STOCKHOLM -- For a while, it looked like they just might win.
University of Waterloo's team in the world finals of the Association for Computer Machinery's International Collegiate Programming Contest took an early lead, solving one of the 11 problems teams were charged with in an unheard-of 10 minutes.
One hundred three-person teams from universities around the world were locked in the library of Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology for five hours under tight supervision, handed 11 complex word problems and told to create programs to solve them.
Canada was also represented by the University of British Columbia, McGill University and University of Alberta.
Waterloo led the field for the first hour-and-a-half of the competition, submitting five solutions in a row without incurring penalty time for an incorrect solution. “That’s very unusual,” said team member Konstantin Lopryev.
But Lopryev, Malcolm Sharpe and Andy Tsz Yin Kong hit a wall after that. They slid to third, then eighth, as they were leapfrogged by teams that managed to crack a sixth question.
A last-minute solution to a sixth problem salvaged 10th place for the team – good enough this year for a share of the bronze medal.
The problems were submitted to a board of judges, and even conference organizers didn't know what they were until the day of the competition. ICPC executive director Bill Poucher said there was a wide range of difficulty in the questions. Upon seeing them for the first time, his reaction ranged from, “Any child could solve this problem, as long as he's had three years of (university) mathematics and computer science,” to, “That (problem) is a corker … if a team can solve that one, they'll probably be seeing me on the stage.”
St. Petersburg State University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO) did.
The ITMO team defended its 2008 world championship by solving eight questions. While three other teams shared the gold medal – Tsingshua University of Beijing (identified by Waterloo assistant coach Richard Peng as “the scariest team in the competition”), ITMO’s crosstown rivals St. Petersburg State University, and Saratov State University, also from Russia – ITMO was awarded the championship because the team posted a better time.
Silver medalists were University of Oxford (U.K), Zhejiang University (China), Altai State University (Russia) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which won North American bragging rights with a seventh-place finish.
Waterloo shared the bronze with I. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (Georgia), Carnegie Mellon University and South China University of Technology.
University of British Columbia tied for 34th with 14 other teams, including host KTH. Alberta and McGill didn’t make the Top 50. (After the medalists, teams are ranked simply by the number of problems solved.)