Enumerating the Platonic Solids

The past few weeks, I outlined my approach to a series of lectures on polyhedra.  One of my constraints is that students will not have seen a lot of trigonometry yet, and will not have been exposed to three-dimensional Cartesian coordinates.  But there is Euler’s Formula!  I just finished a pair of lectures on the algebraic enumeration of the Platonic solids using Euler’s Formula, and I thought others might be interested as well.

As a reminder, Euler’s Formula states that if V, E, and F are the number of vertices, edges, and faces, respectively, on a convex polyhedron, then

V-E+F=2.

How might we use this formula to enumerate the Platonic Solids?  We need to make sure we agree on what a Platonic Solid is:  a convex polyhedron with all the same regular polygon for faces, and with the same number meeting at each vertex.

To use this definition, we will define a few more variables:  let p denote the number of sides on the regular polygons, and let q denote the number of polygons meeting at each vertex of the Platonic solid.  (Those familiar with polyhedra will recognize these as the usual variables.)

The trick is to count the number of sides and vertices on all the polygons in two different ways.  For example, since there are F polygons on the Platonic solid, each having p sides, there are a total of pF sides on all of the polygons.

CubeFaces.png

But notice that when we build a cube from six squares, two sides of the squares meet at each edge of the cube.  This implies that 2E also counts all of the sides on the polygons.  Since we are counting the same thing in two different ways, we have

pF=2E.

We may similarly count all the vertices on the polygons as well.  Of course since a regular polygon with p sides also has p vertices, there are pF vertices on all of the polygons.

But notice that when we put the squares together, three vertices from the squares meet at a vertex of the cube.  Thus, if there are V vertices on a Platonic Solid, and if q vertices of the polygons come together at each one, then it must be that qV is the total number of vertices on all of the polygons.  Again, having counted the same thing in two different ways, we have

pF=qV.

Thus, so far we have

V-E+F=2,\quad pF=2E,\quad pF=qV.

Note that we have three equations in five variables here; in general, such a system has infinitely many solutions.  But we have additional constraints here — note that all variables are counting some feature of a Platonic Solid, and so all must be positive integers.

Also, since a regular polygon has at least three sides, we must have p\ge3, and since at least three polygons must come together at the vertex of a convex polyhedron, we must also have q\ge3.

These additional constraints will guarantee a finite (as we know!) number of solutions.  So let’s go about solving this system.  The simplest approach is to solve the last two equations above for E and V and substitute into Euler’s Formula, yielding

\dfrac{pF}q-\dfrac{pF}2+F=2.

Now divide through by F and observe that F>0, so that

\dfrac pq-\dfrac p2+1>0.

Multiply through by 2q and rearrange terms, giving

pq-2p-2q<0.

How should we go about solving this inequality?  There’s a nice trick here:  add 4 to both sides so that the left-hand side factors nicely:

(p-2)(q-2)<4.

Now we are almost done!  Since p,q\ge3, then p-2 and q-2 must both be integers at least 1; but since their product must be less than 4, they can be at most 3.

This directly implies that p and q must be 3, 4, or 5.

This leaves only nine possibilities — but of course, not all options need be considered.  For example, if p=q=5, then

(p-2)(q-2)=9>4,

and so does not represent a valid solution.  But when p=3 and q=4, we have the octahedron, since p=3 means that the polygons on the Platonic Solid are equilateral triangles, and q=4 means that four triangles meet at each vertex.

So out of these nine possibilities to consider, there are just five options for p and q which satisfy the inequality (p-2)(q-2)<4.  And since each pair corresponds to a Platonic Solid, this implies that there are just five of them, as enumerated in the following table:

PlatonicChart

Actually, this implies that there are at most five Platonic Solids.  How do we know that twelve pentagons actually fit together exactly to form a regular dodecahedron?  A further argument is necessary here to be complete.  But for the purposes of my lectures, I just show images of these Platonic Solids, with the presumption that they do, in fact, exist.

