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This is a topic on puzzle theory - specifically, it deals with the theory of symmetrical twisty puzzles. There's no real "theory" section in this forum but it doesn't belong in Off-Topic, so I've put it here so more people will see it. (This does have applications to speedcubing, in terms of solving gelatinbrain puzzles.)

So, as some of you may know, symmetrical twisty puzzles can be described by talking about the shape and the number of separate types of turns in each of the three basic categories (face turns, edge turns, and vertex turns) which are named around where the axis (which the pieces rotate around) points. A 3x3x3, for instance, is a cube with one type of turn (in the face turn category); in my categorization scheme that would make it type Cf (C for cube, f for face turn). The only other type-Cf puzzle is the 2x2x2, which has a deeper turn that just happens to line up with the turn on the opposite face. (The 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 have two face turn types, so they are type Cff. Similarly the 6x6x6 and 7x7x7 are type Cfff.) Note that I'm considering a 3x3 with slightly shallower or deeper cuts to be the same, because it has the same number and types of pieces and the exact same solution, so the only difference is in the shape of the pieces.

If we want to talk about symmetrical puzzles with only one type of turn, it's relatively simple, because we can describe the depth of the turn as a single number. But if we have two types of turns, we need two numbers: for instance, on a 5x5x5, if we imagine a turn of depth 0 to turn nothing and a turn of depth 1 to turn the entire cube, the two turns have depths 1/5 and 2/5. But it's hard to imagine exactly what numbers will give a certain puzzle, and which numbers will give a different one. So the question is this: how many possible puzzles are there of a given type, and, more importantly, how can we understand where one puzzle begins and another ends?

My answer to this is the 2D State Diagram. This particular one describes the Tvv-type polyhedra (that is, tetrahedra with two vertex turn types - note that a vertex turn and a face turn are the same thing on a tetrahedron). The two axes correspond to the two depths of turn, and each one goes from 0 (no part of the puzzle is turned) to 1 (the entire puzzle is turned).

So what are the lines in the diagram? Each one represents some kind of puzzle which only exists for a very specific set of turn depths. The diagonal line from the top-left to bottom-right represents the degenerate case where the two depths are the same (so, type Tv puzzles with only one type of cut). Each of those big spaces between the lines, however, is a specific puzzle, which remains the same anywhere in that space. There are also puzzles on the lines themselves, and each place where lines intersect is another puzzle, albeit a very specific one because even a small change in either of the two depths will make it different. The Pyraminx, for example, is located at the intersection of a horizontal or vertical 2/3 line, and the diagonal line from bottom left to top right.

Finally, I have prepared an interactive simulation (!) of this state diagram, so that you can play with it to see how it works out. It uses the GeoGebra geometry program, which I'm really fond of. You can download it from my website. To use it, just move the red point around inside the square (use the white pointer symbol to move a point around), and watch how the puzzle changes when you cross or move along lines.

I hope this is interesting to you, and feel free to ask any questions

So, as some of you may know, symmetrical twisty puzzles can be described by talking about the shape and the number of separate types of turns in each of the three basic categories (face turns, edge turns, and vertex turns) which are named around where the axis (which the pieces rotate around) points. A 3x3x3, for instance, is a cube with one type of turn (in the face turn category); in my categorization scheme that would make it type Cf (C for cube, f for face turn). The only other type-Cf puzzle is the 2x2x2, which has a deeper turn that just happens to line up with the turn on the opposite face. (The 4x4x4 and 5x5x5 have two face turn types, so they are type Cff. Similarly the 6x6x6 and 7x7x7 are type Cfff.) Note that I'm considering a 3x3 with slightly shallower or deeper cuts to be the same, because it has the same number and types of pieces and the exact same solution, so the only difference is in the shape of the pieces.

If we want to talk about symmetrical puzzles with only one type of turn, it's relatively simple, because we can describe the depth of the turn as a single number. But if we have two types of turns, we need two numbers: for instance, on a 5x5x5, if we imagine a turn of depth 0 to turn nothing and a turn of depth 1 to turn the entire cube, the two turns have depths 1/5 and 2/5. But it's hard to imagine exactly what numbers will give a certain puzzle, and which numbers will give a different one. So the question is this: how many possible puzzles are there of a given type, and, more importantly, how can we understand where one puzzle begins and another ends?

My answer to this is the 2D State Diagram. This particular one describes the Tvv-type polyhedra (that is, tetrahedra with two vertex turn types - note that a vertex turn and a face turn are the same thing on a tetrahedron). The two axes correspond to the two depths of turn, and each one goes from 0 (no part of the puzzle is turned) to 1 (the entire puzzle is turned).

So what are the lines in the diagram? Each one represents some kind of puzzle which only exists for a very specific set of turn depths. The diagonal line from the top-left to bottom-right represents the degenerate case where the two depths are the same (so, type Tv puzzles with only one type of cut). Each of those big spaces between the lines, however, is a specific puzzle, which remains the same anywhere in that space. There are also puzzles on the lines themselves, and each place where lines intersect is another puzzle, albeit a very specific one because even a small change in either of the two depths will make it different. The Pyraminx, for example, is located at the intersection of a horizontal or vertical 2/3 line, and the diagonal line from bottom left to top right.

Finally, I have prepared an interactive simulation (!) of this state diagram, so that you can play with it to see how it works out. It uses the GeoGebra geometry program, which I'm really fond of. You can download it from my website. To use it, just move the red point around inside the square (use the white pointer symbol to move a point around), and watch how the puzzle changes when you cross or move along lines.

I hope this is interesting to you, and feel free to ask any questions

Last edited: Jan 12, 2009