For some reason, today I happened to look back at some of my old IIT textbooks, and happened to see this book by Cormen, Leiserson and Rivest on algorithms. I was reminded of the algorithms course at IITM. The prof had just finished his term as HoD and much relieved as he was, he put a lot of enthu into the first half of the course. Every class would start with a “thought for the day” which would be related to what we were going to do. Then, the classes were extremely well structured and there was a regular assignment schedule also.
We were divided into groups of four, and each assignment used to have a “part A” and a “part B”, which carried equal weightage. The former was common to all groups, and would have fairly straightforward stuff – minor variants of what we discussed in class, etc. There would be several problems, and it was frankly a bit of a pain.
Part B gave a separate problem for each group, and this would be usually non-straightforward and required some bit of thinking. There was a good chance that the group never solved it at all, while on the other hand, at times it would hardly take time.
Looking back, I think in more than half the assignments, I ended up doing part B. The problems used to be fairly interesting, and I’d somehow end up solving them before the group even met to discuss the work. And given that all that was required to solve the problem was a moment of inspiration, the process of solving them were, in hindsight, interesting.
One problem was solved when I had taken one hostelmate’s new Bajaj Eliminator for a test ride. Another got solved when I was playing table tennis. Yet another while I was perched on the parapet reading the newspaper.
I also remember this particular incident. In the first assignment, we managed to find a fairly simple and intuitive solution to our part B problem. Now, two guys in my group were topper-types and fighter, and writing a simple and intuitive proof was against their ethos. They said that it would mean that we hadn’t shown much effort, and might result in our getting lesser marks. They finally put enough effort to convert the four line proof into some kind of formal mathematical notation which took four pages. I don’t know if anyone bothered to read that.