Yes. I know it’s been more than a month. Blogging motivation decreases, but the responsibility of that stay tuned doesn’t go away.
It’s okay. It’s all worth it because the stuff in the games room is absolutely ridiculous. Warning: huge post.
You go inside this white room and you see the board games, sitting next to a dozen chess and go sets, while people play them on your right. There were also about ten Set decks, which got mixed up quickly. Behind the tables were the 2012 poster with trivia and silly metajokes mentioned earlier, and around it were post-its with the contestants’ alleged favorite properties, most of which were jokes just as awful as the poster itself. (I kid, of course.) By mathematical induction, is a perfect 2012th power!
Then there was a gigantic pile of what the flaming bazookas is that!?
Twenty-four thousand jigsaw pieces roped off into a mountain of colors with several people crouched over them looking for a single edge connection that worked. Twenty-four thousand. The region was probably two arm-spans across. Amazingly, I found two matching pieces after just fifteen minutes of nonstop examination.
The area I focused on involved lots of colorful tropical fish. It doesn’t get any easier than that, but still there were at least five fish with any given color, all sporting essentially the same gradient and white stripes. The field of pieces was so vast that it was impossible to scan for one you were looking for; you had to waddle through the whole region scouting for pieces that seemed to share some texture and then sit down somewhere hoping that two of them would serendipitously come from adjacent positions to be reunited.
By the end of the IMO, we didn’t finish the puzzle. We probably had half of the pieces down, but most of them were colorful pieces of fish and planets. The rest of the pieces were homogeneous bubbly ones. Word has it that IMO 2013 contestants will get to work on them…
Next. There were a couple puzzle locks and mutant Rubik’s cubes lying on spare tables. There were “Ta Te Ti To” sets, 4x4x4 tic-tac-toe with four layers of transparent plastic and colored balls which could be placed in indentations, won by placing four of your balls in a row, naturally. There were the violent table soccer tables, probably five or six of different sizes, supporting teams of two to four.
Drumset. Electric piano. Empty region with contestants learning to juggle or a simultaneous exhibition by a chess grandmaster playing a dozen people, depending on the occation. Video game systems: at least two Wiis, one Xbox 360 + Kinect, one electronic dancing mat hooked to a computer that was trampled so badly, its back-right arrow became stuck. More computers, on which most people played flash games and checked Facebook or 9GAG, but a very select few viewed PDFs like there was no tomorrow. (Also, solving MellowMelon’s Puzzle 407 in Paint. I know the exact puzzle number because I looked it up hiding behind the solver. It’s a small world. [/stalker]
A mechanical bull.
Awesomeness off the charts. But simultaneously I have no idea what sort of mental processes led the organizers to prepare these facilities. “Okay, we have to entertain five or six hundred math contestants. Let’s get a mechanical bull for them to play with!” It was fun; at first the bull would just spin smoothly and you merely had to keep your center of gravity low, but its rhythm would quickly become irregular and you’d be reliably thrown off within a minute.
And finally, in case you were becoming discomforted by the idea of a room so bent on having fun with no regard for the occupants’ mathematical senses whatsoever: half the walls of the game room were glass, and on each of them were posted a copy of the problems from a past IMO. Every single past olympiad appeared, from the very first irreducible fraction problem to last year’s insane G8. Markers were scattered nearby, somebody had scribbled “Write your solutions!” on some of the walls, and did we!
Of course, there was a lot of stuff like “Nice solution! (Muirhead)” or “Trivial by Egervary’s theorem” going around.
And now, enough passive descriptions, let’s get into the fun!
— a completely senseless anecdote of psychological irrationality
This is what Wikipedia has to say about applause:
Applause (Latin applaudere, to strike upon, clap) is primarily the expression of approval by the act of clapping, or striking the palms of the hands together, in order to create noise. Audiences are usually expected to applaud after a performance, such as a musical concert, speech, or play. In most western countries, audience members clap their hands at random to produce a constant noise; however, it tends to synchronize naturally to a weak degree. As a form of mass nonverbal communication, it is a simple indicator of the average relative opinion of the entire group; the louder and longer the noise, the stronger the sign of approval.
