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Miscellaneous Algorithmic Problems

1. Nuts & Bolts (Lock & Key) Problem***


Given a set of n nuts of different sizes and n bolts of different sizes. There is a one-one mapping between nuts and bolts.

Match nuts and bolts efficiently.


  • Comparison of a nut to another nut or a bolt to another bolt is not allowed.
  • It means nut can only be compared with bolt and bolt can only be compared with nut to see which one is bigger/smaller.
Other way of asking this problem:

Given a box with locks and keys where one lock can be opened by one key in the box. We need to match the pair.

Example Representation:

Nuts represented as array of character:   char nuts[] = {‘@’, ‘#’, ‘$’, ‘%’, ‘^’, ‘&’}

Bolts represented as array of character:   char bolts[] = {‘$’, ‘%’, ‘&’, ‘^’, ‘@’, ‘#’}

Approach-1: Brute Force
  • Start with the first bolt and compare it with each nut until we find a match.
  • Time Complexity: O(n2)
Approach-2: Quick Sort
  • Perform a partition by picking last element of bolts array as pivot, rearrange the array of nuts and returns the partition index ‘i’ such that all nuts smaller than nuts[i] are on the left side and all nuts greater than nuts[i] are on the right side.
  • Next using the nuts[i] we can partition the array of bolts, partitioning operations can easily be implemented in O(n) and this operation also makes nuts and bolts array nicely partitioned.
  • Now apply this partitioning recursively on the left and right sub-array of nuts and bolts.
  • As we apply partitioning on nuts and bolts both so the total time complexity will be Θ(2*nlogn) = Θ(nlogn) on average.
  • Here for the sake of simplicity we have chosen last element always as pivot. We can do randomized quick sort too.
def nuts_bolts_match(nuts, bolts, low, high):
    if low < high:
        # Set last character of bolts for nuts partition. 
        pivot = partition(nuts, low, high, bolts[high])

        # Now using the partition index of nuts set pivot for bolts partition
        partition(bolts, low, high, nuts[pivot])

        # Recur for [low...pivot-1] & [pivot+1...high] for nuts and bolts array. 
        nuts_bolts_match(nuts, bolts, low, pivot-1)
        nuts_bolts_match(nuts, bolts, pivot+1, high)

def partition(arr, low, high, pivot):
    i = j = low

    while(j < high):
        if arr[j] < pivot:
            arr[i], arr[j] = arr[j], arr[i]
            i += 1
        elif arr[j] == pivot:
            arr[high], arr[j] = arr[j], arr[high]
            j -= 1

        j += 1

    arr[i], arr[high] = arr[high], arr[i]

    return i            

print("Example-1: Nuts and Bolts Problem")
nuts = ['@', '#', '$', '%', '^', '&']
bolts = ['$', '%', '&', '^', '@', '#']
nuts_bolts_match(nuts, bolts, 0, 5)


  • Time:- Average Case: O(nlogn)
  • Auxilliary Space: O(1)

2. Flood Fill Algorithm - Implement fill() in paint***


In MS-Paint, when we take the brush to a pixel and click, the color of the region of that pixel is replaced with a new selected color. Following is the problem statement to do this task.
Given a 2D screen, location of a pixel in the screen and a color, replace color of the given pixel and all adjacent same colored pixels with the given color.



Approach - Simple:
  • The idea is simple, we first replace the color of current pixel, then recur for 4 surrounding points.

flood_fill(screen[M][N], x, y, prev_color, new_color)

  1. If x or y is outside the screen, then return.
  2. If color of screen[x][y] is not same as prev_color, then return
  3. Replace the color at (x, y)
  4. Recur for north, south, east and west
    • flood_fill(screen, x+1, y, prev_color, new_color)
    • flood_fill(screen, x-1, y, prev_color, new_color)
    • flood_fill(screen, x, y+1, prev_color, new_color)
    • flood_fill(screen, x, y-1, prev_color, new_color)
def flood_fill(screen, x, y, prev_color, new_color):
    m = len(screen)
    n = len(screen[0])

    # If x or y is outside the screen, then return.
    if(x < 0 or x >= m or y < 0 or y >= n):

    # If color of screen[x][y] is not same as prev_color, then return
    if(screen[x][y] != prev_color):

    # Replace the color at (x, y)
    screen[x][y] = new_color

    # Recur for north, south, east and west
    flood_fill(screen, x, y+1, prev_color, new_color)
    flood_fill(screen, x, y-1, prev_color, new_color)
    flood_fill(screen, x+1, y, prev_color, new_color)
    flood_fill(screen, x-1, y, prev_color, new_color)

print("Example-1: Flood Fill Algorithm")
screen = [ [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1], 
           [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 0, 0], 
           [1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 1, 1], 
           [1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0, 1, 0], 
           [1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 0, 1, 0], 
           [1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 0], 
           [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1], 
           [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1] ]

flood_fill(screen, 4, 4, 2, 3); 
m = len(screen)
n = len(screen[0])

for i in range(m):
    for j in range(n):
        print(screen[i][j], end=" ")



  • Time: O(n2)
  • Auxilliary Space: O(1)

3. Find Conflicting Appointments***


Given n appointments, find all conflicting appointments.

An appointment is conflicting, if it conflicts with any of the previous appointments in array.


