I'm looking for examples of the Weil conjecturesspecifically rationality of the zeta functionthat can be appreciated with minimal background in algebraic geometry. Are there varieties for which one can easily calculate the numbers of points over finite fields and witness the rationality directly? Of course, there are entirely straightforward examples coming from projective space and Grassmannians (or anything with a paving by affines).

Weil himself verifies the conjectures "by hand" for diagonal hypersurfaces, that is, hypersurfaces defined by an equation of the form $$a_0x_0^{n_0}+a_1x_1^{n_1}+\cdots+a_kx_k^{n_k}=b.$$ The argument is pretty elementaryit essentially uses only character theory. It seems to me likely that this argument heavily influenced Dwork's original proof of rationality. The paper is quite readable; I learned of it from Akshay Venkatesh. 


One elementary example comes from the theory of elliptic curves, as in Silverman's book. Namely, given an elliptic curve over a finite field $\mathbb{F}_q$, the number of $\mathbb{F}_q$rational points is the degree of $1F$ for $F$ the Frobenius  that is, it's the kernel of the isogeny $1F$. Now you can compute the degree as $(1F)(1  F)^t$ (where $F^t$ is the dual isogeny) and this is $1  (F + F^t) + q$ since $q$ is the degree of the Frobenius. So the key quantity to compute is $F + F^t$, which is an integer  it's secretly the trace of $F$ on $l$adic cohomology. If you replace $F$ by $F^n$, this gives you the rationality of the zeta function of an elliptic curve. You can also get the Riemann hypothesis by purely elementary means by using the fact that the degree is a positive definite quadratic form and a CauchySchwarz type inequality. My guess is that something like this should work with higherdimensional abelian varieties (the $l$adic cohomology is an exterior algebra, as with the topological cohomology of a torus) as well. 


The grandfather of all examples is by Gauss: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weil_conjectures#Background_and_history Of course Gauss didn't mention finite fields other than the prime field. I think it is in the nature of a remark that the method carries over, but I haven't written it down. 


It's possible to give a semester course in number theory, free from overt algebraic geometry, that handles the zeta functions of curves over finite fields, proving the functional equation and Weil's RH for them. (And also does MordellWeil for elliptic curves over number fields). I taught such a course to second year grad students some 20 or 30 years ago. One gets around the geometry of curves in 19th century Dedekind fashion, working with their function fieldsfinite extensions of k(t) and valuations, just as one does with number fields. RiemannRoch is done as in Chevalley's book using "repartitions". Rationality and the functional equation follow directly from RiemannRoch. The RH is done by Bombieri's elegant techniquefirst one uses RiemannRoch to get a good upper bound for the number of rational points, then one combines this upper bound with the functional equation to get a good lower bound. (Ayanta thinks the proof is miraculous but uninformative; this may be true of Stepanov's original version, but I find Bombieri's argument to be natural). Of course there are defects to this approach. Algebraic geometry is far more enlightening. But it can be learned later, in whatever form the student finds appropriate. And there are also advantages. To do Weilstyle algebraic geometry one would have to worry about "fields of definition". And Grothendieck's version (which continues to intimidate me), would only appeal to the rare student at this level. That such beautiful mathematics can be presented in such an accessible fashion seems to me a boon. 


Perhaps the following two examples would be of interest to you; my apologies if they are too simple. Notation: (in accordance with Koblitz's padic Numbers, padic Analysis, and ZetaFunctions) Given $f \in \mathbb{F}_{q}[X_1, \ldots, X_n]$ let us define a sequence $N_s = (H_{f} (\mathbb{F}_{q^s})$, where $H_f(K) := \{(x_1, \ldots, x_n) \in \mathbb{A}^{n}_{K}  f(x_1, \ldots, x_n) = 0\}$. The zeta function is then defined for a hyperplane $H_f$ and field $\mathbb{F}_q$ by: $$Z(T) := \exp\big(\sum_{s=1}^{\infty} N_s T^s /s\big)$$ Before giving a few examples of the rationality of $Z(T)$, we recall the Maclaurin series $$\log(1  T) = \sum_{s=1}^{\infty}T^s / s$$ Example 1. $f(x_1, \ldots, x_n) \equiv 0$. Then $N_s ={\mathbb{A}}_{\mathbb{F}_{q^s}}^{n} = q^{ns}$, so that we find $Z(T)$ becomes $$\exp\big(\sum_{s=1}^{\infty} N_s T^s /s\big) = \exp\big(\sum_{s=1}^{\infty} (q^n T)^s /s\big) = \exp(\log(1q^n T)) = 1/(1  q^n T)$$ Example 2. Let $f = x_1 x_4  x_2 x_3  1$. We now consider two cases: Case 1. $x_3 = 0$. Then $x_1 x_4  x_2 x_3 = 1$ becomes $x_1 x_4 = 1$. Since $x_2$ is out of the equation, it can be any element of $\mathbb{F}_{q^s}$. Thus, there are $q^s$ choices for $x_2$. Meanwhile, $x_1$ can be any nonzero element of $\mathbb{F}_{q^s}$, and in each case this will determine $x_4$. Hence there are $q^s(q^s  1) = q^{2s}  q^s$ points in $H_f$ when $x_3 = 0$. Case 2. $x_3 \neq 0$. Then $x_1$ and $x_4$ can be any elements of $F_{q^s}$, and $x_3$ can be any nonzero element of $F_{q^s}$. But this completely determines $x_2$, so that there are $q^s q^s (q^s  1) = q^{3s}  q^{2s}$ points in $H_f$ when $x_3 \neq 0$. Therefore, $N_s = q^{3s}  q^{2s} + q^{2s}  q^{s} = q^{3s}  q^{s}$, whence the zetafunction $Z(T)$ is $$\frac{\exp(\sum_{s=1}^{\infty}q^{3s}T^s /s)}{\exp(\sum_{s=1}^{\infty}q^s T^s /s)} = \frac{1  qT}{1  q^3 T}$$ Note: The case for an affine variety $H_{f_1, \ldots, f_m}$ follows from the affine hypersurface $H_f$ case by a simple application of the Inclusion/Exclusion Principle. Bearing this in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to construct examples similar to those above over a variety for which the rationality can be witnessed directly. I imagine this would be somewhat tedious, though. 

