Last Saturday, the Google Games returned to UIUC. Like last year's games, teams of five had to solve puzzles and build a device using Lego blocks. The organizers changed and improved the games by starting with a trivia contest, removing the long athletic event, and adding a second puzzle session.
The trivia contest had three categories: "Computer Science", "Math", and "Geek Trivia". A rotating panel of contestants from different teams had to provide questions for Jeopardy-style answers like, "This programming language was named after a French mathematician and philosopher", "93", "This person invented Tetris". It is unfortunate that we had to answer (question) individually since at least one member of Team YAY! knew the answer (question) to every question (answer). Despite that, Zack propelled us to the lead when he knew the answer (question) to "This was Sega's original name".
The puzzles were more varied and required less brute force than last year. We were given two programming problems, a tesselation question, a variation on Sudoku, two graph traversal problems, a faulty network puzzle, and a paper-folding task, among others. I tackled the programming problems. In the first session I had to determine what characters three convoluted functions printed. Lucas solved the function written in Logo that drew its characters. I solved the other two functions written in Python and C that involved deep recursion and factoring polynomials, respectively. In the second session I had to determine what conditions defined several sets of numbers (for example, x is a third power) and then find several additional numbers that satisfied multiple conditions (for example, x is a third power containing the number 4).
We solved the required five out of six questions in the first session, but only three in the second.
For the Lego contest we had to build a trebuchet that could throw a small Lego tire into a bucket eight feet away. Each team was given a bag of standard Lego blocks and a one-pound fishing sinker to use as a counterweight. I was unable to build since I was busy with the programming questions, but I still found the task particularly interesting for two reasons. First, unlike many throwing contests, we were judged on accuracy rather than distance. That factor definitely affected the designs. Second, like last year's bridges, Lego bricks do not naturally lend themselves to building a war engine. Several teams had ingenious ways of reinforcing the throwing arm, but most, including our trebuchet, failed to hit the bucket.
Our trebuchet and the second set of puzzles caused us to fall from our initial lead.