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U Hosts ‘Battle of the Brains’

Oct. 24, 2006 — Computer science students from universities in and around Utah will test their programming skills Saturday, Oct. 28 as the University of Utah hosts a “battle of the brains,” part of a worldwide contest involving 6,000 teams from 84 nations.

News media are invited to cover the University of Utah portion of the regional contest, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. MDT in the College of Engineering Computer-Aided Design and Engineering laboratory in rooms 224 and 226 of the Engineering and Mines Classroom Building. Participants will be unavailable for interviews during the contest. The best time for news media to photograph or videotape the event will be at about 2:30 p.m., with interviews possible starting at 3 p.m.

The Rocky Mountain regional competition is part of the 31st annual Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM’s) International Collegiate Programming Contest. The contest is sponsored by IBM – the world’s largest information technology company – and managed by Baylor University in Texas.

More than 40 regional contests are being held during Sept. 17-Dec. 17. Teams entering the regional events are vying to be among the 85 that will compete for awards, prizes and scholarships during the contest’s world finals March 12-16, 2007, in Tokyo.

Four sites will host Saturday’s Rocky Mountain regional event: the University of Utah, University of Saskatchewan in Canada, University of Colorado at Boulder and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

The University of Utah site will host two teams from the U, along with teams from Brigham Young University in Provo, Dixie State College in St. George, Weber State University in Ogden, Neumont University in South Jordan, Utah Valley State College in Orem and Montana Tech in Butte, Mont.

Teams competing in the Oct. 28 contest will register, hold a brief meeting and practice from 8 to 9:45 a.m., then participate in the contest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Results will be calculated from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by a 5 to 6:30 p.m. awards dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Trolley Square in Salt Lake City.

The regional contest “is a problem-solving and computer-programming competition among teams of three students from colleges in the Rocky Mountain region,” says Peter Jensen, an instructor at the University of Utah School of Computing and site coordinator for the event.

Two University of Utah teams of computer science students will compete in Saturday’s regional event:

  • Utah Red, with students Huy T. Vo, Solomon Boulos and Hao Wang.

  • Utah White, with students Will Hawkins, Matt Dame and Mark Hopkins.

“Teams work to solve eight programming problems during the five-hour competition, and the team that correctly solves the most problems wins,” Jensen says. “In the event of a tie, the quickness of the teams is used as a tiebreaker.”

Jensen adds: “One interesting component of the competition is that each team is only given one computer – the three teammates must best decide how to approach solving and programming the problems on only one machine.”

Jensen says the problems in the contest “are story problems that describe some result that needs to be computed from input data. Each problem tests the ability of the team to recognize which computer science principles will help solve the problem, and the problems also test the ability of the students to efficiently and robustly implement their solution [using one of two programming languages]. Some of the problems are not too difficult and others are quite challenging.”

“As teams complete problems, they submit them to the judges for verification,” Jensen adds. “If the program does not correctly solve the problem, the team is simply told that their program failed, and they are given an error message that obfuscates the reason for the failure. A team can then work to correct their solution until it is accepted by the judges.”

IBM bills the overall competition as “the world’s most prestigious programming contest of its kind” and says it “will gather the best and brightest computer programmers for an all-out ‘battle of the brains.'”

“With information technology skills shortages around the world and the rapid pace of change in the technology industry, innovation and collaboration at the university level are essential,” according to a statement issued on behalf of contest sponsor IBM. “This contest gives young computer programmers the opportunity to experience the world’s most advanced technology, an experience that will help pave their developing career paths.”

“Future innovation and value creation in our industry will come from the creativity of the next generation of engineers and computer scientists,” said Douglas Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM’s software group and the contest’s sponsorship executive. “It is vital that we promote and focus on the pursuit of excellence in the field of information technology.”

Last year’s contest involved tens of thousands of participants on 5,606 teams representing 1,737 universities at 183 sites in 84 countries.

The website for the International Collegiate Programming Contest is at:

The website for the Oct. 28 Rocky Mountain regional programming contest is at: