Critique My Solution to Advent 11?


What follows is my correct solution to Advent of Code 2017 day 11, written in Rust.

I had some rough edges that I thought might have a better way, so I’d like advice from Rustaceans on how this could be better. These three questions are just what stood out to me. Any minor or major criticism you have would appreciated. I am trying to learn to write efficient, idiomatic Rust.

  1. I’m think I’m happy with HexVector, with one annoyance. I wanted to define scalar_multiply and add so that they can fluidly compose. I tried to return &mut Self, but the typechecker still rejected, for instance:

let sw = *ne.clone().scalar_multiply(-1.0);

This makes sense because I’m trying to steal ownership from a function that just wanted to return me a reference. But, if I define the functions to take ownership of Self and then return Self, that causes notational annoyances for those who didn’t want to use the api fluently.

  1. A recurring theme of these Advent of Code problems is that they often need to parse lines of text input into structs. These parsers usually translate a few well-known tokens into structured data, and a natural way to represent that is a static map. Is there a better way to define MOVES efficiently?

  2. By far the most annoying part of this solution was properly defining the stream iterator that parses the bytes of the input file. The file was only a 22kb, and I easily could have slurped and split, but my purpose in doing these problems in Rust is to practice Rust than to solve it for time. All I can think of is how much better this would look with a language that has generators, like Python. However, that’s probably just my own lack of knowledge. I am hoping that experienced Rustaceans will have some suggestions for a better way to expose a sequence of &HexVector that processes the stream just one token at a time.

// --- Day 11: Hex Ed ---

// Crossing the bridge, you've barely reached the other side of the stream when a program comes up to you, clearly in distress. "It's my child process," she says, "he's gotten lost in an infinite grid!"

// Fortunately for her, you have plenty of experience with infinite grids.

// Unfortunately for you, it's a hex grid.

// The hexagons ("hexes") in this grid are aligned such that adjacent hexes can be found to the north, northeast, southeast, south, southwest, and northwest:

//   \ n  /
// nw +--+ ne
//   /    \
// -+      +-
//   \    /
// sw +--+ se
//   / s  \
// You have the path the child process took. Starting where he started, you need to determine the fewest number of steps required to reach him. (A "step" means to move from the hex you are in to any adjacent hex.)

// For example:

// ne,ne,ne is 3 steps away.
// ne,ne,sw,sw is 0 steps away (back where you started).
// ne,ne,s,s is 2 steps away (se,se).
// se,sw,se,sw,sw is 3 steps away (s,s,sw).

// --- Part Two ---

// How many steps away is the furthest he ever got from his starting position?

// --- solution ---
// Grid position can be represented as a 2d vector with vector addition and scalar 
// multiplication defined, forming a space. Defining distance as the minimum
// number of moves to go from one vector to another adds the necessary metric.
// n moves +1 up and + 0 right.  (1, 0)
// ne moves +0.5 up and +0.5 right (.5, .5)
// nw moves +0.5 up and -.5 right (.5, -.5)
// The other three directions invert the values of these three
// Note that it's faster to move up and down than directly l and r.
// You can only move l/r at .5 distance per move, but while doing that you can get a free .5 u/d
// The shortest path is to move  along the diagonal that most closely aims for the target,
// then, on achieving the necessary lateral ddistance, move u/d to reach the target.
// If you need more lateral moves than u/d moves move out on a diagonal until the up 
// direction is reached, then snake back and forth to go "straight out" at the cost of
// 2 moves per one unit of lateral distance.

use std::fs::File;
use std::io::Read;
use std::collections::HashMap;

extern crate lazy_static;

#[derive(Debug, Clone)]
struct HexVector {
    up: f32,
    right: f32

impl HexVector {
    fn new() -> HexVector {
        HexVector { up: 0.0, right: 0.0 }

    fn add(&mut self, other: &HexVector) {
        self.up += other.up;
        self.right += other.right;

    fn scalar_multiply(&mut self, scalar: f32) {
        self.up *= scalar;
        self.right *= scalar;

    fn dist(&self, other: &HexVector) -> f32 {
        let lateral = (other.right - self.right).abs();
        let vertical = (other.up - self.right).abs();
        (lateral * 2.0 + (vertical - lateral).max(0.0)).ceil()

fn process_move_list<'a, T>(cursor: &mut HexVector, moves: T, start: &HexVector) -> (f32, HexVector)
    where T: IntoIterator<Item = Result<&'a HexVector, String>> {
    let mut max : f32 = 0.0;
    let mut max_pos : HexVector = start.clone();
    for mvr in moves.into_iter() {
        match mvr {
            Ok(mv) => { 
                let dist = start.dist(cursor);
                if dist > max {
                    max = dist;
                    max_pos = cursor.clone();
            Err(msg) => { println!("{}", msg); }

    (max, max_pos)

lazy_static! {
    static ref MOVES: HashMap<&'static str, HexVector> = {
        let mut m = HashMap::new();
        let n = HexVector { up: 1.0, right: 0.0 };
        let mut s = n.clone();
        let ne = HexVector { up: 0.5, right: 0.5 };
        let mut sw = ne.clone();
        let nw = HexVector { up: 0.5, right: -0.5 };
        let mut se = nw.clone();

        m.insert("n", n);
        m.insert("s", s);
        m.insert("ne", ne);
        m.insert("se", se);
        m.insert("nw", nw);
        m.insert("sw", sw);

struct HexVecIterator<'a> {
    stream: &'a mut Read,

impl<'a> Iterator for HexVecIterator<'a> {
    type Item = Result<&'a HexVector, String>;

    fn next(&mut self) -> Option<Self::Item> {
        let mut bytes = [0; 1];
        let mut buf = vec![];
        while let Ok(_) = bytes[..]) {
            if bytes[0] as char == ',' {
                let result : Option<Result<&'a HexVector, String>>;
                    let token = std::str::from_utf8(&buf).unwrap();
                    result = Some(MOVES.get(token).ok_or(format!("couldn't parse {}", token)));
                return result;
        if buf.len() > 0 {
            let token = std::str::from_utf8(&buf).unwrap();
            return Some(MOVES.get(token).ok_or(format!("couldn't parse {}", token)));
        return None;

fn main() {
    let mut f = File::open("src/11/data")
        .expect("Couldn't open file");

    let start = HexVector::new();
    let mut end = start.clone();
    let (max, max_pos) = process_move_list(&mut end, HexVecIterator { stream: &mut f }, &start);
    println!("11-1: Child ended up at {:?} which is {} moves from (0,0).",  end, start.dist(&end));
    println!("11-2: Furthest position occurred at {:?}, which is {} away from (0,0)", max_pos,  max);


I’m guessing the issue above was more about scalar_multiply() returning a reference to a temporary that’s dropped after that line, and not so much about stealing ownership? What did your code look like and what was the error message? You should be able to return &mut Self and chain the calls but the object has to be anchored:

let mut hex = ...;

You can define the translation as a function with match statements instead of a static map.


Whoops! I meant to answer this along time ago, but it slipped my mind. Thanks for taking a look, first of all. Second of all, you were right that I just needed to anchor the temporary.

As for the match statement, if I am not mistaken, that construct compiles to an O(n) stack of if/elses, whereas the map compiles to an ~O(1). If that’s true, I’ll keep the map.