Seven Coins Puzzle

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Mensa Daily Puzzlers

For over 15 years Mensa Page-A-Day calendars have provided several puzzles a year for my programming pleasure.  Coding "solvers" is most fun, but many programs also allow user solving, convenient for "fill in the blanks" type.  Below are Amazon  links to the two most recent years.

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Problem Description

Place a coin on any unoccupied star point connected to another unoccupied star point and move it to the other end. Can you do this 6 more times so that 7 of the star points are occupied?

Source: The Master Book of Mathematical Recreations, Fred Schuh, Dover Pubs., 1968

Background & Techniques

Dec 17,2001 Addendum:  Posted a revised version today that allows user play - and mildly insults you when you lose!  If you want the program  and are not interested in the program logic, just scroll down to the bottom of the page to download the executable.

This program could be solved by the "brute-force" method, trying all possible configurations since there are only 7X6X5X4X3X2  (7!) possible arrangements.   What I call brute-force, real mathematicians call "exhaustive search".  

However in this case, as in the Knight's Tour puzzle, there is a selection rule that can "prune" the search tree.  In fact, this rule is probably provable - strong enough that we don't have to worry about backtracking or retracting bad choices.   The rule is to select the unoccupied  star point (vertex)  with the fewest free lines coming into it, where a free line is defined as a line with no coin at either end.   

The first problem is  internally representing the graph.  I decided to create a TVertex record for each star point containing it's display coordinates, whether or not it is occupied, and the number of free lines coming into that vertex.   An array, Vertex,  containing 8 of these records describes the vertices.  A second doubly dimensioned array, Lines,  contains 8 X2  entries - each of the eight 1st level indices represents a line and the two 2nd level entries contain the indices of the end-point vertices.   An alternative, and probably better,  structure would have each vertex record contain the indices of the two vertices at the other ends of the lines emanating from it.  (e.g. the first vertex entry would contain the integers 4 and 6 indicating the connected points).   Implementing this change would simplify the code, but is left as an exercise for you guys.   

(Addendum:(Dec. 17, 2001): In the course of modifying the program to allow user play, I implemented the above change. So the Lines array no longer exists, but fields C1 and C2 in each Vertex record contain the index values of the two connected points.  This also eliminated the need for the freelines variable described below. C1 and C2 point directly to the connecting line ends, so it's an easy matter to see if they are occupied.)

I created a TCoinBoard object, descended from TPaintbox, to contain board information.    The Paint method redraws the board from Vertex and Lines information as required.  There were a couple of interesting sub-problems in implementing Seven Coins.  How do we determine the number of free lines coming into a vertex?  I solved this by initializing the freelines variable to 2 for each vertex, then finding and reducing freelines each time a coin was placed, both for the vertex containing the new coin and those connected to it (if they are unoccupied) .  

In order to generate the vertex locations, we divide the 2Pi radians in a circle by 8 to get the angular displacement from vertex to vertex,  then further rotate the first point by 1/16 of a circle.  The radius is set at some fraction 

The other interesting problem was placing the coin.  I decided to animate the placement by displaying the new coin at the center of a free line and moving it to the vertex location.  A TShape defined as a circle is a simple way to do this, however I learned that a cannot be the parent of a control.   There are good reasons for this, Windows manages it's real windows including all Delphi components descended from TWinControl.  Since there are a limited number of of Windows resources available, Delphi has another class, TGraphicControl,  for visual components that require a canvas but not other window properties.  To make a long story short,  by making TCoinBoard the parent of the Coin TShape, it will automatically be released when TCoinBoard is freed.

Running/Exploring the Program


Browse source extract

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bulletDownload  executable  

Suggestions for further exploration

Make the changes in data structure described in the Techniques section above.   I.E. eliminate the Lines array entirely and add index values pointing to the 2 adjacent vertices to each TVertex record.  (Done 12/17/01)

Add the ability accept user moves.  TPaintbox (and therefore the TCoinBoard descendant) has an Onclick event exit.  The biggest problem would be to determine if the click was on or near a vertex.  If so, I would set the occupied field to false if it were true (don't forget to increase the freelines count for the clicked vertex and for the unoccupied ones that are connected to it.)   If the clicked vertex is unoccupied, we would have to determine if a line to it is free, then mark it as occupied and decrease the freelines field for it and the vertices that are connected to it.   (Done  12/1701)

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