Burn And Tremble

Code Jam 2012 – Qualification Round

I qualified for Google Code Jam 2012 yesterday.

I began in the afternoon, well into the round, because I didn’t want to stay up late, as the start of qualification was 12am in Germany. Having solved only one practice problem before on Friday I didn’t exactly feel “limbered up” at that point, but I had some basic Ruby stdin/stdout workflows memorized again.

Upon reading the problems again, I just realized how ridiculously simple “Speaking in Tongues” must’ve really been (which is also what I was told on Google+ today) but back then, I panicked—even without the requirement to do particularly well—and went straight for the other problem descriptions.

I settled on “Recycled Numbers” as the first one to tackle. Brain partly locking up (I guess) it took me a short while to figure out actually how to traverse the possibilities to check for, which then turned into a straightforward implementation that was done rather swiftly.

The authors’ statement on them being “sure about the output to Case #4” had me hunting the last bug—my output being 288, one larger—for quite some time. I realized that it had to be a duplicate pair of numbers somewhere, but at the time it didn’t really occur to me how this should happen, so I took the not-so-clever approach—as in, I wouldn’t want to ressort to that in an interview with the stakes being high—of manually going through the outputs of case #4, until I stumbled upon 1212 generating both 2121 (in the form of 212|1) and, well, 2121 (in the form of 2|121). Which made a lot of sense. Silly me.

I fixed that rather bluntly by keeping track of the pairs generated, with the overhead of object creation probably contributing to less than amazing running time of the algorithm, but I wanted to be done with it and alas: first small input went through correctly in about two or three seconds.

Satisfaction I then promptly ruined with the large input. I fired it up, sat back, figured it’d be running a little longer than three seconds—I only tried one test case with the bounds being 1 and 2000000 before that, to get a sense of the dimensions and whether my approach would be feasible at all, with using Ruby etc.—and got the silly idea of tail‘ing the output file to see progress … of which there wasn’t any.

At all.

Now, I’m not too sure about what should have happened there—straightforward suspicion being some buffering somewhere, as my test right now shows output after 50 test cases but then hangs, even after the program has finished—but after panicking and aborting the run two or three times (with maybe three minutes left in the end) I realized that output was in fact being written. Just not, you know, picked up by tail. So I started it up one last time aaaaand THERE WENT THE DEADLINE.

Really disappointing.

Wall time now when trying it again says 2 minutes 49 seconds, with 2 minutes 46 seconds spent in userland crunching numbers. So it would’ve worked out, if only. Oh well.

The last problem—enough points for the small input to qualify, which is where I stopped (after getting the large input correctly as well), because I wasn’t feeling too frisky and wanted to do something else with the rest of the day—was “Dancing With The Googlers”, a nice, kind of real world one.

Start with the total scores sorted, divide each by three, decide whether they can reach the minimum best score in any way and decrement the allowed “surprising cases” whenever one occurs. Easy enough.

Except I made a stupid mistake. Plus another. And then some.

So it took me seven (!) incorrect small inputs until I finally got it right. Lots of “fixing that small error over there” and not properly thinking the whole thing through again. I’m not proud of that. Such performance in an interview would likely have resulted in an epic fail. But then again, my mind wasn’t too fresh yesterday.


I don’t think I will stand any chance against the masses of lightning-fast coders with their razor-sharp minds from all over the world (though especially China and Russia seem to rule) to advance in one of the next rounds. I panic way too easily when faced with a clock almost audibly ticking, something I’ve just barely managed to keep in check in the phone screens leading up to my internship at Google in London last year. (I’m still a bit puzzled I got in back then and get to go back for another one this year, but they seemed to like my work.)

But if anything, it will be a very good way of warming up to that pressure and dealing with it, so I guess I’ll just keep at it.

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