Programming Contests

2017 – ACM:

Simpson College had its best ever result in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest on Saturday Oct 28 2017. We compete in the North Central Region, which includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Western Ontario, Manitoba, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our top team finished in 41st place in the region. Compared to other liberal arts colleges in Iowa, we finished behind Grinnell and Coe but ahead of Graceland, Buena Vista, Cornell College, William Penn, Luther, and Central.

Three teams of three students each went with Associate Professor Mark Brodie to compete at Iowa State, one of the regional contest locations. The team of Chris Colahan, Elisa Wildy, and Keegan Lampareck solved 3 of the problems and finished in 41st place. This is an outstanding result (the previous best placing of a Simpson team was 44th in 2013). Chris is a senior, double-majoring in Computer Science and Math; Elisa is a senior, double-majoring in Computer Science and Actuarial Science, and Keegan is a junior, double-majoring in Computer Science and Computer Information Systems.

Our 2nd team, consisting of sophomores Mark Becker, Sam Law, and Payton McBurney, solved 2 problems and finished in 87th place. This is an excellent performance for a team of sophomores. Our 3rd team, Nate Hayes, Josh Dietrich, and Erik Knouse, solved 1 problem and finished in 126th place. All our teams finished ahead of all Central’s teams!

The top places in these contests are always taken by large institutions. This time the top four were:
1st South Dakota School of Mines
2nd Wisconsin – Madison
3rd Nebraska – Lincoln
4th Iowa State

The complete standings are here. The highest-place liberal arts college was Carleton College, Minnesota, in 23rd place. Here are the final standings of a representative selection of schools, to compare Simpson’s performance.

Grinnell 27th
Coe 34th
Simpson 41st
Graceland 68th
St Olaf 70th
Buena Vista 72nd
Cornell College 82nd
UNI 89th
Northwestern College 93rd
William Penn 107th
Luther 123rd
Central 138th

Below are pictures from the contest.

Simpson Students at ACM-2017

Simpson Students at ACM-2017

Elisa, Chris, Keegan, Erik, Nate, Josh, during the contest.

Elisa, Chris, Keegan, Erik, Nate, Josh, during the contest.

Payton, Sam and Mark before the contest.

Payton, Sam and Mark before the contest.

2016 – MICS:

This year’s MICS was incredibly exciting and historic. A Simpson team won the programming contest for the first time! We also finished 3rd in the robotics contest.

Associate Professor Mark Brodie took 12 students to the Midwest Instructional Computing Symposium (MICS) on April 22-23 at UNI. In the first session Nate Hayes and Teig Loge presented, both wearing suits! It went very well; the fact that they had presented at the Honors Symposium the day before really helped. They got a lot of questions, which they handled with aplomb. Later Christopher Hanson presented. Christopher gave a very smooth presentation. He coped particularly well with the fact that his co-author, Salem Hildebrandt, was unable to attend.

The robotics contest followed. The robots had to play a form of miniature golf, hitting the ball very precisely to avoid obstacles. Nate Hayes’s robot placed 3rd overall. Since this is only the 2nd year we have entered the robotics contest, and we didn’t place at all last year, this is very impressive. Most of the robots were unable to get the ball to the hole at all.

Finally, the programming contest. 8 problems in 3 hours.

A team from St Olaf’s took the early lead, solving 5 problems within the first hour-and-a-half. At that point one of our teams, Team Gravel (Nate Hayes, Christopher Hanson and Will Roberts), was in 5th place, having solved 3 problems. Then they began to catch up. They solved their 5th problem after 2 hours, moving into 3rd place. With about 30 minutes left they solved their 6th, moving into 2nd. At this point all the leading teams had solved 6, with their exact positions depending on penalty points based on number of incorrect attempts.

With 12 minutes left Nate, Christopher and Will became the first team to solve 7 problems, taking the lead. (They didn’t actually know this. The students don’t know during the contest where they stand. Only the faculty, who judge the contest in a different room, can see the overall score.)

Those last 12 minutes went by agonizingly slowly! At any moment any of the teams on 6 could get their 7th, possibly moving into 1st. I (Mark Brodie) was one of the judges, so every time I validated a correct submission I wondered if I just had sent some other team ahead of our team. With 7 minutes left the St Olaf’s team got their 7th, but their penalty points were higher so our team was still in front! More agonizing waiting. Finally the 3 hours was over. More waiting while the last few submissions were judged, and then it was done! They had won!

Our other teams finished as follows: 9th – The SegFaults (Tony Clark, Chris Colahan, Ryan Policheri), 12th – Team Park (Park Mikels, Teig Loge, Drew Roen), and 34th – Awreeoh (Audrey Lovan, Elisa Wildy, Kyle Hovey). 59 teams participated in total.