Now keep in mind that in an earlier lecture, I enumerated the Platonic Solids using a geometrical approach; that is, by looking at those with triangular faces, square faces, etc.  I like the problem of enumerating the Platonic Solids since the geometric and algebraic methods are so different, and emphasize different aspects of the problem.  Further, both methods are fairly accessible to good algebra students.  The question of when to take an algebraic approach rather than a geometric approach to a geometry problem is frequently difficult for students to answer; hopefully, looking at this problem from both perspectives will give students more insight into this question.

 

Teaching Three-Dimensional Geometry, III

This is the last of a three-part series on teaching three-dimensional geometry.  A few weeks ago, I had begun describing how I would go about putting together a series of about 20 online videos on 3D geometry, each lasting 5–7 minutes.  I just finished a discussion of buckyballs, and why regardless of the number of hexagonal faces on a buckyball, there are always exactly 12 pentagonal faces.

Euler’s Formula was key.  We’ll look at another application of Euler’s Formula, but before doing so, I’d like to point out that students at this level have not encountered Cartesian coordinates in three dimensions, and so I need to find things to talk about at an accessible level.

On to the truncation of polyhedra!  Again, we can apply Euler’s Formula, but it helps to think about the process systematically.  You can count the number of vertices, edges, and faces on a truncated cube, for example, one at a time — but little is gained from a brute force approach.  By thinking more geometrically, we would notice that each edge of the original cube contributes two vertices to the truncated cube, giving a total of 24 vertices.

We can continue on in this fashion, counting as efficiently as possible.  This sets the stage for a discussion of Archimedean solids in general.  A proof of the enumeration of the Archimedean solids is beyond the scope of a single lecture, but the important geometrical ideas can still be addressed.

This concludes the set of lectures on polyhedra in three dimensions.  Of course there is a lot more that can be said, but I need to make sure I get to some other topics.

Like spherical geometry, for instance, next on the slate.  There are two approaches one typically takes, depending how you define a point in spherical geometry.  There is a nice duality of theorems if you define a Point in this new geometry as a pair of antipodal points on a sphere, and a Line as a great circle on a sphere.  Thus two distinct Lines uniquely determine a Point, and two distinct Points uniquely determine a line.

This is a bit abstract for a first go at spherical geometry, so I plan to define a Point as just an ordinary point on a sphere, and a Line as a great circle.  Two points no longer uniquely determine a Line, since there are infinitely many Lines through two antipodal Points.

But still, there are lots of interesting things to discuss.  For example, there is no such thing as a pair parallel lines on a sphere:  two distinct Lines always intersect.

Triangles are also intriguing.  On the sphere, the sides are also angles, measured by the angle subtended at the center of the sphere.  So all together, there are six angular measures in any triangle.

Since students will not have had a lot of exposure to trigonometry at this point, I won’t discuss many of the neat spherical trigonometric formulas.  But still, there is the fact the angle sum of a spherical triangle is always greater than 180^\circ.  And the fact that similarity and congruence on the sphere are the same concept, unlike in Euclidean geometry.  For example, if the angles in a Euclidean triangle are the same in pairs, the triangles are similar.  But on a sphere, if the angles of two spherical triangles measured the same in pairs, they would necessarily have to be congruent.

In other words, students are getting further exposure to non-Euclidean geometries.  (I did a lecture on inversive geometry in a previous section.)  One nice and accessible proof in spherical geometry is the proof that the area of a spherical triangle is proportional to its spherical excess — that is, how much the angle sum is greater than 180^\circ.  So there will be something  I can talk about without needing to say the proof is too complicated to include….

The final topic I plan to address is higher-dimensional geometry.  The first natural go-to here is the hypercube.  Students are always intrigued by a fourth spatial dimension.  Ask a typical student who hasn’t been exposed to these ideas what the fourth dimension is, and the answer you invariably get is “time.”  So you have to do some work getting them to think outside of that box they’ve lived in for so long.

One thing I like about hypercubes is the different ways you can visualize them in two dimensions.

Hypercube1

Viewed this way, you can see the black cube being moved along a direction perpendicular to itself to obtain the blue cube.  Of course the process is necessarily distorted since we’re looking at a static image.

