Holed up in a room equipped solely with a computer and blackboard for five hours, with a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology programmers huddled around a desktop next door, may seem like a daunting experience for some. But for seniors Ian Christopher and Dennis Huo, along with sophomore Xiaoquing Tang, the task was more than manageable.

The three computer science majors, members of a UR computer programming team, won the regional finals of the Association of Computing Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest. Dubbed the ‘Battle of the Brains,” UR’s victory at Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend clinched the team a spot in the world finals in Harbin, China this February. In the process, the UR team defeated team’s of programmers from Harvard and MIT, which had held a firm grip on the title for six years.

‘It’s rare that someone other than MIT comes out on top on our region, so it’s really a feather in UR’s cap that they beat them,” Regional Contest Director Paul Tymann, said in a statement. ‘It was remarkable how quickly they could solve the problems, and really, in the end, that’s what allowed them to win.”

Although the competition lasted five hours, teams were graded not only on the accuracy of their solutions, but also their prompt answers. The scoring isn’t necessarily who finishes all of the problems the quickest, but how quickly each of the individual problems are solved.

‘They [MIT] actually finished before us in absolute time, but we did the problems a lot faster than them at the beginning,” team member Ian Christopher said. ‘They actually walked past our room, so we knew we had 45 minutes to get the last problem done.”

‘You don’t have to take a bunch of upper level classes,” Christopher said. ‘It’s more tricky. Let’s sit down and think about them for a couple of minutes and think, oh maybe I can do this, maybe I can do that.”

UR’s success wasn’t without practice. Christopher said that the team logged a lot of practice hours, practicing once or twice a week for three- or four-hour sessions.
‘We would just pick out a random problem set online and say go and do as many problems as possible,” he said.

Christopher said that the team would try to juggle weekly practices with their course schedules until winter break when they can pick up the pace. ‘The problems will definitely be a bit harder [in China],” he added.

Willis is a member of
the class of 2011.

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