Solving the 0-1 Knapsack problem with Excel

Given a list of items each with a value and a weight, the Knapsack problem seeks to find the set of items with the largest combined value within a given weight limit. There are a nice dynamic programming solution which I decided to implement in a spread sheet. I used Google Sheets but the solution is exported as an excel-sheet.

The solution builds a Knapsack table for round 0,1,…,limit. In each round r the solution for the problem with limit r is constructed as a column in the table, so the table has to be as wide as the maximum limit. Once the table is built, the solution can be found using backtracking. This is all described pretty well on Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knapsack_problem#0/1_knapsack_problem.

The main challenge was to translate this algorithm from procedural pseudocode to a spreadsheet. Building the table is simple enough (once you learn the OFFSET command in Excel which allows you to add or subtract a variable number of rows and columns from a given position), but the backtracking was a bit more tricky.

Assuming that the weights are stored in column A from row 3 and the corresponding values are stored in column B, the table starts in column D. The round numbers are stored in row 1 from columnD. Row 2 are just 0’s and all other entries are (the one below is from D3):

=IF($A3>D$1; D2; MAX(D2; OFFSET(INDIRECT(ADDRESS(ROW(); COLUMN()));-1;-$A3) + $B3))

The table stops after round 40, so we find the solution with weight at most 40.

The backtracking to find the actual solution after building the table is done in column AT and AU. In the first column, the number of weight spent after 40 rounds are calculated from bottom to top row using the formula (from AT3):

=IF(OFFSET(INDIRECT(ADDRESS(ROW(); COLUMN()));0;-AT23-2) <> OFFSET(INDIRECT(ADDRESS(ROW(); COLUMN()));-1;-AT23-2); A22 + AT23; AT23)

The solution is shown in column AU where for each row we simply check if the accumulated weight increased with this item.

I admit that the code is rather hard to read but in my defence it was also extremely hard to write. I will not get into whether this is due to my Excel skills or simply because I used the wrong tool for the job but just leave the code for others to use, should you ever feel the need to do so.