After less than a year training for the ICPC competitions, Rubmary Rojas, Augusto Hidalgo and I, as team RAM (R.A.M. … y‘see?), classified for the ICPC World Finals in Thailand!
Venezuela has few universities interested in Competitive Programming (there are not that many with CS studies, either), so there’s no National Contest, but rather each university holds its own. In our case, USB, UCV, and UCAB joined together for a local contest.
We came up third, with “Conejitos Peligrositos” (“Dangerous little bunnies”) leading in the USB with 8 problems solved, then NPI-Complete (UCV) with 7, then us (USB) with 6. The fourth team (“Segmentation Fault”, third and last classified from the USB) had also 6 problems solved, but with a bigger time penalty. We had little expectations for the regional, but things went way too well then…
By the start of the frozen hour we had five (5) accepted problems. Pending we had a problem with a Wrong Answer (we can try again), but we quickly saw a stupid solution to another problem (the simplest bipartite matching). While coding that one, we saw the mistake in the Wrong Answer, corrected, and got two (2) more Accepted problems!
We ended up with seven (7) problems, pretty happy with the outcome. Still, only the first place (and usually second) is guaranteed to classify for the World Finals; we were competing against Colombia, which had really good teams… And we classified, at second place (third also classified this time). We were going to Thailand.
The event started on Monday (May 16th, 2016). Up until the previous Wednesday, we didn’t know if we were going to make it. We had some money donated by friends that was just enough to buy 3 tickets from an organization that promised low prices for academic trips. Yet at last minute they said no.
We are supposed to get help from the university, private companies or the Venezuelan state. But our university is public and depends on the state, private companies have been mostly disappeared from the country (due to its nationalization policies), and the state seems to prioritize sports (like “Underwater Rugby”, whatever that is) before academic events.
It was a Thursday and all our hopes were gone, when some coach from another country contacted us. It seems some coaches, ICPC representatives and so on, collaborated to buy us the tickets. Within 6 hours of talks and organizing dates, we had the tickets (even for our coach). We had to run, now, as the flight was the very same night/dawn.
Such miracle included a trip of 5 stops one way, 4 stops the other, for a total of 11 flights, more than 132 hours traveling (less than the time we spent there!)… It was completely worth it.
The trip to Phuket was:
Caracas - Bogotá (2 hours)
- 3 hours in Bogotá.
Bogotá - Panamá City (2 hours)
- 3 hours in Panamá.
Panamá City - Sao Paulo (9 hours)
- Checked-out our bags to change airline.
- …19 hours of wait…
- Checked-in our bags with new airline.
Sao Paulo - Abu Dhabi (16.5 hours)
- 5 hours in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi - Bangkok (9 hours)
- We had to check out bags here. Mine was lost.
Airport security made the other literally run after one of their guys to the gate (Augusto said it was like a video game, where no matter how fast you go, the NPC is still ahead of you).
Airport security made me stay to wait for my bag after they supposedly found it.
They did, actually, and brought it to me in a cargo elevator. The security guy rushed me to run fast through the check-out point, past some guards, up 2 or 3 floors, to the gates hall, to the farthest gate, for check-in.
I made it.
Then we had to run after the Thai guy again, as our flight was almost ready to go.
We were left breathless, some with tachycardia, all of us super smelly, but we made it on time and boarded that tiny airplane (way more modern than Venezuela’s anyway), to Phuket, finally.
- Bangkok - Phuket (2 hours)
In Phuket, we got our bags easily and spent an hour changing, cleaning, resting, before going out to find a big welcome stand with a couple of volunteers from host university that treated us well and got us into transportation to the hotel in minutes.
The main event happens the day after the dress rehearsal. There we met the location: A sports stadium, with a big tent for resting before entering the arena. We got to listen to Executive Director Bill Poucher’s jokes and laughed hard at every one of them.
It was our first time in the World Finals, competing against the best of the best. Watching the giant screen showing the ICPCLive streaming just before entering the contest did not help much. Words from other competitors and friends did, though. We were there, and we were going to give it all, anyway.
The contest was… tense. Lots of balloons for other teams. We got our first AC on a relatively good time. But we struggled with our second problem. It was, according to the scoreboard, the second easiest, and we got many WA, before a final AC. That left us no time to think other problems through.
- To have stuck to a single problem for too long.
- To be all thinking about the same problem.
- To not read all the problems in time.
- To underestimate ourselves with some tasks.
We got only two problems. But it’s alright. We did all we could. We represented our university and country proudly. And I got this photo:
As for our friends from the Universidad Nacional de Rosario (Argentina), they won Latam Champions, no less. They achieved an outstanding 37th place, beating lots of crazily good universities. Congratulations, Leopoldo, Mariano, Pablo, and Martín!
A long and boring… I’m kidding. An awesome and wholly interesting talk on many hot topics in Computer Science by Star Wars characters… I mean, IBM guys. They talked about many things. Among them are Big Data, Cloud Computing and Bluemix. It really made me love my choice of studies way more than ever.
The opening was boring, I must confess. It was at FantaSea grounds, in some auditorium for shows. FantaSea looked great and all, but the presentation was mostly ACM-ICPC guys presenting Thai officials and professors (from host university and so on) who did not speak English at all. There were several awards for outstanding coaches, too.
The best I could get out of it, though, was the moment they showed all teams onscreen. And we saw all Latin America there. Such excitement can’t be described.
Later on, we ate there some weird Thai spicy food (I’m definitely not a fan of spicy food). The hall was rather amazingly large, and I can’t think of anything else they could use it for. After that, tired and all, we were at FantaSea marketplace, looking at real elephants and all kinds of merchandise around them.
After that, there was a quite amazing circus-like show, with theater, comedy, magic, elephants, music, some Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, and more elephants. There were easily more than ten elephants on-stage at the same time! It was amazing in all sense. Sadly I could not take pictures of record it. But still, what a show!
IBM, as good sponsors, had a great place set up for organizing tiny presentations, demonstrations and giving away gifts. Among those gifts, I got a pair of headphones, a USB hub, some pens, a cool cube toy and a really comfy t-shirt with an eye, a bee, and an “M”… Got it?
The World Finals are great in many ways. But one thing I really congratulate the organizers for is this… game? It’s called ICPCQuest, and it consists of completing quests, which are usually tweets with a specific photo or message you have to take or write, to gain points. Given a certain quantity, you get prizes. And at the end, the rest of prizes are given “at random”; with a probability distribution that follows how many points you got (the more points the more likely is that you get a prize).
It’s an awesome way to gain free coverage and tons of pictures of the event, makes the contestants and attendees interact with other people, and it’s just too fun to miss playing it.