Hypercube2

This perspective highlights a pair of opposite cubes — the green one in the middle, and the outer shell — and the six cubes adjacent to both.

Hypercube4

And this perspective is just aesthetically very pleasing, and also has the nice property that every one of the eight cubes looks exactly the same, except for a rotation.  Again, there won’t be any four-dimensional Cartesian coordinates, but still, there will be plenty to talk about.

I plan to wrap up the series with a discussion of volumes in higher dimensions.  As I mentioned last week, I’d like to discuss why you should avoid peeling a 100-dimensional potato….

Thinking by analogy, it is not difficult to motivate the fact that the volume of a sphere n dimensions is of the form

Kr^n.

Now let’s look at peeling a potato in three dimensions, assuming it’s roughly spherical.  If you were a practiced potato peeler, maybe you could get away with the thickness of your potato peels being, say, just 1% of the radius of your potato.  This leaves the radius of your peeled potato as 0.99r, and calculating a simple ratio reveals that you’ve got 0.99^3\approx0.97 of your potato left.

Extend this idea into higher dimensions.  If your potato-peeling expertise is as good in higher dimensions, you’ll have 0.99^n of your potato left, where n is the number of dimensions of your potato.  Now 0.99^{100}\approx 0.366, so after you’ve peeled your potato, you’ve only got about one-third of it left!

What’s happening here is that as you go up in dimension, there is more volume near the surface of objects than there is near the center.  This is difficult to intuit from two and three dimensions, where it seems the opposite is the case.  Nonetheless, this discussion gives at least some intuition about volumes in higher dimensions.

And that’s it!  I’m looking forward to making these videos; I actually made my first set of slides today.  As usual, if I come across anything startling or unusual during the process, I’ll be sure to post about it!

Teaching Three-Dimensional Geometry, II

A few weeks ago, I began a discussion of what I’d be presenting in a series of twenty (or so) 5—7 minute videos on three-dimensional geometry. I didn’t get very far then, so it’s time to continue….

So to recap a bit, I’ll begin with the usual cones/cylinders/spheres, looking at surface areas and contrasting flat surfaces with the surface of a sphere. Then on to a prelude to calculus by looking at the volume of a cone as a limiting case of a stack of circular disks.

Next, it’s on to polyhedra! A favorite topic of mine, certainly. Polyhedra are interesting, even from the very beginning, since there is still no accepted definition of what a polyhedron actually is. The exception is for convex polyhedra; a perfectly good definition of a convex polyhedron is the convex hull of a finite set of points not all lying in a single plane. Easy enough.

But once you move on to nonconvexity, uncertainties abound. For example, from a historical perspective, sometimes the object below was a polyhedron, and sometimes it wasn’t. Sounds odd, but whether or not you consider this object a polyhedron depends on how you look at the top “face,” which is a square with a smaller square removed from the center. Now is this “face” a polygon, or not? Many definitions of a polygon would exclude this geometrical object – which is problematic if you want to say that a polyhedron has polygons as faces.

toroid.png

So this brings us to a definition of a polygon, which is problematic in its own way – to see why, you can look at a previous post of mine on the definition of a polygon.  Now the point here is not to resolve the issue in an elementary lecture, but rather point out that mathematics is not “black-and-white,” as students tend to believe. Also, it provides a nice example of the importance of definitions in mathematics.

Now this would be discussed briefly in just one video. Next would be the (obligatory) Platonic solids – where else is there to begin? The simplest starting point is the geometric enumeration by looking at what types of polygons – and how many – can appear at any given vertex of a Platonic solid. This enumeration is straightforward enough.

Next, I plan on computing the volume of a regular tetrahedron using the usual Bh/3 formula. This is not really exciting in and of itself, but in the next lecture, I plan to find the volume of a regular tetrahedron by inscribing it in the usual way in the cube by joining alternate vertices.

Of course you get the same result. But for those of us who work a lot in three-dimensional space, we deeply understand the simple algebraic equation, 2 \times 4=8. What I’m referring to, specifically, is that the number of vertices on a three-dimensional simplex is half the number of vertices of a three-dimensional hypercube.

