# What can I use for solving challenges?

I just registered and I'm confused about what is fair. Oddly I can't find it spelled out. I must be missing something... Surely nobody will mind if I use a calculator and hopefully it's okay if I let wolframalpha do Gaussian eliminations and other trivial, boring things for me. But what about writing a program to brute force solutions? Seems very fitting, but I'm afraid I might be missing the point of the challenge.

Note by K J
5 years, 10 months ago

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The point of the challenges is for you to think about how you can approach them in a smart, effective way. This is not a programming / coding challenge, but about your understanding of mathematics (and physics). As such, the values are intentionally kept small and manageable. You will not need a calculator, or a protractor, just good, proper mathematical ability.

Almost certainly, if it not something that you already know how to do, you should not use a calculator. For example, if you do not know how to calculate $$\sin 10^\circ$$, then it is not 'fair' to user a calculator to obtain that value.

Staff - 5 years, 10 months ago

That's the thing. The small and manageable values make it almost possible to brute force on paper. I see your point though. Hopefully as I learn more, this option becomes less attractive :)

- 5 years, 10 months ago

My comment is mainly about the mathematical problems.

If all we do is collect points for the right answers, then each student can decide for himself what tools he wants to use. But when asked for a worked solution, I think the requirements should be stated more clearly. I have got points deducted for submitting a solution which obtained the right answer by explicitly considering a special case. The lesson learned is that this is not a site for learning problem solving, but for learning how to do mathematical proofs (what happens if you do shortcuts in the physical problems, I don't know). This is perfectly alright, but should be made clearer. The approach here is the same to the one in typical mathematical contests: no tools except pencil and paper and what is in your head, including what named theorems you can remember.

This comment may belong to a different discussion, but sometimes it's too easy to guess the right answer: in the mathematical operator problem some weeks back, there is obviously at least one solution for k, so if you guess 1, 2, 3, you're there at the second try. (Which is not the way I solved it.)

- 5 years, 10 months ago

That's harsh. I myself did a problem that way this week. Definitely agree that it should be spelled out.

- 5 years, 10 months ago

I specifically asked the support team about using programs for finding solutions and they said that

"It is preferred that you use the techniques of the subject to solve the problems. All problems can be solved with pencil and paper (and a scientific (non-graphing) calculator at the most), if you have the correct approach. I do not accept solutions by coding, unless you can justify why no errors (whether it be computational, transcription, memory, typical rounding, etc) have been made by the computer. For the physics problems, the use of calculators is permitted (and at times even necessary, since you're dealing with various constants). For the math problems, the use of calculators isn't necessary, and should be restricted to verifying your computations."

Many of the problems, especially counting and search problems, would be trivial with a few lines of code so I don't think programming anything is right. That being said, if you know how to solve a system of equations, having the computer do it for you doesn't seem like cheating since you had to figure out which system to solve and how to interpret it in the first place.

- 5 years, 10 months ago

I don't thinnk bruteforcing will work, since you only haveyou hack the site 3 tries, unless and mess with the sever ot PHP hehehe...

- 5 years, 10 months ago

A lot of them cannot even be done by code, unless you use 'hardcore' math-programmed languages (PARI/GP, Mathematica etc.)

- 5 years, 10 months ago