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Battle of the Brains

Battle of the Brains
A team of undergraduate computer scientists is on its way to Stockholm, Sweden this weekend to compete in the World Finals of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC).

The "Battle of the Brains," which is organized by the Association for Computer Machinery and sponsored by IBM, challenges three-person teams to solve a set of complex, real-world problems in just five hours. Huddled around a single computer, competitors race against the clock in a battle of logic, strategy and mental endurance.

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 nearly too hard to solve. The team that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner.

"The top teams usually solve seven or eight questions out of the ten or so they give you," says sophomore David Wahler, who also competed at last year’s world finals in Canada. "It’s nearly impossible to solve all of them."

Along with Wahler, who’s originally from the Cayman Islands, the Texas team consists of Josiah Godfrey, a sophomore from Bear, Delaware, and Tim Malone, a sophomore from Sugar Land, Texas.

Although the competition round itself lasts for only five hours, the events surrounding it span five days, from April 18 through 22.

Students will be taken on a field trip to Vaxholm Fortress, outside of Stockholm. They’ll attend panels and lectures, enjoy banquets, take tours, compete in a practice contest and view an IBM technology showcase. The setting itself, Stockholm's historic Grand Hotel, is also part of the experience.

"It’s a lot of fun, but also very intimidating," says Wahler. "You have no idea what kinds of skills you’re going to need in advance."

The University of Texas at Austin team qualified for the world finals by placing first out of 60 teams at the South Central regional competition, which was held in October 2008. They are one of 100 teams globally that qualified to compete out of an original 7,109 teams, representing 1,838 universities from around the world, that participated in the regional competitions last fall.

The ICPC traces its roots to a competition held at Texas A&M in 1970. It has been headquartered at Baylor University since 1989.
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Monday, 06 July 2020

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