This simple fact is at the heart of any number of intriguing geometrical relationships between polyhedra in three dimensions. In particular, and quite importantly, the simplex and the cross-polytope together fill space. This relationship is at the heart of many architectural constructions in additional to generating other tilings of space with Archimedean solids. But most students have never seen this illustrated before, so I think it is important to include.

Then on to a geometry/algebra relationship: having enumerated the Platonic solids geometrically, how do we proceed to take an algebraic approach? A fairly direct way is to use Euler’s formula to find an algebraic enumeration.

No, I don’t intend to prove Euler’s formula; by far my favorite (and best!) is Legendre’s proof which involves projecting a polyhedron onto a sphere and looking at the areas of the spherical polygons created. This is a bit beyond the scope of this series of videos; there simply isn’t time for everything. But it is important to note the role that convexity plays here; yes, there are other formulas for polyhedra which are not essentially “spheres,” but this is not the place to discuss them.

Next, I want to talk about “buckyballs.” I still have somewhat of a pet peeve about the nomenclature – Buckminster Fuller did not invent the truncated icosahedron – and so the physicists who named this molecule were, in my opinion, polyhedrally rather naïve. But, sadly (as is the case so many times), they did not come to me first before making such a decision…

The polyhedrally interesting fact about buckyballs is this: if a polyhedron has just pentagonal and hexagonal faces, three meeting at every vertex, then there must be exactly twelve pentagons. Always.

Now I know that the polyhedrally savvy among you are well aware of this – but for those who aren’t, I’ll show you the beautiful and very short proof. Once you’ve seen the idea, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to forget it. It’s just remarkable – even with 123,456,789 hexagons, just 12 pentagons.

So let P represent the number of pentagons on the buckyball, and H represent the number of hexagons. Then the number of vertices V is given by

V=\dfrac{5P+6H}{3},

since each pentagon contributes five vertices, each hexagon contributes six, and three vertices of the polygons meet at each vertex of the buckyball.

Moreover, the number of edges is given by

E=\dfrac{5P+6H}{2},

since the polygons on the buckyball meet edge-to-edge. Of course, F=P+H, since the faces are just the pentagons and hexagons. Substitute these expressions into Euler’s formula

V-E+F=2,

and what happens? It turns out that H cancels out, leaving P=12!

Amazes me every time. But what I like about this fact is that it is accessible just knowing Euler’s formula – no more advanced concepts are necessary.

And yes, there’s more! This is now Lecture #12 of my series, so I have a few more to describe to you. Until next time, when I caution you (rather strongly) against peeling a 100-dimensional potato….

Bay Area Mathematical Artists Seminars, XI

This past weekend marked the eleventh meeting of the Bay Area Mathematical Artists Seminars.  Our host this month was Scott Vorthmann, the mastermind behind vZome.  Scott lives in Saratoga, and so those participants who live in the San Jose area were glad of the short commute.

It seems that the content of our seminars is limited only by the creativity of the artists involved, meaning fairly limitless….  Scott invited anyone interested to come early — 1:00 instead of our usual 3:00 — and be involved in a Zome “build;” that is, the construction of a large and intricate model using Zome tools.  Today’s model?  The omnitruncated 24-cell!

This is not the place to have a lengthy discussion of polytopes in four dimensions.  In a nutshell, the 24-cell is a polytope in four dimensions with 24 octahedral facets.  This polytope is truncated in a particular way (called omintruncation), and then projected into three-dimensional space.

But there is just one problem with the projection Scott wanted to build.  You can’t build it with the standard Zome kit!  No matter.  Scott designed and 3D-printed his own struts — olive, maroon, and lavender.  If you’ve ever played around with ZomeTools, you’ll understand what a remarkable feat of design and engineering this is.

The building process is a modular one — six pieces like the one shown below needed to be built and painstakingly assembled together.

IMAG9535

Scott built two of the modules before anyone arrived, so we had something to work from.  That left just four more to complete….

The modules were almost done, but we needed to move on.  In addition to the Zome build, we had two other short presentations.   Andrea and Andy were planning to present a workshop at Bridges 2018 in Stockholm, but at the last minute, were unable to attend.  So they brought their ideas to present to us.

