"How many combinations of pennies, nickels and/or dimes are there with a total value of 25 cents?"

"How many combinations of pennies, nickels and/or dimes are there with a total value of 25 cents?"

Give up? Maybe you should ask some of central Ohio's brightest middle school students.

That's a sample question from the Sprint Round of this weekend's MathCounts competition, in which students are tasked with answering 30 math problems in 40 minutes with no calculator. That's about one problem every 80 seconds.

And that's just the beginning. Three more rounds of team and individual math competition follow before the state's top middle school math student and team are named Saturday, March 8, at Columbus State Community College.

The state-level competition is sponsored by the Engineers Foundation of Ohio.

Holly Ross, public relations manager for the foundation, said the competition is a way to help foster in young students an appreciation for math and engineering. She said children too often think of math as boring and dry, though it could lead to competition and creativity.

"They may not be thinking of all the cool things they could be doing with engineering," she said.

Organizers expect about 190 students who qualified at regional competitions to attend the state MathCounts meet.

Central Ohio will be represented by five teams of four students and 13 individual competitors. The teams are from New Albany, the Wellington School and Dublin's Davis, John Sells and Henry Karrer middle schools.

Students from Columbus, Dublin, New Albany, Olentangy, Worthington and Upper Arlington schools, along with students who attend Columbus Academy and home schools, are competing as individuals.

At the contest, judges will grade competitors on their performance in the Sprint, Target and Team rounds. Students then will participate in the ungraded Countdown Round for fun in front of an audience of friends and family members.

In the Countdown Round, students compete one on one against their fellow "mathletes" while solving timed problems.

Ross said the Countdown Round gives students an opportunity to display their skills and impress the audience.

Ross said the top four individual competitors from the state competition will form Ohio's team at the national competition May 3 in Orlando, Fla. The adviser of the state's top team serves as the coach of the new team.

Melissa Knodel, the parent volunteer who advises Olentangy Orange Middle School's MathCounts club, said any student with an interest in math is welcome to join. She said Olentangy hosts intradistrict competitions at Hyatts Middle School in Powell, with up to 100 competitors in November and January. The best of those students will go on to regional competitions.

Knodel said the MathCounts program helps show students math can be fun.

"There are kind of interesting, challenging problems instead of boring problems," she said. "They're kind of varied, too."

Knodel, who will root for Olentangy Orange's Joshua Ku at this weekend's competition, said she's impressed by how much time the club's members spend practicing at home.

"It's not something they could totally prepare for in an hour a week after school," she said.

Parents, students or teachers interested in bringing the MathCounts program to their schools can find more information about the program at mathcounts.org and ohioengineer.com.