This is a question for golfing in .

In multiple golfs I've done in Python, a fixed value is assigned to one of two variables chosen by a Boolean. The chosen variable is overwritten by the given value, and the other is unchanged.

17 chars:

if b:y=z

Assigning a conditional value is easy, but assigning to a conditional variable seems clunky. I'm wondering if there's a shorter way I'm missing.

This would be easy if x,y were instead a list L, but assume the context requires referring to the variables enough that writing L[0] and L[1] is prohibitive. Converting takes too long:

20 chars:


The fastest way I know is with a Python 2 exec, which is bizarre:

16 chars, Python 2:


Tuple-choosing seems to be longer:

18, 19, 18, 18 chars:

y,x,*_=[y,z,x][b:]   # Python 3 

Is there some shorter method or character-saving optimization? You can assume b is 0 or 1, not just Falsey or Truthy, and also make assumptions about the data types and values if it helps.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know of anything better. If you need to do this a lot, you can do x,y=C(x,y,z,b) (14 chars) and push any of these implementations into the body of C. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10, 2015 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why isn't this in Stack Overflow? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 10, 2015 at 21:32
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ @BobTheAwesome I'm not asking for good ways to do this, just short ones. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


12 chars/assignment + 9 chars of overhead

V=vars()     # do once at the start of the program

Note that this only works at global scope, it does not work inside a function.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Wow, I did not know about this. And it's cool that V updates automatically, with no need to call the function again. So this breaks even with exec in two uses. Also, just doing vars()["xy"[b]]=z is 17 chars, which is the best we have so far for Python 3, without the control flow of if/else which can cause problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:26
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It's actually 9 chars of overhead because a newline or semicolon must follow the assignment. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 11, 2015 at 0:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you only need to do it once, can you do: vars()["xy"[b]]=z? \$\endgroup\$
    – aebabis
    Mar 11, 2015 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @acbabis: yes, as xnor pointed out. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 11, 2015 at 22:06

14 chars, Python 2


The two variables are y and xy. If b=0, this sets xy=z. If b=1, this sets y=z. This will be worth it if xy is used no more than once elsewhere in the code.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Very clever! I suspect you usually need to use xy at least twice though, for its initial assignment, and to read it out afterwards. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:27

15 chars, Python 2


Requires that the variables be called F and T rather than x and y, and that b is False or b is True, rather than being the equal numbers 0 or 1.

This saves a char from "xy"[b] by instead taking the first letter of the string representation of b, which is T or F.

  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the variables can also be called a and r, l and u or s and e, with appropriate indices. \$\endgroup\$
    – isaacg
    Mar 11, 2015 at 7:18

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