EJOI 2023 Blog

Three Swiss participants were in Georgia on September 7-14 for the European Junior Olympiad in Informatics.

Mathieu Zufferey

The European Junior Olympiad in Informatics took place in Kutaisi, Georgia this year. The competition intends to give younger students a first experience in the international competition scene. Switzerland was represented by Hongjia Meng, Zsófia Marossy and Andrej Ševera. They were accompanied by Mathieu Zufferey. Andrej won a silver medal.

7th September + 8th September (Andrej)

Somehow three quarters of the team met on time at Zurich Airport, with Hongjia just randomly walking past us without noticing us. Once Mathieu bought his sandwich at the Coop we uneventfully got through the luggage drop-off and the security after a quick Tichu game. The guy at the passport control was suspicious about the parent’s consent on the emergency sheet, and him speaking Schwiizerdütsch (Chvietçerrdutche) didn’t make anything better. So our team leader (promoted from being a deputy because of Anna getting COVID) illegally abducted us to Georgia. We played some more Tichu while waiting for the gate to open and got joined by a friend a Anna who was also going to Georgia. The flight to Istanbul, apart from taking off an hour late, was uneventful. We ate some random Turkish food in a restaurant at the airport, played some more Tichu and got on the plane to თბილისი (capital of საქართველო) after discussing the expected number of pieces after randomly cutting a cake $n$ times. Me computing random integrals (at 1am) on cosines made everyone else fall asleep, and we quickly arrrived to Tbilisi. The queue to the border cross took one hour, but we didn’t have any more problems with child abduction. We got to the bus before realising that we had to wait for the Bosnian and French delegations, so we got back to get Georgian money and buy some food and drinks in a café. The other delegations obviously didn’t come until three hours later, but most of the team was too tired and I could not convince them to play Tichu. When the bus finally departed the whole team tried to sleep with widely varying levels of success (we had trouble to wake up Hongjia at the end). The bus driver turned around for half an hour after we first saw the university dormitory, but somehow we finally got there after travelling for almost 24 hours (especially some completely unrelated Geneva person) We got into a red building, stayed there for a few minutes while Mathieu was talking to the Belgian leaders, then learned that check-in for participants was in the green building, which looked like someone called

def get_green_building():
    red_building = get_red_building()
    red_building.color = "green"
    return red_building

Once in the red building which was green we got our room key and realised that our rooms were actually in the orange building, which was between the yellow and the turquoise buildings. We got there, learnt how to turn on the air conditioning and found our local guide. After that we just got into a random lobby in the orange building to play games. Mathieu was in his room, received a message from us asking us to immediately come play Tichu with us, and fell asleep just after that. We, being only three people, had to play the Ferdinand Game™ and slow Ligretto (that is, using playing cards mixed with SOI cards, so you constantly had to try to remember the random matching of suits we invented) (ach Jovian why didn’t you come we could have played Tichu). The day was so boring that there is not much remarkable stuff to write about. Let’s mention Zsofia seeing random cows walking on the street, Mathieu waking up at 6 pm to come to the registration, one third of the team running back to take their passports, and the registration person looking for the nonexisting Slovak team just because I have a Slovak passport. We got to sleep, and realised that the lamps in our rooms make a high-pitched noise, but only when they are turned off, so we resorted to varied solutions like hiding the lamp in a corner, putting the pillow on the other side of the bed, or just not noticing it at all and sleeping well (that was Zsófia).

9th September (Hongjia)

In this wonderful land where artificial colours unfold, a landscape of vast, timeless and bold. Rolling hills, fields of litter, under rainy skies… before a painted forest, where our tiredness rises. ‘ This was my (and perhaps my team-mates’) dream, interrupted by the sudden fear that my door was about to fall apart. Confused and shocked by the thunderous ‘knock’, I ran to the door where the guide’s voice emerged. “Hurry up! We have to get on the bus in 10 minutes!” his words screamed into my ears. Surely it was reasonable to spontaneously decide to leave 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled time. Complaining in our hearts, we transferred to the K building, only to realise the ridiculous abundance in time to have breakfast and enter the competition hall for the practice session. At least the food and tea were not too far from decent, and we got on well with the French delegation. Nervousness set in as we sat in silence in the competition hall waiting for the training session to begin. Nervousness broke when people started to realise that nothing seemed to be working. In the first 30 minutes, I doubt if the technical committee managed to get everyone to log in. For the next 30 minutes, I doubt if it was possible to submit anything. Sensing that the original 90 minutes was far too short to solve all the technical problems, they extended it by 30 minutes. Tired after the training session, we went to the canteen, only to find that lunch was exactly the same as breakfast. After eating the khachapuri, which is basically bread and cheese (and was the only thing on offer), we went to the Opening Ceremonies venue.

