Algorithmic Challenge From Cimpress
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Can you find an algorithm that can cover a irregular shaped grid in the fewest number of squares? There's $10,000 for the best solution and $1,000 each for up to ten more.


The competition comes from Cimpress, a global company that makes marketing materials and promotional products and, until recently, was was known by the name VistaPrint. It began on April 27th and runs until May 25, 2015 at 11:59pm Eastern time and is open to anyone over the age of 18.




The challenge is to write a program that accepts an incomplete grid of size N x M of unit squares and covers it exactly with squares of any sizes. The key criteria being judged are speed and efficiency, i.e using the fewest possible squares. The program must solve at least 400 individual puzzles, which are randomly generated by the Cimpress Puzzle API, to be considered for a prize. 

To take part you first need to register for the contest to be given a 32-digit Registration Key that has to be used when calling the Puzzle API. If you lose your key, you can register again and get a new key, but you will lose any puzzle solutions you have already submitted. 

Full instructions for interacting with the Puzzle API are in the Developer Pack that includes working examples in PHP, Python, and Ruby, although you can use any programming language you want to.

The Puzzle API has two modes: trial and contest. Trial mode is for practicing: your solutions (and mistakes) don't count whereas in contest mode, everything counts toward your score.

From the original submissions, all solutions will be judged on: 

  • Correctness
  • Number of covering squares (fewer is better)
  • Speed of solution

The contest organizers will then choose 10-15 finalists who will compete for the prizes by running their programs to request and solve another 400 puzzles. This time quality of code will be an additional judging criterion and prizes will be awarded: 

  • Grand prize: $10,000
  • Honorable mentions: Up to ten prizes of $1,000

This seems like an attractive contest with a reasonable level of reward for the overall winner. However it's not such a good deal for those who enter and don't win. A clause in the official rules indicates that:

The concept and Entry submitted by the entry shall at all times remain the property of the participant. Notwithstanding the foregoing the participant grants Sponsor (and its affiliates and subsidiaries) a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable license to use participant’s concept and Entry for and in connection with its business.

Shortly before the company changed its name to Cimpress, it came for criticism here for running a $10K Contest To Solve A Problem Worth Millions. It the company trying again to get developers to solve its problems on the cheap.


So think twice, and read the small print of the terms and conditions, before you rush to submit an entry. 





More Information

Cimpress Tech Challenge

Official Rules

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 April 2015 )