Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cedric's Code Challenge

Cedric Buest issued a interesting little challenge this morning:

Here is an interesting coding challenge: write a counter function that counts from 1 to max but only returns numbers whose digits don't repeat.

For example, part of the output would be:

  • 8, 9, 10, 12 (11 is not valid)
  • 98, 102, 103 (99, 100 and 101 are not valid)
  • 5432, 5436, 5437 (5433, 5434 and 5435 are not valid)


  • Display the biggest jump (in the sequences above, it's 4: 98 -> 102)
  • Display the total count of numbers
  • Give these two values for max=10000

He welcomed brute-force solutions, but really the challenge here is in coming up with something more efficient and elegant. There are basically three general approaches:

  1. Run through all the numbers from 0 to n, test each for no repeating digits, and track the above statistics while you do it. This is the brute force method.

  2. Permute the digits in a fashion that generates numbers sequentially and track the statistics. Alternatively you could generate them in any order, sort them, and then calculate the statistics.

  3. Derive a heuristic that proves a given sequence of numbers will all contain repeated digits and can therefore be skipped.

I think #2 is probably the ideal fashion, but I didn't think of it until I was mostly done coding #3.

Finding Repeated Digits

The first step in solving this problem, no matter what the approach, is to come up with an algorithm to detect repeated digits. Commenters on Cedric's blog came up with a number of ways to do this, most of which centered around converting the integer into a string and then finding repeated characters. This is a rather frighteningly inefficient approach. There is certainly no need to convert the number into a string in order to know its digits. A much simpler approach is allocate a ten element array of booleans initialized to false, and start generate the digits from lowest to highest by moding the number by ten. The first time you encounter a digit, you flip it's associated array element to true. The second time, you exit because you have detected a repeat. The array is essentially serving as a thrifty man's map. Here it is in Scala:

  def containsRepeatedDigit(i: Long): Boolean = {
    val digits = new Array[Boolean](10) // elements default to false
    def f(i: Long): Boolean = {
      if (i == 0L) false // all digits have been processed
      else {
        val d = (i % 10L).asInstanceOf[Int]
        if (digits(d)) true
        else {
          digits(d) = true
          f(i / 10L)
    if (i < 11L) false else f(i)

The Heuristic

Consider the number 2201. It has repeating digits. The question is: What's the next number without repeating digits? It is 2301. You could calculate it using brute-force, but you'd end up scanning an extra 99 numbers. Notice that the repetition is in the upper digits. This means that you will cannot get a number with non-repeating digits until the second digit (counting from the left) changes. Now consider the number 2200. In this case changes need to occur in both the lower digits and the upper digits, however addressing the upper digits allows us to skip a much larger section of the search space. Finally, consider 22200. In this case, you still want the second digit. However, you are searching from the right, so algorithms what detect the first repeat won't work. Here's Scala code to find the appropriate digit. Notice that it looks very similar to the repeated digit test above.

  def max(array: Array[Int]): Int = {
    def f(idx: Int, m: Int): Int = {
      if (idx == array.length) m
      else if (array(idx) > m) f(idx + 1, array(idx))
      else f(idx + 1, m)
    f(1, array(0))

  def repeatedDigit(i: Long): Int = {
    val prevIdx = new Array[Int](10)
    val recentIdx = new Array[Int](10)
    def f(i: Long, idx: Int) {
      if (i > 0) {
        val d = (i % 10L).asInstanceOf[Int]
        if (recentIdx(d) > 0) prevIdx(d) = recentIdx(d)
        recentIdx(d) = idx
        f(i / 10L, idx + 1)
    f(i, 1)
    Math.max(max(prevIdx), 0)

Now that we have an algorithm for finding the highest digit that needs to be changed, we need one that will take that information and turn it into the next possible number containing no repeating digits. This simply requires basic arithmetic.

  def nextPossibleNonRepeating(i: Long): Long = 
        nextPossibleNonRepeating(i, repeatedDigit(i))

  def nextPossibleNonRepeating(i: Long, idx: Int): Long = {
    if (idx == 0) i + 1L
    else {
      val p = Math.pow(10.0, (idx - 1).asInstanceOf[Double]).asInstanceOf[Long]
      val r = i % p
      val d = p - r
      i + d

Given this, it is easy to generate a sequence:

  def nextNonRepeating(i: Long): Long = nextNonRepeating(i, repeatedDigit(i))
  def nextNonRepeating(i: Long, idx: Int): Long = {
    val p = nextPossibleNonRepeating(i, idx)
    val d = repeatedDigit(p)
    if (d == 0) p else nextNonRepeating(p, d)


Once this is all done, the solution is pretty straight-forward. It takes the general form of the function use to generate the next number with non-repeating digits, only it has to keep track of a bunch of extra information.

  def printNonRepeatingReport(start: Long, stop: Long, last: Long, gapLow: Long,
                              gapHigh: Long, cnt: Long): Unit = {
    if (start > stop) {
      println("max: " + last)
      println("max gap: " + (gapHigh - gapLow) + " between " + 
              gapLow + " and " + gapHigh)
      println("count: " + cnt)
    } else {
      val d = repeatedDigit(start)
      if (d == 0L) {
        val gap = start - last
        val (gl, gh) = if (gap > (gapHigh - gapLow)) (last, start) 
                       else (gapLow, gapHigh)
        printNonRepeatingReport(start + 1L, stop, start, gl, gh, cnt + 1L)
      } else {
        printNonRepeatingReport(nextPossibleNonRepeating(start, d), stop, last, 
                                gapLow, gapHigh, cnt)


I'm not going to list all the numbers here, just the statistics for 1-10,000:

  • max: 9,876
  • max gap: 105 between 1,098 and 1,203
  • count: 5,274

Of course I haven't checked it against a brute-force solution or other posted solution, so I owe a beer/coffee/tea, depending on your persuasion, to anyone who can point out a bug and provide the solution.

Just for kicks, here's to 10,000,000,000:

  • max: 9,876,543,210
  • max gap: 104,691,357 between 1,098,765,432 and 1,203,456,789
  • count: 8,877,690

Which took 1 minute 23 seconds on my MacBook. Try that with a brute-force approach.

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Nathan Hughes said...

Your first code sample has a problem, when I type it in I get

scala> containsRepeatedDigit(11L)
res2: Boolean = false

I think line 4 should read like:

if (i < 10) digits(i.asInstanceOf[Int])

Erik Engbrecht said...

Oops, it's actually a little more broken than that. The < 11 check needs to be outside the nested function and the nested function needs to stop recursion on 0.

Kamal Lohia said...

I checked it with brute force and found correct.