# The countdown problem

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1 JFP 12 (6): , November c 2002 Cambridge University Press DOI: /S Printed in the United Kingdom 609 F U N C T I O N A L P E A R L The countdown problem GRAHAM HUTTON School of Computer Science and IT, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK Abstract We systematically develop a functional program that solves the countdown problem, a numbers game in which the aim is to construct arithmetic expressions satisfying certain constraints. Starting from a formal specification of the problem, we present a simple but inefficient program that solves the problem, and prove that this program is correct. We then use program fusion to calculate an equivalent but more efficient program, which is then further improved by exploiting arithmetic properties. 1 Introduction Countdown is a popular quiz programme on British television that includes a numbers game that we shall refer to as the countdown problem. The essence of the problem is as follows: given a sequence of source numbers and a single target number, attempt to construct an arithmetic expression using each of the source numbers at most once, and such that the result of evaluating the expression is the target number. The given numbers are restricted to being non-zero naturals, as are the intermediate results during evaluation of the expression, which can otherwise be freely constructed using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. For example, given the sequence of source numbers [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50] and the target number 765, the expression (1 + 50) (25 10) solves the problem. In fact, for this example there are 780 possible solutions. On the other hand, changing the target number to 831 gives a problem that has no solutions. In the television version of the countdown problem there are always six source numbers selected from the sequence [1..10, 1..10, 25, 50, 75, 100], the target number is randomly chosen from the range , approximate solutions are acceptable, and there is a time limit of 30 seconds. We abstract from these additional pragmatic concerns. Note, however, that we do not abstract from the non-zero naturals to a richer numeric domain such as the integers or the rationals, as this would fundamentally change the computational complexity of the problem. In this article we systematically develop a Haskell (Peyton Jones, 2001) program that solves the countdown problem. Starting from a formal specification of the problem, we present a brute force implementation that generates and evaluates all possible expressions over the source numbers, and prove that this program is correct.

2 610 G. Hutton We then calculate an equivalent but more efficient program by fusing together the generation and evaluation phases, and finally make a further improvement by exploiting arithmetic properties to reduce the search and solution spaces. 2 Formally specifying the problem We start by defining a type Op of arithmetic operators, together with a predicate valid that decides if applying an operator to two non-zero naturals gives a non-zero natural, and a function apply that actually performs the application: data Op = Add Sub Mul Div valid :: Op Int Int Bool valid Add = True valid Sub x y = x > y valid Mul = True valid Div x y = x mod y == 0 apply :: Op Int Int Int apply Add x y = x + y apply Sub x y = x y apply Mul x y = x y apply Div x y = x div y We now define a type Expr of arithmetic expressions, together with a function values that returns the list of values in an expression, and a function eval that returns the overall value of an expression, provided that it is a non-zero natural: data Expr = Val Int App Op Expr Expr values :: Expr [Int ] values (Val n) = [n ] values (App lr) = values l + values r eval :: Expr [Int ] eval (Val n) = [n n > 0] eval (App o l r) = [apply o x y x eval l, y eval r, valid o x y ] Note that failure within eval is handled by returning a list of results, with the convention that a singleton list denotes success, and the empty list denotes failure. Such failure could also be handled using the Maybe monad and the do notation (Spivey, 1990; Launchbury, 1993), but limiting the use of monads in our programs to the list monad and the comprehension notation leads to simpler proofs. Using the combinatorial functions subs and perms that return the lists of all subsequences and permutations of a list (Bird & Wadler, 1988), we define a function subbags that returns the list of all permutations of all subsequences of a list: subbags :: [a ] [[a ]] subbags xs = [zs ys subs xs, zs perms ys ]

3 Functional pearl 611 Finally, we can now define a predicate solution that formally specifies what it means to solve an instance of the countdown problem: solution :: Expr [Int ] Int Bool solution e ns n = elem (values e) (subbags ns) eval e == [n ] That is, an expression e is a solution for a list of source numbers ns and a target number n if the list of values in the expression is a subbag of the source numbers (the library function elem decides if a value is an element of a list) and the expression successfully evaluates to give the target number. 3 Brute force implementation In this section we present a program that solves countdown problems by the brute force approach of generating and evaluating all possible expressions over the source numbers. We start by defining a function split that takes a list and returns the list of all pairs of lists that append to give the original list: split :: [a ] [([a ], [a ])] split [ ] = [([ ], [ ])] split (x : xs) = ([ ], x : xs) : [(x : ls, rs) (ls, rs) split xs ] For example, split [1, 2] returns the list [([ ], [1, 2]), ([1], [2]), ([1, 2], [ ])]. In turn, we define a function nesplit that only returns those splittings of a list for which neither component is empty (the library function filter selects the elements of a list that satisfy a predicate, while null decides if a list is empty or not): nesplit :: [a ] [([a ], [a ])] nesplit = filter ne split ne :: ([a ], [b ]) Bool ne (xs, ys) = (null xs null ys) Other definitions for split and nesplit are possible (for example, using the library functions zip, inits and tails), but the above definitions lead to simpler proofs. Using nesplit we can now define the key function exprs, which returns the list of all expressions whose values are precisely a given list of numbers: exprs :: [Int ] [Expr ] exprs [ ] = [ ] exprs [n ] = [Val n ] exprs ns = [e (ls, rs) nesplit ns, l exprs ls, r exprs rs, e combine l r ] That is, for the empty list of numbers there are no expressions, while for a single number there is a single expression comprising that number. Otherwise, we calculate all non-empty splittings of the list, recursively calculate the expressions for each of these lists, and then combine each pair of expressions using each of the four

