International Olympiad in Informatics

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written by Jennifer Park
Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Step aside Michael Phelps; geeks with glasses can now sport a gold medal thanks to the annual International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). The guys at the IOI care more about who has the best programming abilities and finely-honed minds, rather than who can do the breaststroke in the fastest time.

This year, the 16th annual IOI is taking place in the Olympic-haven of Athens, Greece, from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 where 304 high school students from 80 countries will compete in seven marathon programming sessions to determine who the world's fastest coder is. Officials at this event aren't worried about their contestants popping too many Pepsi's to get their momentum going. Instead, they're concerned about them hacking into the system.

The rules
According to the rules, any contestant who attempts to "attack the Olympic system's security or the grader, execute other programs or access other networks during competition, change file system permissions, fix, debug or check the computer network, or read file system information" will be immediately disqualified. And you thought Olympians who did performance-enhancing drugs were bad.

How it all works
Contestants enter computer labs in the wee-hours of the morning (well, around 8 am, but that's early to us) after being checked "to verify that they are not bringing anything with them into the competition rooms other than clothing, reasonable jewelry and simple wristwatches." After that much-needed groping, contestants are given a coding problem to solve. Only during the first hour of competition may contestants submit written questions concerning any uncertainties they have. And then, they will be given an answer of: "yes," "no" or "no comment" only.

Contestants submit their solutions to the competition server and are scored on the "elegance of their solution and the quality of their source code." Then, the chief coordinator of the IOI will present the final results to the judges, who will make the final decision. When the evaluation is finished, the judges will determine the minimum scores for the gold, silver and bronze medals. But no one really goes home empty-handed; each competitor receives a certificate of participation. Let's see…gold medal or certificate? Come on, we all know which one is better. Just don't tell that to the kid who's still crying because he has a serious case of carpal tunnel.