Erdős’ Birthday

erdos-warsawPaul Erdős was born on March 26, 1913 2013 a hundred years ago. This picture (from Ehud Friedgut’s homepage) was taken in September ’96 in a Chinese restaurant in Warsaw, a few days before Paul Erdős passed away. The other diners are Svante Janson, Tomasz Łuczack and Ehud Friedgut. Erdős’ influence is felt everywhere in combinatorics, mathematics as a whole, and this blog as well. (A few more links: my most decorated MO answer is about Erdős, a recent heated discussion on the “two cultures in mathematics,” a new post on Erdős discrepancy problem on GLL,  and, most important, a link to Erdős centennial conference, in Budapest July 1-5, 2013. Join the celebration!)

Do not hesitate to contribute a comment!

F ≤ 4E

1. E ≤ 3V

Let G be a simple planar graph with V vertices and E edges. It follows from Euler’s theorem that


In fact, we have (when V is at least 3,) that E 3V – 6.

To see this,  denote by F the number of regions or faces determined by G (in other words, the number of connected components in the complement of the embedded graph). Euler’s theorem asserts that

E – V + F = 2

V – E + F = 2

and now note that every face must have at least three edges and every edge is contained in two faces and therefore 2E \ge 3F, so 6=3V – 3E + 3F ≤ 3V – 3E +2E.

2. F  4E

Now let K be a two-dimensional simplicial complex and suppose that K can be embedded in R^4. Denote by E the number of edges of K and by F the number of 2-faces of K.

Here is a really great conjecture:



A weaker version which is also widely open and very interesting is:

For some absolute constant C,


Remarks: The conjecture extends to higher dimensions. If K is an r-dimensional simplicial complex that can be embedded into R^{2r} then the conjecture is that

f_r(K) \le C_rf_{r-1}(K),

Where C_r is a constant depending on r.  Here f_i(K) is the number of i-dimensional faces of K. A stronger statement is that C_r= r+2. The conjecture also extends to polyhedral complexes and more general form of complexes. In the conjecture ‘embed’ refers to a topological embedding.

Lionel Pournin found a combinatorial proof for Sleator-Tarjan-Thurston diameter result

I just saw in Claire Mathieu’s blog  “A CS professor blog” that a simple proof of the Sleator-Tarjan-Thurston’s diameter result for the graph of the associahedron was found by Lionel Pournin! Here are slides of his lecture “The diameters of associahedra” and link to the paper with the same title “The diameters of associahedra.” The original proof was based on hyperbolic volume computations and was quite difficult. (Here is an earlier post on the associahedron and an earlier mention of a connection found by Dehornoy with the Thompson group.)

Happy Birthday Ron Aharoni!

Ron Aharoni, one of Israel’s and the world’s leading combinatorialists celebrated his birthday last month. This is a wonderful opportunity to tell you about a few of the things that Ron did mainly around matching theory.

Menger’s theorem for infinite graphs

Hall’s marriage theorem

Hall marriage theorem (Philip Hall, 1935) gives a necessary and sufficient condition for a perfect matching in bipartite graphs. Suppose that you have a set A of n men and a set B of n women and a list of pairs of men and women that know each other. A perfect matching  is a bijection from A to B which matches every man to a woman he knows.

Hall’s marriage theorem asserts that a necessary and sufficient condition for a perfect matching is that every set S of men knows together at least |S| women.

This is an extremely important theorem and the starting point for a wonderful matching theory. It is a primary example of combinatorial duality. Other theorems of this kind are Menger’s theorem on connectivity in graphs, Dilworth’s theorem (1950) on covering posets with chains, the max-flow min-cut theorem (1956), and quite a few more.

Menger’s theorem

Menger Theorem (Karl Menger, 1927). Let G be a finite  graph and let x and y be two distinct vertices. Then the minimum number of edges whose removal disconnects x and is equal to the maximum number of pairwise edge-disjoint paths from x to y.

Infinite Menger

Ron Aharoni and Eli Berger proved the following theorem (here is a link to the arxived version):

Aharoni and Berger Theorem (2005): Given two sets of vertices, A and B, in a (possibly infinite) digraph, there exists a family P of disjoint A to B paths, and a separating set consisting of the choice of precisely one vertex from each path in P.

