Coding Interviews Problem 12: Group Shifted Strings [Meta]

Devansh
5 min readFeb 26, 2024

Problem

This problem was asked by Facebook.

Given an array of strings (all lowercase letters), the task is to group them so that all strings in a group are shifted versions of each other. Two strings S and T are called shifted if,

S.length = T.length 
and
S[i] = T[i] + K for
1 <= i <= S.length for a constant integer K

For example, strings, {acd, dfg, wyz, yab, mop} are shifted versions of each other.

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Step 1: Understanding the Ask

Problems such as this can be very confusing at first. This is because it’s very easy to view them as comparison problems (where we have to compare two or more strings with each other). This is more of a grouping problem. We want to group shifted strings together. This leads to a natural problem. How do we know what the strings are shifted by?

An easy is to loop through the string and look at the difference b/w consecutive characters. Each difference can be appened to a string. For example, the string “fgd” would have the corresponding string, “21”. We’ll call this string the difference string. When implementing this, remember to consider the case where we have a wraparound. Would the difference for “za” be 1 or -25 (or something else entirely)? Whatever you choose, make sure to spell it out clearly to show your ability to consider the edge cases.

We have now reframed this as: group the sets by the difference string. Assuming that we could create a difference string for any string input, is there a data structure that can group them by their respective difference string? Furthermore, we want a data structure that will be able to have quick retrieval, since we want to look at the difference string multiple times.

Step 2: Enter the HashSet

Anytime your problem involves a lot of looking, and grouping by a unique key, think of a hashset. They have constant lookup, so it’s cheap to see if a key exists or to modify the values associated with a key.

So what would the hashset look like? The key will be the difference string. The value will be a list of all the strings with that difference string. See how close that gets us to the solution? Our solution will conceptually look like this:

groups=dict()
for str in strings:
diff=diffString(str) #to be implemented later
if diff in groups:
groups[diff].append(str)
else:
groups[diff]=[str]
return groups

Now the final piece of the puzzle is implementing the diffString protocol. How do we do that?

Step 3: Diff String

As a general rule, you want to use helper functions when you can. The benefits are many:

  1. They let you put off implementing harder/different things till later while solving the problem. This is crucial to smoothly interviewing/coding.
  2. Shows your ability to organize and be methodical in your answers
  3. Makes your solutions much neater.

What should our diffString solution look like? We know it takes a string as input, and returns another one. Since we have to consider the difference between consecutive pairs of chars, we loop through the string. Putting things together it looks like:

def getDiffString(s):

shift=""

for i in range(1, len(s)): # we start at 1 not 0
dif = (ord(s[i]) -
ord(s[i - 1]))

if(dif < 0):
dif += 26 #"za" gives 1

# Representing the difference
# as char
shift += str(dif) #Remember to cast your difference to strign

# This string will be 1 less
# length than str
return shift

Step 4: Combining it all

To finally combine the solution we get:

def getDiffString(s):

shift=""

for i in range(1, len(s)): # we start at 1 not 0
dif = (ord(s[i]) -
ord(s[i - 1]))

if(dif < 0):
dif += 26 #"za" gives 1

# Representing the difference
# as char
shift += str(dif) #Remember to cast your difference to strign

# This string will be 1 less
# length than str
return shift
def groupShiftedString(str,n):


groupMap = dict()

for i in range(n):
diffStr = getDiffString(str[i])
if diffStr not in groupMap:
groupMap[diffStr] = [i]
else:
groupMap[diffStr].append(i)

return groupMap

What are the time and space complexities of this solution:

Time

We loop through the list of input strings. Additionally each string is looped through. If the length of the list is n and the average length of the strings in the list is m, we have the complexity O(n*m). Since lookup and insertion is constant time in hashets, they don’t add too much more.

Space

We store the list of input strings. Additionally each string has a diff string that is stored as a key. If the length of the list is n and the average number of the diff-strings in the list is m, we have the complexity O(n+m).

Final: Time- O(n*m) and Space- O(n+m)

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Devansh

Writing about AI, Math, the Tech Industry and whatever else interests me. Join my cult to gain inner peace and to support my crippling chocolate milk addiction