Hacking MATLAB for glory

The seventh semi-annual MATLAB Programming Contest is in its final lap before finishing up tomorrow. This contest’s puzzle is based on the well-known traveling salesman problem. The contest has been running for a week and so far we’ve had more than 1400 entries. It’s hard to explain the visceral appeal of an online programming contest to those who’ve never tried it (and never plan to), but I think it has something to do with making a real-time performance out of something that is generally solitary and hidden. A virtuoso programmer can perform a dazzling cadenza of insightful codework and leap into the lead before a large and appreciative audience. Programmers don’t generally find themselves in this situation. Those that do can get sucked in deep. As one contestant said (in the MATLAB newsgroup)

Well, this is my first matlab contest and it is giving me far too
much enjoyment. It’s one of the most addicitve and compulsive things
I have tried. The exercise is improving my programming skill – true –
but in return I have neckache, backache, a terrible diet, no social
life, and not much of a work life either. Also, I have experienced
physical trembling while making the final preparations to send a code
into the pit. Is that normal?