Reconstruction of the opening ceremony's slide about Switzerland.

Reconstruction of the opening ceremony’s slide about Switzerland.

When we walked into the Opening Ceremonies venue, there was nothing special about it. However, things started to get special when the guide handed us some audio guides and, confused as to what to do with them, we opened them up and found that they only contained random noises. Later we found out that they were audio translations, but the translator had failed to speak fluently. Tired of the usual speeches, we decided to plan how to throw Swiss delicacies at the other participants. We decided on chocolates, which we would eat when our country was presented. Who knew that would never happen! After the Slovenians were introduced, a large white cross flag appeared on the screen in the shape of any country, with Switzerland written underneath. (We threw the chocolates anyway). As a result, we spent the whole evening trying to figure out what {‘P’, ‘a’, ‘n’, ‘a’, ‘m’, ‘a’}∩{‘S’, ‘w’, ‘i’, ‘t’, ‘z’, ‘e’, ‘r’, ‘l’, ‘a’, ‘n’, ‘d’} was.

10th September (Zsófia)

After eight hours of sleep, we got woken up by our guide who was knocking on our room door so loudly that we were scared the door would break and who had decided we should leave for breakfast 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. Proceeding that, we transferred to the K Building where we ate breakfast and where the contest was held. After breakfast, the first contest began and we started solving the 3 challenging tasks for that day. After 4 hours of contest solving, we ate lunch and went back to the contest hall. We later transferred back to our dorms and played Tichu, Mau and other games. While playing games, we offered other teams some Swiss chocolate and cookies, as they walked by. For some reason, a participant who was walking up the stairs ignored our offer for Swiss chocolate which was quite strange. As our dorm building wasn’t crowded, we couldn’t distribute too much chocolate and cookies, so we ate a bunch of them ourselves (quality testing is important).

11th September (Hongjia)

Today we woke up to the usual unusual knocking on our doors, again 20 minutes before the scheduled time. But nobody cared - the more important thing was today’s planned excursion. After breakfast and an entertaining bus ride, during which we played games with the French delegation, we arrived at the Prometheus Cave. Before we could enter the cave, we found out that our lunch in the (paper) lunchboxes had turned into a mixture of salad and khachapuri. Waiting to get in was boring, especially when we couldn’t understand a word of Georgian. But it was worth it when we finally entered the cave. The view from inside the cave was really amazing. Even though I couldn’t understand all the geography Zsofia was telling me, I could really enjoy the view. Life was much harder when we came out. After travelling in a leaky and shaking bus while trying to play Mao with the French, we arrived at a nature park. None of us wanted the terrible food, especially after the worst bus ride. Instead, we found some shade and threw stones into the forest (which was forbidden by a strange sign nearby). As we read the sign, it said that it was strictly forbidden to throw things into nature and to damage nature. When we finally entered the park, we realised who was breaking the rules more than us… the nature park (which was supposed to preserve some dinosaur footprints) was basically filled by tons of plastic dinosaurs everywhere! Looking at the huge plastic dinosaurs making silly noises, we all wondered if it was allowed to litter so much. It was definitely the most natural park we experienced! The park also had a dried-out cave where you could stick your hand in and make a wish. We almost used up our hand sanitizer when we realised how stinky the cave water was. Just as an amazing story has an amazing beginning, a horrible afternoon has a horrible end, with the bus shaking again. We all hope that today’s bad luck will bring us good luck tomorrow.

