An Eastern Mennonite University team in the Mid-Atlantic region competition of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) placed 18th out of 184, besting the top teams from the likes of the University of Richmond, UNC-Charlotte, George Washington University, Dickinson College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Villanova University, Georgetown University, and Wake Forest University.
A second of the three EMU teams placed 48th in the Nov. 10 computer science competition, high enough to outscore the top teams from local (and friendly) rivals Bridgewater College (49th) and James Madison University (52nd).
First place in the five-hour contest went to Duke University, followed by Drexel University and Swarthmore College. Last place – 89th – was shared by the 96 of the 184 competing teams who solved none of the eight problems.
“This is the premier computer science contest for undergraduates, a highly competitive international contest,” said Professor Daniel Showalter. “The competitor list includes most of the elite schools in the country, and many of these schools have large teams that train year-round for the competition with coaches who devote most of their energy to the training, whereas EMU had just a two-credit problem-solving course this semester for the first time.”
This was only the third time that a team – and the first time that multiple teams – from EMU entered the competition. The problem-solving course, which allows students to approach the topic from a math perspective, taught by Professor Owen Byer, or a computer science perspective, taught by Showalter, requires participation in a major competition and, as Showalter said, the ICPC – a “mental marathon” – was “the obvious choice.”
EMU’s top-scoring team included sophomore Cameron Byer and juniors Ben Stutzman and Daniel Harder, a power trio that won the international Kryptos cryptoanalysis competition last spring. The second-place team for EMU included seniors Austin Engle, Brandon Chupp and Andrew Reimer-Berg, and a third team included juniors Dan Hackman, Darren Good and Jamie Stoltzfus.
The EMU teams competed at the 500-computer Math Emporium at Virginia Tech, one of the Mid-Atlantic competition’s eight sites. (EMU’s top team outscored every team at three of the eight sites: Christopher Newport, Shippensburg, and Wilkes.)
Each team clustered around a single computer to solve as many of the eight problems as possible using not only familiarity with popular algorithms but also insight and creativity.
“The problems are chosen to be very challenging and push students to the edges of their problem-solving capacities,” Showalter said. For example, one problem dealt with two bicycle courier services that wanted to increase their collective customer base. The students had to write a program that would take the customer locations and determine how to split them among two companies to minimize the guaranteed delivery time.
The indicators of each team’s progress, however, were delightfully low-tech, he said: “Each problem had a color associated with it, and whenever a team solved a problem, a balloon of that color was tied to their computer station for all the other competitors to see.”