Make Array Zero by Subtracting Equal Amounts
This problem is essentially about iterative reduction of an array of nonnegative integers to zero. The task requires identifying the smallest nonzero element and performing uniform subtraction across all elements in the array. The cycle continues until all elements in the array are zero.
Abstractly, we can describe this problem as follows:
Given a set of nonnegative integers, the goal is to minimize a count of operations, where each operation is defined as finding the smallest nonzero integer in the set and subtracting it from all nonzero integers. The process ends when all integers in the set have been reduced to zero. The key output is the minimum number of such operations.
The problem can be seen as an optimization problem over a set of integers with constraints governing the operation to be performed at each step. The challenge lies in efficiently finding the smallest nonzero integer and performing the operation in a way that minimizes the total number of operations.


The Java function minimumOperations
in a class is designed to find the count of unique positive numbers in a given array nums
.
Here’s how the function works:
It starts by initializing a HashSet
set
. This set will be used to store the unique positive numbers from the array.Then, it iterates over all the numbers in the array. For each number, it checks if the number is positive. If the number is positive, it adds it to the set. Since a set only stores unique elements, any duplicate positive numbers will only be stored once.
After this, it returns the size of the set, which is the count of unique positive numbers in the array.
This function effectively uses the property of a set to store only unique elements, which helps in counting the unique positive numbers in a single pass, resulting in a time complexity of O(n), where n is the number of elements in the array. The space complexity is also O(n) as in the worst case, all numbers could be unique positive numbers, requiring the set to store all of them.
Does it Choose a positive integer x such that x is less than or equal to the smallest nonzero element in nums.
No, the Java function minimumOperations
does not choose a positive integer x
that is less than or equal to the smallest nonzero element in nums
. The function’s purpose is not to find or choose a specific value in nums
. Instead, it counts the number of unique positive integers in the nums
array.
The function does this by iterating over all the elements in nums
and adding each positive number to a set. As a set only stores unique elements, duplicate positive numbers are automatically ignored. The function finally returns the size of the set, which represents the count of unique positive numbers in the array.
If you need to choose a positive integer x
such that x
is less than or equal to the smallest nonzero element in nums
, you would need to implement a different logic.
How do you go from the problem statement: You are given a nonnegative integer array nums. In one operation, you must:
Choose a positive integer x such that x is less than or equal to the smallest nonzero element in nums. Subtract x from every positive element in nums. Return the minimum number of operations to make every element in nums equal to 0.
to the solution shown in the code?
Given the problem statement, the provided Java function minimumOperations
indeed solves the problem correctly. Here’s why:
The problem asks for the minimum number of operations to make every element in nums
equal to 0. In each operation, you can subtract a positive integer x
from every positive element in nums
, where x
is less than or equal to the smallest nonzero element in nums
.
So, in one operation, you can effectively eliminate the smallest nonzero number from nums
by choosing x
to be that number and subtracting it from all other numbers. This operation will make the smallest nonzero number become 0 and reduce other numbers by the same amount, keeping their relative order the same.
Given this, the minimum number of operations needed to make all numbers zero is equal to the count of unique positive numbers in nums
. Each unique positive number will be the smallest nonzero number in some operation, and it will become 0 after that operation.
The function minimumOperations
calculates exactly this: it counts the number of unique positive numbers in nums
by adding them to a set (which only stores unique elements) and returns the size of the set.
So, the function correctly implements the solution to the problem based on the given problem statement.
But it never subtracts a number that is choosen?
You are correct that the code doesn’t explicitly perform the subtraction operation. However, it implicitly handles this through its logic.
Given the problem constraints, we know that in each operation, we would choose the smallest nonzero integer x
from the array and subtract x
from every positive number. The smallest positive number becomes zero, and other numbers get reduced but maintain their relative differences.
Instead of performing these subtractions, we can take a more direct approach. We know that each unique positive number in the array will eventually become the smallest number and will be subtracted from all other numbers. Therefore, the number of operations required to make all elements zero is equivalent to the number of unique positive numbers in the array.
The provided code achieves this by using a HashSet to store all unique positive integers in the array. The size of this set gives the minimum number of operations required. This approach simplifies the problem and improves efficiency by avoiding the need for explicit subtraction operations.


