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2012-04-28

Today the Google Games (a Google-run puzzlehunt of sorts for university students) were held in Mountain View. Obviously, I participated.

The Google buses arranged to take us to the Mountain View headquarters were lined up in front of Soda Hall. One of the buses was a double-decker bus, which I'm not sure I've seen in the US before. My team - Ankur, Josiah, Annelise, Nima, and myself - arrived wearing silly hats. Ankur wore a tall straw fez, Josiah wore his usual baseball cap, Annelise had a beret, Nima wore a Russian hat with earflaps, and I wore my wizard hat. We were all wearing our Berkeley Mystery Hunt 2012 shirts. I tried updating my old Dell laptop using the in-bus wifi, but decided that it was probably a bad idea to run down the battery that much en route.

The Berkeley buses arrived a few minutes before the Stanford buses, so we found our table. I had forgotten our team name, but knew that it was a really big number. After looking through my email, I was reminded that we had chosen 4 ⇈ 3 for its length, simplicity of explanation, and un-Googleability (I should note that basically every other search engine handles long queries like that just fine). Somewhat impressively, the staff worked out that it was precisely 2512 when they referred to our team name during the competition. They were also kind enough to not require us to write out the entirety of team name (13407807929942597099574024998205846127479365820592393377723561443721764030073546976801874298166903427690031858186486050853753882811946569946433649006084096) on all of our submissions.

The contest started off with a round of trivia questions - there were math, science, pop culture, history, and other miscellaneous questions. I have to be a little vague about the actual competition so I don't accidentally spoil the Games for the other sites, but I was proud of a couple of the computer-history-related answers I remembered. Our team thought we did decently but not amazingly well at the trivia round.

The second of the four rounds was a set of puzzlehunt-style puzzles. This was where we hit our stride - the round was scheduled to take 105 minutes. We were done in 40, which set a record for this year's puzzleset across all of the Google Games sites. Ankur managed to extract a long word with knowledge of exactly three known letters, and I managed to get a long theme-related word on a puzzle that was proving very difficult to solve forwards from just the last two letters. Our teamwork was fantastic as usual.

As a result, we had over an hour to burn, so our team high-fived and went outside to enjoy the beautiful day. We rode around on the Google bikes (I hadn't ridden a bike in years!) for a while until one of the security staff very politely informed us that he couldn't let us ride the bikes for liability reasons. Alas. It was fun while it lasted. We returned, and tables were being set up for lunch - Italian from Buca di Beppo. I chatted for a bit with Ilya Sherman, who was on the Texas ARML team with my back in the day and works for Google now.

We grabbed lunch and sat in this garden area with a big outdoor shade umbrella and enjoyed lunch. After we finished eating, we chatted with various other folks. Jaehyun Park (who also interned at imo last summer) came by and we caught up a bit. We went over a couple of the puzzles with Shang Jiang and Kate Harrison and their teammates. Jono Kummerfeld and the rest of the EECS grad student team joined a circle of conversation with us and Hanah Kim, the Google recruiter for Berkeley. We got to hear a little bit about how the Games were developed and playtested internally, which was really interesting, since the majority of my team has been working on our own puzzlehunt for months. The Games developers were very attentive to balance in all of the puzzles - they tried to make them all things that did not require a particularly obscure or domain-specific step. It turns out the Games are a branding event, not strictly a recruiting event, so they're evaluated with slightly different metrics. Hanah asked us how we felt about how we did in the Trivia round, and we again answered something along the lines of "probably top 25% or so."

After lunch, we all went back inside and the organizers announced the standings, where we discovered that we had grossly underestimated our trivia performance - we had, in fact, placed first in that round as well.

The next round involved building something out of Legos, and I'm pretty sure I can't say anything more specific than that without giving away the activity. We wound up getting third in this category, and I came up with what I felt was an innovative design for part of the task.

The final round was a combination of some programming problems and a final puzzlehunt-style puzzle. Nima and Josiah and I worked on the programming problems, and Ankur and Annelise did the puzzle. And when I say "Nima and Josiah and I worked on the programming problems," what I really mean is "Nima started on problem A, I started on problem B, and Josiah started on problem C, and Nima finished implementing all three before Josiah or I managed to get a sufficiently performant solution for either of our problems." We were one of 7 teams to finish all three problems at both difficulty levels.

Some teams came up with clever ways to improve their code's performance - Ben Dong, one of the undergrads I do research with, told us when his team ran their Python implementation on CPython and it was too slow, they tried it again with PyPy and it finished running in time. I thought of doing this, but I didn't have PyPy installed. Everything turned out okay though; Nima's C++ implementations were great, and in the meantime, our puzzlesolvers had finished the extra puzzle (which they described as very elegant).

At the end of the day, we wound up winning by three points out of a possible 247. Jaehyun's team got 2nd place (and would have beat us if they'd finished the 7-point extra puzzle). Berkeley had taken first at the Google Games for the first time in five years. (Stanford still won overall; their teams did better on the average). The next-best Berkeley team turned out to be Jono's team, which placed sixth fifth (thanks for the correction, Jono!). Our team was awarded Samsung Chromebooks as our prize. Since I had brought two laptops (one for me, one for Ankur in case his laptop started acting up again (a fairly regular occurance)), I get to say this line:

I went to Google Games with two laptops and left with three.

Photos were taken, and hopefully Hanah will send us a link to them in the near future. We got back on the bus, and our team worked on the Friday and Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle. At some point on the bus ride, I fell asleep.

We got back to campus, tried to finalize puzzlehunt-related plans and make sure we'd done everything that needed to be done in time for the hunt. I got home around 01:00 and coded until 03:30, when I finally finished getting the team import script right (and idempotent).


Comments:

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Jono | 2012-05-01T12:17:38.528646

I like the line :-)

I can say "I went to Google Games with N pieces of paper and left with N + K (for some value of N and K)", but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it...

Also, minor correction, I think my team came fifth :-D


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