The basic idea is to encode a two-dimensional image using two overlays, as shown here.

Day159crypt1.png

Your friend has an apparently random grid (pad) of black and white squares.  You want to send him a secret message; only you and he have the pad.  So you send him a second grid of black and white squares so that when correctly overlaid on the pad, an image is produced.

This is a great activity for younger students, too, since it can be done with premade templates and graph paper.  And even though Andrea and Andy were not able to attend Bridges, their workshop paper was accepted, and so it is in the Bridges archives.  So if you want to learn more about this method of encryption, you can read all the details about the process in their paper in the Bridges archives.

Our next short presentation was by pianist Hans Boepple, a colleague of Frank Farris at Santa Clara University.  Frank happened to have a very stimulating conversation with Hans about a mathematics/music phenomenon, and thought he might like to present his idea at our meeting.

The idea came from a time when Hans happened to look down a metal cylinder of tubing, like you would find at a hardware store.  It seemed that there was an interesting pattern of reflections along the sides of the tubing, and knowing about music and the overtone series, he wondered if there was any connection with music.

Here is part of a computer-generated image of what Hans produced using paper and pencil many years ago:

IMAG9553

How was this picture generated?  Below is how you’d start making the image.

Day159Hans.png

You can see that the red lines take two zigzags to move from one corner of the rectangle to another, the blue lines take three zigzags, the green four, and the gold lines take five.  If you keep adding more and more lines, you get rather complex and beautiful patterns like the one shown above.  Those familiar with the overtone series will see an immediate connection.

Of course, the mathematical question is about proving various properties of this pattern.  It turns out that the patterns are related to the Ford circles; BAMAS participant Jacob Rus has created an interactive version of this diagram.  Feel free to explore!

In any case, we were delighted that Hans could join us and share his fascination with the relationship between mathematics and music.  You can  learn more about Hans in this interview in The Santa Clara, which is Santa Clara University’s school newspaper.

When Hans finished his presentation, it was time to finish building the omnitruncated 24-cell.  It was quite amazing, as Scott is certainly one of the foremost experts on ZomeTools in the world.  Here is the finished sculpture, suspended from the ceiling in his home.  Just getting the model up there was an engineering feat in its own right!

IMAG9586.jpg

It is difficult to describe the intricacy of this model from just a few pictures.

IMAG9599.jpg

Here is an intriguing perspective of the model, highlighting the parallelism of the blue Zome struts.  It seems there is no end to the geometrical relationships you can find hidden within this model.

And, as usual, the afternoon didn’t end there.  Scott arranged to have Thai food — one of our favorites! — catered in, and we all chipped in our fair share.  We all were having such a great time, the last of us didn’t leave until about 8:30 in the evening.  Another successful seminar!

It is quite heartwarming to see so many so willing to take on hosting our Bay Area Mathematical Artists Seminars.  We have all enjoyed these meetings so much, and we are so glad they continue to happen.  I am confident there will be many, many more delightful Saturday afternoons to experience….

Teaching Three-Dimensional Geometry, I

I have recently had a rather unusual opportunity.  I’ve talked a bit over the last few months about my consulting work producing online videos for a flipped classroom; I’ve been working busily on the Geometry unit.

Now the last section of this unit is on three-dimensional geometry, and I’ve been given pretty free reign as to what to cover in this 20-lectures series of 5-7 minute videos.  And given my interest in polyhedra (which I could focus on exclusively with no shortage of things to discuss!), I felt I had a good start.

But the challenge was also to cover some traditional topics (cones, cylinders, spheres, etc.) — as well as more advanced topics — while not using mathematics beyond what I’ve used in the first several sections of the Geometry unit.

There is, of course, no “correct” answer to this problem.  But I thought I’d share how I’d approach this series of lectures, since geometry is such a passion of mine — and I know it is for many readers as well.  The process of reforming high school geometry courses is now well underway; I hope to contribute to this discussion with today’s post.

Where to start?  Cones and cylinders — a very traditional beginning.  But I thought I’d start with surface areas.  Now for cylinders, this is pretty straightforward.  It’s not much more difficult for cones, but the approach is less obvious than for cylinders.