Problem Restatement
Here’s a restatement that aligns directly with the solution:
Given a nonnegative integer array nums
, determine the number of unique positive integers present in the array.
This directly maps to the code solution because:
 Each operation reduces the smallest nonzero element in the array to zero.
 Therefore, the number of operations needed to make all elements in
nums
equal to zero will be equal to the number of unique positive integers innums
.  This is because each unique positive integer will eventually become the smallest nonzero element in the array and will be subtracted from all other numbers, making it zero.
 The code solution counts the number of unique positive integers by adding them to a HashSet (which only stores unique elements) and returning the size of the set.
Key Observations
In this problem, there are two key observations which we can use to simplify and abstract the problem:
“Same elements are always the same > Deduplicate”: Since we are reducing all elements of the array by the same amount in each operation (specifically, the value of the smallest nonzero element), any two or more same elements in the array will always remain the same until they become zero. This means that, for the purpose of counting the minimum operations, we don’t need to consider these same elements separately. We can “deduplicate” them, or in other words, we can treat them as one element. This can potentially reduce the size of our problem and thus make our solution more efficient.
“Different elements are always different until 0 > Counts unique elements”: Each unique nonzero element in the array will require at least one operation to reduce it to zero, no matter how we choose the elements in each operation. Therefore, we can simplify the problem by counting the number of unique nonzero elements in the array. Each unique nonzero element contributes at least one to the total number of operations needed to reduce all elements to zero.
So, in a more abstract sense, this problem is about reducing a multiset of integers to an empty set through a series of operations, where each operation removes a subset of elements equivalent to the smallest element in the set. The goal is to minimize the number of such operations. We can optimize this process by collapsing equal elements into one (deduplication) and by recognizing that each unique element will eventually be reduced to zero (counting unique elements).
Let’s illustrate this with the first example from the problem:
Operation  Array After Operation  Smallest Nonzero Element  Nonzero Unique Elements Count 

0  [1,5,0,3,5]  1  3 
1  [0,4,0,2,4]  2  2 
2  [0,2,0,0,2]  2  1 
3  [0,0,0,0,0]    0 
In each operation, we choose the smallest nonzero element, subtract it from all nonzero elements, and count the number of unique nonzero elements.
After 3 operations, all elements in the array are 0. So, the minimum number of operations is 3, which is the same as the initial count of unique nonzero elements. We can conclude that the number of unique elements is the same as the number of operations.
Key Takeaways
This problem is a good example of how problem restatement can solve the problem in an elegant way in code.
Restating the problem can indeed be a very powerful technique in problemsolving, especially for coding problems. It allows us to simplify complex problems and find more efficient or elegant solutions.
In this case, by restating the problem, we realized that each operation effectively eliminates a unique positive number from the array. This led to the insight that the minimum number of operations required is simply the number of unique positive numbers in the array.
This not only simplified the problem but also led to an efficient solution with a time complexity of O(n), where n is the number of elements in the array. The solution avoids the need for explicit subtraction operations and instead uses the properties of a HashSet to count unique positive numbers.
Restating problems can often help in identifying the underlying patterns, making implicit constraints explicit, or simplifying the constraints, which can be very helpful in devising efficient solutions.
This problem is a good example of how having an insight about the problem can minimize the amount of code to write (especially when brute force solution is used to write the code as per the problem statement).
An essential part of problemsolving, particularly in coding, is to understand the problem deeply and recognize its inherent patterns or properties. This problem highlights how valuable it is to look at a problem from a different perspective.
Here, instead of following the operation as described directly (which would have required several iterations over the array to find the minimum, subtract it, and repeat until all elements are zero), we took a step back and recognized that the operation’s outcome is effectively to count the unique nonzero elements in the array.
This insight greatly simplifies the solution. Instead of manipulating the array repeatedly, we only need to iterate over it once, counting the unique elements. This highlights the importance of thorough problem understanding before diving into coding: it can lead to more efficient and elegant solutions.
Indirect visualization refers to the process of representing or explaining a concept, problem, or solution in an abstract way, often using structures or models that aren’t directly related to the original context.
This is a commonly used method in problemsolving, especially for complex or abstract problems. By representing the problem or the data in a different way, it can often reveal patterns, relationships, or characteristics that might be difficult to see in the original context.
For example, if we’re dealing with a complex coding problem, we might use indirect visualization by creating a flowchart, a state diagram, or a pseudocode representation of the problem. These tools allow us to “see” the problem from a different angle, making it easier to understand and solve.
Sometimes, especially in problemsolving scenarios, you need to think “outside the box” and approach the question from a different angle. Looking at the problem indirectly allows you to observe patterns and relationships that aren’t immediately apparent. This way, you can extract the essence of the problem, which often simplifies the solution.
In this specific problem about reducing an array to zeros, a direct approach might involve iterating over the array multiple times and performing the operations as per the problem statement. However, when we think about the problem indirectly, we realize that the operation count directly relates to the number of unique nonzero elements in the array.
This insight significantly simplifies the problem and leads us to an efficient solution. This is the power of indirect thinking in problemsolving. It allows us to simplify complex problems and arrive at efficient solutions.