PWC149 - Largest Square


On with TASK #2 from The Weekly Challenge #149. Enjoy!

The challenge

Given a number base, derive the largest perfect square with no repeated digits and return it as a string. (For base>10, use ‘A’..‘Z’.)



The questions

Well, also here I guess “number” means “integer”, although for non-integers it’s probably next to impossible to find something that adheres to the “no repeated digits” in the representation. Or is it?

Another thing that is not clear is what to do with bases beyond 36 - there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, so that is the maximum base we can allow for a representation with “standard” western digits and letters.

The solution

I had two possible approaches in mind when thinking about this challenge:

  • square-root testing of arrangements of the different digits, in decreasing order;
  • squaring numbers until one provides an “all-different-digits” solution.

I eventually went for the second alternative, although my implementation(s) is not terribly fast and, I guess, efficient. I did not benchmark the two.


The Perl solution is the following:

#!/usr/bin/env perl
use 5.024;
use warnings;
use English qw< -no_match_vars >;
use experimental qw< postderef signatures >;
no warnings qw< experimental::postderef experimental::signatures >;
use Math::BigInt;

my $base = shift || 10;
my @ls = largest_square($base);
if ($base <= 36) {
   say join '', turn_to_letters(@ls);
else {
   say join ' ', @ls;

sub turn_to_letters (@sequence) {
   state $alphabet = ['0' .. '9', 'A' .. 'Z'];
   state $digit_for = {map { $_ => $alphabet->[$_]} 0 .. $alphabet->$#*};
   return map {$digit_for->{$_}} @sequence;

sub largest_square ($base = 10) {
   my $max = Math::BigInt->new(0);
   for my $n (reverse 0 .. $base - 1) {
      $max = $max * $base + $n;
   my $candidate = 1 + $max->bsqrt;
   while ('necessary') {
      my $square = $candidate * $candidate;
      my (%flag, @retval);
      while ($square > 0) {
         unshift @retval, my $v = $square % $base;
         next CANDIDATE if $flag{$v}++;
         $square /= $base;
      return @retval;

The solution is general and not constrained by base, although it takes more and more time as we move up (even at a meager 16-characters alphabet it takes more time than I’m willing to admit). So it’s not restricted to the base-36 limit: you can just go up if you have a very fast computer and a lot of time/energy to spend.

We start from the highest possible number in the given base that uses all available digit characters. This is computed in $max, leveraging Math::BigInt to avoid restrictions.

Any number that is compliant will necessarily:

  • be less than, or equal to, $max;
  • be a perfect square;
  • be composed of different digits only.

Bullet 2 means that the square root will have to be an integer and bullet 1 means that this integer will be less than, or equal to, the square root of $max. For this reason, instead of looking for matching integers, we will look for their “perfect” integer square root, using variable $candidate.

Variable $candidate is initialized to be 1 over the square root because we decrease it as the first action inside the while loop, so we can be sure not to rule out the “equal to” alternative.

The while loop tests the different $candidates in decreasing order, so that we can ensure we find the largest square possible. So we calculate the $square, then check it for the third requirements, i.e. that it only has different extended digits. In this case, each “digit” is actually represented by an integer from 0 to $base - 1, but this is a technicality.

Variable %flag allows us to keep track of which “digits” we already saw. The next CANDIDATE... line will actually go to the next iteration only the second time a “digit” is seen, thanks to the post-increment (the first time it sets the value to 1, but the expression itself returns 0 that is a false value).

Function turn_to_letters() makes sure to return… letters, as requested. This only happens in bases less than, or equal to, 36; otherwise, we just print out the “digit identifier” as an integer from 0 up to $base - 1.

Raku time:

#!/usr/bin/env raku
use v6;
sub MAIN (Int:D $base = 10) {
   my @ls = largest-square($base);
   if $base <= 36 {
   else {
      @ls.join(' ').put;

sub turn-to-letters (@sequence) {
   state @alphabet = ('0' .. '9', 'A' .. 'Z').flat;
   state %digit-for = (^@alphabet).map: { ($_, @alphabet[$_]).Slip };
   return {%digit-for{~$_}};

sub largest-square ($base) {
   my $max = 0;
   $max = $max * $base + $_ for (^$base).reverse;
   my $candidate = 1 + $max.sqrt.Int;
   while True {
      my $square = $candidate * $candidate;
      my $present =;
      my @retval;
      while $square > 0 {
         my $v = $square % $base;
         next CANDIDATE if $present.EXISTS-KEY($v);
         @retval.unshift: $v;
         $square = ($square / $base).Int;
      return @retval;

This is pretty much a translation from the Perl code, except that it supports arbitrary integer maths out of the box, so there’s no need to fiddle with Math::BigInt. And hear hear it’s faster:

$ time perl perl/ 16

real	2m5.166s
user	2m4.924s
sys	0m0.052s

$ time raku raku/ch-2.raku 16

real	0m26.983s
user	0m27.096s
sys	0m0.064s

Stay safe folks!

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