Earlier in the unit, we derived the formula for the area of a sector of a circle, so finding the lateral surface area of a cone is a nice opportunity to revisit this topic.  And of course, finding the lateral surface area of a cylinder involves just finding the area of a rectangle.

Now what do both of these problems have in common?  Their solution implies that cones and cylinders are flat.  In other words, we reduce what is apparently a three-dimensional problem (the surface area of a three-dimensional object) to a two-dimensional problem.

This is in sharp contrast to finding the surface area of a sphere — you can’t flatten out a sphere.  In fact, the entire science of cartography has evolved specifically in response to this inability.

So this is a nice chance to introduce a little differential geometry!  And no, I don’t really intend to go into differential geometry in any detail — but why not take just a minute in a lecture involving spheres to comment on why the formulas for the surface areas of cones and cylinders are fairly easy to derive, and why — at this level — we’re just given the formula for the surface area of a sphere.

I try to mention such ideas as frequently as I can — pointing out contrasts and connections which go beyond the usual presentation.  Sure, it may be lost on many or most students, but it just may provide that small spark for another.

I think such comments also get at the idea that mathematics is not a series of problems with answers at the back of the book…on the face of it, there is no apparent reason for a student to think that finding the surface area of a cone would be simpler than finding the surface area of a sphere.  This discussion gets them thinking.

Next, I’m planning to discuss Archimedes’ inscription of a sphere in a cylinder (which involves the relative volumes).  This is a bit more straightforward, and it’s a nice way to bring in a little history.

I also plan to look at inscribing a sphere in a right circular cone whose slant height is the same as the diameter of the base, so that we can look at a two-dimensional cross-section to solve the problem.  In particular, this revisits the topic of incircles of triangles in a natural way — I find it more difficult to motivate why you’d want to find an incircle when looking at a strictly two-dimensional problem.

Now on to calculus!  Yes, calculus.  One great mystery for students is the presence of “1/3” in so many volume formulas.  There is always the glib response — the “3” is for “three” dimensions, like the “2” in “1/2 bh” is for “two” dimensions.

When deriving these formulas using integration, this is actually exactly a fairly solid explanation.  But for high school students who have yet to take calculus?

It is easy to approximate the volume of a right circular cone by stacking thin circular disks on top of each other.  If we let the disks get thinner and take more and more of them, we find the volume of the cone as limit of these approximations.  All you need is the sum

\displaystyle\sum_{k=1}^n k^2=\dfrac{n(n+1)(2n+1)}6.

I plan to prove that

\displaystyle\sum_{k=1}^nk=\dfrac{n(n+1)}2,

and then prove (or perhaps just suggest — I’m not sure yet) the formula for the sum of squares.

I think a fairly informal approach could be successful here.  But I do think such discussions are necessary — in calculus, I’ve routinely asked students why certain formulas they remember are true, and they struggle.  As a simple example, students can rarely tell me why the hypotenuse of a 30-60-90 triangle is twice as long as the shorter leg.

When teachers just give students formulas and ask them to plug numbers in to get answers to oversimplified word problems, of course there is a sense of mystery/confusion — where did these formulas come from?  I’m hoping that this discussion suggests that there is a lot more to mathematics than just a bunch of formulas to memorize.

As usual, I realize I have much more to say on this topic than I had originally supposed…I’ve only discussed up to the fifth lecture so far!  Since I have not had extensive experience teaching more traditional topics at the high school, it has been an interesting challenge to tackle the usual geometry topics in a way that grabs students’ attention.  It’s a challenge I enjoy, and of course I’ll have much more to say about it next week….

 

Guest Blogger: Percival Q. Plumtwiddle, II

As promised, here is the second installment of my friend Percy’s essay on the significance of our Earthly existence being three-dimensional.  I hope these few words give food for much geometrical thought….

