Ad Hoc Problems
Author: Michael Cao
Problems that do not fall into standard categories with well-studied solutions.
According to USACO Training 1.2:
Ad hoc problems are those whose algorithms do not fall into standard categories with well-studied solutions. Each ad hoc problem is different; no specific or general techniques exist to solve them.
In this module, we'll go over some general tips that may be useful in approaching problems that appear to be ad hoc.
- Draw lots of small cases to gain a better understanding of the problem. If you're having trouble debugging, draw more cases. If you don't know how to start with a problem, draw more cases. Whenever you don't know how to further approach a problem, you're probably missing an important observation, so draw more cases and make observations about properties of the problem.
- Whenever you find an observation that seems useful, write it down! Writing down ideas lets you easily come back to them later, and makes sure you don't forget about ideas that could potentially be the solution.
- Don't get stuck on any specific idea, unless you see an entire solution. Trying to complete search an ad hoc problem could end up wasting a lot of your time in contest.
- Try to approach the problem from a lot of different perspectives. Try to mess around with formulas or draw a visual depiction of the problem (maybe some sort of graph). One of the most helpful things you can do when solving ad hoc problems is to keep trying ideas until you make progress. This is something you get better at as you do more problems.
In the end, the best way to get better at ad hoc problems (or any type of problem) is to do a lot of them.
Of course, ad hoc problems can be quite easy, but the ones presented below are generally on the harder side.
Join the USACO Forum!
Stuck on a problem, or don't understand a module? Join the USACO Forum and get help from other competitive programmers!