Planetary code golf

Suppose you’re asked to write a function that takes a number and returns a planet. We’ll number the planets in order from the sun, starting at 1, and for our purposes Pluto is the 9th planet.

Here’s an obvious solution:

    def planet(n):
        planets = [
            "Mercury",
            "Venus",
            "Earth",
            "Mars",
            "Jupiter",
            "Saturn",
            "Uranus",
            "Neptune",
            "Pluto"
        ]
        # subtract 1 to correct for unit offset
        return planets[n-1] 

Now let’s have some fun with this and play a little code golf. Here’s a much shorter program.

    def planet(n): return chr(0x263e+n)

I was deliberately ambiguous at the top of the post, saying the code should return a planet. The first function naturally interprets that to mean the name of a planet, but the second function takes it to mean the symbol of a planet.

The symbol for Mercury has Unicode value U+263F, and Unicode lists the symbols for the planets in order from the sun. So the Unicode character for the nth planet is the character for Mercury plus n. That would be true if we numbered the planets starting from 0, but conventionally we call Mercury the 1st planet, not the 0th planet, so we have to subtract one. That’s why the code contains 0x263e rather than 0x263f.

We could make the function just a tiny bit shorter by using a lambda expression and using a decimal number for 0x263e.

    planet = lambda n: chr(9790+n)

Display issues

Here’s a brief way to list the symbols from the Python REPL.

    >>> [chr(0x263f+n) for n in range(9)]
    ['☿', '♀', '♁', '♂', '♃', '♄', '♅', '♆', '♇']

You may see the symbols for Venus and Mars above rendered with a colored background, depending on your browser and OS.

Here’s what the lines above looked like at my command line.

screen shot of repl

Here’s what the symbols looked like when I posted them on Twitter.

symbols for planets

For reasons explained here, some software interprets some characters as emoji rather than literal characters. The symbols for Venus and Mars are used as emoji for female and male respectively, based on the use of the symbols in biology. Incidentally, these symbols were used to represent planets long before biologists used them to represent sexes.

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