Cracking the Code: Mastering the "Ransom Note" Challenge on LeetCode

Unveil the secrets to solving the "Ransom Note" problem with ease, enhancing your coding interviews preparation.

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3 min read

Cracking the Code: Mastering the "Ransom Note" Challenge on LeetCode

As someone deeply passionate about coding and problem-solving, I've always found joy in dissecting and understanding the nuances of coding challenges.

Today, I'm thrilled to share insights into tackling a fascinating problem from LeetCode - the "Ransom Note" challenge (LeetCode 383). This problem serves as a brilliant exercise in string manipulation and hash maps, elements frequently encountered in software engineering interviews.

Whether you're a seasoned engineer or new to the intricacies of coding interviews, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills to solve this problem efficiently.

Introduction to the Problem

Imagine you're given two strings: ransomNote and magazine. Your task is to determine if it's possible to construct the ransomNote using the letters from the magazine, with the catch that each letter from the magazine can only be used once. This problem is a great test of your ability to manipulate and compare data within strings.

Examples:

  • Input: ransomNote = "a", magazine = "b"
    Output: false

  • Input: ransomNote = "aa", magazine = "ab"
    Output: false

  • Input: ransomNote = "aa", magazine = "aab"
    Output: true

Solving the Problem

To solve this problem, we need to count the occurrences of each letter in both the ransomNote and the magazine. By comparing these counts, we can determine if the magazine contains enough of each letter to construct the ransomNote.

This approach requires us to traverse each string once, leading to a time complexity of O(N + M), where N and M are the lengths of the ransomNote and magazine, respectively.

The space complexity of this solution depends on the number of unique characters in the magazine, which in the worst case can be considered as O(1), assuming the alphabet size is constant and does not scale with the input size. We only need one entry in the map for each letter (aka the letter count).

Solution in Python Using a Dictionary

def canConstruct(ransomNote: str, magazine: str) -> bool:
    # Count occurrences of each letter in magazine
    letter_counts = {}
    for char in magazine:
        letter_counts[char] = letter_counts.get(char, 0) + 1

    # Check if ransomNote can be constructed
    for char in ransomNote:
        if letter_counts.get(char, 0) <= 0:
            return False
        letter_counts[char] -= 1

    return True

Solution in Python Using Replace

def canConstruct(ransomNote: str, magazine: str) -> bool:
    for char in ransomNote:
        if char in magazine:
            magazine = magazine.replace(char, "", 1)
        else:
            return False
    return True

Solution in JavaScript Using a Dictionary

var canConstruct = function(ransomNote, magazine) {
    const letterCounts = {};
    for (let char of magazine) {
        letterCounts[char] = (letterCounts[char] || 0) + 1;
    }
    for (let char of ransomNote) {
        if (!letterCounts[char]) return false;
        letterCounts[char]--;
    }
    return true;
};

Solution in JavaScript Using Replace

var canConstruct = function(ransomNote, magazine) {
    for (const char of ransomNote) {
        if (!magazine.includes(char)) return false;
        magazine = magazine.replace(char, "");
    }
    return true;
};

Conclusion

Mastering the "Ransom Note" challenge not only boosts your problem-solving skills but also prepares you for handling string manipulation and hash map questions in coding interviews.

Each solution presented here has its unique strengths, and understanding the nuances of each can significantly impact your coding proficiency.

Whether you prefer Python or JavaScript, the key is to practice and understand the underlying concepts.

I hope this guide has been helpful, and I wish you the best in your coding journey and interviews. Remember, practice makes perfect, and every problem solved is a step closer to becoming a coding interview master.

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