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Programming Challenges: The Programming Contest Training Manual (Texts in Computer Science) Paperback – Import, 12 May 2003

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Review

"Skiena and Revilla's new book 'Programming Challenges: The Programming Contest Training Manual' is just the ticket for those interested in a jumpstart to the world of contest programming. With special emphasis on the international ACM collegiate contests, the book's best feature is each chapter's pithy introduction that demystifies a particular scheme or algorithmic approach. The ensemble of these explications coupled with the contest strategy guidelines in the appendix can enable a novice to enhance contest results dramatically in a short time simply by solving the suggested exercises in each chapter. Even contest veterans are likely to be able to find a nugget or two in the explanations and strategies. "Presented in a logical order (contest programming has over a dozen different primary attacks), the book guides readers not only through the techniques and algorithms required but also through a huge set of problems that can be used for training. Solutions can be submitted to Valladolid University's online trainer for quick feedback and reinforcement. "If you're the sort who likes to have a single volume that covers the vast majority of a field, you'll love Skiena and Revilla's new tome." --Rob Kolstad, Ph.D., Head Coach, USA Computing Olympiad

About the Author

Steven S. Skiena is a member of the faculty of computer science at SUNY Stony Brook and is author of many widely used books, including The Algorithm Design Manual. He received the 2001 IEEE Computer Society Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Miguel Revilla is a member of the faculty of computer science at the University of Valladolid, Spain. He is official website archivist of the ACM ICPC and creator/maintainer of the primary robot-judge, contest-hosting website.



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Amazon.com: 22 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
As a teacher, this book fails me. 16 March 2011
By Jason Cordes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I teach computer science at the high school level. Many of my students are hired for professional software development before they even graduate. One of the areas my students tell me they wish they could do better is contest coding. I've been doing quite a lot of research in that area, and I've read and digested several very good algorithms books (Data Structures and Algorithms in Java by Peter Drake is among the best I've read so far). Unfortunately, I have yet to find a book that adequately explains how to generate rapid solutions to contest problems. A skill that is interestingly useful in the professional environment in the role of prototyping.

WHAT I THINK ABOUT THIS BOOK:
The book falls very short of what it promises. It does contain a few selected programming problems (several of which I encountered when I competed in the ACM contests myself!), but it merely gives hints on things to think about and nothing about how to select appropriate solution algorithms. Also example code is only given for the simplest of situations. I would have preferred examples of more complex scenarios with a discussion of how to scale it back for simpler situations. Also, the book purports to be language neutral, and in their defense, although all the code is in C, there are discussions of how to use libraries from other languages. The only real use I got out of it was how to categorize problems into subsets and what those subsets look like. Essentially, the book is written to an audience who likely doesn't need the book in the first place...which is a shame.

If you are a master programmer and you just need some "nudges" in the right direction, this will be an excellent book for you.

If you are a novice, this book is all levels of wrong for you...consider getting a good data structures book (that includes graph algorithms...many of them don't!).

If you are an average to good programmer, just go to one of the contest sites and practice problems. It might also be useful to download the FREE guide to the ACM International Contests at acmsolver dot org. Also, the problems presented in this book are mostly covered in the collection of problems published as "From Baylor to Baylor".
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Excellent problems for programming challenges 15 December 2003
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
By far, the hardest part of teaching programming classes is evaluating the programs. Unless you have the students do only simplistic programs, they are difficult to read and running the executables does not always give an accurate appraisal of what was done. One possible solution to this educational conundrum is to take advantage of the robot judge maintained at the book's companion web site.
The book contains many problems to be solved via a program that must accept inputs having a specific, albeit general format and then produce the appropriate output. The robot judge is capable of evaluating programs written in Pascal, C, C++ and Java and it will return one of eleven different results, all of which are two letter acronyms. If the program is not given a passing grade, then the message will not be of much benefit.
The problems are placed in several categories, including sorting, combinatorics, number theory, graph traversal, grid operations and geometry. I identified several that I can and most likely will use as assignments the next time I teach basic programming. While some problems require significant background information, in general it is not so great that it is beyond the bounds of what can be done in a basic computing class. The problems were originally created to prepare students for programming contests, so the level of difficulty is such that they could not be used until later in a beginning course. However, the book would be an excellent text for any advanced programming class where the students are split into teams. Each chapter begins with primer material for the problems given in that chapter and I included it in my best books of the year 2003 column for the online "Journal of Object Technology".
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book - several caveats 19 September 2004
By David Bock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, let me get the caveats out of the way:

1) 'Contest' code like this does not teach nor encourage many of the concepts desirable for large system development. The point is not to have code that is extensible, maintainable, well designed, etc... although there are some good points (see below).

2) This book does not try to 'teach' concepts. That is not the point either (see below).

While the book is not 'teaching', it does set a bunch of interesting playing fields in which people can explore, discover, and learn on their own. In this regard, this book is excellent. I am considering using it to lead a study group at work for this reason.

While it is not promoting the development of many of the desirable skills I think develops generally need more of, it is promoting the use of requirements, detailed design, and acceptance tests... this is how the projects are specified and graded.

Yes, I said graded. This is a really cool feature of the book - there is a website where your solutions can be submitted, and a 'robot' will run and test them, letting you know the results. The way they pull that off is pretty cool. You create an account, and it ranks how well you are doing.

If you are interesting in contest coding, if you are looking for some platform on which to lead a study group on algorithms/problem solving, or if you are the kind of person who picks up Games Magazine looking for little problems to solve, this book is for you.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
You must work to gain from this book. 6 January 2011
By Yoraf Shiraz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book does not hand-hold. Each chapter gives a summary introduction of some CS topic (data structures, computational geometry, for example), and then includes 5 - 10 relevant Olympiad problems. You must actually write the problems and try the test inputs on them, to benefit from the book.

The book does not provide problem solutions. It would have been advantageous to see master algorithmists' (Skiena & Revilla) approaches to an Olympiad problem. Tips on algorithmic efficiency for every problem would have been helpful, for those who are interested in training for the competition, as well as for those who want to be better programmers. Alas, you may continue to write programs in an inefficient manner without feedback.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Good programming training manual but needs improvement 7 June 2003
By William Chau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In general, this is a good training manual on programming competitions. ... But the authors of this book tried to cover many topics without much depth. The topics should be treated more thoroughly, and more examples should be added. I hope the next revision of the book can be improved in these lacking areas.
Half of the books are a collection of problems you can get from the Programming Challenges website ... The lecture notes (in HTML and PDF formats), and audio (in MP3 formats), which the materials of the book extracted from, can be downloaded from the website.
For Java and C++ coders, some of the data structures and algorithms they provided are already available in classes and methods in the standard and STL libraries, respectively. But it is interesting to see how these data structures and algorithms are being designed and implemented in C from the book.
In my opinion, the code segments and examples chosen for the second half (chapters 8 and up) of the book are pretty good selections. The last two chapters of the book are my favorate chapters since the data structures and algorithms presented there for geometric problems, in particular computational geometric problems, are very subtle making solving some of these problems very simple.
...

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