July 18, 2008

Jam and Geometry

Filed under: Blog — krkhan @ 5:24 am

The scores for Google Code Jam qualification round are out. It lasted 24-hours, and the participants were allowed to enter any time and try to solve any of the three given problems. Each problem had one small and one large input set. Participants were able to check during the qualification whether their programs produced correct results on the small input sets but had to wait for the round to finish to know whether correct outputs were produced on large ones.

Correct solutions for small and large input sets were worth 5 and 20 points respectively. To progress to Online Round 1, each participant needed to score at least 25 points. Participants based on the times of their correct submissions and their wrong submissions. And, what I actually did not know was that the timer started ticking with the qualification kick-off. Which means that if someone slept through the earlier hours (or watched the final scenes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest again, like me), he’d be ranked lower even though he may solve the problem within half an hour of viewing it.

Anyways, since points were what mattered the most and not the rankings, I actually started off with the problem set 2-3 hours after the qualification had started. Participants were provided with the following three problems:

  1. Saving the Universe

    The urban legend goes that if you go to the Google homepage and search for “Google”, the universe will implode. We have a secret to share… It is true! Please don’t try it, or tell anyone. All right, maybe not. We are just kidding.

    The same is not true for a universe far far away. In that universe, if you search on any search engine for that search engine’s name, the universe does implode!

    To combat this, people came up with an interesting solution. All queries are pooled together. They are passed to a central system that decides which query goes to which search engine. The central system sends a series of queries to one search engine, and can switch to another at any time. Queries must be processed in the order they’re received. The central system must never send a query to a search engine whose name matches the query. In order to reduce costs, the number of switches should be minimized.

    Your task is to tell us how many times the central system will have to switch between search engines, assuming that we program it optimally.

    I solved the problem using a vector of strings in STL. It took me around 35-40 minutes. My entry for the small input set was judged to be correct on my first attempt.

  2. Train Timetable

    A train line has two stations on it, A and B. Trains can take trips from A to B or from B to A multiple times during a day. When a train arrives at B from A (or arrives at A from B), it needs a certain amount of time before it is ready to take the return journey – this is the turnaround time. For example, if a train arrives at 12:00 and the turnaround time is 0 minutes, it can leave immediately, at 12:00.

    A train timetable specifies departure and arrival time of all trips between A and B. The train company needs to know how many trains have to start the day at A and B in order to make the timetable work: whenever a train is supposed to leave A or B, there must actually be one there ready to go. There are passing sections on the track, so trains don’t necessarily arrive in the same order that they leave. Trains may not travel on trips that do not appear on the schedule.

    This was actually easier than problem A. As I only had to use a simple multimap and a vector to hold the departure/arrival times in minutes and then loop throughout the day and manage the trains. I had 2 wrong attempts on the smaller input set though, which were caused by the fact that I started solving the problem initially with a map instead of multimap; which was imposing the limit of only one train’s departure from a station at a given instant.

  3. Fly Swatter

    What are your chances of hitting a fly with a tennis racquet?

    To start with, ignore the racquet’s handle. Assume the racquet is a perfect ring, of outer radius R and thickness t (so the inner radius of the ring is R−t).

    The ring is covered with horizontal and vertical strings. Each string is a cylinder of radius r. Each string is a chord of the ring (a straight line connecting two points of the circle). There is a gap of length g between neighbouring strings. The strings are symmetric with respect to the center of the racquet i.e. there is a pair of strings whose centers meet at the center of the ring.

    The fly is a sphere of radius f. Assume that the racquet is moving in a straight line perpendicular to the plane of the ring. Assume also that the fly’s center is inside the outer radius of the racquet and is equally likely to be anywhere within that radius. Any overlap between the fly and the racquet (the ring or a string) counts as a hit.

    This is where I got stuck, and stuck bad. This problem had more to do with Euclidean Geometry than with data structures, STL or structured programming, and I know this much about Euclidean Geometry: chapter 6 from my higher-secondary school Mathematics book was titled “Conic Sections”. Naturally, my first resort was to try and find some library which would issue my particular problems (using free library code is allowed in Code Jam). More specifically, I wanted a library that would allow me to calculate the area of intersection between a circle and a rectangle (so that I’d gradually subtract out the racket strings’ area in calculations). The result wasn’t much different from my Euclidean Geometry knowledge, as now I know this too: there’s a GPL library called GLAC which does geometry stuff. To summarize, I was unsuccessful in solving this problem. Maybe I’ll need to familiarize myself with GLAC before next round to have a good shot at progressing.

One of the advantages of using STL is that if your program is correct on small inputs, i.e., the logic is applied correctly, there’s little chance that things shall take the unfortunate route for the large ones as larger data structures are accommodated dynamically. Consequently, my solutions for A and B were later on judged as correct for the large input sets too. This gave me 50 points, and 1319th rank among the 7154 participants (I wish I had known that wasting time earlier on means a drop in my ranks, but all’s well that ends well).

The Online Round 1 takes place in another week or so. I started solving algorithmic problems only a fortnight ago so I think I’ll need some more practice to be able to compete properly. To be fair though, I didn’t have high hopes for even the qualification round, as I had entered just for fun and some experience so that I’d be able to contend properly next year — after I’ve had some proper and extensive practice with this kind of problem-solving.

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