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This multivolume work on the analysis of algorithms has long been recognized as the definitive description of classical computer science. The four volumes published to date already comprise a unique and invaluable resource in programming theory and practice. Countless readers have spoken about the profound personal influence of Knuth’s writings. Scientists have marveled at the beauty and elegance of his analysis, while practicing programmers have successfully applied his “cookbook” solutions to their day-to-day problems. All have admired Knuth for the breadth, clarity, accuracy, and good humor found in his books.
To continue the fourth and later volumes of the set, and to update parts of the existing volumes, Knuth has created a series of small books called fascicles, which are published at regular intervals. Each fascicle encompasses a section or more of wholly new or revised material. Ultimately, the content of these fascicles will be rolled up into the comprehensive, final versions of each volume, and the enormous undertaking that began in 1962 will be complete.
Volume 4 Fascicle 5
This fascicle, brimming with lively examples, forms the first third of what will eventually become hardcover Volume 4B. It begins with a 26-page tutorial on the major advances in probabilistic methods that have been made during the past 50 years, since those theories are the key to so many modern algorithms. Then it introduces the fundamental principles of efficient backtrack programming, a family of techniques that have been a mainstay of combinatorial computing since the beginning. This introductory material is followed by an extensive exploration of important data structures whose links perform delightful dances.
The dancing-links section unifies a vast number of combinatorial algorithms by showing that they are special cases of the general XCC problem–“exact covering with colors.” The firstfruits of the author's decades-old experiments with XCC solving are presented here for the first time, with dozens of applications to a dazzling array of questions that arise in amazingly diverse contexts.
The utility of this approach is illustrated by showing how it resolves and extends a wide variety of fascinating puzzles, old and new. Puzzles provide a great vehicle for understanding basic combinatorial methods and fundamental notions of symmetry. The emphasis here is on how to create new puzzles, rather than how to solve them. A significant number of leading computer scientists and mathematicians have chosen their careers after being inspired by such intellectual challenges. More than 650 exercises are provided, arranged carefully for self-instruction, together with detailed answers–in fact, sometimes also with answers to the answers.
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