C++ solution, somewhat slow, but heavily commented.

  • 0
    class Solution {
        vector<vector<string>> findLadders(string beginWord, string endWord, unordered_set<string> &wordList) {
            // Idea: Construct a graph with each word in the wordList plus beginWord, endWord as a node.
            // The edges go between nodes that are a single transformation away.
            // Then run Dijkstra (would be better to run BFS, really, but this works too) with every existing edge having weight 1
            // To improve performance, we transfer the words into a vector. This way, we have linear access (improves cache performance),
            // and we won't be computing hashes of the strings all the time -- we use their indices instead.
            // Each node in the graph is identified by the index that its word carries in this vector.
            // We put beginWord and endWord into this list at first and last positions respectively, so we know where they are.
            std::vector<std::string> words;
            words.reserve( wordList.size() + 2 );
            words.push_back( beginWord );
            for( const auto& word : wordList )
                words.push_back( word );
            words.push_back( endWord );
            // We represent the graph using an adjacency vector
            std::vector<std::vector<int>> neighbors( words.size(), std::vector<int>() ); // neighbors of each node in the graph
            // This lambda tells us in O( string length ) as to whether the string b is reachable (i.e. single transformation away) from string a or not.
            auto editNeighbor = []( const std::string &a, const std::string &b ) {
                bool foundOneEdit = false;
                assert( a.length() == b.length() );
                for( int i = 0; i < a.length(); ++i )
                    if( a[i] != b[i] )
                        if( !foundOneEdit )
                            foundOneEdit = true;
                            return false; // found more than one edit
                return foundOneEdit;
            // We now make our graph's connections by checking for the transformation. Takes O(N^2 * string length)
            for( int i = 0; i < words.size(); ++i )
                for( int j = 0; j < i; ++j ) {
                    if( editNeighbor( words[i], words[j] ) ) {
                        neighbors[ i ].push_back( j );
                        neighbors[ j ].push_back( i );
            // Here is a distance vector. The index identifies the vertex, and the value is the distance. We initialize to maxint - 1
            std::vector<int> distances( words.size(), std::numeric_limits<int>::max() - 1 );
            // This is the vector we use to keep track of our return path. Using unordered_set<int> to store possible parent vertices avoids duplicates
            std::vector<std::unordered_set<int>> parents( words.size(), std::unordered_set<int>() );
            // Here's the priority queue for Dijkstra, that makes sure we select the vertices in a greedy manner
            auto priorityLess = []( const std::pair<int,int> &x, const std::pair<int,int> &y ) { return x.second > y.second; };
            std::priority_queue<std::pair<int,int>, std::vector<std::pair<int,int>>, decltype( priorityLess )> processQueue( priorityLess );
            // We initialize distance of the beginWord to zero and push it onto the processing queue
            distances[ 0 ] = 0;
            processQueue.push( make_pair(0, distances[0]) );
            // Here's standard Dijkstra with a small difference -- we will revisit nodes at the same (BFS) level to gather all possible parents.
            while( !processQueue.empty() ) {
                int currentWord = processQueue.top().first; // Be greedy: take the closest vertex
                for( auto neighbor : neighbors[ currentWord ] ) {
                    int level = distances[ currentWord ] + 1; // This is the distance we are looking at
                    if( distances[ neighbor ] < level ) // already processed, continue -- this might be a previous traversed edge being looked at backwards
                    if( level <= distances[ neighbor ] ) { // This is <= as opposed to < because we want to keep track of all possible parents
                        if( level < distances[ neighbor ] ) {
                            distances[ neighbor ] = level; // Relax the edge
                        parents[ neighbor ].insert( currentWord ); // keep track of the parent map
                        processQueue.push( make_pair( neighbor, distances[ neighbor ] ) ); // put the new node into the processing queue
            // To reconstruct the result, we go follow the parent map from the endWord using a recursive lambda (reconstruct)
            // Note: This can be made more efficient by pre-allocating resultEntry and pushing at the front, which avoids the std::reverse seen later
            std::vector<std::vector<std::string>> result; // This is the final result we must return
            std::function<void(int)> reconstruct; // This is a lambda that reconstructs the path
            std::vector<std::string> resultEntry; // This is a stack that keeps track of the parents we have followed from endWord
            reconstruct = [&reconstruct, &parents, &result, &resultEntry, &beginWord, &words]( int index ) {
                resultEntry.push_back( words[ index ] ); // push the current word on the stack
                if( index == 0 ) { // if the current word is beginWord, we've found a path, so push that onto the result
                    result.push_back( resultEntry );
                else { // we are still in the process of finding a path, recurse on all parent nodes
                    for( int nextIndex : parents[ index ] ) {
                        reconstruct( nextIndex );
                resultEntry.pop_back(); // pop the current word off the stack
            // We call reconstruct on endWord
            reconstruct( words.size() - 1 );
            // Since we used a stack, the entries are in reverse order, i.e. endWord is first and beginWord is last. Must call std::reverse
            for( auto& entry : result )
                std::reverse( entry.begin(), entry.end() );
            return result;

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