Unpacking the Hypercube

Last week we learned how Rototiler moves can unpack a cube.  As a warmup, below are the moves for a 2x2x2 cube projected parallel along a cube diagonal onto hexagons:


We start at the left, remove the frontmost cube, and keep going. The solution is far from being unique, but not too complicated. Today, we do the same with a  hypercube. The projection of a 1x1x1x1 into 3-space along a main diagonal is a rhombic dodecahedron, tiled by four rhomboids. These rhombic dodecahedra have 8 obtuse, 3-valent vertices at the corners of a cube, and 6 acute, 4-valent vertices at the corners of an octahedron.


There are two ways to tile the rhombic dodecahedron with these rhomboids, and changing one to the other corresponds to a rototiler move in space. Let’s do this with the 2x2x2x2 hypercube, whose projection is a rhombic dodecahedron tiled by 32 rhomboids.


At first it seems as if there is no swappable rhombic dodecahedron available, but if we remove three rhomboids and  look inside (which is the direction of the fourth dimension, after all), we can see it. After swapping it, we also remove the frontmost rhomboid of the  swapped dodecahedron.




We then see that the four removed rhomboids together make up another swappable dodecahedron. We replace it by its swap. The same can be done at three other places.


The next thing to do is to swap 6 more dodecahedra. One of them is the one which shows yellow and purple rhomboids in the right figure above, sitting between the red and blue “vertex”. All these dodecahedra correspond to the edges of the tetrahedron whose vertices are the already swapped four peripheral dodecahedra. Doing these six swaps leads to a tiling very much like the one above to the right, where now the other four obtuse vertices mark swappable dodecahedra. Swapping these and finally the hidden central dodecahedron  completely unpacks the hypercube. It took us 1+4+6+4+6+1 = 32 swaps, as expected.


Next week we’ll see what this is good for…


Walking the Path

In Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, the struggles of a square in a 2-dimensional world to grasp the concept of a third dimension are a parable for our own struggles to grasp uncommon concepts. This is pushed to its extreme when the square tells the parable of linelanders struggling with the concept of two dimensions.

The obvious limitations of lineland make us quickly forget our own limitations.


Here is a little puzzle. Cut out the eight pieces up above, and arrange them into a circle, following the Rule of Change: You can only place two pieces next to each other if they differ in just one line:


This not being particularly difficult, you will want to try your hands on the 16 pieces below with four lines.


These puzzles are essentially 1-dimensional and thus force us to think like linelanders. But hidden underneath are are higher dimensions.

Let’s return to the three line puzzle. Because there are three lines, each piece has only three potential neighbors it can be connected to, and we can visualize the possibilities in 2 dimensions as follows


We recognize this as the edge graph of a 3-dimensional cube. This is not accidental: Think of the unbroken lines as zeroes, the broken lines as 1, and each entire symbol as coordinates of a point in 3-space (or 4-space, for the puzzle with four lines).
Two puzzle pieces can only be neighbors if the points differ only in one coordinate, i.e. are joined by an edge of the cube.

The puzzle asks us to find a Hamiltonian path on this cube (or hypercube), i.e. a closed path that visits each vertex just once.


We can now see a solution easily enough. But understanding the underlying structure allows us also to inductively find solutions for the general case of a puzzle with an arbitrary number of lines. For instance, the hypercube can be obtained from the cube by connecting corresponding vertices of two cubes. To find a Hamiltonian path in the hypercube, we can take two identical Hamiltonian paths in the two cube, remove a pair of corresponding edges, and connect the free vertices by edges that connect the two cubes.

You can now even go ahead and make a puzzle for the complete set of 64 symbols of the I Ching, and find a path
through all of them.

Paris at Night

Paris has many things to offer, and not few of them are best savored at night. One popular option is to take the RER to La Défense, and take a look at La Grande Arche.

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This monumental building was designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Erik Reitzel, and is one of several Grands Projets by France’s former president François Mitterrand.


Its shape is inspired by a common projection of the hypercube into Euclidean space.

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Like every good piece of art, it is worth looking at from different angles.

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I took these pictures in the summer of 1991, just before a backpacking trip to the French Alps.

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The platform under the Grande Arche is typically so bright and the area behind so dark that
the casual visitor will not notice what the long time exposure reveals.

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