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The Quantum Debate is Over! (and other Updates)

Quid est noster computationis mundus?

Nine months after is started, (much longer than expected,) and after eight posts on GLL, (much more than planned,)  and almost a thousand comments of overall good quality,   from quite a few participants, my scientific debate with Aram Harrow regarding quantum fault tolerance is essentially over. Some good food for thought, I hope. As always, there is more to be said on the matter itself, on the debate, and on other”meta” matters, but it is also useful to put it now in the background for a while, to continue to think about quantum fault tolerance in the slow pace and solitude, as I am used to, and also to move on in other fronts, which were perhaps neglected a little.

Here are the links to the eight posts: My initial post “Perpetual Motion of The 21st Century?” was followed by three posts by Aram. The first “Flying Machines of the 21st Century?” the second “Nature does not conspire” and the third “The Quantum super-PAC.” We had then two additional posts “Quantum refutations and reproofs” and “Can you hear the shape of a quantum computer?.” Finally we had  two conclusion posts: “Quantum repetition” and “Quantum supremacy or quantum control?

EDP 22-27

We had six new posts on the Erdos Discrepancy Problem over Gowers’s blog (Here is the link to the last one EDP27). Tim contributed a large number of comments and it was interesting to follow his line of thought.  Other participants also contributed a few comments. One nice surprise for me was that the behavior of the hereditary discrepancy for homogeneous arithmetic progression in {1,2,…,n} was  found by Alexander Nikolov and  Kunal Talwar. See this post From discrepancy to privacy and back and the paper. Noga Alon and I showed that it is {\tilde{\Omega}(\sqrt{\log n})} and at most {n^{O(\frac{1}{\log\log n})}}, and to my surprise Alexander and Kunal showed that the upper bound is the correct behavior. The argument relies on connection with differential privacy.

Möbius randomness and computation

After the AC^0-prime number theorem was proved by Ben Green, and the Mobius randomness of all Walsh functions and monotone Boolean function was proved by Jean Bourgain, (See this MO question for details) the next logical step are low degree polynomials over Z/2Z . (The Walsh functions are degree 1 polynomials.) The simplest case offered to me by Bourgain is the case of the Rudin-Shapiro sequence. (But for an ACC(2) result via Razborov-Smolensky theorem we will need to go all the way to polynomial of degree polylog.) I asked it over MathOverflaw. After three months of no activity I offered a bounty of 300 of my own MO-reputations. Subsequently, Terry Tao and Ben Green discussed some avenues and eventually Tao solved the problem (and earned the 300 reputation points). Here is a very recent post on Möbius randomness on Terry Tao’s blog.

Influences on large sets

In my post Nati’s Influence I mentioned two old conjectures (Conjecture 1 dues to Benny Chor and Conjecture 2) about influence of large sets on Boolean functions. During Jeff Kahn’s visit to Israel we managed to disprove them both. The disproof is inspired by an old construction of Ajtai and Linial.

Tel Aviv, New Haven, Jerusalem

Last year we lived for a year in Tel Aviv which was a wonderful experience: especially walking on the beach every day and feeling the different atmosphere of the city. It is so different from my Jerusalem and still the people speak fluent Hebrew. I am now in New Haven. It is getting cold and the fall colors are getting beautiful. And it also feels at home after all these years. And next week I return to my difficult and beautiful  (and beloved) Jerusalem.

Looking Again at Erdős’ Discrepancy Problem

Over Gowers’s blog Tim and I will make an attempt to revisit polymath5. Last Autumn I prepared three posts on the problems and we decided to launch them now. The first post is here. Here is a related MathOverflow question. Discrepancy theory is a wonderful theory and while I am not an expert we had several posts about it here. (This post on Beck-Fiala and related matters; and this news item on Beck’s 3-permutation conjecture.) I am aware of at least one important recent development in the theory that I did not report.  My posts go around the problem and do not attack it directly but I hope people will have a chance to think about the problem again and perhaps also about polymathing again. Meanwhile, polymath7 (over the polymath blog) is in a short recess but I hope a new research thread will start soon.

