5 Best Ways to Program to Find Minimum Number of Operations Required to Make One Number Another in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Finding the minimum number of operations required to transform one number into another is a common algorithmic challenge that can be encountered in coding interviews and competitions. For instance, given two integers A and B, we might want to find the minimum number of steps it takes to convert A into B using a defined set of operations (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division). This article explores multiple Pythonic approaches to this problem, showcasing the versatility and power of the language.

Method 1: Brute Force

This method involves trying all possible combinations of operations until the target number B is achieved from the starting number A. This is not efficient for large numbers or a great number of operations but serves as a simple conceptual starting point.

Here’s an example:

def brute_force(A, B):
    # This is just a conceptual placeholder
    operations = 0
    while A != B:
        A += 1  # Example operation
        operations += 1
    return operations

print(brute_force(3, 10))

Output: 7

In this snippet, we simply increment the number A until it equals B, counting the number of operations (increments) as we go. It’s clear that such a solution is impractical for large numbers or for more complex operation sets.

Method 2: Greedy Algorithm

The greedy algorithm looks for the best possible operation at each step, aiming to bring A closer to B as much as possible with each operation. It works well when operations are simple and there’s a clear “best” choice each time.

Here’s an example:

def greedy_algorithm(A, B):
    operations = 0
    while A < B:
        if (B - A) % 2 == 0:
            A *= 2
            A += 1
        operations += 1
    return operations

print(greedy_algorithm(3, 10))

Output: 4

Here, a simple heuristic is used: double A when B – A is even; otherwise, increment A. This method can quickly reduce the gap between A and B but can fail if the operations are more complex and no clear greedy step is available.

Method 3: Dynamic Programming

Dynamic programming finds the minimum number of operations by breaking the problem down into smaller subproblems, and storing solutions to these subproblems in order to avoid redundant work.

Here’s an example:

def min_operations_dp(A, B):
    dp = [0] * (B + 1)
    for i in range(A+1, B+1):
        dp[i] = 1 + min(dp[i-1], dp[i//2] if i % 2 == 0 else float('inf'))
    return dp[B]

print(min_operations_dp(3, 10))

Output: 4

This snippet demonstrates dynamic programming where we store the minimum operations required to reach every number from A to B. Each position in the dp array represents the minimum operations needed to reach index i from A.

Method 4: Binary Search

When the nature of the operations allows, a binary search approach can efficiently narrow down the number of operations by comparing medians and adjusting the search space accordingly.

Here’s an example:

# This method is hypothetical and may not work for all operation sets.

Explanation of why binary search could theoretically be used but might not apply in this particular situation.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Recursive Function

A recursive function is a function that calls itself until it does not. This elegant one-liner Python solution applies a recursive strategy to reduce the problem size at each recursive call.

Here’s an example:

min_operations_recursive = lambda A, B: 0 if A == B else 1 + min_operations_recursive(A + 1, B)

print(min_operations_recursive(3, 10))

Output: 7

This lambda function recursively increments A until it equals B. Note that this approach is again limited by Python’s recursion depth limit and is not suitable for large input sizes without further optimization.


  • Method 1: Brute Force. Simple to understand and implement. Highly inefficient for large numbers and complex operations.
  • Method 2: Greedy Algorithm. More efficient than brute force in many cases. Not guaranteed to find the optimal solution for complex operation sets.
  • Method 3: Dynamic Programming. Efficient for a known range of numbers. Can become memory-intensive for very large B.
  • Method 4: Binary Search (Hypothetical). Potentially efficient for certain sets of operations. May not be feasible for this problem depending on the allowed operations.
  • Bonus Method 5: Recursive Function. Elegant and simple one-liner code. Not practical for very large numbers due to stack size limits.