When the journey
is worth more than the prize
Based on the actual million-dollar math prize offered by Texas Banker Andrew Beal, The Beal Conjecture is a fictitious story about Michael Jones who is Kellogg
University’s star football player. The only thing that stands between him and the math grade he needs to maintain his college scholarship and thus land a contract in the NFL is a simple, unassuming math professor by the name of Mr. Wong. Unlike all of the other teachers that have pushed Michael through school without any regard to his ability to comprehend the various subjects—Mr. Wong, a refugee from the killing fields of Cambodia—is determined to hold Michael accountable for his own learning and his own future.
Told through the narrative of Mr. Wong, the story begins on Parent’s Day. As all of the football players and their parents line up along the sidelines on a beautiful autumn afternoon, it becomes readily apparent that only Michael Jones stands alone at the far end. As the names of the players and their parents are announced over the loud speaker before the sell out crowd, we see Mr. Wong hobbling across the football field with his cane like Yoda. He then stops and stands along side Michael. Soon his name and Michael’s name are announced together over the loud speaker as Mr. Wong smiles and waves to the fans. Michael is clearly embarrassed. ‘What’d you do that for?’ Michael complains under his breath. ‘No one should ever stand alone—especially on Parent’s Day,’ Mr. Wong replies as he continues to smile and wave to the crowd.
Early the next week, Michael receives his math grade along with all of the other students in Mr. Wong’s class—and he has failed miserably. At wits end and hard pressed for anything that will boost his grade, Michael asks for extra credit and the wise old Mr. Wong thinks for a moment and then smiles. Like the protégé Mr. Miyagi in the movie Karate Kid, he assigns Michael a math riddle that is also made available to the rest of the class. Although unable to solve it, the journey takes Michael down a path he never expected including a face-to-face meeting with the man behind the conjecture: Mr. Beal.