While some Yalies were battling on the gridiron against Princeton this weekend, a group of 11 undergraduates huddled in a small room in New Rochelle, N.Y., racing against the clock to solve computer science problems.
Four teams consisting of Yale students competed in the Association for Computing Machinery Regional Collegiate Programming Contest for the Greater New York Region. Nearly 70 teams participated in the five-hour event held at Iona College.
The Yale teams finished in the middle of the pack, comparable to their performance in past years. The two-person sophomore team had the best overall results, finishing 13th in the 67-team field. The freshmen trio earned 17th, and the two three-person senior teams finished 27th and 29th.
“We did about as well as I expected,” said Stan Eisenstat, a computer science professor and the team’s coach. “We didn’t do super well.”
The teams were presented with a series of computer programming problems, which they were told to solve to the best of their ability. All teams, regardless of age, were presented with the same problems, and awards will be given to the top teams in each age group and the top schools overall once the final results are tabulated.
Brad Galiette ’08, a member of the freshman team, said Yale was expecting to use two computers in the contest. They were unprepared when they arrived at the competition to find they would only be allowed one computer per team, a situation other teams had prepared for, he said.
Creating further problems, one of the senior team members had to pull out of the competition at the last minute, necessitating some juggling of teams, resulting in the undermanned sophomore squad.
The competition was open to any Yalies interested in participating, and there was no screening or audition process. Only one of the four Yale teams met before the competition to practice.
Reuben Grinberg ’05 said he lamented the fact that his team had not prepared beforehand.
“We were slightly disorganized, and we performed pretty poorly,” he said. “If my teammates and I had gotten our act together — maybe if we had organized a test run — we would have gotten top 10.”
Eisenstat said some of the competing universities have a more serious attitude toward the contest. Some schools require students to pass preliminary tests and schedule practice sessions to prepare, he said.
“There are teams out there with elaborate screening processes and lots of practices. Cornell even picks their team members in the spring,” Eisenstat said. “That isn’t the way Yale seems to want to do things. We have a different selection process and a different kind of team.”
Grinberg said the team’s showing does not reflect the quality of Yale’s computer science program, but emphasizes the lack of preparation and practice.
Despite the fact that the Yale teams may not have performed as well as they could have, many of the participants enjoyed the intensity and excitement of the competitive event.
“It was a really fast-paced atmosphere,” Galiette said. “There were a large number of students placed in one room. You could feel the pulse of what was going on.”
Grinberg said he was so caught up in the competition that he forgot to eat.
“After the five hours were up, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day,” Grinberg said. “I immediately scarfed down some sandwiches and soda.”
Eisenstat said the freshmen and sophomore teams performed well, and may place as top teams for their age groups. Eisenstat has coached the Yale delegation to this contest the past four years, and said the Yale contingent has grown each year, indicating increased interest in computer programming on campus.