Random video! Although I feel that I’ve heard it earlier, my first conscious memory of getting linked to it is from this post. At first I thought it would be the right background music for this post, but upon further reflection I think it mainly suited me while I was writing this post. Well, it’s topical if you mentally replace “day” with “year”.
Anyway. Around this time a year ago, I paused my participation in big high-school competitions, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, I stopped attempting to make IMO both because I wouldn’t get that much from the training and because other people ought to have the opportunity. I was concerned that I might condition myself to only be able to do math with the short-term motivation of contests. Better to focus on college math and maybe some original research, I thought. During the year, I did lots of the former and very little of the latter. Meh.
As for the IOI, my obvious next target: I was tired of training and going abroad while paranoid about whether my immune system would hold up. I didn’t feel that the IOI was worth that. To some degree, I also felt burned out about programming. Long story short, my treatment should end soon, and learning Haskell completely resolved the burnout problem.
But the most important reason, I think, was that “high school was too short”. I started math competitions ridiculously early and didn’t spend much time exploring other interests. I thought I knew myself well enough that I could say I didn’t have many more interests at all, but I was completely wrong (psych nerds will reflexively note this to be the Dunning-Kruger effect). I coded lots in weird languages — Haskell, as mentioned previously, plus Scala, plus all manner of other magical command line tools. I wrote my first math problem and submitted it officially, picked up a new instrument, went to a debate competition, served as an unimportant tech guy for MUN, discovered and became hooked on Pentatonix, participated in three puzzle hunts in Australia and one in Massachusetts, figured out my rough political stance, rode a boat, got retweeted by @eevee and @Kyrgyzstan_News, increased my Neopets™ fortune by over 3400%, and lurked on FurAffinity a little too much.
But now, dear competition world, I’m back.
Okay I don’t actually know how this pointless rambling got so long. I know the longer it is the more people will just tend to skim, because I do that all the time. So I went back and refactored—er, rewrote all the somewhat tangential bits (wow these puns are too easy) into footnotes. Manually. Obviously if I have to do this again I’ll write a script for it. But the post is still really long, and I bet nobody will read the whole thing. Oh well.
Life updates: I got out of the hospital Friday two-and-a-half weeks ago, went to the preliminaries of NPSC (a national team programming contest) with classmates, threw up a lot, went back into the hospital, and came out again. I wrote a lot of stuff about the experience and how much it sucked (hint: a lot) when I started this draft around that time, but now putting so much detail in this post feels weird. I’m mostly good now.
Three years ago NPSC was the only programming contest I really knew of; now I’ve participated in quite a few more, both online and locally, but it’s still the only contest I’ve entered that gives you real-time verdicts. I believe it inherits this from being modeled after ACM-ICPC, but that’s for college people and I’m less clear on how it works. All the other contests, namely TopCoder, CodeForces, USACO, and the other local individual competition (there doesn’t appear to be an English name so for the purpose of this post I’ll just call it “Nameless Local”; there’s a nation-wide competition in one-and-a-half weeks!), have system tests after the contest that don’t allow you to resubmit afterwards. They all give pretests that you get to know about right away, just to catch super-silly non-algorithmic mistakes like failing to remove the debug statements or reading input from the wrong place, but these contain weak test cases and don’t guarantee that the solution will pass the system tests and get full score.
We finally arrived at the hotel at 3:30, meeting another local from Taiwan, Mr. Chen, who helped us carry some of our stuff off the bus. Po-Chiang, our guide, was waiting inside. We took more pictures and finally lugged the meager stuff we had off to our hotel rooms.
At least, we tried. I started to realize that there was much more to this hotel than it seemed.
Firstly, of course, was the confusing placement of rooms with numbers starting with 4 and 5 on the fourth floor (which would be the fifth floor by our numbering system, where the lobby is floor 1; but here the lobby was assigned 0. Off-by-one errors just waiting to happen here.) Secondly were the completely indecipherable signs. I don’t remember the details, but the first signs we saw read something like “560 ~ 540: left; 520 ~ 540: right”. Occasionally there would be weird slashes or half-slashes between the numbers instead (later I finally realized they were slanted, Comic-Sans-style capital Ys, or “and” in Spanish). Are these closed, open, or half-open intervals? And why the heck are their upper and lower bounds in a different order!?
We wandered through the corridors, peeking down each one, trying to figure out whether the numbers were increasing or decreasing and whether a parity argument (for those of you not fluent in math lingo, that means odds and evens) allowed for the existence of our room. Who knew the simple act of finding one’s living quarters could be so mathematically tasking? In the end, our rooms were in the last corridor, just about diametrically opposite to the elevators on the half of our floor. Oh well.
