Sunday, May 03, 2020

Google Code Jam 2020 in Lisp—Round 1C

Well, that was slightly embarrassing and frustrating...

After a relatively promising attempt at round 1B, I entered round 1C yesterday as the last chance to advance to round 2. Again, three nice problems, with the third one looking too hard for me at first sight, at least for the general solution. My "plan" after reading the problem descriptions was roughly: Solve problems 1 and 2 and, time permitting, submit a solution for the easy first input set of problem 3. That would have been a good plan, except I took a bit too long to code problem 1, and I got completely stuck trying to debug my Lisp solution for problem 2.

Problem 1: Overexcited Fan

The problem turned out to be even easier than I first thought. I should have spent more time designing the algorithm before starting to code it. I had an OK solution, but it was more complex than necessary and took me 53 minutes. That's much longer than it should have, given the overall time limit of 2 hours 30 for the three tasks. After the round, I simplified this to a more elegant solution.

Problem 2: Overrandomized

Here I had the correct inspiration to work with letter frequencies, in particular first-digit letter frequencies. Unfortunately my Lisp solution would always result in "RE" (runtime error) when submitted, even though it ran fine both against the sample data set and against some additional data sets that I have generated. At this point I ran out of time.
After the round, I tried for some time to get my Lisp program working, but without any possibility to get diagnostic output, I didn't find where the problem lied. I even started from scratch using a different implementation technique, but the result was the same: My program would run fine against the sample and my self-generated tests, but throw "RE" when faced with the competition/training data. Very frustrating. If anyone finds the error(s), please let me know!
At one point I reimplemented my solution in C++, and it successfully solved all data sets as soon as I got it to compile. I then "backported" it to C, which simplified it further (in the C++ version I used both "traditional" arrays and "library" vectors—for sorting—which makes that version quite ugly.

Problem 3: Oversized Pancake Choppers

After reading the problem description, I assumed (probably correctly) that a full solution would beyond my capabilities for solving, at least under this time pressure. But the easy set seemed quite tractable: If there are only 2 or 3 diners, then the set of solution possibilities is quite bounded. Indeed it took me only (competitive coders can laugh now) about 15 minutes to write a stupid solution that worked for this limited case. But that's academic because I had run out of time in problem 2, so this happened after the round was over.


With only the first and easiest problem solved in time, I ranked in the 8000s, much below my rank in 1B—and hopelessly below the cut-off at 1500.
In problem 1 and (my constrained/stupid solution for) problem 3 I had no problems with Common Lisp as a coding language. But I failed to get my problem 2 Lisp solution working, while later attempts in C++ and C worked right away (and showed that I had analyzed the problem correctly).

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