Puzzling times

May 14, 2019

It’s T-SQL Tuesday again today! I’m feeling a little distracted because I’m in Poland for SQLDay, suffering from jet lag, and with my mind turning to the presentations I have to give this afternoon and tomorrow. Yesterday I gave a full workshop on SQL Internals and Performance without turning on my computer even once, but I can’t let the day go past without writing a post.

The topic for the month is hosted by Matt McGiffen (@mattmcgiffen) and is on puzzles. It takes me back to the second ever T-SQL Tuesday, almost a decade ago in January 2010. Back then I wrote about an interesting puzzle I had come up with to explain how GROUP BY and HAVING work (the answer is here – and as my blog has moved in recent years as has Adam’s post, I can’t guarantee any of the links there).

This month I was reminded of something from years back (2007!), when Itzik Ben-Gan challenged people to solve a palindrome puzzle – how to find palindromes made up of words in a list. Even that post has moved – originally being at SQLMag, and now being at ITProToday. I took on the challenge, and was one of the solutions listed by Itzik in his follow-up post. I’ve never tried to create code to solve sudoku puzzles or other things, although when I was at university I did a subject that included using Prolog and needed to solve number-letter substitution puzzles, which I enjoyed in a strangely geeky way.

The reason why I mention the palindrome puzzle is that the approach I took was very similar to the approach that I’d take if I were trying to do it by hand – looking for words that start with the letters that I’m missing from the end. I’ve learned (and taught many times) over the years that if I can try to persuade the SQL engine to run a query the same way that I would in real life on paper, then when the computer does it, I’ve got a strong chance of it performing well.

These days the puzzles that I spend time on are the ones that my clients need me to solve, although I’m often tempted to pick up puzzle books and solve some things. We should never fail to find puzzles that exercise our minds – for what else will keep us sharp?


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