Author Archive

Custom Table Styles

Whenever I look at the default Table Style that Excel spits out:
Default Table
…I think: Nice structure. Pity about the finish. That formatting is a bit eyestrain-inducing , if not migraine-producing. I’m going to have to sand that sucker back to the wood, and repaint it.

So I look through the default styles for something that I can use in the spreadsheet that I’ll later be sending Stephen Few:
Default Styles

…but there are very few that are Few-worthy, let alone sponge-worthy. This one is getting close:
…but that huge contrast in the header row between pitch-black fill and white writing is really Tufte on my eyes, not to mention that dark grid makes this data look like it comes from Excel. Stephen won’t like that at all.

So I create my own style:
Custom Table
Ahh, that’s better…it lets the data – and our eyes – breathe a little easier. It uses pretty minimal formatting so that the data is front-and-centre, rather than the table itself.

In fact, I’m going to assign a custom name to my beautifew new custom style, befitting of it’s ability to help me get one step up the ladder of visual enlightenment:

And now I’ll save little Stairway so that it’s the default Table style used whenever I create any Table ever again:
Set Table as default

And with that done, now I can dappily go to a new workbook, and – while happily humming Bohemian Rhapsody – create a new table using my beautifew new Custom Table Style:
New Table

What the? Why am I NOT in that list? And why doesn’t that list have my beautifew new Custom Table Style applied to it? Ah well, can’t be good at Excel and lucky in lust, I guess. And anyways, at least I saved that Custom Table Style to the Table Styles gallery earlier. Let’s just apply my style manually from there:

No stairway denied

That’s right, Wayne. No Stairway. Denied, indeed.

Let’s ask Microsoft where our beautifew new Custom Table Style is.
Have you seen this Style2
Well, er…um…you see, the thing is…when you save a Table Style, it only gets saved in the particular workbook you’re working in.

What? Really? You went to all the effort to allow users to create new Table Styles, but you didn’t give them a way to reuse those anywhere else?

It turns out, the only way we can make our beautifew new Custom Table Style permanently stick around is by:

  1. Copying a Table that uses our new Table Style into a new blank workbbook
  2. Setting that Table Style as the Default Table Stlye, like I did earlier
  3. Deleting that Table
  4. Saving the workbook as an Excel Template in the Startup folder, so that Excel will use this workbook – and our beautifew new Custom Table Style – as a template whenever we create a new document.

Well that is just…


How is the average user going to manage this, eh?
That’s right, Wayne…it’s pretty tricky. Here’s a couple of tips that might help.

Firstly, before you save that template, make things (slightly) easier on yourself and find your Startup folder location by typing ?application.StartupPath in the immediate window of the VBE:
Startup Path

You can then copy that path, so that later on you can paste it into the Save As dialog box.

And there’s a few things you need to note about the Save As dialog box:
Save as 2


  1. You want to change the name of the workbook from Book1 to just Book. (Excel will add the 1 or 2 or whatever automatically when it opens a copy of the template)

  3. You might as well go all-out and save it as an Excel Macro Enabled Template, so that you never again get this pesky message:
    No Macros

  5. You want to paste that Startup folder location in after you’ve selected that Excel Macro Enabled Template option from the Save as type dropdown, not before. Why? Because otherwise Excel inexplicably overwrites your previous directory choice as soon as you choose to save a file as a Template with this location:
    Wrong place

Well, hopefully they’ll make this easier for us in Excel 2016.

Go To Special Blanks no longer my Go To guy…

So I’ve always used Excel’s Go To Special and VBA’s SpecialCells method to select things like formulas, constants, blanks etc from large ranges because I was under the impression that this was efficient. Is is, unless you’re using it to find blanks, in which case it’s a dog.

Try this: Select column A:A, and use Ctrl + Enter to enter say the number 1 into the whole column. Now, delete one of the cells so there’s a blank, push F5 to bring up Goto Special, select the Blanks option, click OK, and go put the kettle on.

Goto Special Blanks

It took about 54 seconds on my PC. Admittedly my PC has been running slow of late, but that’s ridiculous.

Now try the Constants option:
Goto Special Constants

Just over a second.

