Frequently Asked Questions (General)

Can I use different class names, method names, or method signatures from those prescribed in the API? No. As usual, your assignment will not be graded if it violates the API.

Is 0 a tile? No. The integer 0 represents the blank square. Do not treat it as a tile when computing either the Hamming or Manhattan priority functions.

Can I assume that the puzzle inputs (arguments to the Board constructor and input to Solver) are valid? Yes, though it never hurts to include some basic error checking.

Do I have to implement my own stack, queue, and priority queue? You must use either MinPQ or MaxPQ for your priority queue (because we will intercept calls in order to do performance analysis). For the other data types, you may use versions from either algs4.jar or java.util.

Frequently Asked Questions (Board)

Should the hamming() and manhattan() methods in Board return the Hamming and Manhattan priority functions, respectively? No, hamming() should return the number of tiles out of position and manhattan() should return the sum of the Manhattan distances between the tiles and their goal positions. Recall that the blank square is not considered a tile. You will compute the priority function in Solver by calling hamming() or manhattan() and adding to it the number of moves.

How do I return an Iterable<Board>? Add the items you want to a Stack<Board> or Queue<Board> and return that. Of course, your client code should not depend on whether the iterable returned is a stack or queue (because it could be some any iterable).

How do I implement equals()? Java has some arcane rules for implementing equals(), discussed on p. 103 of Algorithms, 4th edition. Note that the argument to equals() is required to be Object. You can also inspect or for online examples.

Must I implement the toString() method for Board exactly as specified? Yes. Be sure to include the board dimension and use 0 for the blank square. Use String.format() to format strings—it works like StdOut.printf(), but returns the string instead of printing it to standard output. For reference, our implementation is below, but yours may vary depending on your choice of instance variables.

public String toString() {
    StringBuilder s = new StringBuilder();
    s.append(n + "\n");
    for (int i = 0; i < n; i++) {
        for (int j = 0; j < n; j++) {
            s.append(String.format("%2d ", tiles[i][j]));
    return s.toString();

Can I use the expression a == b to check whether two arrays a and b are equal? No. That expression checks whether the two arrays for reference equality (and not whether the two arrays contain the same sequence of values).

Can I call Arrays.equals(a, b) to check whether two arrays a and b are equal? It depends. If a and b are of type int[], then Arrays.equals() works as expected. If a and b are of type int[][], then use Arrays.deepEquals().

Can I call Arrays.copyOf() to create an independent copy of an array a? It depends. If a is of type int[], then either Arrays.copyOf() or a.clone() will get the job done. However, if a is of type int[][], then Arrays.copy() will not produce an independent copy because it performs a shallow copy. Instead, you can write a double nested loop to copy the entries in a two-dimensional array.

I'm a bit confused about the purpose of the twin() method. You will use it to determine whether a puzzle is solvable: exactly one of a board and its twin are solvable. A twin is obtained by swapping any pair of tiles (the blank square is not a tile). For example, here is a board and several possible twins. Your solver will use only one twin.

    1  3       3  1       1  3       1  3       1  3       6  3
 4  2  5    4  2  5    2  4  5    4  5  2    4  2  5    4  2  5
 7  8  6    7  8  6    7  8  6    7  8  6    8  7  6    7  8  1

  board      twin       twin       twin       twin       twin

Frequently Asked Questions (Solver)

How do I reconstruct the solution once I've dequeued the goal search node? Since each search node records the predecessor search node to get there, you can chase the pointers all the way back to the initial search node (and consider them in reverse order).

Can I terminate the search as soon as a goal search node is enqueued (instead of dequeued)? No, even though it does lead to a correct solution for the slider puzzle problem using the Hamming and Manhattan priority functions, it's not technically the A* algorithm (and will not find the correct solution for other problems and other priority functions).

