I spotted a post on the Guardian this morning that posed an interesting problem. It’s called the Vietnam Snake, and it’s apparently a problem that’s been given to Vietnamese primary-school children as part of their mathematics class. The idea is that you follow the “snake” and you fill in the numbers 1 to 9 in an order that satisfies the equation.

I’ve borrowed the original image from the Guardian/VN Express here just to show the puzzle: The Vietnam Snake

It’s a bit of a cruel problem to give to 8-year-olds, because there isn’t really a way of solving it using logic - or really, any way of solving it intelligently at all. The only way to solve it is by trial and error, which involves lots of tedious plugging-in of numbers. I can only imagine how much fun that class must have been.

It grabbed my attention, though - it’s an interesting problem (faintly reminiscent of something that Project Euler might have), and I wanted to see the solution. As it happens, I’m a programmer and I’m far too lazy to plug in all those numbers myself. Script time!

The solution took me about 5 minutes to write, and it was surprisingly straightforward - you don’t need to worry about operator precedence because there are no parentheses in the puzzle. It’s a fairly simple permutation problem, and the algorithm looks something like this:

  • generate all permutations of the sequence 1 to 9
  • for each permutation:
    • check if it satisfies the equation
    • if so, print it out

Interestingly, it turns out that there is more than one solution - in fact, there are 128!

Here’s my (Python) solution to the problem:

from __future__ import division
import itertools

def nam(seq):
    return (seq[0] + 13 * seq[1] / seq[2] +
            seq[3] + 12 * seq[4] - seq[5] -
            11 + seq[6] * seq[7] / seq[8] - 10) == 66

perms = itertools.permutations(range(1, 10))
for solution in filter(nam, perms):