[IMO 2012 Part 2] The Hotel of Deception

We finally arrived at the hotel at 3:30, meeting another local from Taiwan, Mr. Chen, who helped us carry some of our stuff off the bus. Po-Chiang, our guide, was waiting inside. We took more pictures and finally lugged the meager stuff we had off to our hotel rooms.

At least, we tried. I started to realize that there was much more to this hotel than it seemed.

Firstly, of course, was the confusing placement of rooms with numbers starting with 4 and 5 on the fourth floor (which would be the fifth floor by our numbering system, where the lobby is floor 1; but here the lobby was assigned 0. Off-by-one errors just waiting to happen here.) Secondly were the completely indecipherable signs. I don’t remember the details, but the first signs we saw read something like “560 ~ 540: left; 520 ~ 540: right”. Occasionally there would be weird slashes or half-slashes between the numbers instead (later I finally realized they were slanted, Comic-Sans-style capital Ys, or “and” in Spanish). Are these closed, open, or half-open intervals? And why the heck are their upper and lower bounds in a different order!?

We wandered through the corridors, peeking down each one, trying to figure out whether the numbers were increasing or decreasing and whether a parity argument (for those of you not fluent in math lingo, that means odds and evens) allowed for the existence of our room. Who knew the simple act of finding one’s living quarters could be so mathematically tasking? In the end, our rooms were in the last corridor, just about diametrically opposite to the elevators on the half of our floor. Oh well.

The room was pretty nice overall. The furniture and basic facilities were quite complete, with a sparkly bathroom and a couple tables and chairs of various shapes. The closet was big and had a safe, which was rather important because just about everybody we had met had warned us over and over again about all the incredibly skilled thieves, muggers, and pickpockets in Argentina. It was probably much safer (no pun intended) in the hotel, but with all of these warnings (later we would even find a notice from the hotel warning us to lock our doors) I was never entirely certain. There were lots of lights controlled by a set of confusing switches on either side of our beds. There was at least one white immovable divider cunningly disguised as a switch, one switch that didn’t ever seem to do anything, and one that turned everything off. The last one made a little sense after a while because it had pictures of stars and a moon on it, but the whole setup was still pretty non-user-friendly in my opinion.

The awesome part was that our room was connected with the one next door with a tiny midway corridor, so by keeping the connecting doors unlocked, the four of us (me, WL, CPT, KYL) could share one room key and just hang out really conveniently. The other two had a room connected to one with two guys from Cyprus. I don’t think they interacted that much, although I know we got an inequality from them one of the days before the contest. We observed that Jensen didn’t work on it and didn’t really touch it afterwards, still living under the mistaken and highly deluded assumption that there was no way the PSC would choose an inequality now that they finally realized that everybody knew Muirhead.

Of course, that inequality we put aside was symmetric too, so maybe it wouldn’t have helped that much.

No water heater, darn, which would make getting my safe water and preparing instant noodles both a lot of hassle. But no time to dwell on that…

Po-Chiang showed us around the rest of the increasingly confusing hotel. So the recreation room and breakfast were on floor 0, while the dining rooms for lunch and dinner (of which there were two, and rather difficult to distinguish if you didn’t pay close attention), as well as the competition sites (no need to go into the contest after getting all frozen outdoors!), were on floor 1. There were frustratingly mysterious elevators which only lit up when they arrived, not showing which floor they were on, except if viewed from floor 0. There were also the stairs, which I took a lot despite being rather cold, consisting of two separate staircases wound together in a DNA double-helix shape, and on some of the floors, one of the doors was locked. At least once, I had to take two extra flights in order to get to the other side.

Then, in the most shocking instant of the entire trip, we were shown the games room.

Let me list. There was a counter full of board games, most of which we didn’t recognize, but there were lots of chess sets and Go sets, as well as a couple Set rip-off decks, a box of Carcassonne, and a (red, apparently remade by somebody in China) copy of Ingenious. Later we’d get to know some other games: Forbidden Island, Hive, and Laser Chess/Khet, just to name a few. There were also 4x4x4 tic-tac-toe sets, somehow dubed Ta Te Ti To, played on a cubical board with four indented layers and colored wooden (?) balls.

There was the extremely awesome 24,000-piece jigsaw puzzle dumped on the floor and fenced in with ropes so as to remind people to be careful not to track pieces everywhere. Spoiler: according to the Facebook page, it didn’t get completely finished by the end, and the organizers packed it up to be sent to the IMO 2013 in Colombia. Most of the pieces left are the ocean pieces, the most difficult to distinguish by any standards. Have fun next year, guys.

Then, scattered on various tables were some puzzle locks and mutant Rubik’s cubes. Also in a corner was a small racecar set, which is apparently called Scalextric. There was even a championship with it, but I never touched it so I can’t mention anything.

Two Wiis, at least two XBox/Kinects, and a DDR machine hooked to a computer with an emulator (that would get stuck and/or glitch increasingly frequently in the following days), among probably others I can’t remember, lined the far wall of the games room. To their right were about a dozen computers with internet for everybody to use, plus a couple laptop-connection positions. I didn’t really use them because I had my iPod, WL had a laptop, and our room’s wi-fi was pretty steady.

In a slightly out-of-the-way room, there was a drum set, piano, and microphone. I didn’t look really closely at the equipment, but throughout all of the following days, contestants could be heard making slightly muffled music from inside.

More physically exerting options included the table soccer tables and ping-pong tables. There was a fully surrounded dark room on the side with LaserQuest, the game where you get a T-shirt by carefully stepping through lasers, but it was open and closed at random intervals (not a topology joke). On a later day, a huge mechanical bull on top of an inflatable cushion would show up. Now that I think about it, the moment I saw that was probably even more surprising. Just. What the heck.

Also, because clearly some people didn’t think we can live without math, there was a copy of the six problems from every single IMO ever held pasted on the glass walls, along with markers along the floor and signs proclaiming, “Write your solution!” Already by this point the solutions were startlingly complete.

But of course, this was all before the contest. We had to stay in the math-solving zone, so we only dabbled lightly in the room before heading out to buy what we could to survive a while longer without our luggage. Next up: our first sight of the streets of Argentina…

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