What Wikipedia does not mention is the peer-pressure element received from being part of the applauding group. Namely, suppose you are half-asleep during a ceremony and are suddenly taken by surprise by a wave of applause, without any idea what the object of approval is. Makes sense to clap along, right? Ceremonies are full of people giving important speeches and brilliant performances. Nobody will interrogate you about why you are clapping and arrest you for being an impostor if you fail to provide a sensible explanation immediately.
Now replace “ceremony” with “dinner”. And this isn’t even the farewell dinner with people you can barely see doing stuff over on a stage twenty tables away, where there might actually be people performing and other people who would like to express approval of said performers. The only remarkable quality of this dinner was the presence of spherical French fries in the buffet.
But I digress:
*clap clap clap clap clap*
The best justification we came up with for this was that it was somebody’s birthday, although in hindsight this doesn’t actually explain anything. But who cares? Enough people were clapping that newcomers would not feel awkward barging in. And so we did.
Applause faded out.
Then, phase two.
*clap clap clap clap clap*
If there was a solid reason for applauding the first time, it was almost certainly inapplicable now. Instead, as far as we or anybody else could see, we were just clapping because everybody else was and it was funny. Peer pressure is a strangely compelling psychological force, particularly when confounded with the sense of social detachment you had from knowing that you would likely never meet 90% of the other people in the room with you again after a week or so. So why not?
Phase three was more of the same *clap clap clap clap clap* and I started laughing uncontrollably. Phase four was initiated partially by our team, and it was only then that the clapping could be felt to be discernibly weaker than the previous rounds. Phase five consisted of somebody stomp-stomp-clapping the prelude to “We Will Rock You”. It ended soon after, though.
Yeah, I know, this story sucks in writing.
— in which we are exposed to the brutal weather and watch a lot of performances too many times
The organizers had only planned one excursion during the entire trip. Although it went against my expectations, I think it turned out for the better because it was so cold outside and because the recreation room was so ridiculously well-stocked. For the first and only time in the IMO schedule, we got to take a trip on an officially provided bus, with a sensuous experience made complete with an elaborate vibrato song provided by the contestant from Bangladesh sitting behind me/to my right. I spent the trip idly taking pictures of nothing particular outside the window. We noticed a burly man waving his arms outside the bus excitedly, motioning for us to take a picture of him, but wedidn’t manage to take one
The aquarium trip started with a short animated film with a plot involving a sea turtle speaking fluent Spanish, who, after suffering an oil spill and a bunch of woodcutters and narrowly avoiding getting eaten by birds, alligators, and piranhas, is saved from the north pole by an environmental group and turns into a non-animated turtle supposedly in the same aquarium. (I’m making this up from the pictures, of course.)
Non-animated animal line-up: ducks, penguins (plus a kiwi), flamingoes, almost-invisible fish. Non-animated auditory sensation pile-up: the U.S. team still talking about math with a feverish intensity. Two things that stayed with us throughout the entire trip.
Finally, performances featuring seals that clapped, spat their tongues at us, and bent over backwards on command. I’m no good at descriptions, so I’m not going to drag this out, and neither did they. As a substitute, they just performed again.
Admittedly, it wasn’t the same performance with the same tricks. This time there was a volunteer, a guy from Venezuela I actually recognized from last year because we were put in the same car. The joke was basically the trainers pretending he was a seal and commanding him to do “hard” tricks such as “stand up and tap the yellow target with your head!” when his head was already at the target, or “easy” ones such as “jump into the water!” (naturally, it didn’t happen.) For a finale, the seal kissed him and everybody clapped. Between the two seal performances, we saw dolphins do tricks, carrying around trainers on their backs and flipping about above the water surface, sometimes to the effect of walking on water.
Then after we had rewatched the seals, as the weather was reaching the limits we could handle, we learned that we were supposed to rewatch the dolphins too.
Have I explained how cold it was in Argentina? Okay, I know, negative six degrees Celsius is not really cold to some people, but the temperature in the hotel, and really in most of the indoor environments, was always much higher. It was easy for us single-time tourists to underestimate how many clothes we needed when facing the cruel environment.
Anyway, we gave up and retreated to the restaurant to play board games with the China team. What a wonderful way to end an excursion.