This is the first time Simpson has won the MICS programming contest since we started competing in 2010. We’ve always done well, finishing in the top 5 every year since 2011. We got 2nd in 2012. We had 2 teams in the top 6 in 2013. But we’ve never won before.

To give some context to the achievement, compare the size of the institutions that have won the programming contest in the last 5 years to Simpson’s 1,400 students:

  • 2015: University of North Dakota (15,000 students)
  • 2014: Minnesota State University Moorhead (7,500 students)
  • 2014: University of Wisconsin Eau Claire (10,000 students)
  • 2013: Bismark State College (4,000 students)
  • 2012: College of Saint Benedict & Saint Johns (3,500 students)

Below are pictures of the students and the final scoreboard. The winning team’s name comes from Nate’s joke: “What really rocks? Gravel.”


Nate Hayes, Will Roberts, Christopher Hanson - winners at MICS 2016!

Nate Hayes, Will Roberts, Christopher Hanson – winning team at MICS 2016!

Ryan, Chris & Tony

Ryan, Chris & Tony

Elisa, Audrey & Kyle

Elisa, Audrey & Kyle

Drew, Park & Teig

Drew, Park & Teig

Nate, Chris & Will during the contest.

Nate, Chris & Will


Nate Checks the Check.

Nate Checks the Check.

Nate_Explaining_Outside_2016-04-23 10.58.23

2015 – MICS:

Faculty members Mark Brodie, Lydia Sinapova (Computer Science) and Derek Lyons (Chemistry) and 18 students attended the Midwest Instructional Computing Symposium (MICS) on April 10-11. This year’s MICS was held at the University of North Dakota (is that really even in the Midwest?). Despite the best efforts of Minneapolis road construction, rush-hour traffic and snow (!), the 3 vans arrived safely after a 10-hour drive.

In the first session Lydia and Derek gave a tag-team presentation on the undergraduate research in DNA computing which has taken place at Simpson in recent years. Derek explained the intricacies of DNA chemistry to an audience of computer scientists, while Lydia reported the results of student surveys showing which of their skills had been improved by their research experience.

The afternoon featured the poster session, followed by the robotics competition. Ellie Luebbe presented a poster on “Efficient Path Generation to Maximize Data Collection of Multiple Samples using Fluorescence Spectroscopy”. This work was done with Miles Kirts and Eric Marean. Park Mikels presented a poster on “Algorithmic Elimination of Unwanted DNA Hybridization in Complex DNA Mixtures”, co-authored with Geoff Converse and Dakota Spurrier.

Simpson participated in the robotics contest for the first time. In trials the robot performed admirably, but under the pressure of competition it got over-excited and its shot hit the back of the rim. The team of Nate Hayes, Kendra Klocke, Tony Clark, Josh Sutton, Holly Baiotto and Eric Marean worked hard between rounds cajoling, coaxing and coding to get it to improve, but were terminated. Hasta la vista, baby! Although the robot didn’t place, many valuable (and painful) lessons were learned and it was heard saying “I’ll be back” in an ominous tone.

The programming contest took place after dinner and ran for 3 hours. Six Simpson teams entered.
The team of Kendra Klocke, Tony Clark and Thomas Klein won 5th place out of 50 teams total, solving 5 out of 7 problems. This was their best finish at MICS. Since Kendra is graduating, Thomas and Tony plan to hold a hackathon to find a new team-member. Applicants should submit their resumes in binary.

Overall results:
Kendra Klocke, Thomas Klein & Tony Clark: 5th, solving 5 problems.
Ellie Luebbe, Maddie Thomas, & Park Mikels: 8th, solving 4 problems.
Jacob Williamson, Chris Colahan, & Scott Henry: 23rd, solving 2 problems.
Nate Hayes, Jacob Feld, & Evan Kimberlin: 27th, solving 2 problems.
Holly Baiotto, Teig Loge, & Eric Marean: 29th, solving 2 problems.
Audrey Lovan and Elisa Wildy: 30th, solving 2 problems.

The problems and solutions from the programming contest are available here.

The next morning Maddie Thomas presented her paper “Modeling of Linker Stoichiometry for Optimization of DNA Nanostructure Self-Assembly.” The paper described a project done with Esteban Sierra and Blake Tish in Lydia Sinapova’s Algorithms class. The paper was well received and generated a number of questions.

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2014 – ACM:

14 Simpson students performed extremely well in the North Central Regional of the 2014 ACM International Intercollegiate Programming Contest. We participated at Grandview University, against teams from Grandview and Drake. Out of 22 teams at the Grandview site, the team of Jacob Williamson, Chris Colahan & Scott Henry finished in first place overall.

Overall results:
Jacob Williamson, Chris Colahan & Scott Henry: 1st.
Connor Uhlman, Jacob Feld, & Nate Hayes: 3rd.
Ellie Luebbe, Maddie Thomas, & Park Mikels: 5th.
Kendra Klocke, Thomas Klein, & Tony Clark: 13th.
Eric Marean & Joe Mischka: tied 15th.

