BU-Hosted Computer Programming Contest A Smash Hit

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    Contestants try to solve a problem.
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    The ICPC contest kicks off.
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    A contestant hopes a submitted answer is correct.
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    Spectators and coaches cheer the teams as the contest comes to a close.
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    World Finals director Don Gaitros and the 1982 Baylor team congratulate this year's ICPC teams.
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    The Saratov State University ICPC World Finals Champion team holds up their trophy.
April 18, 2006

by Frank Raczkiewicz

With a "howdy" and "good luck," the Association of Computer Machinery's (ACM) International Collegiate Computer Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals kicked off in San Antonio. By the time it was over, all involved agreed the Baylor University-hosted event was extremely successful. The contest, which was sponsored by IBM and held April 12 along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, brought 83 teams from universities across the world to Texas for the three-day computer programming contest.

"Everything went great. Everybody involved did great work. We showed off San Antonio to the rest of the world and we got so many nice comments. This was the best ICPC yet," said Bill Poucher, who is the ICPC executive director and a computer science professor at Baylor.

Teams of three students tried to solve 10 complex real-world computer programming problems in five hours. The team that solves the most problems, in the least amount of time, wins the competition. For each question a team solves, the team receives a different colored balloon so competitors and spectators know where each team stands. One problem asked the teams to design a program that could instruct how to assemble a clock with minute and hour hands, given a specific shaft speed and a collection of gears. Another problem asked contestants to create a program that can find the maximum numbers of degrees of separation for a network of people.

This year, teams that placed first through fourth shared the gold medal, teams placing fifth through eighth shared the silver medal and teams placing ninth through 12th shared the bronze medal. Taking first place of the world finals was a team from Saratov State University in Russia, after they solved a whopping six problems in a little more than four hours. Saratov State barely beat a team from Jagiellonian Unversity, located in Poland, who also solved six problems. Poucher said it was one of the closest finals in the 30-year history of the contest.

Several other teams also accomplished things never before done in ICPC history. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology team solved the first problem in less than ten minutes, the fastest time the first problem has been solved. One-third of the teams solved at least five problems and half of the teams solved the first problem in the first 30 minutes of the competition, all accomplishments not normally seen at the world finals.

"Some of the judges have trouble solving these problems. For just getting here, all of these teams are champions," Poucher said. "These teams represent the top two percent of college programmers in the world. We just glad the world community can come together to do this."

At the Texas-style awards ceremony, complete with Baylor student volunteers dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls, several dignitaries spoke to the ICPC teams including the 1982 Baylor ICPC Champion team, Doug Heintzman, a strategy director at IBM, and Carlos Perez, a San Antonio city councilman..

Perez thanked the contestants for coming to San Antonio and said the city was both honored and proud to host the ICPC world finals. Perez said the ICPC sets a spirit of cooperation that puts world conflicts aside. He pointed to the parts of the world teams came from, including teams from the Middle East.

For Hamed Ahmadi Nejad, a team member from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, this trip was his first to the United States.

"I am very happy to be here," Ahmadi Nejad said. "These (computer) problems were very hard."

Each of the 12 teams awarded medals were personally congratulated by each of the dignitaries. Each team then stayed on the stage and formed three rows, so the crowd could congratulate the full 12 team medal winners. Each Bronze medal team shared $1,050, silver medalists shared $2,100 and the gold medalist teams shared $3,000. Each of the Saratov State University team members won $10,000, computer equipment, a large trophy and bragging rights as the winners of the ICPC World Finals.

"I am pleased with our victory," said Igor Kulkin, a team member from Saratov State.

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