[IOI 2014 Part 1] Everything is More Exciting with Lightsabers

Okay, I guess it was really naïve of me to suppose that I could get any considerable amount of blogging done before the IOI ended. Onward…

We left off at the end of the practice session. As if somebody were taking revenge against us for not having to suffer through any airplane trips, we were served a cold airplane meal for lunch.

Seriously, the box had a sticker that noted its manufacturer as something something Air Kitchen and another translucent sticker that badly covered an inscription saying the same thing in much bigger letters. It contained a cold apple salad, a cold chicken bun, a cold flat plastic cylinder of orange juice, and a package of plastic utensils that was exactly like the utensils that came with every airplane meal ever. I was disappointed, but at least the salad tasted okay, and I ate an extra one because two of my teammates volunteered theirs.

To pass the time, we played an extra-evil ninety-nine variant. Apparently this is a very Taiwanese game because lots of student guides were teaching their teams the game, although our special cards differ from the ones Wikipedia lists in a lot of ways and our evil variant created more opportunity for sabotage and counter-sabotage and bluffing. 7s are used to draw your replacement card from somebody else’s hand, and that person cannot draw again and will have one less card; aces are used to swap your entire hand with somebody else, who also cannot draw a card; small-value cards can be combined to form special values (e.g. play a 2 and 5 for the effect of a 7) but after playing a combination you can only draw one replacement card; and later, to speed up the game, we added a rule where all 9s had to be unconditionally discarded without replacement but would still get shuffled back into the draw pile. Players lose if it’s their turn and they have no playable cards, including no cards at all.

While we were playing and repeatedly reveling in everybody ganging up to beat the winner from the last round, an instrumental version of “You Are My Sunshine” played on repeat in the background for literally the entire time. It wasn’t a very good version either. If you didn’t listen carefully for the fade-out and few seconds of silence at the end of each loop, you’d think that the loop was only one verse long.

After the miserable excuse for lunch, we entered the place the opening ceremony, and an orchestra played a few songs that I can finally hope gave the contestants a feeling of Taiwanese culture. I recognized 「望春風」.

We were greeted by a time lapse of people setting up the contest environment, followed by speeches and bad translations thereof. I won’t bore you with details; most speeches were maximally long-winded enumerations of the list of guests, followed by predictable rambles about how the IOI was really important and had grown from X participating countries in year Y to X’ participating countries in year Y’, and how great Taiwan’s tech industry and colleges and society were. I didn’t take very thorough notes here, but I think the president of NTNU (the university that organized the event and our training) also described how during IOI training we got to solder a chain of LEDs together and program a few Arduino chips to make lightsabers, as if this was some sort of revolutionary achievement. Yeah, we made lightsabers, but they were all a bit iffy and the ones that appeared during IOI had almost certainly been made by somebody else, so during the speech I was fervently hoping the translator would fail to translate it. Alas, the translator translated it.

The other thing that really ticked me off during the speech was when the speakers said “大家午安,大家好!” really loudly. The Chinese greeting is basically “good afternoon, how are you?” and the speaker will pause so that the audience can respond with a drawn-out “好!” as per tradition, except maybe three-quarters of the people there didn’t speak Chinese so omfg who do you think you’re talking to.

Somewhere in between the speeches, there was a professional diabolo performance, considerably more elaborate than the one we had seen in the talent show the day before. I enjoyed the effects’ design; after lots of tricks with plain red diabolos, two flashy neon-green diabolos were introduced to spice things up. The lead girl who was manipulating the flashing diabolos dropped one near the end, but she kept her composure so well until the ending pose that it was impossible not to wonder if she hadn’t dropped it deliberately.

The IOI president Richard Forster gave the only speech that was interesting for reasons other than how many times it compelled me to facepalm, giving detailed advice about how to get the most out of the IOI.

Number one. Get some sleep. (raises hands) I don’t mean now.

What a gem. Items two and three were “Enjoy yourselves” and “Talk to each other”. After him, the current chair Greg Lee talked about, among other things, how he was giving the last speech that everybody was eagerly anticipating (so that the speeches would be over, I suppose.) Everybody cheered.

Then it was time to greet all the teams. The slides were cutely designed to show a distinctive part of each country’s flag in the background, so for a flag with vertical stripes they’d show a horizontal cross-section and for a flag with horizontal stripes they’d show a vertical cross-section, while the main part of the slides still had a uniform design and clear contrast. I suspect there were more than a few mistakes, though, because after a very small amount of preemptive stalking, I was hypersensitive to the U.S. team member names and noticed them appearing multiple times.

Advantage #3 of being the home team: you receive a lot of cheering when it’s your turn.

As the finale, the orchestra played The Sound of Music. Around this time I got snagged to talk to a few reporters outside the auditorium, who asked me questions like “Do you want to get a gold medal?” Dear reporters: normally journalistic integrity is pretty high on my list of virtues but if you’re going to pull me out of concluding performances, especially ones I know how to sing along to, to ask yes-or-no questions to which only one answer makes sense, I’d rather you make up something flowery. (Besides, I know you’re going to extrapolate and overanalyze a lot of details from the autobiographies we had to hand in long before the IOI anyway.)

In any case, the ceremony was over; we were herded back to the hotel for dinner. I was very paranoid about what I ate before the contest, so I avoided cold stuff and fried stuff. After dinner, there was a dance party with very loud, very American dance music. Both DJs were my friends from school — advantage #4.

I danced.

This is not remarkable. Despite what others may insistently claim, I have no idea how to dance professionally; I do this sort of unique wibbly-wobbly freestyle that somebody had once compared to an old guy doing t’ai chi in the park. Long, long ago, I was part of our school’s break-dancing club, but I remember about two moves (which I never do for more than four beats because it gets boring) and two easy freezes (which I avoid now due to the port-a-cath in my shoulder). Everything else is made-up on the spot. If it looks impressive, it’s just the placebo effect.

Other people danced, and there were lines of people hopping with the beat, and somehow or other two lightsabers appeared and people started battling each other. It was a fun night. But I barely lasted for half an hour, which was just as well; it was the night before the contest and I really needed to sleep early. Which I did.

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