@xavdid does Advent of Code


Published: 2021-12-26 Original Prompt

Part 1

I think this was the hardest day so far. I spun my wheels for a few hours exploring a solution I didn’t end up being able to get working (or end up needing anyway). I’ll walk through a bit of my though process here and how I got to my eventual solution.

After reading the prompt, the thing I was struggling the most with was how to store the data. The obvious answer is nested tuples, just like they’re presented in the input. But, the nesting means that we’ll likely do operations using recursion. That would be well and good, but the fact that explode modifies sibling items makes that really tough. It’s hard to jump out of a function and find our way to a separate invocation. While thinking about it, I jotted down the following notes:

  • parse as strings? don’t build nested tuples. can go left/right through the text and find other numbers. count paired brackets to get indentation level. do some replacements at index
  • come up with an indexing system for each regular number. depth and maybe overall position? make sure numbers can be absolutely ordered. could then maybe find the “left” of a given number.
  • actual nested tuples, but i’m not sure how the recursion would work. Each call of the function would know it’s depth and would return the exploded result when looking at a pair- but i’m not sure how it could communicate changes to siblings

None of them jumped out as obvious answers, so I picked the option that seemed most reasonable- the second one. It avoids modifying raw strings and it avoids the recursion issues I was nervous about. So, I made myself a tiny class that I could modify. Mutability was a big advantage here, since I knew I’d be modifying these as I went. So, class rather that actual tuple:

from dataclasses import dataclass
class Item:
val: int
depth: int
Pairs = List[Item]

I also wrote a function to turn a line from the puzzle input into a list of Pair objects:

def num_to_pairs(n: str) -> Pairs:
result = []
depth = 0
for c in n:
if c == "[":
depth += 1
if c == "]":
depth -= 1
if c.isnumeric():
result.append(Item(int(c), depth))
return result

That part worked great. Now, here’s where I went wrong. I assumed that to get the magnitude, I’d need re-create the pairs and nesting structure from the input. I wrote that dang function 3 separate hoping that I’d stumble on a solution. Eventually, I’d get stuck on because I wasn’t able to decode a list of pairs all at the same level. The comma insertion and knowing when to add closing brackets was really messing me up. I got frustrated and took a step back. I ultimately needed that reconstruction to calculate the magnitude of a number- could I get that without fully decoding the pairs?

In a well-formed (balanced, etc) snail number, there must exist at least one pair that’s only numbers. If we add both halves of it together, then it is now part of a pair that is only numbers (or it’s half of one and there’s a new “deepest”). If we keep adding pairs from the bottom up, we’ll eventually have 2 items, which we’ll combine into a single item, which is a number. This is no longer a valid snail number, but it is the magnitude of the one we started with. Here’s how that looks in code:

def magnitude(pairs: Pairs) -> int:
while len(pairs) > 1:
max_depth = 0
deepest_index = -1
for i, p in enumerate(pairs):
if p.depth > max_depth:
deepest_index = i
max_depth = p.depth
deepest = pairs[deepest_index]
left = 3 * pairs[deepest_index].val
right = 2 * pairs[deepest_index + 1].val
pairs[deepest_index] = Item(left + right, deepest.depth - 1)
# the matching pair that we must know exists; it's been incorporated
del pairs[deepest_index + 1]
return pairs[0].val

Note that this modifies the input. That’s usually frowned upon- it creates hard-to-find bugs where calling a function changes something you didn’t expect to change. But, it means we don’t have to copy/duplicate a bunch of class objects. So, in this specific case, we’ll give it a pass.

Before we move on, we can fetch our max much more concisely:

while len(pairs) > 1:
deepest_index = max(range(len(pairs)), key=lambda i: pairs[i].depth)
deepest = pairs[deepest_index]

max, like filter and others, takes a key= kwarg. This is useful for getting the max from an item with a non-obvious max, such as a custom class or a tuple. In this case, we’re asking which index has the highest value, where that value is based on the .depth of the pair at that index. That’s a trick I picked up from this StackOverflow answer while trying to refine that code a bit.

