I'm currently having a go at some past Google Code Jam problems to help me practice my programming skills.

One of these problems is Problem A ("Googol String") from Round A APAC Test 2016. Here is the problem for reference (you can find the details via the link):


A "0/1 string" is a string in which every character is either 0 or 1. There are two operations that can be performed on a 0/1 string:

  • switch: Every 0 becomes 1 and every 1 becomes 0. For example, "100" becomes "011".
  • reverse: The string is reversed. For example, "100" becomes "001".

Consider this infinite sequence of 0/1 strings:

S0 = ""

S1 = "0"

S2 = "001"

S3 = "0010011"

S4 = "001001100011011"


SN = SN-1 + "0" + switch(reverse(SN-1)).

You need to figure out the Kth character of Sgoogol, where googol = 10100.


The first line of the input gives the number of test cases, T. Each of the next T lines contains a number K.


For each test case, output one line containing "Case #x: y", where x is the test case number (starting from 1) and y is the Kth character of Sgoogol.

After an hour (probably too long to spend on one problem, but it's practice!), I developed a solution.

Here it is:

def switch(num):
    newnum = ""
    for char in num:
        newnum += ("1" if char == "0" else "0")
    return newnum

def reverse(num):
    newnum = ""
    for i in range(len(num)-1, -1, -1):
        newnum += num[i]
    return newnum

def find(digits):
    googol = (10**100)
    s = ["", ""]

    for n in range(1, googol + 1):
        s[1] = s[0] + "0" + switch(reverse(s[0]))

        if len(s[1]) >= digits:
            return s[1]

        s[0] = s[1]

r_fname = "A-small-practice.in"
w_fname = "output-small.txt"

with open(r_fname, "r") as file:
    contents = file.readlines()

with open(w_fname, "w+") as file:
    t = int(contents[0].strip("\n"))

    for case in range(1, t+1):
        k = int(contents[case])
        print("Case {0}: finding the {1}th digit".format(str(case), str(k)))

        string = find(k)
        solution = string[k-1]

        print("Case #{0}: {1}".format(str(case), solution))
        file.write("Case #{0}: {1}\n".format(str(case), solution))

The above can successfully generate an output for the small input file, but the main issue I am having is that it runs far too slow for the large input file (almost as if not running at all).

I have already tried to improve the code a little - I thought adding the line:

s[0] = s[1]

in the for loop would mean that the list will always only consist of two items, reducing memory allocation.

My other fear is that I have coded too much for something that could be written in a more concise way (I'm not sure about this one).


2 Answers 2


Instead of trying to actually calculate Sgoogol, let's try to figure out some properties of the general case Sn and see if that can help.

\$S_n\$ has an odd number of digits

It is obviously of the form \$2k+1\$

\$S_n\$ has length \$2^n - 1\$

This is easily proved with recursion

\$S_n[\frac{2^n}{2} + 1] = S_n[2^{n-1} + 1] = 0\$

From the definition. I'm assuming 0-based indexing.

If \$k > 2^{n-1} + 1\$, then \$S_n[k] = switch(S_n[(2^n - 1) - 1 - k])\$

From the definition. This allows us to convert between halves of the string.

This suggests a simpler algorithm.

def find_value(index, n):
    if n == 2:
        return [True, True, False][index] 
    if k == 2 ** (n-1) + 1:
        return True
    if k > 2 ** (n-1) + 1:
        return not find_value((2^n - 1) - 1 - k, n-1)
    return find_value(k, n-1)

And you can convert to 0 or 1 afterwards. (This may blow the stack, so you may have to rewrite iteratively)

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You had a perfect chance to say 'this may stack overflow'. Shame you didn't take it ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Insane
    May 14, 2016 at 8:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is still far more complicated than necessary. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 20, 2018 at 15:36
    googol = (10**100)
    for n in range(1, googol + 1):

Red flag! If you're potentially iterating over more than \$10^9\$ elements then is virtually guaranteed.

Consider an alternative string defined by

def S(n):
    return S(n-1) + [n] + [-x for x in reversed(S(n-1))] if n > 0 else []

You should observe firstly that the absolute values form a comb function; and secondly that the signs of the same value alternate. Both of these are easy to prove, and lead to the following algorithm:

def char_at(k):
    while (k & 1) == 0:
        k >>= 1
    k >>= 1
    return k & 1

By using some standard bitwise manipulations it can even be written as a very fast one-liner:

char_at = lambda k: 0 if k & ((k & -k) << 1) == 0 else 1

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