TL;DR

On with Advent of Code puzzle 19 from 2016: part 2 of the puzzle is a detour that I call halving Josephus.

I hope I’m not giving too much out, but after solving part 1 of puzzle 19 (see AoC 2016/19 - Josephus problem) I was presented with the following part 2:

Realizing the folly of their present-exchange rules, the Elves agree to instead steal presents from the Elf directly across the circle. If two Elves are across the circle, the one on the left (from the perspective of the stealer) is stolen from. The other rules remain unchanged: Elves with no presents are removed from the circle entirely, and the other elves move in slightly to keep the circle evenly spaced.

It’s an interesting twist because it’s different from the generalizations of taking every $n$-th item (the default case being taking every second item) and has this interesting even/odd differentiation.

Some brute force can help

As I’m requested to solve the puzzle with $3014603$ elves… going the brute force way is doable although not fast at all.

As a matter of fact, here’s what happened to me: I started a brute force simulation, let it run and in the meantime worked on a more efficient solution. Which arrived before the one from the brute force approach 😄

So is the brute force approach useful at all! Yes it does! It is reasonable fast when run on smaller inputs, so it can help in looking at the data and trying to spot any regularity that we can exploit to solve the problem. Even if we don’t prove that the regularity is going to apply for whatever input… we can still try to code it, get a result and cross fingers 😎

Here is a sub implementing the brute force approach for this problem:

sub josephus_bf ($n) {
   my @slots = 1 .. $n;
   while ((my $N = @slots) > 1) {
      my $opponent = $N % 1 ? ($N - 1) / 2 : $N / 2;
      splice @slots, $opponent, 1;
      push @slots, shift @slots;
   }
   return $slots[0];
}

It implements the problem almost literally:

  • initialize with all applicable elves;
  • the “current elf” is always the first one in the @slots array (push @slots, shift @slots makes sure to move it at the end of the array after its turn, so that its successor will be the first item in the next iteration)
  • until there’s more than one elf with a present, find out the index of the mid-placed elf (getting the lowered-number elf for an odd number of elves in @slots) and remove it (using splice).

Looking at some data

Let’s first get a look at some data for low numbers:

            11 ->  2    21 -> 15
 2 ->  1    12 ->  3    22 -> 17
 3 ->  3    13 ->  4    23 -> 19
 4 ->  1    14 ->  5    24 -> 21
 5 ->  2    15 ->  6    25 -> 23
 6 ->  3    16 ->  7    26 -> 25
 7 ->  5    17 ->  8    27 -> 27
 8 ->  7    18 ->  9    28 ->  1
 9 ->  9    19 -> 11    29 ->  2
10 ->  1    20 -> 13    30 ->  3

There are a couple of interesting patterns:

  • the “winner” elf slot (starting from 1) tends to increase until it reaches a point where it is reset. This is similar to what happens with the traditional Josephus problem;

  • the reset seems to happen immediately after a power of $3$, and also powers of $3$ seem to have that the last elf is also the winner (e.g. see the values for $3$, $9$, and $27$);

  • the increasing goes by one unit up to a point, then it goes by two units (apparently). It seems to go by one up to the double of the last power of $3$, in particular.

At this point we can leverage the brute force function again and check what happens around other powers of $3$:

3^4 = 81     3^5 = 243     3^6 = 729

78 ->  75    240 -> 237    726 -> 723
79 ->  77    241 -> 239    727 -> 725
80 ->  79    242 -> 241    728 -> 727
81 ->  81    243 -> 243    729 -> 729
82 ->   1    244 ->   1    730 ->   1
83 ->   2    245 ->   2    731 ->   2
84 ->   3    246 ->   3    732 ->   3

and around their doubles:

2*3^4 = 162    2*3^5 = 486    2*3^6 = 1458

159 ->  78     483 -> 240     1455 -> 726
160 ->  79     484 -> 241     1456 -> 727
161 ->  80     485 -> 242     1457 -> 728
162 ->  81     486 -> 243     1458 -> 729
163 ->  83     487 -> 245     1459 -> 731
164 ->  85     488 -> 247     1460 -> 733
165 ->  87     489 -> 249     1461 -> 735

OK! From a mathematician’s point of view these are fair clues that cry for some demonstration. From an engineer’s point of view… it’s time to code.

Let’s call it a heuristic…

… for lack of any formal demonstration.

The basic idea is the following:

  • first, let’s find the power of $3$ that is immediately lower than, or equal to, our number.
  • if it’s equal we’re done: our small investigation suggests that returning the input number itself is a good guess;
  • otherwise, we have to understand where we lie between that power of $3$ and the one immediately following and, depending on the position, go ahead:
    • if in the first half, the increase is one by one;
    • from the start of the second half on, the increase is two by two.

This is the code:

 1  sub josephus_ternary ($n) {
 2     my $u3 = 3 ** int(log($n) / log(3));
 3     return $n if $n == $u3;
 4     my $threshold = int($u3 * 2);
 5     return $n - $u3 if $n <= $threshold;
 6     return ($n - $u3) + ($n - $threshold);
 7  }

Variable $u3$ in line 2 is initialized to the power of $3$ we are after. the ratio of the two logarithms is a way of calculating the logarithm in base $3$; we take its integer part and the use it as an exponent for $3$ and voilà we have a power of $3$.

As promised, if this power of $3$ is equal to our input number… we know pretty well that the last elf is the one that gets it all. Line 3 puts this in code.

Line 4 finds out the threshold between the increment by one and the increment by two parts. Then we return the right value (lines 5 and 6) depending on where $n lies with respect to this threshold.

And it works!

As anticipated, while the brute force algorithm was still running with an input of 3014603, I was able to use josephus_ternary and get the right answer: 1420280.

Now you can, too.