Adventures in Learning to Code: Sudoku Edition (Part II)

In part I, I explained how I’m attempting to write a webapp that can solve simple Sudoku puzzles. Since then, I’ve made some progress. This series will track what I’ve been working on, learning, and any difficulties I’m encountering.

With a goal in mind, it was time to just dive in and go.

Step 1: Oh God, what is this even…

At first, it was kind of overwhelming. Where do I even start? How the heck am I going to even tackle any of this?

After learning the basics of Javascript loops, functions, arrays, and objects, thanks to Codecademy, I was mostly ready to go. What was my real first step? How the heck do I even manipulate data on a webpage, let alone collect and analyze it?

After a few tries, I had a simple project featuring a table (with cells individually labeled) up and running!

Screenshot 2015-01-27 17.23.03

After some more tinkering, I was able to get the “Generate Numbers!” button to actually randomly generate the numbers 1 through 9 and fill in the cells without repeating any numbers. Sweet!

Screenshot 2015-01-27 17.25.58

Hey, that’s kind of cool. Now we’re getting somewhere! I think I was ready to take it to the next level.

Step 2: Okay… I guess we need to make a fake Sudoku grid.

There’s probably simpler ways to go about doing this, but I ended up spending a lot of time figuring out how to build a Sudoku grid in the first place. Hey, I wanted this project to look somewhat presentable when I showed it off and (hopefully) finished it.

HTML tables were driving me crazy, so I just straight up stole this helpful thing after Googling for an answer. It looks pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 17.35.02

Wow, sir. That looks so good that I’d like to take two!”

Alright, one mission accomplished. Now onto another mission. How do I completely fill out the entire grid? I started with this, because I wanted to understand how to try to isolate certain sections of the Sudoku grid and see if I could create a series of non-duplicated random numbers.

Why did I start with randomly generating numbers? I initially thought I would just try to brute force solve some simple beginner’s level puzzles, but I later realized how ridiculous this would be. There’s a ridiculous number of possible permutations to try.

For now though, I decided to start filling out random numbers by row. This is what my initial code looked like.

function fillTable(row) {
	for (var i = 1; i <= maxColumns; i++) {
		var selectCell = row + i;
		document.getElementById(selectCell).innerHTML = fillCell(selectCell);
		if (i == maxColumns && row != maxRow) {
			i = 0;
			row = nextChar(row);
		} else if (i == maxColumns && row == maxRow) {

Did it work? Yes! I ended up with grid of random numbers filled out! Sure, there’s really no rhyme or reason for where numbers ended up, but it certainly looks like a completed Sudoku puzzle, right?

Screenshot 2015-01-26 17.20.12

Step 3: Let’s put some real numbers in there

Alright, entering a bunch of random numbers into a grid is pretty fun for all of 5 minutes. (To be honest, it was pretty fun) But to take this to the next level, I really needed to have the beginning of a Sudoku puzzle in there.

A few quick Google searches later, and I found a suitable candidate! One thing I decided early on was to store all this data in an object — mostly so I could easily update it with different puzzles later on. It ended up looking like this.

var allCells = {
	a1: "", a2: 1, a3: "", a4: 6, a5: "", a6: 4, a7: 3, a8: "", a9: 7,
	b1: 3, b2: 5, b3: 6, b4: "", b5: "", b6: "", b7: "", b8: "", b9: "",
	c1: "", c2: "", c3: "", c4: "", c5: 5, c6: 3, c7: 6, c8: 9, c9: "",
	d1: "", d2: 8, d3: 3, d4: 2, d5: 6, d6: "", d7: 4, d8: "", d9: 9,
	e1: "", e2: "", e3: "", e4: "", e5: "", e6: "", e7: "", e8: "", e9: "",
	f1: 4, f2: "", f3: 5, f4: "", f5: 7, f6: 8, f7: 2, f8: 6, f9: "",
	g1: "", g2: "", g3: "", g4: "", g5: "", g6: "", g7: "", g8: "", g9: "",
	h1: "", h2: "", h3: "", h4: "", h5: "", h6: "", h7: 7, h8: 2, h9: 4,
	i1: 7, i2: "", i3: 9, i4: 4, i5: "", i6: 2, i7: "", i8: 8, i9: ""

On top of this, I wanted to easily differentiate the initial numbers that were created on a brand new board (so I could easily see what my script was generating, versus what was already in place on the board). I wrote a function to modify the DOM and change the font weight and background color of the starting cells.

function setupBoard(row) {
	var row = row;
	var cellValue = 0;
	for (i = 0; i < maxColumns; i++) {
		//console.log("ROW: " + row + (i+1));
		cellValue = allCells[row+(i+1)];
		document.getElementById(row + (i+1)).innerHTML = allCells[row+(i+1)];

		// Just highlighting what cells we initially started with.
		if (Number(cellValue) > 0) {
			document.getElementById(row + (i+1)).style.fontWeight = "bold";
			document.getElementById(row + (i+1)).style.backgroundColor = "#F2F2F2";
		} else {
			// Use this to count up total number of empty cells that we need to solve for
			// The idea is that we can use this to detect if we're stuck

You’ll notice I have a lot of console.log() calls commented out. I liberally used these all over the place so I could make sure things were working correctly. Anyway, once all that was said and done, it ended up generating a board that looked like this.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 07.38.36

Wow, we’re starting to chug along pretty nicely! Next time, I’ll talk about the million different functions I created in trying to solve this.

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