The Maze III LeetCode Solution

Difficulty Level Hard
Frequently asked in Google MicrosoftViews 2463

Problem Statement

The Maze III LeetCode Solution – There is a ball in a maze with empty spaces (represented as 0) and walls (represented as 1). The ball can go through the empty spaces by rolling up, down, left or right, but it won’t stop rolling until hitting a wall. When the ball stops, it could choose the next direction. There is also a hole in this maze. The ball will drop into the hole if it rolls onto the hole.

Given the m x n maze, the ball’s position ball and the hole’s position hole, where ball = [ballrow, ballcol] and hole = [holerow, holecol], return a string instructions of all the instructions that the ball should follow to drop in the hole with the shortest distance possible. If there are multiple valid instructions, return the lexicographically minimum one. If the ball can’t drop in the hole, return "impossible".

If there is a way for the ball to drop in the hole, the answer instructions should contain the characters 'u' (i.e., up), 'd' (i.e., down), 'l' (i.e., left), and 'r' (i.e., right).

The distance is the number of empty spaces traveled by the ball from the start position (excluded) to the destination (included).

You may assume that the borders of the maze are all walls (see examples).

The Maze III LeetCode Solution

Input: maze = [[0,0,0,0,0],[1,1,0,0,1],[0,0,0,0,0],[0,1,0,0,1],[0,1,0,0,0]], ball = [4,3], hole = [0,1]
Output: "lul"
Explanation: There are two shortest ways for the ball to drop into the hole.
The first way is left -> up -> left, represented by "lul".
The second way is up -> left, represented by 'ul'.
Both ways have shortest distance 6, but the first way is lexicographically smaller because 'l' < 'u'. So the output is "lul".


Each time, first add the direction to the path, and then go with that direction, checking for holes along the way. When hitting a wall, try to turn, and go in a new direction. For the starting point, don’t “go”, jump directly to the “turn” part.

We aim to find the path passing the shortest distance. So objects in the BFS queue should be PathElements, i.e., cells in the maze.
We restrict the order of orientations during initialization to ensure the final answer is lexicographically smallest.
For each cell, it can at most be visited 4 times for there are 4 orientations. So boolean[][][] visited is three-dimensional.
The start PathElement should be any one of the 4 cells around the ball if the cell is valid. So we add the 4 start PathElements first.
During BFS, we move on following the original orientation. If we can’t go forward anymore (i.e., meet the edge or wall), we turn to the other 3 orientations. We keep track of the orientation and path on the fly, whenever we meet the hole, we return the current path, that’s also why we set attributes orientation and move to class PathElement.


C++ Code for The Maze III

class Solution {
    string roll(vector<vector<int>>& maze, int rowBall, int colBall, const vector<int>& hole, 
    int d_row, int d_col, int steps, const string& path, pair<string, int>& res)
    if (steps < res.second) {
        if (d_row != 0 || d_col != 0) { // both are zero for the initial ball position.
            while ((rowBall + d_row) >= 0 && (colBall + d_col) >= 0 && (rowBall + d_row) <  maze.size() 
                && (colBall + d_col) < maze[0].size() && maze[rowBall + d_row][colBall + d_col] != 1) 
                rowBall += d_row;
                colBall += d_col;
                if (rowBall == hole[0] && colBall == hole[1] && steps < res.second) res = {path, steps};
        if (maze[rowBall][colBall] == 0 || steps + 2 < maze[rowBall][colBall]) {
            maze[rowBall][colBall] = steps + 2; // '1' is for the walls.
            if (d_row == 0) roll(maze, rowBall, colBall, hole, 1, 0, steps, path + "d", res);
            if (d_col == 0) roll(maze, rowBall, colBall, hole, 0, -1, steps, path + "l", res);
            if (d_col == 0) roll(maze, rowBall, colBall, hole, 0, 1, steps, path + "r", res);
            if (d_row == 0) roll(maze, rowBall, colBall, hole, -1, 0, steps, path + "u", res);
    return res.first;
string findShortestWay(vector<vector<int>>& maze, vector<int>& ball, vector<int>& hole) 
    return roll(maze, ball[0], ball[1], hole, 0, 0, 0, "", pair<string, int>() = {"impossible", INT_MAX});

Java Code for The Maze III

public class Solution {
    int min; //min distance to hole
    String minS; //min distance's path string
    int[] hole;
    int[][] maze; 
    int[][] map; //shortest distant traveling from ball to this point
    int[][] dirs = {{0,1},{-1,0},{1,0},{0,-1}}; //r, u, d, l
    public String findShortestWay(int[][] maze, int[] ball, int[] hole) {
        this.min = Integer.MAX_VALUE; 
        this.minS = null;
        this.hole = hole; 
        this.maze = maze; = new int[maze.length][maze[0].length];
        for(int i = 0; i<map.length; i++) Arrays.fill(map[i], Integer.MAX_VALUE); 
        move(ball[0], ball[1], 0, "", -1);
        return (minS==null) ? "impossible" : minS;
    private void move(int r, int c, int cnt, String path, int dir){//dir is a index of dirs 
        if(cnt > min || cnt > map[r][c]) return; //not a shortest route for sure 
        if(dir!=-1){//if not from start point 
            //add path 
            if(dir==0) path+='r';
            else if(dir==1) path+='u';
            else if(dir==2) path+='d';
            else path+='l';
            //roll along dir 
            while(r>=0 && r<maze.length && c>=0 && c<maze[0].length && maze[r][c]==0){
                map[r][c] = Math.min(map[r][c], cnt); 
                if(r==hole[0] && c==hole[1]){//check hole
                    if(cnt==min && path.compareTo(minS)<0){
                    }else if(cnt<min){
                        min = cnt; 
                        minS = path; 
                r += dirs[dir][0];
                c += dirs[dir][1];
            r -= dirs[dir][0];//[r,c] is wall, need to walk back 1 step
            c -= dirs[dir][1];
        //hit wall (or start) -> try to turn
        for(int i = 0; i<dirs.length; i++){
            if(dir == i) continue;//dont keep going
            if(dir == (3-i)) continue;//dont go back
            int newR = r + dirs[i][0];
            int newC = c + dirs[i][1];
            if(newR>=0 && newR<maze.length && newC>=0 && newC<maze[0].length && maze[newR][newC]==0){//can go
                move(r, c, cnt, path, i);

Python Code for The Maze III

class Solution:
    def findShortestWay(self, maze, ball, hole):
        m, n, q, stopped = len(maze), len(maze[0]), [(0, "", ball[0], ball[1])], {(ball[0], ball[1]): [0, ""]}
        while q:
            dist, pattern, x, y = heapq.heappop(q)
            if [x, y] == hole:
                return pattern
            for i, j, p in ((-1, 0, "u"), (1, 0, "d"), (0, -1, "l"), (0, 1, "r")):
                newX, newY, d = x, y, 0
                while 0 <= newX + i < m and 0 <= newY + j < n and maze[newX + i][newY + j] != 1:
                    newX += i
                    newY += j
                    d += 1
                    if [newX, newY] == hole:
                if (newX, newY) not in stopped or [dist + d, pattern + p] < stopped[(newX, newY)]:
                    stopped[(newX, newY)] = [dist + d, pattern + p]
                    heapq.heappush(q, (dist + d, pattern + p, newX, newY))
        return "impossible"

Complexity Analysis for The Maze III LeetCode Solution

Time Complexity


Space Complexity


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