Input: appointments[] = { {1, 5}, {3, 7}, {2, 6}, {10, 15}, {5, 6}, {4, 100} }
Output: Following are conflicting intervals
[3,7] Conflicts with [1,5]
[2,6] Conflicts with [1,5]
[5,6] Conflicts with [3,7]
[4,100] Conflicts with [1,5]

Approach-1: Brute-Force
  • For every appointment check if it conflicts with any other appointement by processing all appointements one-by-one.
  • Time Complexity: O(n2)
Approach-2: Interval Tree
  • Create an Interval Tree, initially with the first appointment.
  • Do following for all other appointments starting from the second one.
    • a) Check if the current appointment conflicts with any of the existing appointments in Interval Tree. If conflicts, then print the current appointment. This step can be done O(Logn) time.
    • b) Insert the current appointment in Interval Tree. This step also can be done O(Logn) time.
  • Need to do it for n elements and hence O(nlogn) total time.
  • Time Complexity: O(nlogn)
class IntervalTreeNode:
    def __init__(self, low, high):
        self.low = low
        self.high = high
        self.left = None
        self.right = None

def insert(root, low, high):
    if not root:
        return IntervalTreeNode(low, high)

    if low <= root.low:
        root.left = insert(root.left, low, high)
        root.right = insert(root.right, low, high)

    return root

def find_conflicting_appointment(root, low, high):
    while root:
        if(root.low < high and low < root.high):
            print("[{}, {}] Conflicts with [{}, {}]".format(low, high, root.low, root.high))
        elif low <= root.low:
            root = root.left
            root = root.right

def conflicting_appointments(root, appointments):
    for appointment in appointments:
        low = appointment[0]
        high = appointment[1]
        find_conflicting_appointment(root, low, high)
        root = insert(root, low, high)

print("Exampl-1: Conflicting Appointments - Interval Tree")
appointments = [(1, 5), (3, 7), (2, 6), (10, 15), (5, 6), (4, 100)] 
conflicting_appointments(None, appointments)



  • Time: O(nlogn)
  • Auxilliary Space: O(1)
  • Time complexity of the above implementation may be more than O(nLogn) if skewed trees.
  • To avoid that we can use Red-Black Tree or AVL Tree balancing techniques.

4. Find if first string is a subsequence of second***


Given two strings str1 and str2, find if str1 is a subsequence of str2. A subsequence is a sequence that can be derived from another sequence by deleting some elements without changing the order of the remaining elements.


Input: str1 = “AXY”, str2 = “ADXCPY”   Output: True

Input: str1 = “AXY”, str2 = “YADXCP”   Output: False

Input: str1 = “mtsdet”, str2 = “meetsandmeets”   Output: True

  • Traverse both strings from one side to other side.
  • If a matching character found, move ahead in both strings, otherwise move ahead only in str2.
  • Time Complexity: O(n)
def check_subsequence(str1, str2):
    n1 = len(str1)
    n2 = len(str2)
    i = j = 0

    while(i < n1 and j < n2):
        if(str1[i] == str2[j]):
            i += 1
        j += 1


print("Example-1: check_subsequence('AXY', 'ADXCPY')")
check_subsequence('AXY', 'ADXCPY')

print("\nExample-2: check_subsequence('AXY', 'YADXCP')")
check_subsequence('AXY', 'YADXCP')

print("\nExample-3: check_subsequence('mtsdet', 'meetsandmeets')")
check_subsequence('mtsdet', 'meetsandmeets')



  • Time: O(n)
  • Auxilliary Space: O(1)

5. Connect ‘n’ ropes with minimum cost***


There are given n ropes of different lengths, we need to connect these ropes into one rope.

The cost to connect two ropes is equal to sum of their lengths, calculate the minimum cost.


Input: 4 ropes of lengths 4, 3, 2 and 6.   Output: 29


1) First connect ropes of lengths 2 and 3. Now we have three ropes of lengths 4, 6 and 5.
2) Now connect ropes of lengths 4 and 5. Now we have two ropes of lengths 6 and 9.
3) Finally connect the two ropes and all ropes have connected.

Total cost = 5 + 9 + 15 = 29

Approach: Huffman Coding
  • Observing closely, we can notice that the lengths of the ropes which are picked first are included more than once in total cost.
  • Therefore, the idea is to connect smallest two ropes first and recur for remaining ropes.
  • This approach is similar to Huffman Coding.
  • Put smallest ropes down the tree so that they can be repeated multiple times rather than the longer ropes.
  • Time Complexity: O(nlogn)
  1. Create a min heap and insert all lengths into the min heap.
  2. Do following while number of elements in min heap is not one.
    • a) Extract the minimum and second minimum from min heap
    • b) Add the above two extracted values and insert the added value to the min-heap.
    • c) Maintain a variable for total cost and keep incrementing it by the sum of extracted values.
  3. Return the value of this total cost.
import heapq

def connect_n_ropes_min_cost(ropes):
    total_cost = 0

    while(len(ropes) >= 2):
        new_connected_rope = heapq.heappop(ropes) + heapq.heappop(ropes)
        total_cost += new_connected_rope
        heapq.heappush(ropes, new_connected_rope)


print("Example-1: connect_n_ropes_min_cost([4, 3, 2, 6])")
connect_n_ropes_min_cost([4, 3, 2, 6])



  • Time: O(nlogn) : Extract min take O(logn) and need to do it for n times.
  • Auxilliary Space: O(n)