2014 – MICS:

A record total of 18 Simpson students participated in the 2014 Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) at the EPIC corporate center in Vernona, Wisconsin (near Madison). Out of about 60 teams, our team of Linsey Williams, Joel Gawarecki, and Jaris van Maanen finished in 4th place, solving 5 out of the 6 problems, their best-ever performance.

Overall results:
Linsey Williams, Joel Gawarecki, & Jaris van Maanen: 4th, 5 problems solved.
Kendra Klocke, Thomas Klein, & Tony Clark: 11th, 4 problems solved.
Jacob Williamson, Mike Henry, & Scott Henry: 23rd, 3 problems solved.
Ellie Luebbe, Maddie Thomas, & Park Mikels: 29th, 3 problems solved.
Jacob Feld, Ben Dimit & Evan Kimberlin: 30th, 3 problems solved.
Casey Croson, Adrian Gibson, & Louis Joslyn: 44th, 2 problems solved.

2013 – ACM:

11 Simpson students performed extremely well in the North Central Regional of the ACM International Intercollegiate Programming Contest on Saturday November 9 2013. Out of 260 teams, the team of Linsey Williams, Joel Gawarecki, and Jaris van Maanen finished in 44th place (top 20%), solving 3 out of the 8 problems. Two other Simpson teams solved 2 problems and the 4th team solved 1 problem. The contest problems are so difficult that many teams solve no problems at all.

The North Central Regional took place at about 15 sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Michigan, Western Ontario and Manitoba. Our teams participated at Grandview University, against teams from Grandview and Drake. Out of about 25 teams at the Grandview site, the team of Linsey, Joel and Jaris finished in first place overall, an impressive achievement.

The other students who partipicated were: Ben Dimit, Jacob Feld, Evan Kimberlin, Mike Henry, Jacob Williams, Kendra Klocke, Thomas Klein, Tony Clark. This was the second year that our students have participated in the ACM contest, and they had clearly learned from previous experience and from extensive preparation and practice.

The contest problems and results are available here.

2013 – MICS:

Assistant Professor Mark Brodie took thirteen Simpson students to the 2013 Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS) held April 19 and 20th in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The students made up 5 teams who participated in a 3-hour programming contest against about 50 teams from small colleges all over the Midwest.

Special congratulations go to Adam Smith, Zach Huebener and Mike Henry who finished in 3rd place, solving 5 out of the 7 problems, and winning $200. The team of Linsey Williams, Jaris van Maanen, and Joel Gawarecki finished in 6th place, solving 4 out of the 7 problems. No other college had 2 teams that finished in the top 6.

The other students who participated were Ben Dimit, Jacob Feld, Simeon Olsgaard, Evan Kimberlin, Kendra Klocke, Thomas Klein, and Tony Clark. All the students enjoyed the contest and are enthusiastic about competing again next time!

Here are all the students:

MICS 2013 Programming Contest

Adam, Mike, and Zach receiving the 3rd place award.


Joel, Linsey, and Jaris:


Mike, Adam, and Zach:


Jacob and Ben:


Evan and Simeon:


Tony, Thomas, and Kendra:



On April 13 – 14 2012, Dr. Lydia Sinapova and Dr. Mark Brodie attended the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium (MICS 2012) at UNI with 12 students, all majors and minors in Computer Science. The students presented two papers and participated in the programming contest.

Papers: Adam Smith and Joel Gawarecki presented “Optimization of Tile Sets for DNA Self-Assembly”, co-authored with Linsey Williams and Jaris Van Maanen. Zach Huebener presented “Three Approaches to Solving the Motif-Finding Problem”, co-authored with Kylie Van Houten.

Contest: Four teams of three students each participated in the programming contest. The team of Adam Smith, Blaise Mikels and Zach Huebener won SECOND PLACE (and a prize of $250) among 48 teams from colleges and universities across the Midwest. This is the best performance yet achieved by a Simpson team.

The full list of students who attended is: Cale Cunningham, Ben Dimit, Jacob Feld, Joel Gawarecki, Zach Huebener, Bronson Mayse, Blaise Mikels, Adam Smith, Connor Uhlman, Jaris van Maanen, Linsey Williams, and Jacob Williamson. Everyone enjoyed the conference greatly and are looking forward to next year’s event!


On Friday April 8 six students participated in the programming contest at the Midwest Instruction and Computing Symposium, Duluth, MN – Jaris Van Maanen, Joel Gawarecki, Whitney Thompson, Adam Smith, Blaise Mikels and Zach Huebener.

Out of 45 teams, Jaris Van Maanen, Joel Gawarecki and Whitney Thompson got 5th place. Adam Smith, Blaise Mikels and Zach Huebener got 9th place. Both teams solved 3 out of 7 problems.