And in case you think the number of blanks (1) vs the number of constants(1048574) is the culprit, you’re wrong. This takes just as long:
Goto Special Blanks2

Ironically – perhaps moronically – if you use the Go To Special>Blanks option on a range outside of the used range:
Goto Special Blanks3

…it tells you there are none:
No Cells were found

…which is about as helpful as that “Was this information helpful?” message.

So from now on, instead of Go To Special > Blanks I’ll be using Chip Pearson’s FindAll function. You?

I’m using Excel 365 on Windows 8. Anyone NOT get the same behavior on different flavors? Googling vba specialcells xlCellTypeBlanks slow brings up heaps of hits. Quickly.

First bug of the year

And it’s a funny one. Save all your work, then make up a simple datasource that has a formula in the header:

Now, turn the Macro Recorder on, and while it’s recording, turn that datasource into an Excel Table. (I use the Ctrl T shortcut for that)
Create Table
Excel will warn you that the formula will be converted to static values. Click No.

Happens for me using Office 365. Pretty obscure, granted.

Evaluate Mid

In my last post, I created an array from formula text by using VBA’s Evaluate method, in order to roll my own FormulaArray function that displays the array returned by a formula, for documentation purposes.

In the course of this, I’ve discovered something a bit weird about how this method evaluates the arrays returned by a MID function.
Let’s use this snippet:

Sub EvaluateThis()
Dim var As Variant
var = ActiveSheet.Evaluate(ActiveCell.Formula)
End Sub

First, let’s look at how it handles an array generated by the COLUMN() function:
Evaluate COLUMN array2

Now watch what happens when we use that array to split apart a string using the MID() function:
Evaluate MID array2

So if you push F9, you get an array, but if you use the Evaluate method you don’t…you just get the first letter. Is this weird, or am I missing the point?


Since Excel 2013, Microsoft has given us a FORMULATEXT function, which if you point at a cell will do just that. Here’s a naughty snapshot of FORMULATEXT playing with itself in the corner:

I thought I’d have a go at writing a FormulaArray function to complement it, because when I’m building up a complicated formula that uses lots of array manipulation, then I like to document how all the different arrays within it fit together. (I was going to say “come together” there, but after that crack about FORMULATEXT playing with itself, I thought better of it. But now that I’ve said crack, I’m gonna throw caution to the wind and say wind too.)

Currently I document my formula beasts by either either array-enter a sub-part in the sheet with some notes, like this:
Documentation 1
…which shows how my ExtractNumber formula works, or I enter the desired formula in one cell with a ShowFormula to the left and a hand-rolled hard-coded array to the right, like in this table where I’m documenting a few ways to dynamically generate consecutive integers:
Documentation 2
I get that ResultArray manually, by clicking in the formula bar, pushing F9, copying the resulting evaluated array, then pasting it in another cell. Tedious. Especially when I later make a change to that sub-part, because then I get to do those steps all over.

So I started to roll my own FormulaArray function. I got a bit bogged down in the joining bit, but after about an hour of Googling, I rediscovered Nigel Heffernan’s code for joining two dimensional arrays. Which is very concerning, because I discovered it like just 10 days ago, and even wrote an extensive blog post on it right here. Senility is obviously setting in. If I start saying the same thing over and over like my mother does, just shoot me. If I start saying the same thing over and over like my mother does, just shoot me.

Anyways, Nigel’s function needs a 2D array. You can create an array from formula text by using VBA’s Evaluate method. If the formula returns a Row vector or a 2D vector, then Evaluate nicely turns it into a 2D vector. But here’s the rub: if the formula returns a Column vector, then Evaluate only gives us a 1D vector, which ain’t gonna wash with Nigel’s function:
Row vs Column
So what we need to do is TRANSPOSE any formulas that would return Column vectors, because chucking a TRANSPOSE into the mix has the desired effect:
Row vs Column2
Note that I’m using the square brackets [ ] shortcut for Evaluate. I could just have easily done it like this:
Row vs Column3

Okay, so we know that if our formula string returns a Column vector, we’ve got to transpose it. But how can we tell that ahead of time? I can’t think of a way. So I just do this:

