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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 1, 2014

Programmers always find more puzzles to solve

By ANDY HALLMAN | May 01, 2013
Maharishi University of Management students Khongor Enkhbold, left, and Khasan Bold, right, talk to M.U.M. Public Relations Officer Ken Chawkin, back, about their online computer programming competitions. Enkhbold and Bold claimed fifth and seventh place, respectively, in a nationwide competition earlier this year, which earned them an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley.

Khongor Enkhbold and Khasan Bold are masters at solving riddles.

The kind of riddles Enkhbold and Bold like to solve are those that require an intimate knowledge of mathematics and computer programming. Enkhbold and Bold are students at Maharishi University of Management, where they both are seeking a master’s degree in computer science. The two regularly compete in online contests with people around the world where they have to write an algorithm to solve a vexing problem.

Bold said the reason he competes is not to win prizes but to learn more about computer science. Oftentimes, the only prize for winning these competitions is pride. Not all are like that, though.

Enkhbold and Bold performed so well in an online contest earlier this year they won an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley in California. They met with professionals from 14 technology companies, including social media sites Twitter and Facebook.

Enkhbold said the problems in these competitions tend to be related to mathematics and formulas. Some are abstract while others deal with everyday topics. In fact, Twitter came up in one of the students’ recent competitions.

The contestants were given tweets from Twitter users such as president Barack Obama, singer Justin Bieber, basketball player LeBron James and the corporation Google, among others. Based on the tweets the contestants receive from each Twitter user, they write an algorithm that can predict who wrote a tweet when the author’s identity is unknown.

The algorithm the contestants write must parse the sentence in search of clues that give away the author. For instance, Google is an institution and not an individual person. Enkhbold said he noticed Google would not include the word “I” in its tweets, so he knew that any tweet that included that word could not have come from Google.

Bold said the contestants learn Twitter users often write about the same subject in tweet after tweet. This allows the contestants to write their code in a way that if that subject appears in a tweet, they have a good idea which Twitter user it came from.

“If the person is talking about Selena Gomez, the user should be Justin Bieber,” Bold said, referring to Bieber and Gomez’s courtship.

In the Twitter-user contest, there is no single correct algorithm that is sure to yield a perfect result every time. The object of the contest is to write a code that works better than any other contestant’s code. However, some of the competitions have a single, optimal solution the contestants must find.

Enkhbold and Bold are both from Mongolia, where they fostered a thirst for online competitive puzzles. They were both interested in computers at a young age. The two met at the National University of Mongolia six years ago and have been friends ever since. They spend a considerable portion of their time away from school competing against other programmers around the world.

“If I have free time and there’s a competition going on, I participate,” Enkhbold said. “I compete three to four times a month. Some competitions last two hours while others last one or two days.”

Enkhbold and Bold won several computer-programming competitions even before enrolling at M.U.M. In 2010, they were on a three-person team that won the championship cup for all of Mongolia. In 2009, they won bronze medals in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Competition in Shanghai, China.

 

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