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Rice Wins ACM-ICPC Contest

By Jieya Wen     10/27/14 2:27pm

A team of three Rice University students entitled Rice Gray won first place at the South Central USA regionals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest on Oct. 4. The winners are Jose Vera-Garza, a Lovett College sophomore, Philip Taffet, a Duncan College sophomore, and Nick Merritt, a Martel College junior.

“The contest is five hours,” John Greiner (Hanszen ’89), the coach of the Rice ICPC teams, said. “Each team has three people. Each team got one computer and the same nine problems to solve. [Winning the Contest depends on] how many problems you solve by writing a computer program that works successfully within the time allowed. Tiebreaker is based upon the time that was used.”

Rice students attended the regional competition that includes competitors from three states: Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The winners of the regionals will compete at the World Finals May 16-21, 2015 in Marrakech, Morocco.



There are thousands of teams participating in the regional level,” Greiner, a lecturer for the Rice computer science department, said. “We've sent five teams this year to regionals. One of our teams took first place, solving five problems. This year's problems were a bit harder and trickier than that recent past.”

The winning students said they were surprised to have won the competition because they only prepared for a short time and had a slow start during the competition, according to Vera-Garza. They solved their fifth problem with only three minutes left.

“Due to scheduling, [the competition] had to be moved a month earlier than the normal years, so we didn't have much time to prepare,” Vera-Garza said. “[Taffet] and I began practicing a month before the competition started. We got together once a week, sometimes twice a week, to do problems.”

Taffet said because questions at this year’s competition are harder than the past ones and the three students only had one computer, the team did not do very well at the beginning of the contest.

“We were hoping to solve seven questions so we were very surprised that we won,” Taffet said. “We just had a bad day. We struggled with a lot of easy questions and other people had a bad day too. We ended up winning by [submitting two fewer wrong answers than the other team], very close.”

Meritt joined the team two weeks before the contest. The original third member of the team is a first-year Ph.D. student and had participated in a different regional ICPC contest for the same world final, Vera-Garza said.

Originally, when Dr. Greiner made the team, our third teammate had competed before in a different regional for the same world finals, so he couldn't compete,” Vera-Garza said. “The contest doesn't allow you to compete in several regionals so that you have multiple chances to get into world finals.

Merritt said he is surprised and happy about winning the contest.

“It's an amazing opportunity, but I didn't find out about the contest and start preparing until a week or two weeks before, so I was incredibly lucky to be placed in a team with these two amazing guys who were way more prepared,” Merritt said. “It was not what I was expecting.”

Greiner said to prepare for the world competition in May, the team will practice more problems from past world finals and learn computer science related mathematics, as well as algorithms.

“They will also need to prepare materials that they can use during the world finals,” Greiner said. “They get to take a small amount of printed materials into the competition with them as hints.”



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