NUS Computing students finished second in close fight at the ICPC Asia Ho Chi Minh Regional Contest 2022

21 December 2022
The Spiders from Mars team posing with NUS Computing senior lecturer and ICPC coach Dr Steven Halim. From left to right, The Spiders from Mars team members: Computer Science freshman Jeffrey Lee Chun Hean, Computer Science second-year student Vu Hoang Kien, and Computer Science second-year student Nyamdavaa Amar.

21 December 2022 — NUS Computing teams brought back great results from the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) Asia Ho Chi Minh Regional Contest 2022 held from 8 to 9 December 2022.  

ICPC is the world’s oldest and most established algorithmic programming contest for university students. Teams of three university students race against the clock to solve as many of the algorithmic problems presented. Top-scoring teams from the ICPC regional contests will receive the opportunity to compete in the contest’s annual global championship round—the ICPC World Finals.

The competition was tougher than ever, with a total of 132 teams contending for limited spots at the combined ICPC World Finals (both 2022 and 2023) next year in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt. Out of these 132 teams, all seven NUS teams that participated emerged within the top 20 placings.

The top three performing NUS teams: The Spiders from Mars, only one coder, and Now with three members finished in second, third, and fourth place respectively in the official rankings.

So close yet so far

The top NUS team, The Spiders from Mars comprises of three members: second-year Computer Science students Vu Hoang Kien and Nyamdavaa Amar and Computer Science freshman Jeffrey Lee Chun Hean. Kien had previously won the bronze medal at the ICPC World Finals Dhaka 2021 with another team then. It was a historic win as they were the first Southeast Asian team to clinch a podium placing at ICPC World Finals. Nyamdavaa also had prior experience as he competed in the ICPC Regional Content in Jakarta (held online) last year. This was the first time Jeffrey participated in an ICPC contest.

Kien, Nyamdavaa, and Jeffrey solved 11 out of 13 problems in five hours. At one point in the contest, they were leading with nine problems solved as compared to University of Science, VNU-HCM’s HCMUS-BurnedTomatoes team with seven problems solved. They were also the fastest team to solve problems E and M by a large margin.

Unfortunately, they stumbled on problems B and C. For problem B, the team had to spend precious time getting the nitty-gritty details right. Each wrong try also adds 20 minutes to their penalty time which was a crucial factor in determining who the first place was. “We had our initial implementation of B at minute 200 of the contest but it still took us one full hour to fully debug it. Perhaps instead of that, a better move could have been to move to A earlier and solve it to get smaller penalty time,” reflected Nyamdavaa on behalf of his team.

“I felt doubtful and could not prove one hypothesis that solved the problem fully. But instead of trying to prove it perhaps we should’ve stuck by the spirit of competitive programming, just implement, and do proof by AC-ing the problem,” added Nyamdavaa on problem C.

As a result, although both teams solved an equal number of problems, The Spiders from Mars incurred a longer penalty time which caused them to narrowly miss the first placing to HCMUS-BurnedTomatoes.  

“We can’t win every Asia regionals that NUS participates in, so second place is already a very good result and 99% still an ICPC World Finals 2023 slot,” said Steven Halim who is a senior lecturer at NUS Computing and ICPC coach.

With such tough competition and minor hiccups, the team remarked that they were still “pleasantly surprised,” when they emerged in second place in the contest.

“But losing the champion place by mere 42 minutes of penalty still gave us a humbling realisation that there are other competitors to worry about as well, and our performance still needs more preparations and strategy,” concluded Nyamdavaa.

NUS already has a team (7 Halim) that qualified for the combined World Finals in the ICPC Asia Jakarta 2021 contest. With second place, it is very likely that The Spiders from Mars will be joining them in the competition too.

NUS Computing’s participation was supported by generous contributions from Sea Group, Optiver, HRT, Jump Trading, and Citadel | Citadel Securities.

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