The Choice of the Circle

Here’s an elementary mathematical problem: how many ways are there to choose three numbers from a set of six numbers? If the set is (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), these are the possible choices (or combinations):

(1, 2, 3), (1, 2, 4), (1, 2, 5), (1, 2, 6), (1, 3, 4), (1, 3, 5), (1, 3, 6), (1, 4, 5), (1, 4, 6), (1, 5, 6), (2, 3, 4), (2, 3, 5), (2, 3, 6), (2, 4, 5), (2, 4, 6), (2, 5, 6), (3, 4, 5), (3, 4, 6), (3, 5, 6), (4, 5, 6) (c = 20)

So 6C3 = 20 (C stands for “combination”). The general formula is nCr = (n! / (n-r)!) / r!, where n is the number to choose from, r is the number of choices and n! is factorial n, or n multiplied by all numbers less than itself. For example, 6! = 6 * 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 720. When n = 6 and c = 3, 6C3 = (6! / (6-3)!) / 3! = (720 / 6) / 6 = 20.

There isn’t much visual appeal in the choices above, but there’s a simple way to change that. Take the ways of choosing two numbers from a set of ten. They start like this:

(1, 2), (1, 3), (1, 4), (1, 5), (1, 6), (1, 7), (1, 8), (1, 9), (1, 10), (2, 3), (2, 4), (2, 5), (2, 6), (2, 7), (2, 8), (2, 9), (2, 10), (3, 4), (3, 5), (3, 6)…

Suppose each choice represents the midpoint of two points chosen from a set of ten points around a pentagon, so that (1, 2) is half-way between points 1 and 2, (3, 5) is half-way between points 3 and 5, and so on:

pent_10_2

Now take the ways of choosing three numbers from a set of ten:

(1, 2, 3), (1, 2, 4), (1, 2, 5), (1, 2, 6), (1, 2, 7), (1, 2, 8), (1, 2, 9), (1, 2, 10), (1, 3, 4), (1, 3, 5), (1, 3, 6), (1, 3, 7), (1, 3, 8), (1, 3, 9), (1, 3, 10)…

Now the pentagon looks like this, with (1, 2, 3) representing the point midway between 1, 2 and 3, (1, 3, 9) representing the point midway between 1, 3 and 9, and so on:

pent_10_3

Now here are 10C4, 10C5 and 10C6 for the pentagon:

pent_10_4

pent_10_5

pent_10_6

You can also generate the points 5C4 = 5, then add them to the original five points and generate 10C4:

pent4_1

5C4


pent4_2

10C4


And here are 5C5, 6C5 and 12C5:

pent5

Here are 7C7 and 8C8, adding points as for 5C4:

hept7

octo8

And here is 12C6 using a dodecagon:

dodeca_6

And various nCr for dodecagons and other polygons:

various

This method can also be used to represent the partitions of n, or the number of sets whose members sum to n. The partitions of 5 are these:

(5), (4, 1), (3, 2), (3, 1, 1), (2, 2, 1), (2, 1, 1, 1), (1, 1, 1, 1, 1)

There are seven partitions, so p(5) = 7. Partitions start small and get very large, starting with p(1), p(2), p(3) and so on:

1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 15, 22, 30, 42, 56, 77, 101, 135, 176, 231, 297, 385, 490, 627, 792, 1002, 1255, 1575, 1958, 2436, 3010, 3718, 4565, 5604, 6842, 8349, 10143, 12310, 14883, 17977, 21637, 26015, 31185, 37338, 44583, 53174, 63261, 75175, 89134, 105558, 124754, 147273, 173525, 204226, 239943, 281589, 329931, 386155, 451276, 526823, 614154, 715220, 831820, 966467, 1121505, 1300156…

Suppose the partitions of n are treated as sets of points around a polygon with n vertices. Each set is then used to generate the point midway between its members. For example, (5, 4, 4, 2) is one partition of 15 and would represent the point midway between 5, 4, 4 and 2 of a pentadecagon. Here is a graphical representation of p(30):

partition30

Here are graphical representations for the partitions 5 to 15, then 15 to 60 in increments of 5 (15, 20, 25, etc):

partitions5_60

And here are some close-ups for the partitions of 35 and 40:

partitions40

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