Which Cocktails to Show?

All right, we’re trying to show the user what they can make from what they got in the bar. Cool.

We know what they got in the bar (see previous post); now, we better show them some useful cocktail recipes, or they’ll sue the hell out of poor me for false advertising :-). And hey, I gotta pay for hosting, no dollars to waste on legal fees, sorry.

[Side note: cocktailbuilder.com is currently hosted on my home server, an ancient Linux box – PIII 500MHz. 40KB/s upload rate. $ 30/month for cable internet with Millennium Digital Media – btw, wonderful ISP.]

All right, jokes aside. We need some alcohol here.

I (my second self), the semi drunk college student Jane, am holding a party. I go to San Jose State, so I managed to sneak out some lemons out of my auntie’s back yard, so these lemons end up on my ingredient list. Now back to cb, the poor site owner that’s about to be sued; he’s thinking whether to show 1940s blue blazer, a cocktail that involves lemon peel, to our tipsy Jane. One more piece of data: CB doesn’t know that Jane is so drunk that she wouldn’t be able to peel the lemon without converting the lemon into lemon juice.

So: do we show a cocktail that has lemon peel to a user that has lemons in the ingredient list?

Before you answer, let me ask you a different question. A cocktail called Purple Passion calls for Absolut vodka, but the user has Stoli. Do we show the cocktail?

Another one: a cocktail calls for a raspberry vodka, but the user has an orange-flavored vodka. Do we show the cocktail? What if the user has just “vodka”, and they didn’t specify the type of vodka they have?

Yeah. It gets complicated, doesn’t it.

For the first two questions (lemon peel vs lemon, Absolut vs Stoli), I’m guessing you answered “yes”, show the cocktail, let ‘em have some booze. For the last one (raspberry vodka vs orange vodka), you probably said “no, it will taste different”.

Crap. And I had such a good theory here. Now I’m totally gonna get sued, cause I don’t know how to build this :-)

Fine-fine, no more theatre, let’s talk about solutions.

Option 1: Define “homogeneous groups”: all cocktails that contain any light rum will show up if the user has any other light rum. That is, all members of the group are considered “synonyms” for cocktail-making purposes.

Option 2: Define a hierarchy of ingredients that looks something like the following:

If we let the user enter any one of the LEAF nodes as one of their ingredients (i.e. Stoli Orange, but not Orange Vodka), cocktail matches will become relatively simple. If a user holds a particular node, show all cocktails that include that node’s siblings or ancestors. For example, if the user has Stoli Orange, we’ll show recipes that include the following highlighted nodes:

However, this may become a bit constraining:

1) Users can’t just type in that they have some vodka in the bar. They gotta say exactly what kind it is. Make users suffer (i.e. stand up from their computer), and they will leave.
2) What do you do with recipes that call for stuff that doesn’t quite fit in one category, for example, what if a recipe says “use raspberry or orange vodka” (bear with me, I can’t imagine what the consequences of this substitution would be)? Our hierarchy would then have to become sort-of unclean, involving “virtual” nodes; these virtual nodes break the lovely tree structure, converting the whole thing into a directed graph:

Uhh, decisions, decisions… What’s your take?

Cocktail Builder: JavaScript Alcoholic