By Chirag Kawediya
The Math Club, along with other enthusiastic students, decided to participate in another math-like competition, except this time they were cracking codes in different languages.
The competition, known as the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO), is a special type of computational test. Instead of testing for mathematics understanding, it tests for students’ ability to approach problems with no obvious methodology. Specifically, NACLO participants are given problems that involve translating, processing, or experimenting with new languages.
Participating students knew nothing going into NACLO – they aren’t expected to. Despite asking students to do things like translate Tenji (the Japanese version of braille) or decipher a Cuneiform tablet given nothing but scrambled words and definitions, there is no language experience required to do well. Instead, NACLO tests are designed to force students to use the few resources they are given through the problem to devise their own system of how the language works, and solve it from there.
Despite being incredibly difficult (it is an accomplishment to have time to attempt every problem) NACLO can even be a source of enjoyment. Playing around with language like building blocks allows bright students to use their own creativity rather than the monotonous problem-solving methods drilled into their heads at school.
The competition is an exam consisting of eight problems (of various difficulties) and participants are given 3 hours to finish as much as they can. Those who score in the top 10% of scorers in the US or Canada advance to round 2, where they can attempt even more difficult problems against other top scorers.