Programmers win bronze in Prague

What is the sum of math capability, implementation skills and programming proficiency? For the Queen’s Association of Computing (ACM) Programming team, the answer is a bronze medal for a 12th place finish at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals in Prague, Czech Republic.

On Mar. 31, Bartholomew Furrow, ArtSci ’04, Daniel Trang and Gary Linscott, both ArtSci ’05, correctly solved five out of ten complex computational problems while competing against 72 other teams from 31 countries. The team’s winning formula earned them the top-place finish for a Canadian university at the event.

Aside from their win, the team said their most surprising triumph was their final standing ahead of rival Canadian teams such as the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary.

Furrow said the team’s strongest Canadian competitor, the University of Waterloo, frequently places in the top ten but was shut out this year.

“We felt good about having beaten [Waterloo] because we practice with them [and] always measure ourselves against them,” he said.

Linscott said Waterloo consistently outmatched Queen’s during practices, but his team beat them when it counted.

“All cylinders were firing and everything clicked that day,” he said. “It was one of our best performances as a team.”

The World Finals were held at the Obecni Dum, an historic municipal house, where each team was given a five-hour time limit and only one computer.

Furrow said the problems were applicable to real world situations, and varied in their degree of difficulty. In one instance, the team had to write a program calculating the maximum number of trees that could be planted along the streets of a town, given the position of streets and specified distance between trees.

Trang said a more challenging problem involved figuring out what time an army of ants following their leader would reach a specific destination, given the leader’s path.

“It seems simple, but no one at the World Finals got that question,” he said.

Furrow said he and his colleagues call themselves a “second-half team,” a description that proved true at the World Finals.

“We got three questions fairly quickly within the first hour and a half ... but we didn’t get any [more answers] in correctly until the last hour,” he said.

According to the team, the most exciting moment of the tournament occurred just before the clock stopped.

“Our last correct answer came in the last five minutes,” Furrow said.

Christopher Wolfe, a PhD student in computing and one of the team’s three coaches, said Furrow’s reaction best describes the moment the team received their final judgment. “[Furrow] threw his hands up in the air and screamed ‘yes!’,” Wolfe said.

Furrow said after his outburst, the entire room went silent and then everyone began to laugh.

Amber Simpson and Thomas Tang, both PhD students in computing at Queen’s, also coached the team.

Advancement to the World Finals required the team to qualify in the local, preliminary and regional contests. Worldwide, the local level consisted of more than 100,000 students in 3,150 teams, selected from 1,411 universities in 75 countries.

A total of 12 medals were awarded to the top placing teams-—four each of gold, silver and bronze. Rankings are based on both the most problems solved and least total time.

First prize at the World Finals was $10,000 U.S., awarded to a team from Russia’s St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, who correctly solved seven problems. Queen’s was awarded $1000 U.S. for their placement in the top 12.

—With files from the Queen’s Gazette and ITBusiness.ca

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