4 612 G. Hutton arithmetic operators by means of an auxiliary function defined as follows: combine :: Expr Expr [Expr ] combine l r = [App o l r o ops ] ops :: [Op ] ops = [Add, Sub, Mul, Div ] Finally, we can now define a function solutions that returns the list of all expressions that solve an instance of the countdown problem by generating all possible expressions over each subbag of the source numbers, and then selecting those expressions that successfully evaluate to give the target number: solutions :: [Int ] Int [Expr ] solutions ns n = [e ns subbags ns, e exprs ns, eval e == [n ]] For example, using the Glasgow Haskell Compiler (version ) on a 1GHz Pentium-III laptop, solutions [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50] 765 returns the first solution in 0.89 seconds and all 780 solutions in seconds, while if the target number is changed to 831 then the empty list of solutions is returned in seconds. 4 Proof of correctness In this section we prove that our brute force implementation is correct with respect to our formal specification of the problem. For the purposes of our proofs, all lists are assumed to be finite. We start by showing the sense in which the auxiliary function split is an inverse to the append operator ( +): Lemma 1 elem (xs, ys) (split zs) xs + ys == zs Proof By induction on zs. Our second result states that a value is an element of a filtered list precisely when it is an element of the original list and satisfies the predicate: Lemma 2 If p is total (never returns ) then elem x ( filter p xs) elem x xs px Proof By induction on xs. Using the two results above, we can now show by simple equational reasoning that the function nesplit is an inverse to ( +) for non-empty lists: Lemma 3 elem (xs, ys) (nesplit zs) xs + ys == zs ne (xs, ys) Proof elem (xs, ys) (nesplit zs) { definition of nesplit } elem (xs, ys) (filter ne (split zs)) { Lemma 2, ne is total } elem (xs, ys) (split zs) ne (xs, ys) { Lemma 1 } xs + ys == zs ne (xs, ys)

5 Functional pearl 613 In turn, this result can be used to show that the function nesplit returns pairs of lists whose lengths are strictly shorter than the original list: Lemma 4 if elem (xs, ys) (nesplit zs) then length xs < length zs length ys < length zs Proof By equational reasoning, using Lemma 3. Using the previous two results we can now establish the key lemma, which states that the function exprs is an inverse to the function values: Lemma 5 elem e (exprs ns) values e == ns Proof By induction on the length of ns, using Lemmas 3 and 4. Finally, it is now straightforward to state and prove that our brute force implementation is correct, in the sense that the function solutions returns the list of all expressions that satisfy the predicate solution: Theorem 6 elem e (solutions ns n) solution e ns n Proof elem e (solutions ns n) { definition of solutions } elem e [e ns subbags ns, e exprs ns, eval e == [n ]] { list comprehensions, Lemma 2 } elem e [e ns subbags ns, e exprs ns ] eval e == [n ] { simplification } or [elem e (exprs ns ) ns subbags ns ] eval e == [n ] { Lemma 5 } or [values e == ns ns subbags ns ] eval e == [n ] { definition of elem } elem (values e) (subbags ns) eval e == [n ] { definition of solution } solution e ns n 5 Fusing generation and evaluation The function solutions generates all possible expressions over the source numbers, but many of these expressions will typically be invalid (fail to evaluate), because non-zero naturals are not closed under subtraction and division. For example, there are 33,665,406 possible expressions over the source numbers [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50], but only 4,672,540 of these expressions are valid, which is just under 14%. In this section we calculate an equivalent but more efficient program by fusing together the generation and evaluation phases to give a new function results that performs both tasks simultaneously, thus allowing invalid expressions to be rejected at an earlier stage. We start by defining a type Result of valid expressions paired

