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Homework Help: Counting problem: 5-character ASCII strings containing at least one @

  1. May 6, 2014 #1
    1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data

    How many strings of five ASCII characters contain the character @ ("at" sign) at least once? [Note: there are 128 different ASCII characters.]

    2. Relevant equations

    The rule of product and inclusion-exclusion principle are relevant.

    3. The attempt at a solution

    The correct solution is as follows:

    The number of 5-character ASCII strings is 128^5. The number of 5-character ASCII strings not including at least one @ is 127^5. By the inclusion-exclusion principle, the number of 5-character ASCII strings including at least one @ is equal to 128^5 - 127^5.

    I have no problem with that. What bothers me is that I can't find out where I go wrong with the following "solution", which yields a different answer.

    Incorrect solution:

    At least one of the five characters is an @. There are 5 ways to place this character, because the string has a length of 5. The remaining characters may or may not be an @ symbol. Each of the four remaining characters can be chosen in 128 different ways.

    By the rule of product, there are 5 * 128 * 128 * 128 * 128 = 5*128^4 such strings.


    128^5 - 127^5 is a much larger number than 5*128^4. Which assumption in my incorrect solution is unjustified?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2014 #2


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    Homework Helper

    No, 5*128^4 is larger than 128^5-127^5. It's because you are overcounting strings that contain more than one @.
  4. May 6, 2014 #3
    In the incorrect solution your over counting.

    Suppose we fix the first element with @.
    then our string is of the form @0000. where the 0 can be any other ASCII character. But note we have @@000 as being one such character. But if we fix the second character so we have the set of strings of the form 0@000. Clearly if we let the first character be @, then we again have a string of the form @@000.
    Last edited: May 6, 2014
  5. May 6, 2014 #4
    Sorry, I somehow got that inequality backwards when translating it to a forum post.

    That makes perfect sense. The devil is in the detail, particularly where combinations are involved. Thank you both!
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