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C'est la Z

Advent of Code 2019 Day 1

Like most programming challenges, Advent of Code ramps out from easier, more accessible problems to harder, more complex ones. As such, a number of the early challenges are great problems for early CS students.

I thought that while I watched my NY Giants play valiantly in their attempt to get a high draft pick I'd talk about today's challenge from a teacher's point of view.

The summary of part one is that you have a list of inputs (masses of components) and for each one you have to perform a calculation (how much fuel is needed). The answer will be the sum of the fuels.

The most challenging part of this for a beginner might be reading in the data but that's not too much of a challenge:

data = open("day01.dat").readlines()

Now we can calculate part1:

  data = open("day01.dat").readlines()

  sum = 0
  for mass in data:
      sum = sum + int(mass)//3 - 2

Part 2 adds a twist. Now, you have to also consider the fuel needed for the fuel you've added. Basically, you have to calculate how much fuel you'll need for a given item and then how much fuel you'll need for that fuel. You repeat this until the amount of fuel you need is either 0 or negative. See the challenge for more info on this.

This is our first "teaching moment." This is going to be messy to work into our part1 solution but if we had factored out the original fuel calculation we could probably reused it and maybe more of our solution:

  data = open("day01.dat").readlines()

  def calc_fuel(mass):
      return int(mass)//3 - 2

  sum = 0
  for mass in data:
      sum = sum + calc_fuel(mass)

Now we can just add an inner loop that repeatedly adds the fuel costs.

  data = open("day01.dat").readlines()

  def calc_fuel(mass):
      return int(mass)//3 - 2

  sum = 0
  for mass in data:
      fuel = calc_fuel(mass)
      while fuel > 0:
          sum = sum + fuel
          fuel =  calc_fuel(fuel)

More "teachable moments." We have to change up variables in our fuel calculations (lines 8 and 11) and for a beginner, the loop within a loop can be somewhat muddled. It's more complex but it's doing something that is more complex. It's also good nested loop practice.

For more advanced students, if they're familiar with list comprehensions you can really clean up part 1:

  data = open("day01.dat").readlines()
  data = [int(x) for x in data] # convert to ints before starting

  def calc_fuel(mass):
      return mass//3 - 2

  # part 1
  part1 = sum([calc_fuel(x) for x in data])

but I think part 2 either stay's more or less as is.

Personally, I wrote my solutions in Clojure:

(ns day01
  (:require [clojure.string :as string]
            [utils :as u]))

(def test-masses [12 14 1969 100756])

;; load data
(def masses (->>
             (slurp "day01.dat")
             (map u/parse-int)

(defn calc-mass-part1 [mass]
  (- (quot mass 3) 2))

(defn part1 [masses]
  "calculate fuel for each mass then sum them all"
  (reduce + (map calc-mass-part1 masses)))

(defn calc-mass-part2
  ([mass] (calc-mass-part2 mass 0))
  ([mass cost]
   "Same as part 1 but loop to calculate fuel for the fuel"
   (let [fuel (calc-mass-part1 mass)]
     (if (<= fuel 0)
       (recur fuel (+ cost fuel))))))
(defn part2 [masses]
  (reduce + (map calc-mass-part2 masses )))

(defn main []
(println (str "Part1: " (part1 masses)))
(println (str "Part2: " (part2 masses)))


So that's day 1. I don't know if I'll write up any more or, given my travel and work schedule for the week,if I'll even be able to work on more problems until next weekend.

In any event. If you're teaching CS0 or CS1 students, you should really check out Advent of Code.

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