I noticed that the priorities of the search nodes dequeued from the priority queue never decrease. Is this a property of the A* algorithm? Yes. In the language of the A* algorithm, the Hamming and Manhattan distances (before adding in the number of moves so far) are known as heuristics. If a heuristic is both admissible (never overestimates the number of moves to the goal search node) and consistent (satisfies a certain triangle inequality), then this noticed property is guaranteed. The Hamming and Manhattan heuristics are both admissible and consistent. You may use this noticed property as a debugging clue: if the priority of the search node dequeued from the priority queue decreases, then you know you did something wrong.

Even with the critical optimization, the priority queue may contain two or more search nodes corresponding to the same board. Should I try to eliminate these? In principle, you could do so with a set data type such as SET in algs4.jar or java.util.TreeSet or java.util.HashSet (provided that the Board data type were either Comparable or had a hashCode() method). However, almost all of the benefit from avoiding duplicate boards is already extracted from the critical optimization and the cost of identifying other duplicate boards will be more than the remaining benefit from doing so.

Can I put the logic for detecting whether a puzzle is infeasible in Board instead of Solver? There is a elegant algorithm for determining whether a board is solvable that relies on a parity argument (and occasionally we change our API to require this solution). However, the current API requires you to detect infeasiblity in Solver by using two synchronized A* searches (e.g., using two priority queues).

I run out of memory when running some of the large sample puzzles. What should I do? Be sure to ask Java for additional memory, e.g., java -Xmx1600m Solver puzzle36.txt. We recommend running from the command line (and not from the DrJava interaction pane). You should expect to run out of memory when using the Hamming priority function. Be sure not to put the JVM option in the wrong spot or it will be treated as a command-line argument, e.g., java Solver -Xmx1600m puzzle36.txt.

My program can't solve some of the 4-by-4 puzzles, even if I give it a huge amount of space. What am I doing wrong? Probably nothing. The A* algorithm (with the Manhattan priority function) will struggle to solve even some 4-by-4 instances.


Input files.   The directory 8puzzle contains many sample puzzle input files. For convenience, contains all of these files bundled together.

Test client. A good way to automatically run your program on our sample puzzles is to use the client

Priority queue trace.


How can I reduce the amount of memory a Board uses? For starters, recall that an n-by-n int[][] array in Java uses about 24 + 32n + 4n^2 bytes; when n equals 3, this is 156 bytes. To save memory, consider using an n-by-n char[][] array or a length n^2 char[] array. You could use a more elaborate representation: since each board is a permutation of length n^2, in principle, you need only about lg ((n^2)!) bits to represent it; when n equals 3, this is only 19 bits.

Any ways to speed up the algorithm? Yes there are many opportunities for optimization here.

Why are the boards divided into exactly two equivalence classes with respect to reachability? Here is one proof by Aaron Archer.

Is there an efficient way to solve the 8-puzzle and its generalizations? Finding a shortest solution to an n-by-n slider puzzle is NP-hard, so it's unlikely that an efficient solution exists.

What if I'm satisfied with any solution and don't need one that uses the fewest number of moves? Yes, change the priority function to put more weight on the Manhattan distance, e.g., 100 times the Manhattan distance plus the number of moves made already. This paper describes an algorithm that guarantees to perform at most N^3 moves.

Are there better ways to solve 8- and 15-puzzle instances using the minimum number of moves? Yes, there are a number of approaches.

Can a puzzle have more than one shortest solution? Yes. See puzzle07.txt.

 Solution 1
 1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3 
    7  6    7     6    7  4  6    7  4  6       4  6    4     6    4  5  6    4  5  6 
 5  4  8    5  4  8    5     8       5  8    7  5  8    7  5  8    7     8    7  8   

 Solution 2
 1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3    1  2  3
    7  6    5  7  6    5  7  6    5     6       5  6    4  5  6    4  5  6    4  5  6 
 5  4  8       4  8    4     8    4  7  8    4  7  8       7  8    7     8    7  8  
In such cases, you are required to output any one such solution.