Function FormulaArray(Target As Range) As String
Dim strInput As String
Dim var2 As Variant
Dim lb As Long

strInput = Mid$(Target.Formula, 2)
var2 = ActiveSheet.Evaluate(strInput)
On Error Resume Next
lb = LBound(var2, 2)
If Err.Number <> 0 Then
    var2 = Application.Transpose(ActiveSheet.Evaluate(strInput))
    FormulaArray = Join2d(var2, ",", ";")
    FormulaArray = Join2d(var2, ";", ",")
End If
End Function

So I evaluate the formula as if it’s a Row vector, then check if I’ve got 2 dimensions as a result. If not, it must have been a column vector, in which case I transpose it, then reevaluate it. Shame about the double evaluation, but I can’t think of a foolproof way to do it differenty, other than perhaps array entering the formula into a 2D range on the worksheet and looking at where the #N/A! errors fall.

Anyway, it seems to work just fine:

..unless you happen to be using Structured Table References, and your arguments happen to use the @ table notation to point at something on the same row:
…or unless you happen to have a formula with the INDIRECT function in it:
With the ThisTableRow thing, I guess I can just replace the @[SomeColumn] bit with the actual address, but I can’t think of easy ways around the INDIRECT thing. Anyone got any ideas?

Edit: Thinking about this some more, all I need to do is substitute the INDIRECT(SomeExpression) with whatever gets returned by RANGE(SomeExpression).value

Sample workbook:


There’s a handy post over at Charles Williams’ site that talks about some other quirks of Evaluate that’s worth checking out:

Out, damn’d gridlines! Out, I say!

So after doing some incredibly complicated formula challenges and ninja-grade VBA, I thought I’d turn my hand to something simple: finally changing the default template that loads when Excel starts or when I create a new workbook or worksheet so that gridlines are turned off. Because if there’s one thing I hate about Excel, it’s those gridlines: they make everything look like it was done in Excel. And if there’s one thing I do as soon as I open a new file, it’s turn those gridlines off. Tables and PivotTables give me all the borders I need, thank you very much.

Boy, what a battle. I have saved my changed book as an XLTM to just about everywhere I can think of.

  • I’ve tried saving it to C:\Users\Samsung\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Excel\XLSTART but when I start Excel, I have gridlines.
  • I’ve tried creating a new file at C:\xlStart with the template in it, and told Excel via Options>Advanced to open files in that folder but when I start Excel, I have gridlines:


  • I’ve saved it to C:\Users\Samsung\Documents\Custom Office Templates but when I start Excel, I have gridlines

I’ve gone from feeling like I’ve mastered to Excel, to feeling like I’m a complete idiot. Anyone care to tell me that I’m not?

How the heck the average user is supposed to know how to do this stuff is beyond me. Why isn’t there simply a button on the ribbon or backstage that says:
Give all future workbooks the settings of this one.

I’m using Excel 2013 365. But I’m thinking of doing a complete 180.

Dynamically extracting the nth numerical element without delimiters

ExcelXOR has a great post on using formulas to extract all numbers from a string where:

  • The string in question consists of a mixture of numbers, letters and special characters
  • The numbers may appear anywhere within that string
  • Decimals within the string are to be returned as such
  • The desired result is to have all numbers returned to separate cells

That’s a tall order with formulas. Here’s what ExcelXOR came up with:


…where s is the string you want to break apart, and e the element you want returned.

That fatboy runs to 415 characters. Which is a heck of a lot less than my first effort:

*COLUMN(OFFSET($A$1,,,,LEN(s)))^0) = SMALL(IF((ISNUMBER(-MID(s&"|",ROW(OFFSET($A$1,,,LEN(s)))*COLUMN(OFFSET($A$1,,,,LEN(s)))^0,

…although there is some pretty nifty stuff going on in there, that I’ll bore you with at a later date…including a MID that breaks a string down into ALL possible slices of text:


I couldn’t rest with just that. Literally. It was too heavy. So I had another crack. The result: Here’s a generic ExtractNumbers formula I just put together. And by ‘just’ I mean I only just managed it, and it took an entire weekend, I ignored the kids, and forgot to bathe. (That last one is pretty much a given, and I can’t really blame Excel).