— in which overachievement is discovered to be endemic among international olympiad contestants
I mentioned that the 2012 poster proclaimed a T-shirt prize for the contestant who memorized the most digits of 2012!, a 5776-digit number. Feeling too awkward for any of the other physical competitions, I decided to try this one out. My serious attempt started on 7/12, two days before the actual reciting competition would occur.
It was easy to find a copy of the digits online and grab it, and I started the long process of converting everything to a vivid mnemonic. The strategy at its core was simple: map everything to English consonant sounds and insert vowels to form a story with an utterly ludicrous (i.e. easy to memorize) plotline. There was a stereotypical terrorist performing sexual offenses who blew up a plane and was subsequently chased by nature spirits and tortured with reincarnation. I’ll spare you the details. By the time the actual competition was held, I had gotten one or two hundred places, and worried if this would be taking this side competition too seriously. Maybe nobody else would actually bother getting more than the first ten digits or so…
This concern was completely unfounded. When the announced time arrived, the organizers rounded up the interested parties and gave us each a marker and a blank glass wall on which to write our digits, and it was easy to see that everybody was taking this seriously. The champion (as well as the runner-up) was from Finland, who stood on a chair scribbling a Finnish story, and then circled all the consonants and converted them to digits with a table he had also jotted down. It was very obviously the same mnemonic method, except of course in a different language and with a much more elaborate storyline. He spent nearly two hours scribbling on the glass panel. It scares me to consider how much time he might have taken to compose the story beforehand.
(Sorry, digits on glass walls don’t show up so I only have fragments.)
Me, I finished in fifteen minutes and didn’t bother to write down any of the intermediate conversion steps, just going straight from the story in my head to the digits. I had constructed the mnemonic for about two hundred digits, but I confused myself over an s/z sound in encoding midway and got the 133th digit from the start wrong.
The moral: do not ever underestimate competitiveness during the sideshows of a competition.
IMO’s Got Talent
— in which all of my fears about being socially inept are reinforced several times over
7/15, one midnight away from the digit-memorization competition, during an unholy hour that was obviously unhealthy for me to stay up until.
But of course I stayed up. How many IMOs am I going to get to go to? How many of those have karaoke parties? I had resolved that I would find an opportunity to sing at the karaoke machine for better or worse, because I didn’t want to leave with any regret over not having done something.
Well, it was all a giant setup… considering the skills of the contestants who had lined up, this was a real talent show, not just a “karaoke party” like I had hoped. Even before the actual competition, there was a Japanese guy replicating the Mario level tune on the piano, as if he didn’t think this was skillful enough an act to perform.
The talent show even included a panel of judges, four people who would criticize and compliment (usually the former) each performer after each performance. Clearly it was supposed to mimic one of those actual TV talent shows. After the critics had said enough, they’d give scores from 1 to 10, or, in exceptional cases, . (Only at the IMO!)
There was a big, nasty, violent buzzer for buzzing the people who were really awful, generally by being way off-tune. The most severe punishment was just reaching for the red X on the upper-right corner of the screen. Cruel, but to be honest, so would be subjecting us to the unabridged versions of certain performances.
So, some of the stunningly professional performances: somebody from a country I forget (I have an impression that it starts with “A”, though) break-danced to a normal breakbeat; a group of contestants went up and led everybody along in a full-blown all-dance-moves-included rendition of “Y.M.C.A.”; a Pakistani guy played a wide variety of tunes on the piano with his foot behind his head; the South African deputy sang this song “Another Postcard (Chimps)” which I’m pretty certain I will never forget out of sheer weirdness.
Me? I went up as an average amateur karaoke guy…
“What’s your talent?” asked the guy with the microphone in a strangely .
“Being ridiculous.” Okay, it was supposed to be a joke; the advertisements proclaimed, “Sing! Dance! Be ridiculous!” Of course, in full accordance with Finagle’s law, nobody laughed; people just looked confused. I went into socially awkward penguin mode for a few instants.
“… … … … … I’m going to sing ‘Viva la Vida’ by Coldplay.”
Well, there was some cheering for this song, at least. Much to my relief, I didn’t get buzzed despite how I strained my voice on every high note. Not good enough for any prize T-shirts, of course, but when I had returned to my seat, some deputy (from Vietnam?) sitting behind me told me he liked it. I had fun myself.
Okay, so that wraps up the interesting parts; you can expect a post about the awards coming home by November or something. Until next time…