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re: AoC Day 9: Marble Mania VIEW POST


Circular data structures always come up in Advent of Code. You can obviously implement it with a linear array or list and modulo arithmetic but I think I'm going to have some fun with Kotlin today. Let's implement a real circular data structure:

class Circle<T> {
    private var value: T
    private var prev: Circle<T>
    private var next: Circle<T>

    constructor(value: T, prev: Circle<T>? = null, next: Circle<T>? = null) {
        this.value = value
        this.prev = prev ?: this = next ?: this

An interesting property of this data structure is that a reference to any node is a reference to the whole structure. So we don't need to separately keep track of the overall structure and the current node. Which implies some interesting possible operations on it:

operator fun plus(n: Int): Circle<T> = when {
    n == 0 -> this
    n < 0  -> minus(-n)
    n > 0  ->

operator fun minus(n: Int): Circle<T> = when {
    n == 0 -> this
    n < 0  -> plus(-n)
    n > 0  -> prev.minus(n-1)

That is we can say circle + 2 to get the node 2 positions clockwise around the circle, or circle - 7 to get the node 7 positions counter-clockwise. It doesn't matter if this loops around one or more times past the starting point as it is a genuinely circular data structure.

The puzzle involves inserting and removing nodes, so let's implement those:

fun insertClockwise(value: T): Circle<T> {
    val node = Circle(value, this, next)
    next.prev = node = node
    return node

fun insertAnticlockwise(value: T): Circle<T> {
    val node = Circle(value, prev, this) = node
    this.prev = node
    return node

fun remove(): Circle<T> {
    if (prev == this && next == this)
        throw IllegalStateException("can't remove the last node in a circle") = next
    next.prev = prev
    return next

Simple stuff, hard to get wrong. Just one corner case around removing the last node as we don't have a representation of an empty circle. The game doesn't require it anyway as we always start with the 0 marble.

Finally we need to see the content of the nodes in the circle. Kotlin's subscript syntax makes sense for this:

operator fun get(n: Int): T = when {
    n == 0 -> value
    else   -> plus(n).get(0)

When I started implementing the game I realised the players play in a round-robin fashion, and instead of keeping their scores in a Map or Array I could also use a Circle! Insert the correct number of zeros at the start of the game, then just use player += 1 to move to the next player at each step. I also had to add a subscript setter operation analagous to the getter, so the scores could be updated.

One final thing was needed to allow Circle to be used for the players: I had to be able to find the highest score. A simple approach is to allow extraction of a certain number of values:

fun take(n: Int): List<T> = when {
    n == 0 -> listOf()
    n > 0  -> listOf(value) + next.take(n-1)
    n < 0  -> prev.take(n+1) + listOf(value)

This data structure made implementing the game really easy:

fun game(marbles: Int, players: Int): Int {
    var circle = Circle(0)
    var player = (2..players).fold(Circle(0)) { c, _ -> c.insertClockwise(0) }

    (1..marbles).fold(Pair(circle, player)) { (circle, player), marble ->
        when {
            marble % 23 == 0 -> {
                player[0] += (marble + circle[-7]).toLong()
                Pair((circle - 7).remove(), player + 1)
            else -> {
                Pair((circle + 1).insertClockwise(marble), player + 1)

    return player.take(players).maxBy { it } ?: throw IllegalStateException()

There is likely a numerical solution to this puzzle - there certainly looks like there's some kind of binary pattern in the example - but this data structure is so simple my solution worked for all the test cases and the part 1 problem on first try. I had to up the default JVM heap size and change the score type from Int to Long for part 2 but it's still nothing to a modern computer, even this half-decade old Thinkpad.

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