The room was pretty nice overall. The furniture and basic facilities were quite complete, with a sparkly bathroom and a couple tables and chairs of various shapes. The closet was big and had a safe, which was rather important because just about everybody we had met had warned us over and over again about all the incredibly skilled thieves, muggers, and pickpockets in Argentina. It was probably much safer (no pun intended) in the hotel, but with all of these warnings (later we would even find a notice from the hotel warning us to lock our doors) I was never entirely certain. There were lots of lights controlled by a set of confusing switches on either side of our beds. There was at least one white immovable divider cunningly disguised as a switch, one switch that didn’t ever seem to do anything, and one that turned everything off. The last one made a little sense after a while because it had pictures of stars and a moon on it, but the whole setup was still pretty non-user-friendly in my opinion.
It’s time to begin the epic blogging journey. The detailed version of this year’s amazing IMO, because I decided that a perfectionist guy like myself could not possibly liveblog and be satisfied with both the quality of the posts and being able to fully enjoy the actual event.
Our story begins in a hotel in Taiwan.
The night before departure, us six contestants and Prof. Lin gathered in a hotel. This was entirely necessary because our flight left at something like five o’clock in the morning. After checking over the flight plans and relevant phone numbers in a conference room, we enjoyed a pretty extensive buffet dinner, what would easily be the best meal we would get to have for at least a week, the highlight of which was a fish steak that looked and tasted exactly like fried egg. Afterwards we did some emergency shopping and prepared a convenience-store breakfast for consumption three o’clock the next day.
As I’ve complained before, we have an 11-hour difference to get used to, and that morning I had gotten myself to sleep as late as 6 AM trying (successfully, much to my amazement) to complete an iPod OS system update. I didn’t think I could pass airport security with the sort of consciousness I had when I finally slept that morning, so I reverted with the rest of the team to an 11 PM curfew. Oh well. The seven of us left the hotel after 3 AM, setting off in a huge 30-person bus for the airport.
Luggage drop-off was mostly uneventful. I realized that the airline didn’t seem to like passengers bringing two bags onto the airplane, and decided to distribute my bag with all the winter clothes in it into my luggage and my backpack. Little did we know what would happen to the luggage…
Wait, are you serious? Under two weeks left, is that what it’s come to?
What happened to my majestic plans to go over every functional equation I failed on, ever? Or to go through a super-intense geometry-immersion period and actually try to develop some of that crazy “intuition” thing? And I have finals coming up too! I just finished a ludicrous deadline-extended geography project that I am absolutely confident is the crappiest paper of my entire school career so far! And despite a semester of (slacking) classes, my Spanish is still only barely at a usable level! Exclamation marks!
Don’t panic… let’s focus on the positive. I am absolutely prepared with my stationery. I bought three spanking new 0.4mm pens that say “Can write for 1000 meters!” because all of my current ones are annoyingly thick and constantly having almost-but-not-quite run out, plus three new mechanical pencils and enough matching 2B lead to last me through college. All the pencils and lead are Pentel. I haven’t done any research, so if something terrible happens in Argentina I know what company to blame, and I am writing it here so I won’t confuse the brands. Also, in view of what happened to SCH’s carry-on baggage last year (luckily there was no geo on Day 1), I got an extra compass I hope won’t be needed.
While we’re listing all the stuff I have gotten ready:
Yes, it’s official now. I’m on the 2012 International Mathematical Olympiad team bound for Argentina, and if I didn’t make a post about this I would be ashamed to call myself a blogger. So, a little moment of smug self-satisfaction should be justified, I hope? And not to mention, last year’s title of youngest Taiwan contestant is not yet passed? Let’s cue the evil laughter!
…or maybe not.
Here is a simple tabulation of our selection problems:
Algebra x9, Combinatorics x7, Geometry x12, Number Theory x8. In other words a distribution in perfect negative correlation with my estimated ability in each subject. At least, that’s how I’ve always estimated them before about a month ago. Ouch, the last stage was the only one of the three where problem distribution for combinatorics actually reached its fair share. (Alternative interpretation: 2011’s distribution was majorly f123ed up with only one real geometry problem, which just means that this year’s battle will probably be difficult for me. (Alternative alternative interpretation: the evil, nasty, wicked, depraved windmill was actually an outrageous negative for me. Gee, I don’t know how to feel. But I should actually do stuff instead of wildly speculating; let’s get back to the topic.))
There are two big elementary and middle school competitions around this part of the globe. Well, “big” according to “I’ve heard of it”, which is by no means an accurate measure of, well, anything. I don’t go out of my way to look for them any more, even though… hold on, am I still eligible? Whatever. But in any case, diverting any unnecessary energy from the olympiad-proof-training is probably not a good idea now.