ICFP 2010 contest is a bust for me

The ICFP 2010 contest rules have been posted, and I am quite disappointed by this year’s contest.

This year’s contest is difficult to describe. It’s too clever by half, and it depends too much on time, and too much on repeated interaction with the organizer’s servers.

The conceit is that you’re designing “car engines”, and “fuel for car engines”. A car engine is a directed graph with certain properties, and “fuel” is a directed graph with other properties that generates a set of coefficients that are fed to the engine.

Layered on top of that is an encoding puzzle (you have to figure out how the engine and fuel directed graphs are encoded for submission to the IFCP servers.)

Layered on top of that is an economy where you are encouraged to submit your own car engines and write optimal fuels for other people’s car engines. There are benefits for finding better fuels for existing car designs. (You aren’t provided the details of the other car designs.)

Layered on top of that is that the instructions are not written very clearly. I had to read them multiple times to start to even begin to understand what was going on.

And finally, the contest registration / submission web site is returning 503 (Service Temporarily Unavailable) errors, either because it hasn’t been turned on yet, or perhaps because hundreds of teams are trying to use it at once.

I suspect this contest is going to be difficult for teams with limited Internet connectivity. I also suspect the contest servers are going to be very busy later in the contest as people start hitting them with automated tools repeatedly in order to start decoding engines.

I salute the contest organizers for trying to get contestants to interact with each other during the contest, and for coming up with an original idea.

I fault them for designing a “write your program in our language, not yours” puzzle. I want to enjoy programming in the language of my choice, not design graphs and finite state automata for creating fuel coefficients and engines.

I am going to punt this year – the contest just doesn’t sound very fun.

I hope next year’s topic is more to my taste!