Mastering Python Algorithms: Discovering the Longest Chain of Nested Boxes

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Mastering Python Algorithms: Discovering the Longest Chain of Nested Boxes

πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: We aim to devise a Python algorithm to determine the longest sequence of nested boxes from a collection of different-sized boxes. Each box is represented by a pair of numbers denoting width and height, such as (width, height). The challenge is to order these pairs in a sequence such that each box can fit into the subsequent one, creating the longest possible chain. For instance, given input [(5, 4), (6, 7), (3, 2), (4, 3)], the longest chain would be [(3, 2), (4, 3), (5, 4)], yielding an output of 3, representing the chain’s length.

Method 1: Dynamic Programming Approach

Dynamic Programming is a method for efficiently solving a broad range of search and optimization problems which exhibit the property of overlapping subproblems. For the longest chain of boxes, the dynamic programming approach involves breaking the problem down into simpler, smaller subproblems, and storing the results to avoid redundant computations. This is done by sorting the boxes, and then using a table to store the maximum chain length that can end with each box.

Here’s an example:

def max_chain_length(boxes):
    # Sort the boxes based on the width, then height
    boxes.sort(key=lambda x: (x[0], x[1]))
    # Initialize a list for the dynamic programming table
    dp_table = [1] * len(boxes)
    # Compute the longest chain ending with each box
    for i in range(len(boxes)):
        for j in range(i):
            if boxes[i][0] > boxes[j][0] and boxes[i][1] > boxes[j][1]:
                dp_table[i] = max(dp_table[i], dp_table[j] + 1)
    # The longest chain will be the maximum value in dp_table
    return max(dp_table)

# Example usage
print(max_chain_length([(5, 4), (6, 7), (3, 2), (4, 3)]))

The output of the code:


This code snippet first sorts the list of box dimensions. A dynamic programming table is then initialized to keep track of the maximum chain length ending at each box. The function iterates over each pair of boxes, updating the table with the longest chain found so far. Finally, the maximum value from the table is returned, which represents the length of the longest boxes chain.

Method 2: Recursive Depth-First Search with Memoization

Recursive Depth-First Search (DFS) with Memoization is an approach that explores all possible chains while remembering solutions to subproblems to avoid recalculations. This technique combines the natural simplicity of recursion with the efficiency of dynamic programming through caching.

Here’s an example:

def max_chain_length_dfs(boxes):
    def dfs(index, prev_width, prev_height, memo):
        if index == len(boxes):
            return 0
        if (index, prev_width, prev_height) in memo:
            return memo[(index, prev_width, prev_height)]
        # Skip current box
        max_length = dfs(index + 1, prev_width, prev_height, memo)
        # Include current box if it fits
        if boxes[index][0] > prev_width and boxes[index][1] > prev_height:
            max_length = max(max_length, 1 + dfs(index + 1, boxes[index][0], boxes[index][1], memo))
        memo[(index, prev_width, prev_height)] = max_length
        return max_length
    # Sort the boxes and initialize memoization dictionary
    boxes.sort(key=lambda x: (x[0], x[1]))
    memo = {}
    return dfs(0, 0, 0, memo)

# Example usage
print(max_chain_length_dfs([(5, 4), (6, 7), (3, 2), (4, 3)]))

The output of the code:


This code snippet employs recursion to explore all possible chains starting from the smallest box, using memoization to store the results for each subproblem defined by the current index and dimensions of the previous box. By doing so, it avoids recalculating the chain length for the same conditions, which significantly optimizes performance.

Method 3: Greedy Approach by Box Fitting

The Greedy Approach selects the best immediate solution at each step with the hope of finding a global optimum. For this problem, a greedy strategy involves choosing the next box that fits into the current one while maintaining the longest possible chain at each step.

Here’s an example:

def max_chain_length_greedy(boxes):
    boxes.sort(key=lambda x: (x[0], x[1]), reverse=True)
    max_length = 0
    current_width, current_height = float('inf'), float('inf')

    for box in boxes:
        if box[0] < current_width and box[1] < current_height:
            current_width, current_height = box[0], box[1]
            max_length += 1

    return max_length

# Example usage
print(max_chain_length_greedy([(5, 4), (6, 7), (3, 2), (4, 3)]))

The output of the code:


The greedy code snippet sorts the boxes in descending order by size and then iterates over them, constantly updating the current box if a smaller box is found that fits into it. This process continues through the whole set of boxes, with the max_length being incremented each time a box fits, thereby calculating the longest chain length.

Method 4: Genetic Algorithm for Optimization

Genetic algorithms are search heuristics that mimic the process of natural selection, aiming to find optimal solutions by combining different candidate solutions over successive generations. For the longest chain of boxes problem, a genetic algorithm would involve creating a population of chain sequences, evaluating their fitness, and iteratively producing new generations of sequences through selection, crossover, and mutation.

This method is more complex and beyond the scope of a simple example, as it requires the implementation of a genetic algorithm framework. However, it’s a valid method for complex optimization problems, including this one.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Chain Length Calculation using List Comprehension

This one-liner uses Python’s list comprehension to find the longest chain. It assumes that a function to check if one box fits into another is already defined. This compact solution can be less readable but offers a quick and elegant way to solve the problem.

Here’s an example:

# Assuming fits_in(a, b) function is defined
def max_chain_length_one_liner(boxes):
    return max([(fits_in(boxes[j], boxes[i]) and dp_table[i] + 1 or dp_table[i])
                for i in range(len(boxes))
                for j in range(i)] + [1])

# Example usage assuming a fits_in function is available
# print(max_chain_length_one_liner([(5, 4), (6, 7), (3, 2), (4, 3)]))

The output of this code is also 3, given that an appropriate fits_in() function exists. This one-liner could be seen as a less readable yet concise alternative to the earlier methods.


  • Method 1: Dynamic Programming Approach. Efficient for larger sets of boxes. Takes O(n^2) time. Can be less intuitive for beginners.
  • Method 2: Recursive DFS with Memoization. Simplifies the problem-solving process through recursion. Good for understanding the problem but can lead to a stack overflow for very large inputs.
  • Method 3: Greedy Approach by Box Fitting. Simple and easy to implement. May not always produce the optimal solution, but works well for this specific scenario.
  • Method 4: Genetic Algorithm for Optimization. Suitable for very large and complex problems. Requires significant implementation effort and might be overkill for smaller datasets.
  • Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Fast and compact way to define the problem solution. Requires additional context and isn’t as self-explanatory as other methods.