Wednesday, April 9, 2008

ACM ICPC World Finals: Contest Warmup

After breakfast this morning we moved across to the Van Horne Ballroom for the opening ceremony. The reason they hold it a day after the start of events is because the actual contest-related events only began today with the practice session. As we gathered outside quite a crowd developed rather quickly as we waited for the doors to open.

The ceremony was held in the same venue as the contest will be held tomorrow so the contestants and coaches sat at their computers. This has often been done in the past to save space. Unfortunately they have the words "Do not touch!" in big red caps, so they all had to wait in front of the computer without touching it until the practice contest began.

The opening ceremony is usually started off with a local dance. This year we had the Blackfoot Medicine Speaks dance for us. Unfortunately we couldn't see much of them from where we were, but the music was rather unusual.

Then all the major people gave their talk. It was the same old talks, except I was interested by the enthusiasm of the government in the event. Usually they have a video of someone in the local government record a speech, but this time they had several deputy majors and so on actually on-site to give their speeches.

Bill Poucher, the director of the world finals. His talk is the one I always look forward to at the opening and closing ceremonies. He's always guaranteed to bring some much needed humour to the splur of thank-you's, recruitments and congratulations. This year he didn't upset. It started out with someone having swiped his notes from the podium and watching him trying to find them was a laugh:

He had the long list of the names of the core people that make the event run on the projector and went through thanking them. This is my fourth time at the world finals, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people are required to get the whole thing to work as smoothly as it does. Just to give you and idea, the problems are worked on and matured over a nine month period compared to the problems we set which take maybe two weeks to set and check. One of the technical teams, when asked to stand up walked in with bathrobes as a joke to show just how confident they were with the setup:

When the ceremony ended the practice session began. The contest director went through a few rules of the contest and how the practice session was to run. They always have the same, very easy problem that is written in such a way as to test the contest software PC2. Unfortunately some teams decide to go against the rules a bit to get the top spot on the practice leader board. The biggest culprit was one of our African counter-parts from the American University in Cairo who took top place -- lets see them get that in the real deal tomorrow!

As the last bit suggests I finally met up with our African counter-parts. This year we have two challengers for the African and Middle East championship. I met both of them and we're keen on getting some collaboration going and possibly hosting an African collegiate contest, something I'd love to see happen! I also met many of our other fellow southern hemisphere teams, which interestingly enough comprise just under 10% of the teams!

During the practice session we got a picture of the team holding the trophy, something we're all hoping we'll see more of after tomorrow!

After the rather eventless practice session we had lunch followed by answers to some of the questions raised during the practice session. There wasn't anything really new, but two teams got called aside for attempting to crash the contest servers. I'm not sure what they did exactly, but we were all told not to attempt that tomorrow. Last year it was unusual network activity, what will it be next?

There was a second practice session, which the team used to poke around and try out Java as well in case they need it for things like big numbers.

After that brief taste of what the big day tomorrow will be like we went on our second excursion. My team had chosen the gondola ride up the mountains, but by the time I went to register it was full so I selected the hot springs. I was hoping for the hot springs to be in the middle of the snow, but that wasn't the case. It was very relaxing and an opportunity to meet some more teams. I had a long chat with one of the Egyptians and the Australian team from Griffith University. When they left early I went to chat with the two teams from Florida. I find it really interesting exchanging regional contest experiences.

After the hot springs we returned for dinner where I met the team from Simon Fraser University who have a total of seven people on-site, just behind British Columbia with nine. Then I met up with my team as well as the American University in Cairo team. After dinner we went for a walk with them and they started a massive snowball fight! After that eventually subsided we walked down to the river and then returned for a game of poker, which I failed at miserably (but I'll try again!).

Tomorrow is what the 100 teams have been waiting for. It's the big day. Some teams have been practising for many months, but it all boils down to these five hours. It wouldn't surprise me if Warsaw retains the championship as their same team returns to clinch a potential double, which I don't recall ever happening before. Our team is aiming to improve on the 26th place they earned last year by solving four problems with the slight glance at the medals.


  1. Ask Fabio to help you with your next poker game :)

  2. It is awesome chatting to the other teams. And the whole culture thing is awesome too :)

    Katie, Griffith U.