Duke Places First in ACM Programming Contest

November 11, 2011

Duke Participants

Three Duke students will head to Warsaw, Poland, in May as winners of the ACM Mid-Atlantic regional programming contest.

First place team: Yuqian Li, Joe Keefer, Jie Li

Alex Kritchevsky, Yong-Hui (Ethan) Goh, Jared Nelson

David Hemminger, Daniel Vitek, Seon Kang

Jim Posen , Kuang (Kevin) Han. Michael Zhou

Ricky Marron, Ben Schwab, Robert Cochran

They were among more than 160 teams who competed for five hours November 5 at eight sites along the East Coast in the Association for Computing Machinery’s regional contest. Duke, in its 16th year serving as a contest site, hosted 27 regional teams. Its five teams placed first, ninth, 27th, 31st and 34th. With their win, Duke math senior Joe Keefer and first-year computer science graduate students Jie Li and Yuqian Li have earned a spot in the world finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, to be held May 14-18 at the University of Warsaw. They will compete with winners of other regional contests that took place in the fall around the world.

“The Duke teams did very well,” noted Professor Susan Rodger, director of the Duke contest site.

With the use of one computer, teams of three students try to solve as many problems as possible, programming the solutions in C++ or Java. The contest’s eight problems are presented as real-life scenarios, and teams work to determine the underlying problems and to develop algorithms for the solutions. The winning team from Duke was the only team in the regional contest to solve six of the eight problems. The second-place team, from the College of William and Mary, solved four problems. Duke’s other teams each solved three problems.

One problem in this year’s contest involved spelunkers in a cave who drop stones and listen for a thunk or a splash. Armed with data from some of those results, the students had to determine whether an island was below the spelunkers.

“That was one nobody got,” Rodger said. “The winning Duke team tried it twice but didn’t get it. There was a very easy one that the Duke team got in 14 minutes. That’s pretty fast.”

Students on Duke’s teams were enrolled in CompSci 149S, a half-credit problem-solving seminar run by visiting lecturer Michael Hewner, undergraduate student Siyang Chen and Duke alumnus Kevin Kauffman. The course, started by Professor Owen Astrachan, has been taught since 1994.

With the exception of one year — 1996 — Duke has had a team advance to the world finals each year since 1994. Teams also competed in 1989 and 1990, with Astrachan on those teams as a graduate student. Except for the winning team, Duke teams this year were composed of undergraduates.