Posts Tagged ‘polyominoes’

Pentomino Cover Cycles

March 17th, 2010

What’s the smallest shape into which any of the 12 pentominoes can be placed? I call this old chestnut the “minimal pentomino cover” problem, and I’ve spent a lot of time working on a number of variations on it. For the purpose of introducing and illustrating the basic problem to my dear readers, I wanted to use an animated GIF file showing all of the pentominoes in turn being placed on a minimal cover.

An aesthetically pleasing way to cycle through the pentominoes would be to move one square at a time. This is in fact possible:

A couple of variations on the problem of finding such a cycle suggest themselves:

#9: Minimize the total distance the squares move per cycle. The taxicab metric seems to be more sensible and simpler than Euclidean distances here. I made no attempt to do any minimization in the above solution, so I’m sure there is room for improvement.

#10: If you gave every square in the pentominoes a distinct color, and kept the color the same when a square moved, you could keep track of where the squares end up at the end of a cycle. During the cycle illustrated above, two pairs of squares switch places. Is there a cycle of single-square moves through the pentominoes that ends with each square in the same place it began?

Notice that the central square can never move, because the only pentomino placement without the central square is one of the P pentomino, for which the only valid square movements turn it into a U pentomino. It would need movements to two different pentominoes to be part of a cycle.

For both of the above problems, the other 9 square pentomino cover would also be a valid substrate:

Since this one has no immobile squares, another problem using it may be solvable:

#11: Find a cycle where the permutation of the squares from one cycle to the next is cyclic (in the second sense in the linked article.) That is, successive iterations of the cycle will eventually take each square in a pentomino to all of the other positions in that pentomino.


Some very good news: I’ve been invited to the 9th Gathering for Gardner conference in Atlanta later this month. The Gathering for Gardner is an invitation-only conference  held in honor of Martin Gardner, who brought recreational mathematics to a generation through his columns in Scientific American. That generation was not my generation, but it was impossible to miss his imprint on later writers, and I’ve picked up used copies of several of the collections of his columns. A large proportion of the names on the spines on my recreational mathematics bookshelf are represented among the invitees, so this will be really special for me.

Pentomino Layer Cake

February 27th, 2010

On the Polyforms list, Erich Friedman posed a very interesting new pentomino tiling problem:

Tile a rectangle of minimal area with pentominoes so that for each pentomino there is exactly one stratum, or cluster of one or more copies of that pentomino that reaches from one side of the rectangle to the opposite side. Pentominoes in a stratum must form a single group, connected by edges, not just corners.

Michael Reid found this 3×30 solution:

It’s not hard to prove that it is minimal. A natural extension of the problem is to find minimal solutions for 4×n and 5×n rectangles. Michael Reid found the first 5×n solution, but I improved on it with this 5×32 solution:

The 4×n problem seems to be the hardest, and initially it was not clear that it would be possible. The X pentomino has only one possible stratum, which only can only be bordered by Y, I or N, and it is also difficult to find matches for a Z stratum. Additionally, only Y, L, and P can form straight line stratum boundaries usable for the top and bottom of the rectangle. (See wikipedia’s pentomino page if you don’t know the correspondence between letters and shapes.) I did eventually find this 4×50 solution:

This solution seems rather prolifigate with its pentominoes, but finding any solution at all was a bit of a surprise.

Update: Erich Friedman’s Math Magic for April 2010 further explored this subject.

Introducing Agincourt (to the Blog)

February 25th, 2010

Agincourt is one of the lasercut acrylic puzzles which I’m selling through the store. It’s the set of all of the ways to make 2-, 3-, and 4-ominoes with arrow shaped holes in each square pointing in the same direction. The symmetry of the arrows means that you can flip over pieces without changing the arrow directions, but you can’t rotate them. Most of the puzzles I have designed for the set ask for the solver to make all pieces point the same way, but the arrows naturally suggest a scoring system to handicap the puzzle for different levels of solvers — just count the number of pieces you had to put in the wrong direction, and try to improve on your score.

Here’s a solution to the puzzle that literally comes out of the box. (The puzzle comes in the box with 4 layers of pieces in 4 × 4 squares.)

Expect more Agincourt puzzles later.

2-coloring Pentomino Packings

January 24th, 2010

I like to collect pentomino coloring problems.

So it should come as little surprise that I was intrigued by the cover of Puzzle Fun 16. Puzzle Fun was a ‘zine produced by Rodolfo Marcelo Kurchan in the ’90s covering a variety of polyomino problems. I missed out on subscribing to it myself, and the Puzzle Fun website languished for a decade after new issues stopped appearing.

A few months ago, Kurchan put the content of all of the back issues of Puzzle Fun online.

Puzzle Fun 16 focused on pentomino packing problems. Packing problems differ from tiling problems in that empty space is allowed, and the goal is to minimize the amount of empty space required. Packing, usefully, makes some kinds of problems possible to solve that would not be solvable as tiling problems.

One such puzzle type is packing polyforms that are 2-colorable, (that is, one can use two colors to color every piece such that no piece touches another of the same color.) This is the puzzle type I saw on the cover of Puzzle Fun 16.

The problem itself was this: Place two sets of pentominoes in the smallest possible rectangle such that no pentomino touches another in the same set. [PF problem #549]

A solution was printed in Puzzle Fun 18:

(Solution by Hector San Segundo.)

I should note that this problem implies strict coloring: pieces are not allowed to touch even at corners. I am more interested in non-strict coloring, which is generally the default in coloring problems, and I am interested in colorings of a single set of pentominoes. (Which all of the problems on my pentomino coloring page are.)

#1: Place a 2-colorable (non-strict coloring) set of pentominoes in the smallest possible rectangle. My best attempt has 65 squares:

Filling out the matrix of variations gives two more problems:

#2: As #1, but with a strict coloring.

#3: As in PF #549, but with a non-strict coloring.

(The following problem in PF 16 (#550) was a variation on #549 minimizing perimeter rather than area, but this is less interesting to me.)

http://www.puzzlefun.com.ar/