=MID(s,SMALL( IF( ISERROR( -MID( TEXT( MID("||"&s,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( s))),2),"|"),2,1)),FALSE,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( s)))),e)
-1,SUM( SMALL(IF( ISERROR( -MID( TEXT( MID("|"&s&"|",ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( s)+1)),2),"|"),{1,2},1)),FALSE,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN(

…again, where:
S = the string you want to break apart
E = the number element you want to return

It will handle numbers with decimal places provided there is a digit to the left of the decimal place e.g. SomeText5.745 and NOT SomeText.745, and it’s a much more svelte 277 characters in length. Isn’t she a beauty? A lot of the inspiration for the approach came from Excel Ninja Sajan, over at the awesome Formula Challenges section of Chandoo’s forum.

In that incarnation, you can use it to extract just one element of a specific number:

Or if you prefer, you can use this version:


…you can use it to extract numbers into separate columns, where $A28 holds the string to be split, and B28 holds the first column that you want to extract a number to. Like so:

I don’t know how either of these perform against a UDF, let alone each other. Anyone got a lean, mean, UDF-based splitting machine that we can test it against?

Here’s a sample file:

—Edit 21 Nov 2014—
It turns out that my above formula fails for a few specific special character & number combinations. Here’s a table, showing in which cases Excel will still treat a number as a number when you pad it out with a non number. For completeness I do three tests:

  • Special character before the number
  • Special character after the number
  • Special character on either side of the number

special character matches

—Edit 8 Dec 2014—
Crikey…after chaining myself to the computer since the last update, I finally managed to cobble together a formula that will extract all numbers in practically any shape or form that the local version of Excel deems as a number. That is, given a string like this:
Jeff Weir Age: 43 DOB: 25/4/71 Salary: $100,000 StartTime: 8:30
…It returns this

It ain’t pretty. If you like UDFs, then you’ll agree with my pal Gareth Hayter that this is pure formulabation. Unless you like formulas, in which case it’s orgasmic. (You sick, sick analyst, you. Don’t let your boss catch you playing with it in the office…)

=MID( String,SMALL( IF( ( FREQUENCY( ISNUMBER( -MID( String,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))*COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))^0,COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))*ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))^0))*( COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))+ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))-1),ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+1))-1)=1)*ISNUMBER( -MID( "|"&String&"|",ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2)),1))=1,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2))-1,FALSE),ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))),SMALL( IF( ( FREQUENCY( ISNUMBER( -MID( String&"|",ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))*COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))^0,COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))*ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))^0))*( LEN( String)+1-ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))),MOD( LEN( String)+2-ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+1)),LEN( String)+1))=1)*ISNUMBER( -MID( "|"&String,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2)),1))=1,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2))-1,FALSE),ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String))))-SMALL( IF( ( FREQUENCY( ISNUMBER( -MID( String,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))*COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))^0,COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))*ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))^0))*( COLUMN( OFFSET( $A$1,,,,LEN( String)))+ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)))-1),ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+1))-1)=1)*ISNUMBER( -MID( "|"&String&"|",ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2)),1))=1,ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String)+2))-1,FALSE),ROW( OFFSET( $A$1,,,LEN( String))))+1)

Here’ a file showing how this bit of formulabation comes together: Dynamic Split Numbers_20141208 v6

An INDEX of insights from ExcelXOR

Everybody knows that you can’t do some things with the result of an INDEX function unless you return it to the worksheet first. For instance, I can return the 2nd and 3rd members of the array {10,20,30} to the worksheet with an array-entered INDEX function like this:

…but if I wrap a SUM around that INDEX and array enter it, I get the wrong answer:
…meaning I have to return that INDEX function to the grid and then point my SUM function at it:
Everybody knows that, right? Well, everybody’s wrong. Everybody but the author over at the new ExcelXOR blog, that is. At this earth-shattering post the Author shows several intriguing ways to get INDEX to play nicely with outer functions:


Far out! That’s the kind of trick I would have sold my soul to the devil to learn.

There’s a lot to learn at that site: go to and scroll most of the way down until the Archives section, and then get clicking. The earliest post is practically from yesterday: August 2014. But there’s a lifetime of learnings there already…both in the posts, and in the comments. Plus the most wicked formula challenges you will find in one place.