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10.15.3. Free Response - Route Cipher A

The following is a free response question from 2011. It was question 4 on the exam. You can see all the free response questions from past exams at

Question 4. In this question you will write two methods for a class RouteCipher that encrypts (puts into a coded form) a message by changing the order of the characters in the message. The route cipher fills a two-dimensional array with single-character substrings of the original message in row-major order, encrypting the message by retrieving the single-character substrings in column-major order.

For example, the word “Surprise” can be encrypted using a 2-row, 4-column array as follows.


An incomplete implementation of the RouteCipher class is shown below.

public class RouteCipher
  /** A two-dimensional array of single-character strings,
   instantiated in the constructor */
  private String[][] letterBlock;

  /** The number of rows of letterBlock, set by the constructor */
  private int numRows;

  /** The number of columns of letterBlock, set by the constructor */
  private int numCols;

  /** Places a string into letterBlock in row-major order.
  *   @param str the string to be processed
  *   Postcondition:
  *     if str.length() < numRows * numCols, "A" in each unfilled cell
  *     if str.length() > numRows * numCols, trailing characters are ignored
  private void fillBlock(String str)
  { /* to be implemented in part (a) */ }

  /** Extracts encrypted string from letterBlock in column-major order.
  *   Precondition: letterBlock has been filled
  *   @return the encrypted string from letterBlock
  private String encryptBlock()
  { /* implementation not shown */ }

  /** Encrypts a message.
  *   @param message the string to be encrypted
  *   @return the encrypted message;
  *           if message is the empty string, returns the empty string
  public String encryptMessage(String message)
  { /* to be implemented in part (b) */ }

  // There may be instance variables, constructors, and methods that are not shown

Part a. Write the method fillBlock that fills the two-dimensional array letterBlock with one-character strings from the string passed as parameter str.

The array must be filled in row-major order—the first row is filled from left to right, then the second row is filled from left to right, and so on, until all rows are filled.

If the length of the parameter str is smaller than the number of elements of the array, the string “A” is placed in each of the unfilled cells. If the length of str is larger than the number of elements in the array, the trailing characters are ignored.

For example, if letterBlock has 3 rows and 5 columns and str is the string “Meet at noon”, the resulting contents of letterBlock would be as shown in the following table.


If letterBlock has 3 rows and 5 columns and str is the string “Meet at midnight”, the resulting contents of letterBlock would be as shown in the following table.


The following expression may be used to obtain a single-character string at position k of the string str.

str.substring(k, k + 1) How to Solve This

  1. You will need to access each element in the letterBlock array. What type of loop will you use?

  2. The letterBlock array has two dimensions. How many loops will you use?

  3. Remember the String methods. The Algorithm

        9-10-3-1: The method fillBlock below contains the correct code for one solution to this problem, but it is mixed up and contains extra blocks that are not needed.  Drag the needed code from the left to the right and put them in order with the correct indention so that the code would work correctly.private void fillBlock(String str) {
  int pos = 0;
  for (int r = 0; r < this.numRows; r++ ) {
  for (int c = 0; c < this.numCols; c++ ) {
    if (pos < str.length()) {
      String subStr = str.substring(pos, pos+1);
      this.letterBlock[r][c] = subStr;
    } else {
      this.letterBlock[r][c] = "A";
    } // end else block
  } // end inner for
  } // end outer for
} // end method
 Solve Part A

Complete the method fillBlock below.

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