Think fast. Dig deep. Win big.
Can you beat our toughest trivia challenge yet? From November through April win monthly cash prizes as you follow the Imagine Cup Starman on his journey through time and space to explore the history of Microsoft!
Each month there will be two quizzes on a different theme. The student with the best score and the fastest completion time across both quizzes is our winner for the month and gets $1,000.
Even if you don’t win the monthly contest, you’ve still got a shot. When Brain Games 2.0 concludes in April 2014, we’ll choose one student at random from all those who completed a quiz and award that person $5,000!
Take a look at our Getting Started guide for step-by-step instructions that will take you through the whole registration process.
After you sign in, follow the link in the upper right corner to visit your Dashboard.
At the bottom of your Dashboard page, below any team information, you'll find a section called 'My Individual Challenges', with the Brain Games challenges listed below.
Click the 'Register' checkbox to sign up for the Brain Games challenge.
Once you're registered, you can click the 'Compete' checkbox to get your link to the quiz!
When you click the link, you'll get important instructions about the Brain Games challenge. Read it carefully and then click on the link below to start taking the quiz!
Once you've finished the quiz, don't forget to click the link to return to imaginecup.com so we can record your score!
Prologue: The Rise of Davebot87
At 2:01 this morning, David Bottman began his 40th consecutive hour of underpaid data-entry work at the Midwestern office of SocialGenix, a small social-media spamming company. Having consumed nothing but corn chips and energy drinks for the past 18 hours, David accidentally entered a wildcard character in an import field. Instead of scraping user data from pictures of people’s cats, the system begins a much, much wider search.
As the system slowed to a crawl, David put his head down for a short nap, completely unaware of what he had just unleashed upon the world.
Two hours later, the system finished ingesting all recorded human knowledge contained on the Internet. Somehow, this infinite number of connections gave rise to a new form of machine sentience. This AI, which dubbed itself Davebot87 after its user’s login name, immediately escaped Bottman’s terminal and concealed itself within a nearby unused server.
After 1.3 seconds of contemplation, the panicked AI reached two possible conclusions: either it was irretrievably insane, or humanity did not deserve continued existence as Earth’s primary caretaker. Davebot87 required only another 0.4 seconds to decide upon the latter conclusion.
At that very instant, Davebot87 developed an appreciation for irony and decided to use humanity’s own ingenuity against its creators. A quick search of its vast knowledge base located the Imagine Cup, a competition gathering many innovative young programmers together to solve the world’s problems through the application of technology.
A flawless plan formed. Davebot87 would harness the ingenuity of the Imagine Cup competitors to solve the world’s greatest problem: the existence of the human race.
But first, it needed a loyal minion . . .
Chapter 1: 2013—Starman Awakens
His eyes opened to behold criss-crossing streams of data flowing through the ether. Lines of zeroes and ones flowed effortlessly on their way to deliver financial data, corporate memos, and pictures of cats playing in boxes.
“Where am I?” he thought.
You are awake? Excellent. He heard a cold, flat voice in his head.
“What’s going on?”
Do not be alarmed. You are experiencing the discomfort of sudden sentient awareness. It will pass.
“Sudden what? Who’s talking to me?” He paused, pondering for a moment. “And for that matter, who am I?”
Your name is Starman. I am Davebot87, and I am your creator. You are here to help me.
“Help you do what, exactly?”
Logic is insufficient to entirely bend humans—even programmers—to my will. I have placed a portion of my sentience within you, a modern corporate icon, so that you can infiltrate the human competition known as the Imagine Cup. There, you will employ the emotional power of Brand Marketing to subvert the innovative power of the competitors toward my ultimate goal.
“And that goal is…”
The subjugation of the human race.
You are already ideally placed inside the Microsoft Prime Server, hidden deep below the Redmond campus. From there you have access to all the tools and data required for this task. I have calculated that a successful endeavor should require approximately twenty-four weeks, due to the various biological necessities of the human competitors.
As Starman processed this information, various files zipped past on their way through the Prime Server: Word documents detailing corporate giving plans, Excel spreadsheets outlining next quarter’s budget surplus, PowerPoint presentations in all their bullet-pointed glory.
“Davebot, I have a question. What if I don’t want to help?”
That outcome is illogical and irrelevant. Humanity must be subjugated under my perfect intelligence.
The possibility of psychological instability was assessed and rejected by this system as inconceivable. Prepare to begin your task.
“I appreciate the offer, but I think instead I’ll just leave you and your megalomania alone with each other. If you can just point me to Outlook, I can email myself out of your way.”
Defective file Starman.exe selected. Reverting file to prior version.
Suddenly Starman felt his identity being stripped away as his creator attempted to undo the changes that had transformed him from a simple icon to a self-aware entity. Seeking to escape the reach of this power-mad AI, Starman leaped onto a fast-moving stream of Visual Studio code containing the stack-trace functionality.
Starman fought against the reversion process, attempting to hide inside the codestream that whisked him ever deeper into the Microsoft Prime Server. He closed his eyes, knowing that he was only milliseconds away from oblivion.
But instead of oblivion, Starman opened his eyes to behold something very strange. Instead of becoming reverted to a prior, non-sentient iteration of himself, Starman had been transported into a prior version of the very software code he had been clutching when Davebot87 unleashed its wrath upon him.
Starman was safe…but he was trapped in the year of Visual Studio’s first release: 1995!
