University of Rochester

University of Rochester Dethrones MIT by Winning Regional Finals of World's Most Prestigious Computer Programming Contest

November 3, 2009

Three University of Rochester computer science students will head to China for the world finals of the Association of Computing Machinery's annual competition in February

The University of Rochester has become the first school in six years to beat MIT in the regional finals of the oldest, largest, and most prestigious computer programming competition in the world, popularly dubbed the "Battle of the Brains."

University President Joel Seligman called the whole team into his office today to congratulate the three team members Ian Christopher, Dennis Huo, and Xiaoqing Tang and their advisor Daniel Stefankovic for winning the Northeastern North America region in the Association of Computing Machinery's International Collegiate Programming Contest.

In order to win the competition, the University of Rochester's team outscored all of their closest competitors - MIT, Harvard, Brown, and McGill - in the five-hour battle which took place over the weekend at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The team will head to Harbin, China for the world finals from Feb. 1 to Feb. 6.

"It's rare that someone other than MIT comes out on top on our region, so it's really a feather in U of R's cap that they beat them," said Paul Tymann, the regional contest director. "It was remarkable how quickly they could solve the problems, and really, in the end, that's what allowed them to win."

As a regional winner, the University of Rochester will be one of 100 teams out of a pool of 7,109 teams from 1,838 universities in 88 countries that will have a chance to compete for the international title.

The regional contest was comprised of eight tasks in which the teams were asked to write computer code that would solve particular problems. For instance, teams were asked to write a code that could take two words of the same length from the dictionary and transform one of the words into the other by choosing the shortest possible set of intermediary words in which each word differs from the previous word by only one letter (i.e. blood, brood, brook etc.). The team that succeeded in accomplishing the greatest number of tasks in the smallest amount of time won.

The University of Rochester and MIT were the only two schools that solved all eight problems correctly (third and fourth place teams Harvard and McGill, respectively, each answered seven correctly, and fifth place Brown answered five). Rochester beat MIT on speed, though, finishing with a combined time of 16 hours and 10 minutes - almost three hours shorter than MIT's 18 hours and 51 minutes*.

"They practiced a substantial amount and I think that showed," Stefankovic said of his team.

In the world finals, Rochester will face the best teams from around the globe including traditional powerhouses like Russia's St. Petersburg University of Information Technology, which has won each of the last two years, and China's Tsinghua University. In the last three years, MIT was the only US university to finish in the top four places (it finished second in 2008 and fourth in 2007).

*The time for each problem is calculated from the beginning of the competition. For example, if a team gets the first problem at the one hour mark, the second at the two hour mark, and the third at the three hour mark, its combined time for those three problems is six hours, even though it only took three hours to solve the set.