that.

The Sprints then bring together a few of the key ingredients to a rewarding experience (to me):

  • Collaboration and comraderie - working with others you get to push your understanding to new heights, see things from another perspective, and struggle alongside others
  • Challenging problems - the fact that the problems are challenging (and scale with your ability) means that you can constantly be on the edge of your understanding
  • Connections - the problem design requires that in order to solve them, you need to make connections between ideas you might not have made in the past. This is a great way to learn and see the world in a new light

Relatedly, Project Euler problems are not things you tend to run into in your day-to-day. For most people, the problems also serve no practical purpose. I think that’s part of the magic. It’s a group of people getting together, to work alone or in teams, to push themselves. It’s the difference between working out in your bedroom or going to the gym to participate in a class.

There’s a reason why Cross-fit is so popular, and it’s not that the workouts are so novel. It’s the power of community.

Project Euler provides the calistenics routine, but the Sprints are the difference between working out alone and participating in a group session.

I find the latter much more rewarding and as a result and more likely to show up the next time too.

Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!