12th September (Andrej)

For the first time this week we got to go on the later of the two buses to the K building (but the guide still banged on our doors while I was taking a shower). The breakfast was the exact same as it always was (such a surprise). After a little bit of warmup we got inside the contest halls, and waited nervously for today’s contest to start. The first problem seemed like a pretty random ad-hoc thing and I didn’t really think about it, the second one was some DFS (which I somehow managed to replace with binary lifting) and the last one was a problem about counting sort. I got quite unlucky on debugging the 2nd problem and only got 69 points on it, and managed to get 51 easy points on the last one (there were even more easy points but I didn’t really have time to implement). I still stayed in the silver range after the second day. For the rest of the team, Hongjia got 14 points and Zsófia 3.38 points. After the contest we ate the exact same lunch as always (at least the soup was different), tried to solve some strange bashy combi problem and Mathieu and me spent one hour on trying to figure out why my solution for problem 2 failed on only one test case, and ended up wondering why it even passed all testcases but one. Hongjia and Zsófia tried to see if there was a quick way to get our team shirts (freshly designed and featuring Panama, the Red Cross, and a rectangular Swiss flag) printed in Kutaisi on time for the closing ceremony, but sadly they didn’t find any t-shirt printing places there. After that we played the Ferdinand Game™, and spontaneously invented a better version of it (sorry Ferdinand), called the Improved Ferdinand Game™ for obvious reasons. We then went to Kutaisi with our team guide to eat something better than the university food, and so we ate in the Bayerische restaurant again. We then looked for some souvenirs/postcards, and after buying a few things we passed in front of the most amazing teddy bear shop I’ve ever seen (obviously money was to be spent inside). Back in the dormitories we decided to get the (apparently) world famous Borjomi mineral water, which represents 10% of Georgia’s exports, was drunk by all Soviet leaders since Lenin, and (quoting Hongjia) tastes so awful that it’s actually good. We also met the French team and played a round of Mao with them, but then half of the delegation started to feel really bad, surely some effect of the terrible university food (one of them suspects it was actually the mineral water). So we played some more IFG™ and got to sleep around 2am

13th September (Zsófia)

After a few hours of sleep, we surprisingly woke up by ourselves and not by our guide banging on our door. It turned out, he had overslept, so had we. Since we missed the bus, we had to walk to the K Building, which was a 20-minute walk. We had to hurry, since we were leaving for an excursion at 8.30. On the way we met someone from the French delegation, who overslept as well. We made it to the K Building 35 minutes early, so we decided to eat breakfast. After 1 hour of bus ride, where we played Tichu with the Hungarians, we arrived at Gelati Monastery, where we had plenty of time to look at the monastery. Afterwards we went to another monastery, the Motsameta Monastery. It started to rain, so we went under a covered space and played cards. The next sight on the program was the Bagrati Cathedral, which turned out to be closed, so we just transferred back to K Building where we had lunch. After lunch we went back to the dorms, where we had an hour of free time, before the next trip. We spent 35 minutes of that hour buying snacks at the Spar on the campus. After getting changed and maybe packing a bit, we transferred to the closing/award ceremony, where Andrej received his silver medal (Congratulations). Afterwards we took some photos and then it was time to go to dinner at a restaurant. Our original plan was to solve some problems and talk with other delegations, but the restaurant played music VERY loudly, so some of us (mostly me) danced with the other delegations. At some point, the music was too tiring, so went outside into the restaurant garden to play Tichu with the Hungarians and later a Latvian and a Georgian joined us. We got informed, that the trip from Kutaisi to Tbilisi was going to be 7 hours instead of 3.5, because a bridge was closed, so they moved our leaving time 45 minutes earlier, which was still too late since we’d only have 30 mins at the airport, so we started packing rapidly in hopes of leaving even earlier, which wasn’t the case. We then worriedly got onto the bus which would take us to Tbilisi. The bus left 20 minutes later than intended, which made us all even more worried about missing the plane…

14th September (Mathieu)

Good news: the bus ride to Tbilisi took only 6 hours instead of the advertised 7! This means we actually got on the plane on time, and without rushing too much (at least, rushing way less than the security check people wanted us to). After a rough landing in Istambul, we ate… which meal were we eating by that point? As we couldn’t decide between breakfast or lunch, we agreed on Znüni, since it was approximately 9 AM by that point. Afterwards we played some final rounds of Tichu before flying to Zürich. After passing security checks one last time, it was already time to say goodbye… and finally time to rest, almost two days after getting out of bed in Kutaisi.