ACM Contest World Finals

April 16, 2005

Report on ACM Contest World Finals by Brad Bart, SFU's ACM Contest Team Coach

Well, it has happened: The ACM Programming Contest Finals, and for the first time in almost 10 years, SFU was on the world stage. The competition was held in Shanghai, China, the first time a worlds has been held in Asia, and Upsilon Pi Epsilon, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and IBM put on a show that we won't soon forget.

The activities were mainly at the Shangri-La Hotel, a 5-star hotel overlooking the Huangpu River, near downtown Shanghai. The opening ceremony included a taeko drum performance (or the Chinese equivalent), set on a specially constructed stage in the hotel's ballroom, and a procession of all contestants before an audience of cameras and reporters. Truly a big deal!

IBM, the main sponsor, gave a seemingly endless recruitment pitch, and also gave talks on some of their cutting edge technology: their latest supercomputer (Blue Gene, with around 65000x800MHz parallel processors), and cell processors. There was also a special hardware talk from the endearing John Cohn, a mad-scientist who made a pickle explode and melt as a demonstration of current drift in circuits!


The competition itself was high with tension, but also full of Canadian camaraderie. At the regionals, this was probably the best year ever for Canada, qualifying 6 teams for the world finals out of a possible 10 slots. Also present were UBC, U of A, Calgary, Waterloo and UNB. The chumminess was immediate. To give you an example, before the actual competition, there is always a "just for fun" competition. This year, the goal was to write a parallel application to play a twisted version of soccer. Games would include 6 teams per heat in a free for all. Immediately, the Canadian teams came together to discuss a strategy: if there were several Canadian teams in the same heat, they agreed they would gang up on the other teams! (Sadly, their strategy wasn't implementable due to an unexpected system constraint.)

Just for interest sake, SFU's program did really well against the others. In the simulation, Simon Fraser finished 6th overall, the only Canadian team to finish over 40th (out of 78).


The main event was another story. The competitors were faced with
10 challenging problems, and SFU experienced some indecision in the early contest. They started one problem, and switched to a different problem before completing the first. The second one was submitted for judging, but it was judged as incorrect. The team then started on a third problem. After 2 hours, SFU had not finished one problem, but the leaders: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Jiao Tong, Waterloo and UBC had all finished 4 or 5. It was not SFU's day.

SFU recovered in the end, completing all three of the problems they started. There were glimmers of hope for a 4th, but time ran short. Three problems correct was one problem short of the overall awards (4 problems), and while SFU received only an honourable mention for their good performance, it was on the high end of the honourable side. :-)

Hats off to Aaron Chan, Zi Lin and Bo Zhang, our world finalists!