Anyway, we don’t actually need to reconstruct the input to get the result. So, we can freely split and explode on a list of Pairs. The rest ended up not being so bad.

First, exploding. If the depth of a Item is 5, then:

Instead of doing for p in pairs, we’ll do while i < len(pairs) so we can freely edit the list as we’re moving through it. We return as soon as we make any changes, so this is pretty safe. Here’s our explode:

def explode(pairs: Pairs) -> bool:
i = 0
while i < len(pairs):
p = pairs[i]
if p.depth == 5:
if i > 0:
pairs[i - 1].val += p.val
if i + 2 < len(pairs):
pairs[i + 2].val += pairs[i + 1].val
pairs[i] = Item(0, p.depth - 1)
# delete next element
del pairs[i + 1]
return True
i += 1
return False

We do some bounds checking, but it’s otherwise not so bad. The resulting Item is one level higher than our too-deep Item. split has a very similar setup:

from math import ceil, floor
def split(pairs: Pairs) -> bool:
i = 0
while i < len(pairs):
p = pairs[i]
if p.val >= 10:
val = p.val
depth = p.depth
p.val = floor(val / 2)
p.depth += 1
pairs.insert(i + 1, Item(ceil(val / 2), depth + 1))
return True
i += 1
return False

Here, we move down a level (depth + 1) instead. floor and ceil let us round half of odd numbers correctly (5.5 becomes 5 and 6 respectively). For both explode and split, we return True if we did anything and False otherwise. That’s important for our final step below.

Lastly is adding and reducing, which we can do as a single operation:

def add_and_reduce(pairs: Pairs, to_add: Pairs) -> None:
for p in to_add:
for p in pairs:
p.depth += 1
# reduce!
while True:
if explode(pairs) or split(pairs):

We use .append instead of pairs += [...] because we want to modify the original list instead of re-assigning it. Then, we lower every item (since the whole pair is wrapped in a new layer). Last, we try to perform each of the explode and split operations. Remember the logic should be:

If either of those happens, you start at the top of the list again. So, you could potentially explode multiple times before trying to split. Then, your first split causes more explosions and there’s potentially a split-able item that sits for a while. Python’s short circuiting behavior comes in clutch here. In an X and Y expression, if X is true, then Y doesn’t get run at all. So, if explode happens, we skip split and start the loop again. If both functions return False (meaning they did nothing) then our number is all the way reduced and we can break out of the loop and exit.

With all that in place, we can actually solve our puzzle:

pairs = num_to_pairs(self.input[0])
for line in self.input[1:]:
add_and_reduce(pairs, num_to_pairs(line))
return magnitude(pairs)

Part 2

This, like some previous days, is a speed check. If our code is fast enough, it’s an easy day. If it’s not, then we have some refactoring to do. Luckily, our solution is nice and fast, so the implementation is simple.

The only thing you may not be familiar with is itertools.permutations. It takes an iterable and gives us an iterator with every permutation of a given length for that input. The docs explain it nicely:

permutations('ABCD', 2) --> AB AC AD BA BC BD CA CB CD DA DB DC

Because the prompt tells us that order matters, it’s important that we use permutations instead of combinations (where order doesn’t matter). The example looks perfect though! We’ll get every possible pair of lines in both possible orders. Then, it’s just calling our functions again:

from itertools import permutations
max_res = 0
for a, b in permutations(self.input, 2):
pairs = num_to_pairs(a)
add_and_reduce(pairs, num_to_pairs(b))
res = magnitude(pairs)
max_res = max(max_res, res)
return max_res

If we had written our functions to return their results instead of modify input, we could instead write max(magnitude(add_and_reduce(...))) for a, b in ...), but that won’t quite work here. Not a big deal though, our code still works nicely. Let’s call it a day.