On Threeness (continued…)

Popping over a few dimensions in the meanwhile, the knowledgeable geometer is certainly aware that in dimension four and, indeed, in all dimensions exceeding this critical dimension, the situation is somewhat overwhelming, to say the least. So many thousands of uniform polyhedra abound that the prospect of their enumeration appears beyond the scope of even the most ambitious geometer. (I might recommend such a project, however, to an advanced practitioner of one of the Eastern religions who might, as a result of sufficient spiritual development, continue the undertaking in subsequent reincarnations.)

But in dimension three, how manageable our delight!  Seventy-odd uniform polyhedra clog the pores, multitudinous compounds and stellations frolic with the celestial spheres, etc.,  such as to render the average mortal awestruck.  Details are, of course, voluminous (though within reason), and more eminent geometers than yours truly have authored copious memoranda on said frolicking.  And there is yet much left unsaid, or perhaps, unmemorandized.  To presume that our friendly Supreme B. was unaware of such phantasmagoria would be heresy first class.  Fie!, I say, to such presumption!

As convincing as I have striven to be, I shall endeavor, with difficulty, not to be so narcissistic as to suppose that I have left no room for doubt in the reader’s mind. And so I entice with a few non-Euclidean morsels…

I shall not doubt the reader’s familiarity with the method for calculating the length of a circular arc, given the appropriate parameters. Perhaps less well-known is the method for calculating the area of a spherical triangle, with the attendant formulae relating the various parts of such a triangle only slightly more obscure. I purposefully omit their statements, secretly hoping that the reader will rediscover their simplicity and elegance afresh… In any case, the knowledgeable reader is well acquainted with the vast number of beautiful yet stable geodesic structures which may be constructed, the data for which constructions being directly calculated by way of the aforementioned simple formulae. Let not the skeptical reader be amused by such hyperbole — for one who has indeed fabricated such a structure or two with a few sheets of stiff paper and a bit of rubber cement will certainly view my descriptions as grave understatement.

In any event, as the informed reader is well aware, the formula for finding the area of the spherical triangles mentioned above may be successfully implemented by a child of ten, or perhaps a precocious child of eight, with a minimum of instruction, a pocket calculator, and, if necessary, the promise of an ice cream in the event of their successful completion. The informed reader is equally well aware that analogous calculations in four dimensions may be successfully implemented by no less that a ranking member of the cranially elite given the necessary data (and perhaps a few extraneous ones for good luck), a personal computer, and, if necessary, the promise of tenure in the event of their successful calculation. The superiority of the three-dimensional scenario, both fiscally and otherwise, is evident.

I pause, as a prelude to a conclusion, to ask the reader to reflect upon his or her stance vis a vis the proposed heightened status of Threeness. I imagine the reader to be of one of four minds. First, the reader may be insufferably bored at the current exegesis, in which case he or she will have undoubtedly ceased its perusal long ago. In this case, there is no reason for a continuation of discourse. Secondly, the reader may, to my ineffable delight, be wholly in agreement with the propositions contained herein. Should this be the case, I am not compelled to offer further justification for them. Thirdly, the reader may, to my profound disappointment, be immovably opposed to my thesis. (As an apology to those readers who fall in the second category, I must, rather that be labelled as a righteous fanatic, admit this frankly incomprehensible possibility.) I would not prolong the displeasure of such readers, those that there may be. Fourthly, the reader may be genuinely undecided, perhaps having never mused upon such matters previously, or perhaps still wrestling with deep foundational issues and at an impasse with regard to their resolution. In the former case, I urge an immediate excursion to that local library known for its excellent collection of volumes on the subject, followed by a thorough study of those treatises, and then a rereading of the current manuscript. In the latter case, I believe the matter rather more philosophical than mathematical, and I might suggest several worthwhile Buddhist sources (and caution the reader to avoid the twentieth-century European existentialists). In neither case would I find a need to argue further in this matter of Threeness.

And so, dear reader, I take my leave. It is my fondest hope that these few words have, at the very least, given cause for a leisurely intellectual frolic amidst sunny geometrical meadows, and at the very best, profoundly elevated the spirit. In either case, my work will not have been in vain.

