April 13, 2016

Ithaca, Pittsford score in high school programming contest

programing contest winners
Jessie White/Provided
Robbert Van Renesse, left, principal research scientist at Cornell, stands with Ithaca High School students Jacob Silcoff, Jonathan Gomes-Selman and Zachary Stillman, winners of the High School Programming Contest.
all programming contestants
Jessie White/Provided
Participants in the third annual High School Programming Contest.

Teams from Ithaca High School took first and third place in the third annual High School Programming Contest April 7. A team from Pittsford, New York, placed second in the event that drew 19 teams from all over New York state.

Modeled on the annual Internatiional Collegiate Programming Contest, the competition presents teams with a list of problems that can be solved by writing computer programs. Teams are scored on the number of problems they solve and how rapidly, with a penalty charged against time for handing in an incorrect solution.

Problems included scoring a Ping-Pong tournament, predicting how long a cell phone battery would last, finding oddities in the weigh-in records of a person on a diet, and translating English into a newly invented form of simplified spelling. The problems vary in difficulty, but are presented in random order, as part of a whimsical story about a person traveling in Thailand and running into a series of difficulties. Part of the challenge is to decide which problems can be solved in the shortest time and should be attacked first.

Each team was given a workstation in a Carpenter Hall computer lab and could work in any programming language they prefer. They were given a calculator but were not allowed to bring any other electronic devices. Final judging is performed by a computer that runs a team’s program and compares the output with what should be expected. The lab assumes a festive look as each team that solves a problem is issued a balloon; most students took their balloons with them to the awards ceremony.

Ithaca High School entered four teams. IHS Team 4, comprising Jacob Silcoff, Jonathan Gomes-Selman and Zachary Stillman, solved five problems to take first place. Team 1 of three from Pittsford Central Schools, Yizuo Chen, Yiyuo Chen and Peng Sun solved four for second place, and IHS Team 3, Daniel Halpern, James Park and Mrinal Thomas, solved three to take third.

Along with trophies and medals, members of the winning teams received Qualcomm smartwatches.

The competition was launched in 2014 by Cornell principal research associate Robbert van Renesse; Daniel Fleischman, a graduate student in the field of operations research and industrial engineering; and Ithaca High School math and computer science teacher Frederick Deppe, who first proposed the idea as an activity for his students. They continue as organizers, joined this year by computer science professors David Bindel and Emin Gun Sirer and several computer science department staff volunteers, all steered by Jessie White, events coordinator for the department.

Problems for the competition were created by Fleischman and Sakethnath Are '16, who are co-leaders of the Cornell team that competes in the collegiate-level contest.