COS IW 07: Practical Solutions to Intractable Problems, Spring 2018

Course information

Semester: Spring 2018
Lectures: Friday, 1:30-2:50pm
Location: CS CS301
Instructors: Zak Kincaid,
Links: Independent work, Guidelines, Steps and deadlines, Piazza


Suppose that you encounter an algorithmic problem that you need to solve but which is computationally intractable (say, NP-hard, PSPACE-hard, or even undecidable). What can you do? While it's impossible to design an algorithm that works efficiently all of the time, it's certainly possible to develop solutions that work well in practice. For example, despite the fact that boolean satisfiability is NP-complete, modern SAT solvers can scale to millions of variables and clauses for the kinds of formulas that arise in typical applications, such as verification, synthesis, and planning.

In this seminar, students will engage in research on how intractable problems are solved in practice. A typical project is to choose a problem of interest and design, implement, and experimentally evaluate a technique for solving that problem. The technique could involve exploiting existing tools (such as SAT solvers, theorem provers, or integer programing solvers) or designing a new algorithm (perhaps based on the principles of heuristic search, relaxation, or approximation).

Status updates

Each student enrolled in the seminar is expected to email me weekly with a status update consisting of:
  1. Your plan for the previous week
  2. What you accomplished in the past week
  3. What you plan to do next week
  4. Anything that you would like to discuss


This is a tentative schedule that will be changed during the course.

Date Topic/Deadline
Feb 8 Attend the Information Meeting 12:30 PM, Convocation Rm., Friend Center
Feb 16 Project pitches: Slides on idea, motivation, and related work.
Feb 25 Submit a Written Project Proposal
Mar 11 Submit the Checkpoint Form
Mar 16 Class will be held in the Deans conference room in Friend Center
Mar 23 No class (Spring break)
Apr 3 Attend "How to Give an IW Talk"
Apr 4-9 Sign up to give an Oral Presentation
Apr 10 Attend "How to Write an IW Paper"
Apr 22 Submit Slides for an Oral Presentation
Apr 23-27 Give an Oral Presentation
May 7 Submit a Written Final Report
May 13 Submit poster
May 14 Present at the Poster Session in Convocation Room, Friend Center