Guest Blogger: Percival Q. Plumtwiddle, I

As I’m out of town for a few weeks, I thought I’d invite my good friend Percy Plumtwiddle to be a guest blogger.  He is an ardent enthusiast of geometry, and we have had many animated discussions on the geometry of three and higher dimensions.

But he has his stubborn side (don’t we all?).  And yes, his language is flowery and over the top, but well, we all have our eccentricities, too.  Nonetheless, he makes some interesting points — just how interesting, I’ll have to let you decide.

Also, his essay, while not too long, is a bit long for just one post — so I’ll break it into two installments.  I’ll return to my keyboard in a few weeks.  In the meantime, enjoy Percy’s unique perspective on geometry, and more broadly, life in general….

On Threeness

Were I God — and I assure you, dear reader, that such is not remotely an aspiration; and were it, even my dear friends and those who hold me in highest esteem (those that there may be) would chortle audibly at the consideration of such a prospect — and were it incumbent upon me to create a sentient being or two (admittedly, I would be somewhat embarrassed, were I God, to admit to the creation of many such beings which presently spoil an otherwise hospitable planet) — and had I the necessity of establishing a place of residence for the aforementioned sentient beings (not that it would be required, matter being at times inconvenient, especially when taking the form of a piece of chocolate cake hidden under one’s outer garments at the precise moment when a head-on collision with a rotund nephew is imminent) — I would not hesitate for a moment in making such a domicile, in dimension, three.

Lest the frivolous reader imagine such a dimensionality to be merely the whim of a somewhat eccentric, although omniscient, Supreme Being, or lest the pious reader imagine that such a dimensionality foreshadows the fairly recent (according to even the most conservative of cosmological estimates) doctrine of the Trinity popular in some Western religions, and lest the banal reader imagine that this third dimesion would be, as goes the cliche, a “charm,” and lest the reader of belles lettres be tempted to make a thoroughly trite reference to MacBeth — apply the cerebral brakes forthwith!  I intend to provide sound reason to dispel such imaginations, should the reader find it bearable to forage among slightly less green pastures.

I appeal not only to the reader’s intellect — being, unfortunately, acquainted much more intimately with self-proclaimed members of the cranially elite than I presently desire — but also to the reader’s aesthetic sensibilities, as potentially volatile as such an appeal may be.  But I have profound faith in this universal Threeness, so I proceed, fully cognizant of the perilous quagmire in which I may soon find myself immersed, should the fates allow.

Indeed, my argument is entirely geometrical, being of the school of thought that such argumentation is lacking in no essentials.  Should the reader be otherwise disposed, I urge an immediate cessation of the perusal of this document, the administration of a soothing tonic, and perhaps the leisurely reading of a light novella.

Several remarks of the Euclidean persuasion present themselves.  Oh, indeed, we are all familiar with the usual formulae for distance, angle, etc., etc.  These pose little difficulty, even in thirty-seven dimensions, once we are introduced to our good friend the Greek capital sigma.

But let us turn our eyes to the imaginitive world of polyhedra, a subject quite dear to my heart.  Another discussion entirely!  It is within this discussion that the force of my words comes to bear.  For indeed, I should be greatly surprised if when, upon strolling through the Pearly Gates and bidding good-day to St. Pete, I find that God did not have amongst his cabinet (a gaggle of geese, perhaps, but the precise nomenclature for an approbriation of Archangels momentarily eludes me) one for whom polyhedra are a consuming passion.

And what would give cause for raised eyebrows?  Follow along.  Examining your regular polyhedra of dimension two, we find squares, triangles, etc., etc., and, while these are no doubt pleasing to the eye, one might find oneself a trifle bored after pondering a polygon of forty-six sides.  For next comes the all-too-exciting forty-seven sider, and while one might appear to the casual observer nonplussed, the more astute attendant of human psychology would undoubtedly sense a consuming ennui.  Hardly worthy of God, or even a lesser member of his cabinet.  Of course, one may counter that I have neglected the likes of five-pointed stars, nineteen-pointed stars, and eighty-five-pointed stars, and one would be correct.  But these, too, soon become tiresome.

This ends the first installment of Percy Plumtwiddle’s essay, On Threeness.  Be sure to catch the second (and final) installment next week!