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SATURDAY: Let the Best Brain Win

UC holds regional contest in IBM-sponsored 'Battle of the Brains,' leading up to the world’s most prestigious computer programming competition.

Date: 10/31/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826

UC ingot  

The University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering plays host to universities from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania as part of the world’s most prestigious computer programming competition, the 33rd annual IBM-sponsored Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.

John Franco, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, has organized the event with the assistance of the student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

“The Association for Computing Machinery is the professional organization that has hosted this event over the years,” Franco explains. “The world is divided into 17 regions. We are in the East Central North American region, which includes most of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, most of Indiana and Canadian provinces that include Waterloo and Toronto.”

On average there are two teams per school, with three students per team. Teams competing at UC on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 are as follows:

  • Ashland University
  • Ball State University
  • Butler University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Cedarville University
  • Miami University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Ohio State University
  • Ohio University
  • Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Purdue University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Dayton
  • Wright State University
  • Xavier University

“There are four sites in the region where the competition will be held simultaneously,” says Franco. “These include McMasters University in Canada, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Youngstown State and UC. We are the controlling site — all the software and configurations come from us. We have the site server — an IBM Thinkcenter 850. Youngstown State has the judges — all sites are judged simultaneously — this is accomplished through instantaneous links from all sites to UC then out to Youngstown and back. Each site has about 30 teams for a total of about 120.”

Teams of three students will be challenged to use their programming skills and rely on their mental endurance to solve complex, real-world problems under a grueling five-hour deadline. Tackling these problems is equivalent to completing a semester’s worth of computer programming in one afternoon. The team that solves the most problems correctly in the least amount of time earns a spot on the world finals roster.

The organizers design the competition so that teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds, and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges. For a well-versed computer science student, some of the problems require precision only. Others require a knowledge and understanding of advanced algorithms. Still others are simply too hard to solve — except, of course, for the world’s brightest problem solvers.

“Each team is asked to solve eight programming problems. The problems emphasize thinking skills rather than coding skills,” Franco notes. “The scoring is tricky and depends both on the number of problems solved correctly and the time it takes to solve each problem and how many tries it takes before the problem is solved.”

An added bonus for the students participating is that contest sponsors IBM and Reynolds and Reynolds will be on hand to recruit.

“This contest is about fostering the next generation of industry leaders in IT and promoting strong foundations in both technology and business,” says Doug Heintzman, director of strategy of IBM Software Group and sponsorship executive. “IBM understands the importance of investing in the bright young minds on the university level for the future of our industry and our world. That’s why we continue to make the commitment to this competition each year and why we welcome many students into the IBM family after graduation.”

This year’s regional competitions of the ICPC are expected to include tens of thousands of students from universities in 83 countries on six continents, all vying for a spot at the Contest’s World Finals. One hundred talented teams will compete for awards, prizes, scholarships and bragging rights to the “world’s smartest trophy” April 18–22, 2009, in Stockholm, Sweden, hosted by KTH — Royal Institute of Technology.