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Lisp is one of the oldest and best-loved programming languages around, but it gets relatively little attention from programmers despite its flexibility and power. Now the organisers of the 2007 International Lisp Conference hope to raise the language’s profile by inviting entries for their latest programming contest.

It’s an idea they’ve tried before: a competition was run in the lead-up to the New York lisp conference in 2003. Then the entrants had to solve the "Last Piece Puzzle", a type of jigsaw with a few billion billion frustrating possibilities but only five correct solutions.

This time around the problem is also topological, and involves writing a program to play the game of ‘Continuo’, a card game where players place coloured cards on the table and score points. Each card has a 4 by 4 grid of coloured squares, and you score points by building connected regions. It’s the sort of game mathematicians love to inflict on their children and programmers love to write elegant algorithms for just so they can make the kids cry by beating them every time.

Prizes are on offer for the program that scores the highest, the one using the most elegant algorithm and the fastest running program. There’s even a prize for the first entry submitted that can play the game ‘half decently’ in the judges’ opinion, and one for the best use of really obscure lisp features.

Lisp programmers have until March 3 to enter, although if you’re really keen you could emulate one of the 2003 winners who learned the language from scratch just in order to take part. Prizes will be handed out at the conference, which takes place in Cambridge from April 1st to 4th Full details on the conference website at http://www.international-lisp-conference.org/ Everyone who knows the value of balanced parentheses will be there – shouldn't you? ®

About the Conference

The 2007 International Lisp Conference will take place at Clare College, Cambridge, England from 1-4 April, with an afternoon of punting and walking around Cambridge on March 31 to get people into the mood.

Alongside the usual conference fare of tutorials, invited speakers and technical sessions there will also be workshops and demonstrations covering all aspects of Lisp in use, and the conference will be rounded off with a traditional high table dinner served in the college's Great Hall.

Invited speakers include Richard Jones from the University of Kent, John Mallery from the AI Lab at MIT and Ralf Moeller from Hamburg University of Technology.

Full details on the registration site at http://www.international-lisp-conference.org/.

Or you can get conference announcements from the ILC 2007 announce mailing list at http://www.alu.org/mailman/listinfo/ilc-2007-announce.

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