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A weighted constraint satisfaction problem (WCSP) is a constraint satisfaction problem in which preferences among solutions can be expressed. Bucket elimination is a complete technique commonly used to solve this kind of constraint satisfaction problem. When the memory required to apply bucket elimination is too high, a heuristic method based on it (denominated mini-buckets) can be used to calculate bounds for the optimal solution. Nevertheless, the curse of dimensionality makes these techniques impractical on large scale problems. In response to this situation, we present a memetic algorithm for WCSPs in which bucket elimination is used as a mechanism for recombining solutions, providing the best possible child from the parental set. Subsequently, a multi-level model in which this exact/metaheuristic hybrid is further hybridized with branch-and-bound techniques and mini-buckets is studied. As a case study, we have applied these algorithms to the resolution of the maximum density still life problem, a hard constraint optimization problem based on Conway's game of life. The resulting algorithm consistently finds optimal patterns for up to date solved instances in less time than current approaches. Moreover, it is shown that this proposal provides new best known solutions for very large instances.