Sometime during the four days in Washington, the judges get together in one of the hotel's rooms and choose the top ten winners and two alternates. At this level of competition, making distinctions between a fifth- and sixth-place winner is as much voodoo as precise calculation. But somehow the choices are made, and they are announced at the annual Monday-night banquet at the Mayflower's Grand Ballroom.
The guests at this banquet include leading scientists in the Washington area and business people, government officials, and academics who have been associated with the contest over the years. The men come in tuxedos, the women in luminous evening gowns, and scattered among them as they gather for predinner drinks are the gangly teenagers whom this evening is honoring, a few of them in formal attire as well. Many of the students mingle easily with the adults; others, like standard-issue teenagers, enjoy the illusion of being among adults, but mingle only with each other. One or two collect autographs from stellar scientists or from one another. The forty winners seem effervescent but nervous.
After the more than 400 guests sit down for dinner, the forty winners are introduced. Each climbs a small stage at one end of the cavernous ballroom, takes a bow in the spotlight and then joins one of the adult tables. Even with all the glitter and prominence in the room, each winner has been assigned to serve as the center of entertainment for a separate table of adults.
What this evening is really about is made clear in the 1989