Category Archives: Combinations

Generating all possible parenthesis expressions

Given a number N, how do we generate all possible valid expressions with N pairs of brackets?

For example for N = 2, there are 2 such expressions
For N = 3, there are 5 expressions

We have a simple solution to this problem by using recursion. We design this method as follows.

It takes two parameters left count, right count, buffer and an index. At each index we can either fill a left bracket or a right bracket.

As long as we have left brackets, we try to fill them and recursively call the method with one less left brace.

Then we check if we have more right braces than left braces, then fill it up with right brace. Recursively call the method with one less right brace.

When we don’t have any left or right braces remaining, we can print the contents of the buffer.

Here is the Java implementation.

Printing all K combinations from N numbers

Given two numbers N and K, how do we print all the K-combinations of numbers from the set {1,2,…N}.

For example consider N = 4, K = 3, the possible combinations are
 [1, 2, 3]
 [1, 2, 4]
 [2, 3, 4]
 [1, 3, 4]

Let us look how to solve this combination problem. This problem can be recursively defined as follows. To generate K-combinations from N elements, we have two possibilities.
  1. Generate K-Combinations from (N-1) elements.
  2. Generate (K-1)-Combinations from (N-1) elements and append N to all of them.
Let us simulate this with an example. Assume N = 3, K = 2

Generate 2-Combinations from 2 elements i.e N = 2, K = 2
This will be just one combination i.e [1, 2]

Generate 1-Combinations from 2 elements i.e N = 2, K = 1
[1], [2]
Append 3 to each of them
[1, 3], [2,3]

So there are totally 3 combinations [ [1, 2], [1, 3], [2, 3] ].

Here is the recursive implementation in C++.

Number of ways of arranging 0, 1

Given ‘N’ zeros and ‘M’ ones, In how many ways can we arrange them to form a string of length (N+M)?
For example if we have 2 zeros and 2 ones, we can arrange them in 6 ways
0011, 1100, 0101, 1010, 1001, 0110

If there are N symbols to arrange, The number of ways to arrange them in a sequence is called a permutation problem. This number is simply N! (N factorial).

We have (N+M) symbols in total and N symbols are one type and M symbols are another type, So the number of permutations become (N+M)!/ N!*M!

Another way to look at the problem is using combinations. We have (N+M) places either
  • We have to choose N spaces to fill zeros, in the remaining places, we fill one
  • Or We have to choose M spaces to fill ones, in the remaining places, we fill zero
The number of ways to choose R objects from N objects is called a combination problem. This is represented by C(N,R) = N!/(N-R)!*R!
So for our problem there are (N+M) symbols and we need to either choose N zeros or M ones. So it becomes C(N+M,N) or C(N+M,M)
Both reduce to (N+M)!/N!*M!.
If we try to implement the above formula as it is in code, we have a problem of data overflow.

For example consider 21! = 51090942171709440000, we cannot represent in a long integer also. If we are calculating C(21,10), simply calculating factorials with built in data types result in data overflow even though the result can be represented in those types. C(21,10) = 352716.
In competitive programming, it is sometimes asked to reduce this value using a modulo operation. For example calculate C(n,r) modulo 10007 for arbitrarily large numbers say 1 <= n,r <= 1000. In these cases also, using the factorial formula does not serve the purpose.

We have another formula to calculate C(N,R) using recursive definition.
C(N, R) = C(N-1, R-1) + C(N-1, R)
You can easily understand this by using Pascal triangle.
If we implement the algorithm using this formula, we can find the result for a much better range of numbers .

Here is the Java implementation. For this problem I assumed the range of 1000 for N and M. Also it calculates the result modulo 109+7