Why were more than 50 boys and girls spending a beautiful spring morning Saturday in a windowless college classroom, working out complex math problems?

To have fun, of course. And for a chance to represent Utah in the national "Mathcounts" competition.The seventh- and eighth-graders gleefully worked out answers to math problems the kind that would make many of their peers break out into a cold sweat for about four hours in a stark room in the University of Utah's engineering classroom building.

Even during an elimination round, students no longer in the competition continued to calculate the answers to questions such as, "A number is increased by 100 percent. The result is 100 more than three-fifths of the original number. What is the number?"

Many students were already whispering the correct answer, 50, before it was revealed to the students still competing. While the four finalists prepared detailed answers to such elaborate problems as how to create a precise scale model of a soccer field using a length of string, their classmates continued to field questions just for fun.

After several instances where the questions were answered almost immediately by students who apparently figured them out in their heads, moderator Bruce Hutchinson told them, "You guys are quick."

Hutchinson, a Utah Power & Light Co. engineer, was one of several members of the Utah Society of Professional Engineers who volunteered to administer the test.

Four-member teams from 14 schools selected in an earlier statewide competition participated Saturday. Butler Middle School, Bonneville Junior High School, Bryant Intermediate School, Union Middle School and West High School emerged as the state's top five teams.

In individual competition, the four students who won the opportunity to represent the state at the national finals in Washington, D.C., on May 13 are: Ryan Stevens, Butler Middle School, first place; Curt Larsen, Bonneville Junior High School, second; Chad Curtis, Union Middle School, third; and David Landon, West High School, fourth.

Both Stevens and Curtis were among the state winners traveling to Washington for the national competition last year. They and the other winning students this year will be coached by Butler Middle School math teacher Tom Burke.

"Mathcounts" is a cooperative project of the National Society of Professional Engineers, CNA Insurance Companies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the U.S. Department of Education to increase interest in math studies.