ISC stories: Elimination

Posted: - Modified: | geek

I was 12 years old and bored out of my wits in the high school
freshman computing class that Hagee Sarmago taught. Although the
“Bastard Operator from Hell” series he gave us for our MSDOS Edit
practice were amusing, I itched to program, to do something more. To
keep me busy, Hagee dumped me in front of a Linux computer, gave me
the root password, and told me to figure out how to set up a bulletin
board system. Seeing how I threw myself into the task, he suggested
that I try out for a yearly competition using the QBasic programming

I knew absolutely no QBasic. Sure, I’d been programming since I was a
kid, but GWBASIC’s line numbers intimidated me so much that I learned
Turbo Pascal on my own instead. I’d never been in a programming
contest before. I’d participated in chess tournaments and even a
trivia contest here and there, but my grade school had never joined
any programming contests. I’d have to learn the language, then I’d
have to learn all the algorithms. How on earth was I going to compete
in a programming competition only a few months away?

“Try it anyway,” he urged. With some trepidation, I turned up at
school during the morning of the eliminations, wondering if I could
avoid making a fool of myself.

March 19, 1996. The fourth floor auditorium was deserted. Uh oh.
Correct date? Check. Correct place? I made sure of that. Correct time?
Didn’t Hagee tell me it was in the morning? I paced, trying to ignore
my rising panic as I checked the corridor for any announcements. Could
they have moved the eliminations earlier? Did I miss it? Could I still
make up?

Hagee found me on my third or fourth circuit around the rooms. I asked
him where everyone else was, and he laughed and told me to come back
in the afternoon. With a sigh of relief, I went down the stairs and
kept myself busy.

The eliminations were held after lunch. I recognized some of my
classmates in the crowd. There were few empty seats, and I gulped as I
pondered the tough competition. Newsprint sheets and problem
statements were handed out, and the contest began.

Selection was simple. They would train six people with the most number
of problems correctly solved. I flipped through the problem set and
picked the easiest one. We could solve the problems any way we wanted,
so I started sketching a solution in Turbo Pascal.

Half-way through, I found myself grinding my teeth in frustration.
Syntax seemed suddenly restrictive. Thanking whatever gods may be that
Hagee taught us how to flow-chart, I started doodling all over the
page. Flow-charts took a lot more space, but it made it easier to
change my mind and stick something in the middle of a solution.

Around me, other people were similarly frustrated. Many quietly got up
and left. I continued scribbling furiously. I might have a chance!

The organizers called the time, and I reluctantly passed my papers
forward. A tall guy with a shaved head checked the papers, laughing
maniacally. I hovered about the front, anxious to find out how I did.
Five! I’d solved five out of nine problems correctly, earning me a
place in the team!

The scores were:

Neil Ongkingco 6 2
Ernest Baello III 0
Aldwin John M. Salido 1
Jemmuel del Carmen 4 6
Leo Crisologo 3
Jose Carlo Tubadeza 3
Oliver Ang 5 3
Mario Carreon 5 4
Sacha Chua 5 5
Jerome Punzalan 9 1
J. Lagon 4 6
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