I'm trying to find an algorithm for this problem:

I'm going to the shop and need to buy X grams of an ingredient.

The shop does not necessarily have an "X grams of ingredient" product. But they have N products with different weights.

Which combination of products should I buy so I end up with at least X grams of the ingredient and the amount of ingredient the closest to X as possible? I can select the same product several times.

Example 1 :

I want to buy 1.4kg of pasta. The shop has these products:

  • Product A: 1kg of pasta
  • Product B: 500g of pasta
  • Product C: 300g of pasta

Solution: I need to buy 1 product B and 3 products C (500g + 3 x 300g = 1.4kg)

because it's the exact amount I need.

Example 2 :

I want to buy 300 grams of rice. The shop has these products:

  • Product A: 1kg of rice
  • Product B: 500g of rice
  • Product C: 200g of rice

Solution: I need to buy 2 products C.

Because it ends up being 400g, which is lighter than 1 product B (2x200g < 500g)

  • $\begingroup$ What is your COMPUTER SCIENCE question here? Formalise & generalise the examples you work out. What to buy for 4.800 g X? $\endgroup$
    – greybeard
    Nov 2, 2023 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your comment @greybeard. I edited my question $\endgroup$
    – Julien
    Nov 2, 2023 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


This problem is NP-Hard by a reduction from the following version of subset sum: given a multi-set $X$ of $2n$ numbers $\{x_1, \dots, x_{2n}\}$ and a target $T$, is there a subset $X'$ of $X$ with $|X'|=n$ and $\sum_{x \in X'} =T$?

However, the problem admits a pseudopolynomial-time dynamic programming algorithm when all weights are integers.

Let $OPT[x]$ be true ($\top$) if there is a way to choose a subset of products whose sum of weights is exactly $x$, and false ($\bot$) otherwise. Clearly $OPT[0]= \top$ and $OPT[x]=\bot$ for $x<0$. Moreover, denoting by $w_i$ the weight of the $i$-th product, whenever $x>0$ you have: $$ OPT[x] = \bigvee_{i=1}^N OPT[x-w_i]. $$

Each value $OPT[x]$ for $x = 0, \dots, X$ can be computed in time $O(N)$, and hence all such values can be found in time $O(N \cdot X)$.

The minimum amount $X^*$ that is not smaller than $X$ can be found in an additional $O(N \cdot X)$ time since either $OPT[X]=\top$ (i.e., $X^* = X$) or it can be found by adding one more product to some achievable amount $x$, i.e., $$ X^* = \min_{i=1,\dots,N} \left( w_i + \min_{\substack{x = \max (0, X-w_i+1), \dots, X-1 \\ OPT[x]=\top}} x \right), $$ where we treat a minimum over an empty range as $+\infty$.

The actual solution can be found (in the same asymptotic time) by retracing the optimal choices backwards.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for your answer @Steven. To be honest, I don't understand anything of what you wrote. I posted the question here hoping to get an algorithm in pseudo code. But thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Hopefully one day I will understand what you wrote. Or someone else will find it useful. In the end, I used this ruby code: stackoverflow.com/a/77444748/265122 $\endgroup$
    – Julien
    Nov 8, 2023 at 10:35

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