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya


Near Nagoya: Firework festival; Kyoto: with Gunter Ziegler; with Takayuki Hibi, Hibi, Marge Bayer, Curtis Green and Richard Stanly; Tokyo: Peter Frankl; crowded crossing. Added later: Mazi and I at the same restaurant taken by Stanley.

I just returned from a trip to Japan to the FPSAC 2012 at Nagoya and a workshop on convex polytopes in Kyoto. As in my first visit to Osaka in 1999 I found Japan stunning, and this time I was able to share the experience with my wife.

Kyoto: The week before FPSAC there was a workshop at RIMS devoted to convex polytopes. Some highlights: A classical result by Venkov and McMullen characterizes polytopes whose translates tile the Euclidean d-space.  Sinai Robins talked about his work with Nick Gravin and Dima Shiryaev about k-tilings (every point is covered k times).  Not a full characterization yet but already some impressive results. Gunter Ziegler talked about his work with Karim Adiprasito disproving an old conjecture by Shephard which asserts that there are only finitely many projectively unique d-polytopes for every dimension d. This is false above dimension 81.  Eran Nevo talked about his solution with Satoshi Murai of the generalized lower bound conjecture and some subsequent works on triangulated manifolds. There were several talks relating Ehrhard polynomials of polytopes with enumerative combinatorics,  and several talks on algebraic geometry, toric varieties, Fano varieties, and mirror symmetry. Here are the slides of my lecture entitled open problems on convex polytopes I’d love to see solved (but some further explanations for some parts are needed). I hope to return to some of the topics of the workshop in a later post.

Nagoya: FPSAC (Formal power series and algebraic combinatorics) is a central annual  combinatorial meeting with special emphasis on enumerative and algebraic combinatorics. This year it was the 24th such event although I could have swear that I took part in an FPSAC in Montreal already in 1985 but apparently this was a conference with a similar flavor and different name. Much is going on in enumerative and algebraic combinatorics. Cluster algebras, miraculously discovered a decade ago by Fomin and Zelevinsky are going strong in combinatorics as well as in other areas. Alternating sign matrices continue to offer amazing problems and answers. There were quite a few lectures on representation theory, symmetric functions, random matrices, and also on relations of enumerative combinatorics with hyperplane arrangements with polytopes and with physics. There were lectures involving massive computations and new computerized method and packages for symbolic computations  were described. Here are the slides of my lecture entitled Discrete isoperimetry: problems, results, applications and methods. The program page now contains slides for most lectures.

What are alternating sign matrices?

I suppose that you all know what a permutation matrix is (an n by n matrix with 0,1 entries and one non zero entry in each row and each column) and alternating sign matrices are amazing generalization of permutation matrices discovered by William Mills, David Robbins, and Howard Rumsey. (See also this article by Bressoud and Propp) They are integral n by n matrices with 0,1 and -1 entries. In every row and every columns  the non zero aliments (and there must be at least one such element)  should alternate between 1 and -1 and start and end with a ‘1’. Alternating sign matrices are in one to one correspondence with monotone triangle. Thos are triangles of integers starting with a row: 1,2,…,n. With the following rules: (a) all rows are strictly increasing; (b) every element in row i is weakly between the two elements above it.

The amazing thing is that the number of alternating sign matrices of order n is precisely


This was a conjecture by Mills, Robbins and Rumsey and it took over a decade until it was proved by Doron Zeilberger. Later Greg Kuperberg found a short proof and by now several proofs are known. If you have some information or ideas on alternating sign matrices that you would like to share or some questions about them, or about anything else, please contribute a comment.

Celebrations in Sweden and Norway

Celebrations for Endre, Jean and Terry

Anders Bjorner presents the 2012 Crafoord Prize in Mathematics 

I am in Sweden for two weeks to work with colleagues and to take part in two celebrations. Jean Bourgain and Terence Tao are the 2012 laureates of the Crafoord Prize in mathematics which was awarded  last Tuesday at Lund. Along with them the 2012 Crafoord Prize in Astronomy was awarded to Reinhand Genzel and Andrea Ghez.  I took part in the symposium entitled “From chaos to harmony” to celebrate the event.

