cLoudspeaker Proves the Easiest Way to Win a Hackathon is by Rickrolling the Audience

The winning team of the Spring 2012 hackNY Student Hackathon tells us how they did it.

The team presenting cLoudspeaker at NYU's Courant Institute. (via Kaushal Parikh)

Last weekend’s hackNY Hackathon at NYU’s Courant Institute culled some of the best young engineering minds from the East Coast to compete in a 24-hour code battle to the DEATH (okay, not really). But still–intense! The main project criteria for this hackathon? “Awesomeness,” obviously.

“For seriously this is not a hackathon about building something with a huge market or a ‘minimum viable product’ or something,” reads the Hacker League page. “Build something that blows away the judges with creativity and skill, either in design or technical winning.”

By the afternoon on Sunday, three teams would place, but only one could be declared the first place victor. That winning team? cLoudspeaker, a collection of Princeton and Rutgers students that built an app to crowdsource music through laptops.

“Almost a year ago, I was looking for differences between two mp3s of the same song,”  said cLoudspeaker team member Eugene Lee, a computer science student at Princeton. “I found I could easily play both at the same time by using two computers, but more importantly, found that this made the song louder. I realized that it could be really loud if extended to many computers, so I added it to my 138 page list of random ideas and never saw it again until I unearthed it at hackNY while looking for an idea.”

Mr Lee. said he thought that it could be a cool concept to pursue, but that “it would be impossible to do at a hackathon.”

That’s where Rutgers student Kaushal Parikh stepped in.

“I really liked the idea when I first heard about it,” Mr. Parikh told Betabeat over email. “I was also really concerned about getting it done in the 24 hour time frame that we had to work within. This is where our mentors played a large role. We talked with them about the idea and they helped us narrow down the idea into what we ended up delivering at the end of the competition.”

To get the hack working, the team used an API called Pusher, which allows synchronized messages to be sent to computers on the network. They encountered some problems with latency differences between computers, but employed the help of Amazon advisor Ryan Hubbard to get things working, they said.

When it came time to unveil the app, the team demonstrated the “crowd based power of cLoudspeaker” by triggering nearly the entire audience’s laptops to play the same song at the same time (hence the name “cLoudspeaker”). The song they chose to blast from hundreds of computers simultaneously? A Deadmau5 song called “Strobe,” spliced with clips of “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley, naturally. When the familiar track began to play, a member of the audience shouted, “I KNEW IT!”

“I think the fact that we had a demonstration the audience could partake in was major to impressing the judges,” said Mr. Lee.

“We were also able to Rick-roll them, so hey,” the team added. Always a plus.

cLoudspeaker will be presenting their winning project to NY Tech Day on April 19th. cLoudspeaker Proves the Easiest Way to Win a Hackathon is by Rickrolling the Audience