Nuts and bolts.

Problem:

A disorganized carpenter has a mixed pile of N nuts and N bolts. The goal is to find the corresponding pairs of nuts and bolts. Each nut fits exactly one bolt and each bolt fits exactly one nut. By fitting a nut and a bolt together, the carpenter can see which one is bigger (but the carpenter cannot compare two nuts or two bolts directly). Design an algorithm for the problem that uses NlogN compares (probabilistically).

Solution:

Suppose that there are n nuts and bolts. A simple modification of Quicksort shows that there are randomized algorithms whose expected number of comparisons (and running time) are O(n log n): pick a random bolt, compare it to all the nuts, find its matching nut and compare it to all the bolts, thus splitting the problem into two problems, one consisting of the nuts and bolts smaller than the matched pair and one consisting of the larger ones. Repeating in this manner yields an algorithm whose expected running time can be analyzed by imitating the known analysis for Quicksort (see, e.g., the book by Coreman, Leiserson and Rivest, Algorithms, MIT Press, 1990.) showing that it is O(n log n).

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