Next Friday the Swedish Royal academy will celebrate with a mini-symposium in honor of the 2012 Abel prize winner Endre Szeméredi. (Here are the slides of my future talk looking at and around the Szeméredi-Trotter theorem. Please alert me of mistakes if you see them.) The Abel prize symposium and ceremony in Oslo are  Tuesday (Today! see the picture above) and Wednesday of this week.

(Copyright: Crafoord foundation.)

Congratulations again to Jean, Terry and Endre for richly deserved awards.

Crafoord days at Lund

Owing to the passing of Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf was unable to attend the Crafoord Days 2012. The prizes were presented by Margareta Nilsson, daughter of the Donors, Holge and Anna-Greta Crafoord. Ms Nilsson’s kind hospitality, deep devotion to science, culture and other noble social causes, and moving childhood memories shared at the dinner,  have led Reinhard Genzel in his moving speech on behalf of the winners in Astronomy to refer to Margareta Nilsson by the words: “You were our King these past two days!”.

The one day symposium itself was very interesting, and so were the four prize lectures on Tuesday morning. In a few days The videos of the two days’ lectures will be are posted here. Here are the slides of my talk on analysis of Boolean functions, featuring, among other things a far-reaching conjectural extension of a recent theorem by Hamed Hatami.

Gothenburg and Stockholm

From Lund I continued to a short visit of Gothenburg hosted by Jeff Steif with whom I share much interest in noise sensitivity and many other things. I then continued to Stockholm where I visit Anders Björner who is a long-time collaborator and friend since the mid eighties. For me this is perhaps the twelfth visit to Stockholm and it is always great to be here.

We will celebrate on this blog these exciting events with a rerun of the classic, much-acclaimed piece by Christine Björner on the Golden room and the golden mountain.

Speakers at Crafoord symposium, (from right to left) Carlos Kenig, Ben Green, Jean Bourgain, Terry Tao, me and Michael Christ. Copyright: Crafoord foundation.


Update(Oct 2014): Here is a picture of me and  Jean at IHES 1988


Galvin’s Proof of Dinitz’s Conjecture

Dinitz’ conjecture

The following theorem was conjectured by Jeff Dinitz in 1979 and proved by Fred Galvin in 1994:

Theorem: Consider an n by n square table such that in each cell (i,j) you have a set A_{i,j} with n or more elements. Then it is possible to choose elements a_{ij} from A_{ij} such that the chosen elements in every row and in every colummn are distinct.

Special case: if all A_{ij} are the same set, say {1,2,…,n} then this is possible. Such a choice is called a Latin square for example a_{ij}=i+j({\rm mod} n).

1 2 3 4
2 3 4 1
3 4 1 2
4 1 2 3

Here are a few remarks before we go ahead with Galvin’s proof:

1) The Theorem is about graph-coloring from  lists of colors, or briefly list-coloring. Given a graph G with n vertices and a list of colors A_i for vertex i we ask for a proper coloring of the graph such that vertex i is colored by an element of A_i. (A proper coloring is a coloring such that two djacent vertices have different colors.)

The list chromatic number of a graph G is the smallest number k such that G can be colored from any lists of colors, where every A_i has k elements.

2) We consider the graph G whose vertices are the pairs (i,j) and two vertices are adgacent if one of their coordinates agree. This graph is the line graph of the complete bipartite graph K_{n,n}. The line graph L(H) of a graph H is the graph whose vertices correspond to the edges of H and two vertices are adjacent if the corresponding edges share a vertex.

3) Vizing proved that the chromatic number of the line graph L(H) is at most one more than the maximum degree of H. He conjectured that this is also true for list coloring. A bolder version asserts that for every line-graph G the list chromatic number equals the chromatic number. Dinits’s conjecture is the special case (of the bolder version) where G is the line graph of the complete bipartite graph K_{n,n}. The proof demonstrates Vizing’s conjecture for the line graph of every bipartite graph.

4) Shortly before Galvin, Jeannette Janssen gave an amazing proof for a slightly weaker statement where in each square you allow n+1 colors.  (She proved the Dinitz conjecture for rectangular arrays.) Janssen applied  a theorem of Alon and Tarsi, who used the “polynomial method” to obtain a powerful necessary condition for list coloring.

