A recipe for dynamic programming in R: Solving a “quadruel” case from PuzzlOR

As also described in Cormen, et al (2009) p. 65, in algorithm design, divide-and-conquer paradigm incorporates a recursive approach in which the main problem is:

  • Divided into smaller sub-problems (divide),
  • The sub-problems are solved (conquer),
  • And the solutions to sub-problems are combined to solve the original and “bigger” problem (combine).

Instead of constructing indefinite number of nested loops destroying the readability of the code and the performance of execution, the “recursive” way utilizes just one block of code which calls itself (hence the term “recursive”) for the smaller problem. The main point is to define a “stop” rule, so that the function does not sink into an infinite recursion depth. While nested loops modify the same object (or address space in the low level sense), recursion moves the “stack pointer”, so each recursion depth uses a different part of the stack (a copy of the objects will be created for each recursion). This illustrates a well-known trade-off in algorithm design: Memory versus performance; recursion enhances performance at the expense of using more memory.

Given the benefits of the recursive divide-and-conquer paradigm, however, the performance of the naive recursion may not still be as good as we may want, since there may be too many smaller problems to navigate through recursion. Sometimes, the same or a similar sub-problem may be visited multiple times and each sub-problem paves way to its sub-problems down to the stop rule – so a naive recursive approach solves the same sub-problems many and many times. The recipe to enhance performance is to “memoize” solved sub-problems: Simply to keep solutions in a look-up table, and first check the table if the value was memoized before commencing with the “divide-and-conquer”. Divide-and-conquer paradigm on steroids with memoization is known as “dynamic programming” or “dp” for short (Cormen, et al. 2009, p. 359).

Now we will illustrate an application of the “dynamic programming” approach using a question from the  PuzzlOR site – a site which publishes bi-monthly decision support puzzles for applied mathematicians. Since the answers to expired questions are disclosed by the website itself, there is no problem in describing a solution in detail. The question that appeared in October 2014 is called “Fighters”. The question involves a quadruel: A kind of duel fight that is among four participants instead of the classical two participant case.

The question goes as follows:
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