IOL, days 5-6: Seven pineapples
posted on 2017-08-01 with tags [iol]

The 2017 IOL individual contest has just ended! (See part 1 and part 2.)

Okay, so first, an important order of business to wrap up from the previous blog post. As mentioned, we would not let a closed train station stand in the way of our pilgrimage of sorts to Broom Bridge, where Hamilton famously carved the formula for quaternion multiplication after having had his flash of insight while crossing it. So after much convincing, we managed to get our coach to let a group of 4 of us (which later grew to 5) spend the afternoon (the day immediately before the individual contest, no less) going on a second journey into Dublin.

It started off rainy, but the rain quickly cleared as we were walking to the bus stop. We actually had a plan this time, too, having found a bus route that would take us directly to the bridge. So we were feeling pretty confident until we realized we didn't bring enough money for the bus ride. After some deliberation, we managed to find an alternate route that would cost only 4 euro rather than 4.70, at the cost of having to walk for a bit to get to the bridge.

When we finally arrived at the destination bus stop, we began walking towards the bridge and it of course immediately started raining again. This time it wasn't just some light rain like it was when we first left. A torrential downpour had appeared with no warning and quickly made it nearly impossible to see more than several feet ahead. (My shoes were still wet when I woke up the next day.)

As we approached the bridge, the rain got lighter and lighter (as I suggested to the other four, "I think we just passed Hamilton's test"). Having proved ourselves worthy, we were rewarded by the sight of the bridge we had come so far to see directly ahead of us. And so, at last, we ran towards it...

On a tangentially related note, we happened to pass this wonderfully-named street on the way there:

The atmosphere of our group as we reached the bridge was what I can only describe as... wonder, awe, and even almost a sort of reverence. There was such a sense of giddy excitement that we had finally actually done it, only compounded by the indifferent and slightly confused locals (one of whom advised us "I wouldn't be standing there" in a heavy Irish accent as we took pictures on top of the bridge). It's funny how so many people probably walk past that bridge almost every day and don't give a second thought to the significance that it had to us. While we were there and all throughout the bus ride back and as we walked back to our dorms, we were left spontaneously giggling at the sheer reality of the situation.

Anyway, back to the actual IOL stuff! I'm actually going out of chronological order here, since this happened at the end of the first official day of the IOL and the opening ceremony. It was fantastic; there were some very talented singers and dancers who performed there, we listened to some speeches, and all the countries were welcomed individually (by means of slowly revealing facts about their country in relation to Ireland, then their skyline, and finally their flag until they realized that it was them and stood up, which took longer for some countries than it did others).

The IOL jury also introduced themselves, and distinguished member Ivan Derzhanski graced us mere mortals with his—as I have come to understand traditional and famously hilarious—presentation on the IOL rules. I'll leave it at that, since it's impossible to do justice to his amazing deadpan delivery via text. And as the opening ceremony ended, I finally met team Australia, one of whose members had reminded me of the quaternion bridge in the first place.

I went to sleep almost immediately after getting back from the trip to the bridge in anticipation of the individual contest the next day, for which we had all been preparing for so long. I think it's around here that it began to sink in that I was actually in Dublin, at the IOL, about to be one of the first few hundred people to see the test. As the bridge crew of 5 joked, though, we had Hamilton's blessing on our side. (At one point a bus had passed by our stop without seeming to even notice us; the bus was probably full, but the way we chose to interpret it was that the pure math radiating from all of us was simply too much for the driver.)

And then it was time. After eating breakfast the next morning, we went straight to our designated rooms for taking the individual test. As we waited for the start of the 6-hour period assigned to complete the 5 problems, those of us on the USA and Canada teams who were in the same room looked around at each other in ways that probably tried to be reassuring but inevitably ended up as nervous smiles. At exactly 9:00, we opened our booklets and began!

I don't have much to say about the contest itself, because spoilers. I'll go through the problems briefly, though. #1 was a number system problem in Birom, #2 was a metaphor-type problem in Abui, #3 was Kimbundu translation, #4 was translating Laven and deciphering its Khom orthography, and #5 was Madak morphology.

I was actually pretty surprised that I solved #1 fully (although it was the last one I solved); usually, number problems are my weak point. I had gotten to a point where there were 4 possibilities for a digit if my assumptions up to there had been accurate, and none of the first three worked. That feeling when the fourth one caused everything to fall perfectly into place was so satisfying, though.

The second problem was almost universally considered the hardest. Nobody I'd talked to afterwards said they completely solved it, and many of them said they got all the other four. I didn't figure much out at all, but at the end I wrote down some dumb stuff that hopefully would give me a few points. (One of the coaches saw my paper as I walked out and said the first match she saw, "father's pistol," was correct, so who knows.)

3 and 4 were mostly straight translation, which is what I'm best at, so I didn't find those too awful. Well, I take that back. #4 was solid proof that the IOL jury operates on a purely sadistic desire to torture the competitors. Ever wondered how to write "seven pineapples" in Laven (plaj hnat pʌh plaj) with the Khom orthography? Well, it's this:

(sorry for the awful quality), and we had to draw out about 50 of those symbols in the process of writing up an explanation and answer to the problem. Yeah, I was very glad when I had finished with that one.

I thought I had done okay on the fifth problem (although my writeup was the sketchiest out of 1, 3, 4, and 5). As it turned out, I missed a key element of the language and instead analyzed it by splitting the nouns into two classes, which was a stupid and worse way of achieving basically the same result. So I'll definitely lose some points for that, but hopefully it doesn't hurt me too much.

After dinner I went to a talk on machine learning that a professor had prepared for us, which was enjoyable. And now I'm sitting here writing this blog post, eagerly awaiting tomorrow (the IOL excursion!), Thursday (team contest! maybe I get to redeem myself from today!), and Friday (solution discussion, when they get to make us all feel like idiots!).

Oh, and of course team Australia and I have been hard at work on some shiny new IOL memes. Can't forget that crucially important component of the IOL experience.