5) Here are now (or when I will be able to find them later) links to Galvin’s paper, to Janssen’s paper, to Alon-Tarsi’s paper,  to expositions by Barry Cipra and by Doron Zeilberger and to a short self-contained version of the proof by Tomaž Slivnik.

Galvin’s proof

Galvin’s ingenious proof of Dinitz’ the conjecture combines two known theorems which are quite easy themselves.

For a directed graph G an induced subgraph is a subgraph spanned by a subset of the set of vertices of G. A kernel in a directed graph is an independent and absorbant set of vertices. I.e., it is a set of vertices W such that there is no edge between any two vertices in W, and from every vertex not in W there is an edge directed from it to a vertex in W.

Lemma 1 (Bondy, Boppana, Siegal): (mentioned e.g. in the paper by Alon and Tarsi)

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Fractional Sylvester-Gallai

Avi Wigderson was in town and gave a beautiful talk about an extension of Sylvester-Gallai theorem. Here is a link to the paper: Rank bounds for design matrices with applications to combinatorial geometry and locally correctable codes by Boaz Barak, Zeev Dvir, Avi Wigderson, and Amir Yehudayoff.


The Sylvester-Gallai Theorem:  Let X be a finite set of n points in an eulidean space such that for every two distinct points x,y \in X the line through x and y contains a third point z \in X. Then all points in X are contained in a line. 

I heard about this result when I took Benjy Weiss’s mathematics course for high-school students in 1970/1. a  The Sylvester-Gallai theorem was the last question marked with (*) in the first week’s homework. In one of the next meetings Benjy listened carefully to our ideas on how to prove it and then explained to us why our attempts of proving it are doomed to fail: What we tried to do only relied on the very basic incidence axioms of Euclidean geometry but the Sylvester-Gallai theorem does not hold for finite projective planes. (Sylvester conjectured the result in 1893. The first proof was given by Mechior in 1940 and Gallai proved it in 1945.)

My MO question

Befor describing the new results let me mention my third ever MathOverflow question that was about potential extensions of the G-S theorem. The question was roughly this:

Suppose that V is an r dimensional variety embedded into n space so that if the intersection of every j-dimensional subspace with V is full dimensional then this intersection  is “complicated”. Then n cannot be too large.

I will not reproduce the full question here but only a memorable remark made by Greg Kuperberg:

If you claimed that Gil is short for Gilvester (which is a real first name although rare), then you could say that any of your results is the “Gilvester Kalai theorem”. – Greg Kuperberg Nov 24 2009 at 5:13

The result by Barak, Dvir, Wigderson and Yehudayoff

Theorem:  Let X be a finite set of n points in an Euclidean space such that for every point x \in X the number of y, y\in X,y \ne x such that the line through x and y contains another point of X is at least \delta (n-1). Then

\dim (Aff(X))\le 13/\delta^2

Some remarks:

1) The proof: The first ingredient of the proof is a translation of the theorem into a question about ranks of matrices with a certain combinatorial structure. The next thing is to observe is that when the non zero entries of the matrix are 1’s the claim is simple. The second surprising ingredient of the proof is to use scaling in order to “tame” the entries of the matrix.

2)  The context – locally correctable codes:  A q-query locally correctable (q,\delta)-code over a field F is a subspace of F^n so that, given any element \tilde y that disagrees with some y \in C in at most \delta n positions and an index i, 1 \le i \le n we can recover y_i with probability 3/4 by reading at most q coordinates of \tilde y.  The theorem stated above imply that, for two queries,  over the real numbers (and also over the complex numbers), such codes do not exist when n is large. Another context where the result is of interest is the hot area of sum product theorems and related questions in the geometry of incidences.

3) Some open problems: Is there a more detailed structure theorem for configurations of points satisfying the condition of the theorem? Can the result be improved to \dim (Aff(X))=O(1/\delta )? Can a similar result be proved on locally correctable codes with more than two queries? This also translates into an interesting Sylvester-Gallai type question but it will require, Avi said, new ideas.