Number words

Today’s five minute post brought to you via Programming Praxis / Career Cup:

Given a positive integer, return all the ways that the integer can be represented by letters using the mapping 1 -> A, 2 -> B, …, 26 -> Z. For instance, the number 1234 can be represented by the words ABCD, AWD and LCD.

That may look fairly straight forward. Basically, it’s a parsing/lexing problem. You take a string as input and break it into a series of tokens (in this case, numbers 1-26); then each token is converted into a letter.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that, since the grammar is ambiguous. Taking the example 1234 from above, should you parse that as 1 2 3 4 = ABCD? Or what about 1 23 4 = AWD? Or even 12 3 4 = LCD? In a nutshell, we have to do all of them. So we want some sort of branching lexer that will try all possible routes.

So let’s start with a function that meta-function that can make such a parser:

; Make an optional parser
; If the regex matches, add it to each possible next parse
; If it does not, return an empty list (to be appendable)
(define (make-parser re)
  (λ (str)
    (match str
      [(regexp re (list _ n rest))
       (map (curry ~a (n->char n)) (number->words rest))]
      [any
       '()])))

Looks a bit funny, (especially since we haven’t defined number->words yet), but basically we try to match the regular expression. If that works, make the recursive call (to number->words) and then append that string (as a character via n->char) to each recursive result. If there are no recursive results, this map will return an empty list. Likewise, if the regular expression doesn’t match.

Next step, write the two parsers. We want to parse either a single digit number or a two digit number:

; Create parsers for valid 1 digit and 2 digit letter numbers
(define parse-1 (make-parser #px"([1-9])(.*)"))
(define parse-2 (make-parser #px"(1[0-9]|2[0-6])(.*)"))

That’s what makes the ambiguity the most interesting. If only 0 were a valid digit… As it is, there are four possible cases (and these two functions handle them all!):

  • str starts with 1 and a digit 0-9, parse both
  • str starts with 2 and a digit 0-6, parse both
  • str starts with 2 and a digit 7-9, parse 2 digits only
  • str starts with 3-9, parse 1 digit only

And finally, try both:

; Base case, so we can stop eventually
(if (equal? str "")
    '("")
    (append (parse-1 str) (parse-2 str)))

The base case looks a bit funny, since you might assume that if neither case matches we’ll get there. That’s the difference between the empty list '() and the list containing just an empty string '(""). In the latter, there’s nothing to map against, ergo necessary.

And then all we need is the n->char function:

; Convert a number 1-26 to a letter A-Z
(define (n->char n) (integer->char (+ 64 (string->number n))))

And that’s it. Put it all together:

; Given 1-26 mapping to A-Z, determine all possible words represented by a number
; Correctly resolve ambiguities where 1234 -> 1 2 3 4 = ABCD / 1 23 4 -> AWD / 12 3 4 -> LCD
(define (number->words str)
  ; Convert a number 1-26 to a letter A-Z
  (define (n->char n) (integer->char (+ 64 (string->number n))))

  ; Make an optional parser
  ; If the regex matches, add it to each possible next parse
  ; If it does not, return an empty list (to be appendable)
  (define (make-parser re)
    (λ (str)
      (match str
        [(regexp re (list _ n rest))
         (map (curry ~a (n->char n)) (number->words rest))]
        [any
         '()])))

  ; Create parsers for valid 1 digit and 2 digit letter numbers
  (define parse-1 (make-parser #px"([1-9])(.*)"))
  (define parse-2 (make-parser #px"(1[0-9]|2[0-6])(.*)"))

  ; Base case, so we can stop eventually
  (if (equal? str "")
      '("")
      (append (parse-1 str) (parse-2 str))))

Let’s give it a try:

> (number->words "1234")
'("ABCD" "AWD" "LCD")

> (number->words "8675309")
'("HFGECI")

> (length (number->words "85121215231518124"))

1181

> (number->words "85121215231518124")
'(... "HELLOWORLD" ...)

I could claim that I just happen to know the number code for HELLOWORLD, but really I wrote a quick inverse function:

; Convert words back to numbers
(define (words->number str)
  (define (char->n c) (number->string (- (char->integer c) 64)))
  (apply ~a (for/list ([c (in-string str)]) (char->n c))))

Shiny!

Code: number-words.rkt

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