Problem 4: Find the largest palindrome made from the product of two 3-digit numbers.

Commentary: Believe it or not, I don’t have much to say about this problem. There are cuter, more general ways to attack this problem, but computer scientists suffer from an acute case of overgeneralizationitis. I had a math professor once who loved to say “never do a calculation before its time”. This is good advice, even in programming, but I think there’s a useful addendum to this. Never generalize before it’s necessary. Encapsulating an idea into a function is a stupid waste of time unless you’re pretty sure there’s a good reason to do it. But in my experience, most programmers don’t bother thinking much about anything. They literally behave like computers, as though some algorithm needs to be fed to them and that is then all they are capable of doing from that point forward.

My biggest problem with programmers is they have this mindset that there’s only one possible solution. I hesitate to say this of computer scientists in general, but it’s certainly true of people who call themselves programmers: these people lack imagination. They talk about “right” and “wrong” solutions, when what they really mean is “good” and “bad”, or more often, “elegant” and “inelegant”, a completely subjective, ill-defined notion.

I’m not advocating that we make every proof (or program) into a brutal slog of calculations and appeals to first principles. But elegance without insight can be very costly.

And that is why programmers are terrible at mathematics.

R Code:

ElapsedTime <- system.time({
##########################
RearrangeVector <- function(vec, n=1){
vec
}

palindromes <- numeric(9*10*10)
i <- 1
for (a1 in 1:9){
for (a2 in 0:9){
for (a3 in 0:9){
palindromes[i] <- a1*10^5 + a2*10^4 + a3*10^3
+ a3*10^2 + a2*10^1 + a1
i <- i+1
}
}
}

palindromes <- sort(palindromes, decreasing=TRUE)

prod <- numeric(0)
temp <- 899:999
for (n in 1:100){
prod <- c(prod, temp*RearrangeVector(temp, n))
}

acceptable <- palindromes[palindromes %in% prod]

##########################
})[3]
ElapsedMins <- floor(ElapsedTime/60)
ElapsedSecs <- (ElapsedTime-ElapsedMins*60)
cat(sprintf("\nThe answer is:  %d\nTotal elapsed time:  %d minutes and %f seconds\n",