April 13, 2017

Ithaca team wins high school programming contest

A team from Ithaca High School took first place in the fourth annual Cornell High School Programming Contest April 7, in which two dozen teams from the Northeast gathered in a Gates Hall computer lab to match their computer skills against the clock and each other.

Modeled on the ACM intercollegiate programming contest, the competition presents students with a list of 12 problems that can be solved by writing a computer program. The winner is the team that solves the most problems in the least time. It is a test of strategy as well as programming skill, since the team must decide which problems can be solved most rapidly.

Problems involved such questions as determining the number of empty seats in an auditorium, or stacking pancakes by size by flipping parts of the stack.

Scoring, appropriately, is done by a computer. Teams submit their programs to run on the scoring computer, which compares the output with what should be expected. A wrong answer results in a time penalty.

The Ithaca High School team made up of Vivek Myers, Jacob Silcoff and Mrinal Thomas took first place. Second place went to Fred Choi, Tony Jiang and Paarth Tandon from Bishop Hendricksen High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, and third to Jingjong (Daniel) Xiang and Rui (Tony) Zhou from Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, New York. A team of three high school teachers joined in the competition; they came in fourth.

The Ithaca team solved seven of the 12 available problems, finishing just six minutes before the three-hour deadline. The second-place team also solved seven problems but took a bit longer. Other runners-up solved six problems.

The first-place winner received a trophy and runners-up a medal. Every team received a certificate.

The contest was launched in 2014 by Cornell research professor Robbert van Renesse; Daniel Fleischman, a former graduate student in the field of operations research and information engineering; and Ithaca High School math and computer science teacher Fred Deppe, who first proposed the idea. This year’s problems were created by Fleischman, Deppe and Cornell computer science and mathematics graduate student Victor Reis.

The students’ day began with an informal reception over pizza and a tour of Gates Hall. After the contest Kavita Bala, professor of computer science, gave a talk on the use of deep learning in image recognition.

“We wanted to have them see that computer science is not just programming,” van Renesse said.