Programming is about elegance. Yesterday someone asked me how to write a program that displays six unique random numbers (1 to 9). The beauty of this problem is that it is exceedingly simple to solve, but still leaves room for some awesome-source.

Here’s the simple solution in PHP (I make no claims to this being awesome):

$used = array();
for($i=0; $i<6; $i++){


	$used[] = $x;
	echo $x . ' ';

Notice that this isn’t a battle for who can do this in the least lines.

I duly expect to be beaten on the head for some or other bad PHP habit. I’m also expecting people to submit the solution in Perl, Python, Erlang, Ruby, C, C++, Java and anything else you feel like trying your hand at.

ps. Wrap your solutions in <pre> tags.


22 thoughts on “Codewar

  1. Your code could theoretically loop forever (since you have a loop that goes “while the random number you chose is one of these things, do this”), and is ridiculously inefficient anyway. You can’t go “keep picking random numbers until they match some sort of criteria”.

    $used = array();
    for($i=1; $i<10; $i++){ $used[] = $i; }
    for($i=0; $i<4; $i++) {
        array_splice($used, rand(0, count($used)-1), 1);

    (P.S. My code’s shorter than yours, nya nya nya.)

  2. @Hitchcock,

    Yes, I suppose it is *possible* that random would never hit another unique number…

    I also think it’s *possible* that you just got served by Mike…

  3. Endersby: Yes: the point is, your code swings and swings until it gets it right, and is thus a really inefficient way to do things. My PHP code was to fix your bad method, in your horrendous language, not to write the shortest most efficient one (in which case I would have done exactly what Michael did). So, no, I do believe it was you who got served by both of us. Thanks for playing.

  4. Darn, I had….

    #!/usr/bin/env python

    import random

    x = set()
    while len(x) < 6:
    print x

    Didn’t know about the sample function, that’ll be useful sometime.

  5. Hitchcock: If you were teaching someone to program would you teach them with your method?

    Also, your code didn’t actually achieve the end goal:
    1. You have an ‘off-by-one’ bug that results in it only printing out 5 numbers instead of six.
    2. It doesn’t display anything (as per the specification).

    I like your different way of tackling the problem though. I wouldn’t have thought of doing it that way.

  6. Like I said, I wasn’t trying to make a good method, I was trying to fix your bad method šŸ˜‰ I wouldn’t teach anybody to program in a language so limited. And, yeah, you’re right, originally I had it from 0 to 9, so I had to remove four numbers – I took zero out and didn’t decrease how many I removed. My bad. (Feel free to add ‘print_r($used)’ at the end.

  7. Endersby: To be fair, my Python version doesn’t print out what your PHP version does either.

    You’d have to use:

    print ” “.join(random.sample(range(1, 10), 6))

    (assuming you don’t really need the space at the end anyway.)

  8. Actually a more elegant solution would be “implode(‘ ‘, $used);”

    I guess this raises an interesting question about teaching people how to program. Do you teach them the absolute shortest way possible or the way where they’ll be able to understand what’s going on? Is using sample() the correct way to teach a complete noob how to program? I think Jerith will have something to say about this… I await his most level headed answer.

  9. Not the most efficient, but a short php solution:

    $fu = array();
    while (sizeof($fu)<6) {
    $fu[rand(1,10)] = ‘nom’;

  10. I’d say random.sample() is easier to understand than a couple of loops, nested or otherwise šŸ™‚

    It’s still useful to know how to do it if your language doesn’t have a random.sample() equivalent.

  11. Good thing my Firefox crashed halfway through my duplication of Michael’s solution, thus forcing a reload and giving me this most excellent comment thread.

    I shall address the education question when I have more time to consider it, but here is the Erlang implementation you asked for. I specifically chose a method not yet used here:

    uniquerandoms(Min, Max, Count) ->
        ShuffledList = shuffle(lists:seq(Min, Max)),
        lists:sublist(ShuffledList, Count).
    %% The shuffling implementation below was found on the interwebs:
    shuffle(List) ->
        %% Determine the log n portion then randomize the list.
        randomize(round(math:log(length(List)) + 0.5), List).
    randomize(1, List) ->
    randomize(T, List) ->
        lists:foldl(fun(_E, Acc) ->
                    end, randomize(List), lists:seq(1, (T - 1))).
    randomize(List) ->
        D = lists:map(fun(A) ->
                              {random:uniform(), A}
                      end, List),
        {_, D1} = lists:unzip(lists:keysort(1, D)),

    Printing out the answer is left as an exercise for the reader.

  12. Another PHP solution, using only array functions:

    $nums = array_keys(array_pad(array(),10,’nom’));
    $nums = array_splice($nums,0,6);
    print(implode(‘ ‘,$nums));

  13. So, we have three basic methods for doing it so far:

    1. Keep picking random numbers, discarding duplicates, until we have as many as we need.

    2. Generate a list of all possible numbers, and throw away random ones until you have as many as you need.

    3. Generate a list of all possible numbers, shuffle it, and throw away the first/last however many you don’t need.

    Oh, four: 4. Use the builtin function to do what we need.

    This is what I’d explain to the kid I was teaching to code, rather than showing him array_splice()s and samples().

  14. On education:

    Your goal, when teaching programming, is to teach programming. You should not be teaching a specific language (although you need a language to teach in, the distinction is subtle but important) and you should not be teaching particular techniques except where they are important more generally.

    With this in mind, you want a language that gets out of your way when you want it to but is flexible enough to demonstrate advanced concepts when necessary. Obrant: Java is not this language. Neither is Delphi. Python’s a reasonable choice. (Yes, this is a dig at the local education department.)

    With this in mind, you probably don’t want to be teaching the One Right Way To Do It for pretty much anything. What methods you teach should depend on what concepts you are teaching. In this case, if the selection is incidental to the lesson, use the standard library function that does the hard work for you. If the implementation is central to the lesson for some reason, you need to cover that.

    It is fairly important, in my opinion, to be able to ignore anything that isn’t central to the concept being taught. This will never be universally possible, but it is far easier in some cases than in others. To use an example I’m rather fond of, consider a student’s first introduction to a programming language.

    In Python:

    print "Hello World!"

    In Pascal:

    program HelloWorld;
        writeln('Hello world!');

    In Java:

    class HelloWorld {
        public static void main(String args[]) {
            System.out.println("Hello World!");

    The first two are fine. Neither contain more concepts than “this is a program” and “we want to print ‘Hello World!'”. Java, on the other hand, requires either explanation or glossing-over of classes, public/private methods, static methods, functions and parameters. All of these are important, to be sure, but the student should not have to deal with them all at once.

    In conclusion, you need balance. Teach what it makes sense to teach. You don’t want to gloss over everything, but neither do you want to dive immediately into the details of everything.

    I should actually turn this into a post on my blog. Prod me with something appropriately pointy if I forget…

  15. Here is another php version

    function uniqRand($count=6, $from=1, $to=10, $maxInstances=1){
    $r=mt_rand($from, $to);
    if(!isset($extracted[$r]) || $extracted[$r]<$maxInstances){$output[]=$r;}
    return $output;

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