gap frequencies [& e]

A riddle from The Riddler where brute-force simulation does not pay:

For a given integer N, pick at random without replacement integers between 1 and N by prohibiting consecutive integers until all possible entries are exhausted. What is the frequency of selected integers as N grows to infinity?

A simple implementation of the random experiment is as follows

  while (max(frei)==1){

It is however quite slow and does not exploit the recursive feature of the sampling, namely that the first draw breaks the set {1,…,N} into two sets:

  if (N<2){ return((N>0))}else{

But even this faster solution takes a while to run for large values of N:

  for (t in 1:1e3) space=space+generipe(N)

as for instance

>  microbenchmark(frqns(100),time=10)
Unit: nanoseconds
       expr       min        lq         mean    median        uq       max
 frqns(100) 178720117 185020903 212212355.77 188710872 205865816 471395620
       time         4         8        26.13        32        37       102

Hence this limits the realisation of simulation to, say, N=10⁴. Thinking further about the recursive aspect of the process however leads to a recursion on the frequencies qN, as it is straightforward to prove that

q_N=\frac{1}{N}+\frac{2}{N^2}\,\sum_{i=1}^{N-2} iq_i

with q1=1 and q2=1/2. This recursion can be further simplified into


which allows for a much faster computation

s=seq(1,1e7) #s[n]=n*q[n]
for (n in 3:1e7) s[n]=(1+2*s[n-2]+(n-1)*s[n-1])/n

and a limiting value of 0.4323324… Since storing s does not matter, a sliding update works even better:

for (n in 3:1e8){ c=(1+2*a+(n-1)*b)/n;a=b;b=c}

still producing a final value of 0.4323324, which may mean we have reached some limit in the precision.

As I could not figure out a way to find the limit of the sequence (1) above, I put it on the maths forum of Stack Exchange and very quickly got the answer (obtained by a power series representation) that the limit is (rather amazingly!)

\dfrac{1 - e^{-2}}{2}

which is 0.432332358.., hence very close to the numerical value obtained for n=3×10⁸. (Which does not change from n=10⁸, once again for precision reasons.) Now I wonder whether or not an easier derivation of the above is feasible, but we should learn about it in a few hours on The Riddler. [Update: The solution published by The Riddler is exactly that one, using a power series expansion to figure out the limit of the series, unfortunately. I was hoping for a de Montmort trick or sort of…]

3 Responses to “gap frequencies [& e]”

  1. Awesome work getting the right answer. I added some optimisations to the initial code and my own version; brute-force can still go a long way towards the exact answer in a (semi)-reasonable amount of time.

    • Hey, I am impressed at you returning a detailed analysis of a brute-force solution in such details! I must say I am still more intrigued by the analytic answer, as it seems to hint at something deeper in the result. But this may be a fatal attraction of simple formulas! The next riddle has appeared by the way and I am not sure I can spend as much time on that one!

  2. […] This one also comes from the FiveThiryEight Puzzler challenge courtesy of Xi'an […]

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