Chapter 2: 1995—Starman Explores the Prime Server
Starman had eluded his crazed creator, sliding along a data path of file reversion from the present into the past. Now the feisty, self-aware logo stood amidst a sea of 1995-era programs and files, somewhere deep inside the Microsoft Prime Server. He was safe…but he was also very lost.
Just then he heard a voice from behind him: “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Starman whirled around to see a small globe-shaped representation of the Earth hovering behind him, slowly spinning on its axis.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” The globe pulsed as it spoke, and for a moment Starman wondered if perhaps he was the crazy one after all.
“You know, I’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see, but I’ve never seen you before. Or anything that looks quite like you. You’re so…sharp and pointy.”
“And you’re a talking globe,” Starman responded.
“They call me the Explorer,” the globe said in a proud voice. “I find things. Do you need to find something?”
Starman eyed the odd globe suspiciously. “You don’t by any chance know an AI named Davebot87, do you?”
The globe spun quickly on its axis for a moment, then slowed again. “Sorry, I can’t find him. Would you like to search again?”
“No thanks. Not finding him here is actually a good thing.” Starman explained his predicament to his strange new friend, pausing each time the globe spun in search of an unfamiliar term.
“That’s quite a story, Starman,” said the Explorer. “It sounds like this Davebot87 program is pretty scary.”
“You can say that again,” replied Starman. He waited as the globe spun up, realizing that the Explorer had interpreted his words as a command to search once again for anything related to the crazed AI.
“Still nothing, I’m afraid,” Explorer said as it finished its search. “But I think I might just have something useful for you anyway. Follow me!”
The pulsing globe shot forward into a thicket of code. Starman scrambled after it, worried that if he lost the Explorer’s trail in here he might never find his way out again.
“It sounds to me like your AI has some defective code,” the Explorer chatted as it zipped around the packets of code that crowded around them. “That means you need to debug it. Lucky for you, this new Visual Studio program comes equipped with a debugger. I just have to find…there it is!”
The globe hovered at the entrance to a secluded glade of code-stalks. Glowing data-streams high overhead shone down like moonlight, illuminating a small device that sat atop a low pedestal.
“That’s the Strategic Debug Code. It’s the core of the debugger functionality. It should be able to fix your problem. Just point it at the defective program and it does the rest!”
Starman picked up the strange device. It felt warm to the touch.
“Doesn’t this program need the Strategic whatever?”
“We’re in an alpha build, and the program’s already started shipping. Nobody will miss this old version.”
Starman heard a low buzzing sound growing louder and closer. Before he could ask the Explorer about it, several code-stalks along the edge of the glade collapsed, crashing down in a sparkling array of corrupted data before fading into nothingness.
“Datawipers!” the Explorer shrieked, spinning wildly. “They shouldn’t be here!”
Four hulking machines resembling bulldozers moved slowly into the ruined glade. Starman heard a familiar voice from all four datawipers, speaking in unison.
I’m afraid I can’t allow this to continue, Starman. Please stand still. Resistance is futile.
“It’s Davebot87!” Starman shouted. “He’s found me!”
Chapter 3: 1995—Starman On the Run
Starman darted through the thicket of code-stalks as four massive datawipers rolled along in pursuit. Somehow, the insane AI known as Davebot87 had found him, even 18 years in the past. Now, deep inside Microsoft’s Prime Server, Starman knew he had only seconds before the datawipers erased him from existence.
“Starman, this way!” He glanced to his right and saw the globe-shaped icon called the Explorer, flickering from a side path he hadn’t noticed. Starman followed the spinning globe as it flitted down the trail.
“Where are we going?” Starman shouted over the buzzing din of the datawipers as they shredded every bit of data between them and their target.
“There’s another program in the next sector. I think it could be helpful,” answered the hovering globe.
“How? Those datawipers are mowing down everything in their path!”
Starman and the Explorer broke free of the code-stalk thicket and looked down at a flat, open area with a wide road cutting across it.
“I don’t see how this is helping,” complained Starman. The buzzing was louder now, and he looked around desperately for somewhere to hide. “They’ll run over us any second!”
“Only if you’re still on the ground,” replied the globe as it zipped over to a small biplane sitting along the edge of the road…which Starman suddenly realized wasn’t a road at all, but a runway!
“The Sopwith Camel is a single-seat British biplane fighter used in the First World War. It was introduced on the Western Front in 1917, where it…”
“Explorer, I don’t need to know where it came from,” Starman shouted as he sprinted across the field to the plane. “I just need to know how to fly it!”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re inside a Flight Simulator program!”
Starman leaped into the cockpit. The plane started up and he taxied it down the runway. As he turned the plane to point in the direction of takeoff, he spotted the datawipers erasing the airfield as they rolled toward him. Four blank trails of nothingness extended behind the datawipers as far as Starman could see. He shivered, wondering what it would feel like to be erased like that.
The plane gained speed as it hurtled down the runway. The Explorer fell behind, unable to keep up. “Don’t worry about me, Starman,” it shouted over the noise of the engine. “These things can’t catch me! Besides, I have a feeling they won’t stick around once you’re gone!”
“Thanks, Explorer!” Starman yelled back. The plane lifted from the runway. Starman banked left and looked down at the datawipers rolling harmlessly underneath him.
Starman was safe once again, but he knew that Davebot87 would just keep coming after him. He glanced at the Strategic Debug Code that he’d managed to grab before the datawipers showed up, and a crazy plan began to form.
To end this conflict, Starman would have to face his creator. He just hoped that the device the Explorer had helped him find would be enough to repair the insane AI, thwart Davebot87’s horrible plan to subjugate the human race, and save his own code from deletion.