I'm thinking of a 2-digit secret number XY, where X is the first digit (non-zero) and Y is the second digit. You can make guesses to find it. If your guess is correct then the game finishes. Otherwise after a guess AB, I will tell you the result of $|A-X|+|B-Y|$. What is the minimum number of guesses you need to guarantee finding the secret number?


1 Answer 1


I can do it in

three guesses. Two to determine the number, and then the third to finish the game.

The first guess is

$99$, and then the second guess is $90$.
Let the answers to these guesses be $d_1$ and $d_2$ respectively.
We have
$d_1=|9-A|+|9-B|= 18-A-B$
$d_2=|9-A|+|B|= 9-A+B$
From these two equations we can always deduce the two variables $A$ and $B$. In particular, $d_1-d_2=|9-B|-|B|= 9-2B$ allows you to determine $B$. Once you know $B$, you can substitute it in either equation to get $A$ itself.

For example, if the answers were $d_1=7$ and $d_2=6$, then $9-2B=7-6$ gives $B=4$, and then $6=9-A+4$ gives $A=7$.

The reason this works is that the two guesses are in adjacent corners of the rectangular search space. Only for those points are the signs of $A-X$ and $B-Y$ known regardless of the values of $A,B$. With any other points the absolute value signs would allow multiple possibilities, and then the two equations would not always have a unique solution. Of course any pair of adjacent corners could be used: $(10,19)$, $(90,99)$, $(10,90)$, or $(19,99)$.

As 2012rcampion points out in their answer, it is impossible to do it in fewer guesses. The result given is a whole number in the range $[1,18]$, so cannot dstinguish between all $89$ unguessed numbers.

  • $\begingroup$ Correct and well done! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 14:24

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