TITLE: A Programming Digression: Generating Excellent Numbers
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: December 08, 2015 3:55 PM
Whenever I teach my compiler course, it seems as if I run across
a fun problem or two to implement in our source language. I'm
not sure if that's because I'm looking or because I'm just lucky
to read interesting blogs and Twitter feeds.
For example, during a previous offering, I read on
John Cook's blog
about Farey's algorithm for approximating real numbers with
rational numbers. This was a perfect fit for the sort of small
language that my students were writing a compiler for, so I
took a stab at implementing it.
Because our source language, Klein, was akin to an integer assembly
language, I had to unravel the algorithm's loops and assignment
statements into function calls and if statements. The result was
a program that computed an interesting result and that tested my
students' compilers in a meaningful way. The fact that I had
great fun writing it was a bonus.
This Semester's Problem
Early this semester, I came across the concept of
A number m is "excellent" if, when you split the sequence
of its digits into two halves, a and b,
b² - a² equals n. 48 is the
only two-digit excellent number (8² - 4² = 48), and
3468 is the only four-digit excellent number (68² - 34²
= 3468). Working with excellent numbers requires only integers
and arithmetic operations, which makes them a perfect domain for
our programming language.
My first encounter with excellent numbers was Brian Foy's
Computing Excellent Numbers,
which discusses ways to generate numbers of this form efficiently
in Perl. Foy uses some analysis by Mark Jason Dominus, written
An Ounce of Theory Is Worth a Pound of Search,
that drastically reduces the search space for candidate
a's and b's. A commenter on the Programming Praxis
article uses the same trick to
write a short Python program
to solve that challenge. Here is an adaptation of that program
which prints all of the 10-digit excellent numbers:
for a in range(10000, 100000):
b = ((4*a**2+400000*a+1)**0.5+1) / 2.0
if b == int(b):
print( int(str(a)+str(int(b))) )
I can't rely on strings or real numbers to implement this in Klein,
but I could see some alternatives... Challenge accepted!
My Standard Technique
We do not yet have a working Klein compiler in class yet, so I
prefer not to write complex programs directly in the language.
It's too hard to get subtle semantic issues correct without
being able to execute the code. What I usually do is this:
This produces what I hope is a semantically correct program,
using only primitives available in Klein.
Finally, I translate the Python program into Klein and run it
through my students' Klein front-ends. This parses the code to
ensure that it is syntactically correct and type-checks the code
to ensure that it satisfies Klein's type system. (Manifest
types is the one feature Klein has that Python does not.)
As mentioned above, Klein is something like integer assembly
language, so converting to a Klein-like subset of Python means
giving up a lot of features. For example, I have to linearize
each loop into a sequence of one or more function calls,
recursing at some point back to the function that kicks off the
loop. You can see this at play in my Farey's algorithm code
I also have to eliminate all data types other than booleans and
integers. For the program to generate excellent numbers, the
most glaring hole is a lack of real numbers. The algorithm
shown above depends on taking a square root, getting a
real-valued result, and then coercing a real to an integer.
What can I do instead?
Not to worry. sqrt is not a primitive operator
in Klein, but we have a library function. My students and I
implement useful utility functions whenever we encounter the
need and add them to a file of definitions that we share. We
then copy these utilities into our programs as needed.
sqrt was one of the first complex utilities we
implemented, years ago. It uses
to find the roots of an integer. For perfect squares, it returns
the argument's true square root. For all other integers, it
returns the largest integer less than or equal to the true root.
With this answer in hand, we can change the Python code that
checks whether a purported square root b is an
integer using type coercion:
- Write a solution in Python.
- Debug it until it is correct.
- Slowly refactor the program until it uses only
a Klein-like subset of Python.
b == int(b)
into Klein code that checks whether the square of a square root
equals the original number:
isSquareRoot(r : integer, n : integer) : boolean
n = r*r
(Klein is a pure functional language, so the return statement is
implicit in the body of every function. Also, without assignment
statements, Klein can use = as a boolean operator.)
Generating Excellent Numbers in Klein
I now have all the Klein tools I need to generate excellent
numbers of any given length. Next, I needed to generalize
the formula at the heart of the Python program to work for
lengths other than 10.
For any given desired length, let n = length/2. We can
write any excellent number m in two ways:
If we set the two m's equal to one another and solve
for b, we get:
- a10n + b (which
defines it as the concatenation of its front and back
- b² - a² (which defines it
b = -(1 + sqrt[4a2 + 4(10n)a + 1])
Now, as in the algorithm above, we loop through all values for
a with n digits and find the corresponding
value for b. If b is an integer, we check to
see if m = ab is excellent.
The Python loop shown above works plenty fast, but Klein doesn't
have loops. So I refactored the program into
one that uses recursion.
This program is slower, but it works fine for numbers up to
> python3.4 generateExcellent.py 6
Unfortunately, this version blows out the Python call stack for
length 8. I set the recursion limit to 50,000, which helps for
> python3.4 generateExcellent.py 8
Segmentation fault: 11
Next Step: See Spot Run
The port to
an equivalent Klein program
was straightforward. My first version had a few small bugs,
which my students' parsers and type checkers helped me iron
out. Now I await their full compilers, due at the end of the
week, to see it run. I wonder how far we will be able to go
in the Klein run-time system, which sits on top of a simple
If nothing else, this program will repay any effort my students
make to implement the proper handling of tail calls! That will
be worth a little extra-credit...
This programming digression has taken me several hours spread
out over the last few weeks. It's been great fun! The purpose
of Klein is to help my students learn to write a compiler. But
the programmer in me has fun working at this level, trying to
find ways to implement challenging algorithms and then
refactoring them to run deeper or faster. I'll let you know
the results soon.
I'm either a programmer or crazy. Probably both.