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Dustin J. Mitchell

Programming Contests and Puzzles

24 Dec 2007

In August 1992, inCider/A+ magazine ran a programming contest, the rules for which were “[U]se the IIGS assembly language source code supplied by the FTA to complete their Bouncin’ Ferno game.” The game was a marble-madness clone, written entirely in assembly by a bunch of French hackers. The code played some fairly devious tricks, as assembly often does, and was sparsely commented – and in French, at that. Anyway, I spent something like a year rewriting the game from scratch, again in assembly, and adding a number of new features. A year later, I won the contest (admittedly, probably as the only entrant) and rode a wave of fame and fortune through a few random apple user’s groups in central Maine.

Since then, I’ve had a fascination with programming contests and related puzzles, even leading me to post a challenge here in April (which I still haven’t solved).

Even though I’m not interested in a new job, I was excited to hear about what came to be known as the N-BRAIN problem. The first problem, an exercise in test-driven development, was interesting, although a bit frustrating due to the rather limiting development environment. The remaining parts of the problem, however, were just ridiculously obfuscated, rather than being clever. I suppose that means the job wasn’t for me, anyway.

I am even more interested to see Project Euler, a collection of interesting mathematical and algorithmic problems ranked by difficulty. The site may very well wind up on my list of places to waste time while waiting for compiles (along with Google Reader and intrade).

Ah, how I miss the halcyon days of high school, when everyone I knew spent as much time as I did immersed in code, and when a spat over the best algorithm for 3d collision detection could leave friends not speaking for days. I hate to say it, but I think I was a better hacker then than I am now. Perhaps I can interest someone in a head-to-head challenge?