6 614 G. Hutton with their values, together with a specification for results: type Result = (Expr, Int) results :: [Int ] [Result ] results ns = [(e, n) e exprs ns, n eval e ] Using this specification, we can now calculate an implementation for results by induction on the length of ns. For the base cases length ns = 0 and length ns = 1, simple calculations show that results [ ] = [ ] and results [n ] = [(Val n, n) n > 0]. For the inductive case length ns > 1, we calculate as follows: results ns = { definition of results } [(e, n) e exprs ns, n eval e ] = { definition of exprs, simplification } [(e, n) (ls, rs) nesplit ns, l exprs ls, r exprs rs, e combine l r, n eval e ] = { definition of combine, simplification } [(App o l r, n) (ls, rs) nesplit ns, l exprs ls, r exprs rs, o ops, n eval (App o l r)] = { definition of eval, simplification } [(App o l r, apply o x y) (ls, rs) nesplit ns, l exprs ls, r exprs rs, o ops, x eval l, y eval r, valid o x y ] = { moving the x and y generators } [(App o l r, apply o x y) (ls, rs) nesplit ns, l exprs ls, x eval l, r exprs rs, y eval r, o ops, valid o x y ] = { induction hypothesis, Lemma 4 } [(App o l r, apply o x y) (ls, rs) nesplit ns, (l, x) results ls, (r, y) results rs, o ops, valid o x y ] = { simplification (see below) } [res (ls, rs) nesplit ns, lx results ls, ry results rs, res combine lx ry ] The final step above introduces an auxiliary function combine that combines two results using each of the four arithmetic operators: combine :: Result Result [Result ] combine (l, x) (r, y) = [(App o l r, apply o x y) o ops, valid o x y ] In summary, we have calculated the following implementation for results: results :: [Int ] [Result ] results [ ] = [ ] results [n ] = [(Val n, n) n > 0] results ns = [res (ls, rs) nesplit ns, lx results ls, ry results rs, res combine lx ry ] Using results, we can now define a new function solutions that returns the list of all expressions that solve an instance of the countdown problem by generating all

7 Functional pearl 615 possible results over each subbag of the source numbers, and then selecting those expressions whose value is the target number: solutions :: [Int ] Int [Expr ] solutions ns n = [e ns subbags ns, (e, m) results ns, m == n ] It is now straightforward to show that our fused implementation is correct, in the sense that it has the same behaviour as our brute force version: Theorem 7 solutions = solutions Proof solutions ns n = { definition of solutions } [e ns subbags ns, (e, m) results ns, m == n ] = { specification of results, simplification } [e ns subbags ns, e exprs ns, m eval e, m == n ] = { simplification } [e ns subbags ns, e exprs ns, eval e == [n ]] = { definition of solutions } solutions ns n In terms of performance, solutions [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50] 765 returns the first solution in 0.08 seconds (just over 10 times faster than solutions) and all solutions in 5.76 seconds (almost 20 times faster), while if the target is changed to 831 the empty list is returned in 5.40 seconds (almost 20 times faster). 6 Exploiting arithmetic properties The language of arithmetic expressions is not a free algebra, but is subject to equational laws. For example, the equation x + y = y + x states that addition is commutative, while x / 1=x states that 1 is the right identity for division. In this section we make a further improvement to our countdown program by exploiting such arithmetic properties to reduce the search and solution spaces. Recall the predicate valid that decides if applying an operator to two non-zero naturals gives another non-zero natural. This predicate can be strengthened to take account of the commutativity of addition and multiplication by requiring that their arguments are in numerical order, and the identity properties of multiplication and division by requiring that the appropriate arguments are non-unitary: valid :: Op Int Int Bool valid Add x y = x y valid Sub x y = x > y valid Mul x y = x 1 y 1 x y valid Div x y = y 1 x mod y == 0 Using this new predicate gives a new version of our formal specification of the countdown problem. Although we do not have space to present the full details

8 616 G. Hutton here, this new specification is sound with respect to our original specification, in the sense that any expression that is a solution under the new version is also a solution under the original. Conversely, the new specification is also complete up to equivalence of expressions under the exploited arithmetic properties, in the sense that any expression that is a solution under the original specification can be rewritten to give an equivalent solution under the new version. Using valid also gives a new version of our fused implementation, which we write as solutions. This new implementation requires no separate proof of correctness with respect to our new specification, because none of the proofs in previous sections depend upon the definition of valid, and hence our previous correctness results still hold under changes to this predicate. However, using solutions can considerably reduce the search and solution spaces. For example, solutions [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50] 765 only generates 245,644 valid expressions, of which 49 are solutions, which is just over 5% and 6% respectively of the numbers using solutions. As regards performance, solutions [1, 3, 7, 10, 25, 50] 765 now returns the first solution in 0.04 seconds (twice as fast as solutions ) and all solutions in 0.86 seconds (almost seven times faster), while for the target number 831 the empty list is returned in 0.80 seconds (almost seven times faster). More generally, given any source and target numbers from the television version of the countdown problem, our final program solutions typically returns all solutions in under one second, and we have yet to find such a problem for which it requires more than three seconds. 7 Further work Possible directions for further work include the use of tabulation or memoisation to avoid repeated computations, exploiting additional arithmetic properties such as associativity to further reduce the search and solution spaces, and generating expressions from the bottom-up rather than from the top-down. Acknowledgements Thanks to Richard Bird, Colin Runciman and Mike Spivey for useful comments, and to Ralf Hinze for the lhs2tex system for typesetting Haskell code. References Bird, R. and Wadler, P. (1988) An Introduction to Functional Programming. Prentice Hall. Launchbury, J. (1993) Lazy imperative programming. Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN Workshop on State in Programming Languages. Peyton Jones, S. (2001) Haskell 98: A Non-strict, Purely Functional Language. Available from Spivey, M. (1990) A functional theory of exceptions. Science of Computer Programming, 14(1),

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