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Faculty Book

Programming for the Puzzled

Srini Devadas  |  October 2017

Learn to Program While Solving Puzzles

This book builds a bridge between the recreational world of algorithmic puzzles (puzzles that can be solved by algorithms) and the pragmatic world of computer programming, teaching readers to program while solving puzzles. Few introductory students want to program for programming’s sake. Puzzles are real-world applications that are attention grabbing, intriguing, and easy to describe.

Each lesson starts with the description of a puzzle. After a failed attempt or two at solving the puzzle, the reader arrives at an Aha! moment—a search strategy, data structure, or mathematical fact—and the solution presents itself. The solution to the puzzle becomes the specification of the code to be written. Readers will thus know what the code is supposed to do before seeing the code itself. This represents a pedagogical philosophy that decouples understanding the functionality of the code from understanding programming language syntax and semantics. Python syntax and semantics required to understand the code are explained as needed for each puzzle.

Readers need only the rudimentary grasp of programming concepts that can be obtained from introductory or AP computer science classes in high school. The book includes more than twenty puzzles and more than seventy programming exercises that vary in difficulty. Many of the puzzles are well known and have appeared in publications and on websites in many variations. They range from scheduling selfie time with celebrities to solving Sudoku problems in seconds to verifying the six degrees of separation hypothesis. The code for selected puzzle solutions is downloadable from the book’s website; the code for all puzzle solutions is available to instructors.



About the Author:

Srini Devadas is Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a MacVicar Fellow.