The Advantages of Different Viewpoints (From the Pillowbook IX)

It all started with a question about polysticks: I wanted to see how to tile parts of the square grid with 3-sticks so that there are always three 3-sticks touching. A 3-stick is nothing but a T with all segments the same length: it has 3 arms that end at the hands, and are joined together at a head. By tiling I mean that the arms align with the edges of the standard square grid and don’t overlap. And, as I said, I want always three of them to hold hands. Here is an example (that you should imagine continued periodically):

Right3 01

The condition about holding hands in threes means that each such tiling has a dual tiling where the new 3-sticks have their heads wherever three hands come together, the same arms, and the previous heads are replaced by three hands. This also implies that a tiling and its dual will tile the same portion of the square grid, as below to the left and right.

Merge 01

We can also combine a tiling and its dual into a single figure by centrally scaling each 3-stick by 50%, and taking the union: The gaps created by the scaling makes room for the 3-sticks from the other tiling. You can examine the result up above in the middle. The new skeleton will have all 3-sticks hold hands in pairs instead of in triples. Here is another, more complicated example. The original periodic 3-stick tiling:

Right7 01

The inflated version that combines the original with its dual:

Right7 inf 01

In the inflated version we can replace each 3-stick by a square so that the sides touch when the 3-sticks hold hands. The unused edge of the square is pushed inwards, turning the square into the familiar 3/4 pillow we admired the last time (the next image shows only a quarter of the previous piece. It repeats itself using horizontal and vertical translations).

Right7 p 01

As a final simplification, we can fill in the holes as follows: We replace the 3/4 pillows that border a hole by the polyomino they cover  (thereby filling in the hole). Below are the two simplest polyominoes that surround a hole:

Polyrule 01

These polyominoes will tile the plane as before, because each 3/4 pillow must belong to exactly one hole. Our 3/4-pillow tiling now becomes a very simple polyomino tiling:

Polyominoes 01

Thus periodic 3-stick-tilings with triple hand holding, 3-stick tilings with hand holding in pairs, 3/4-pillow tilings with holes, and  tilings by polyominoes that surround holes are all the same thing.

You can use this to design  much more intricate patterns, with holes of any size, for instance.


Three Quarters (From the Pillowbook VIII)

Today we will talk about a single, very neglected pillow, which I will call 3/4. To make things look pretty, we will color it depending on its orientation, as follows.

Single 01

Discriminated for centuries by the other, more curvy pillows, 3/4 only likes to hang out with other 3/4s and hide its straight edges as much as possible. Like so:

Right1 p

These two examples are portions of periodic tilings of the entire plane. This way, all straight edges are hidden, and we have periodically placed holes. This quickly becomes more interesting. Here, for instance, is the only tiling that has just circular holes (up to symmetries, of course):

Right2 p

The holes can be more complicated, like these double holes in subtly different periodic tilings.

Right5 p

Next month, we will analyze these patterns a bit. For today, we end with an example that indicates that the holes can become really big (as we will learn).

Right6 p

For today it’s enough to have learned that also the seemingly uninteresting can do pretty things.

Double Parity (From the Pillowbook VII)

Here are the 36 pillowminoes introduced last time, arranged by their imbalance, i.e. according to how many more convex than concave edges they have. Isn’t that a pretty bell curve?

Pillowminoes weight

This time we will focus on the pillowminoes near the border of existence, namely the six ones that have all but one edge either bulging in or out. They have an imbalance of +4 or -4. Gathered and recolored, here are the marginal pillowminoes:


Let’s tile some curvy shapes with these. A curvy rectangle has odd dimensions, so cannot be entirely tiled by pillowminoes. If we decide to leave a round hole in order to fix that, the entire curvy shape will be balanced. This means that we will need the same number of brownish pillowminoes (with imbalance +4) as bluish ones (with imbalance -4). In particular, we will need an even number of these pillowminoes, so the total area of our shape needs to be divisible by 4. That’s our double parity argument.

The simplest example is that of a 5×5 square with a center hole (it’s easy to see that skinny rectangles with one edge of length 3 are not tilable with marginal pillowminoes).


The example to the left is the only one I could find, up to the obvious symmetries. To the right you see how one can inflate it to make frames, proving:

Theorem: If you can tile an axb holy rectangle with marginal pillows, then you can also tile a holy (a+4)x(b+4) rectangle with marginal pillows.

We have seen this trick before, talking about ragged rectangles.

The next interesting case are 7×7 squares. Here is one example that also teaches us another trick:

Theorem: If you can tile an axb holy rectangle with marginal pillows, then you can also tile a holy ax(b+4) rectangle with marginal pillows.


This second trick decenters the holes, however.

Finally, two examples that employ all six different marginals. First a 5×7 rectangle with center hole, then another 7×7 square that uses four marginals of each kind, nice and symmetrically.


Pillow Puzzles (From the Pillowbook V)

After admitting a few pillows with straight edges, there is no end to it. Here are all 24 pillows based on a square that either have a straight, concave, or convex edge. We disregard rotational copies but keep mirrors.

24pillows 01

Usually, polyformists try to tile simple shapes using each polyform exactly once. The archetypical example is to tile a 6×10 rectangle with all 12 pentominoes. This is in most cases a tedious exercise that doesn’t teach you much more than backtracking. On the other hand, nothing is worse than not knowing, so here you go: Three puzzles that ask to tile the outlined region by using each of the 24 pillows exactly once.

Puzzles 01

The grid is there to help placing the pillows. These puzzles are actually not so bad. The first one for instance requires to make economic use of the pillows with straight edges. I post the solutions below, mainly because nobody would do them anyway and to prevent future waste of time.

4x6 01

Note in the solution above the second column consisting entirely of pillows with parallel straight edges. I think this has to appear in any solution of this puzzle.

5x5 hole 01

The one above is my favorite. Unfortunately, one could go ahead and ask to find solutions of similar puzzles where the shape of the hole in the center is any of the remaining 23 pillows. No.

Wiggly 4x6 01

Triangles and Squares

There are two Archimedean tiling using triangles and squares.

Archi34 01

Both of them use twice as many triangles than squares. I find the first one is more interesting, maybe because it is chiral. There are still many other ways to tile the plane say periodically with just triangles and squares. There are three different ways to assemble two triangles and a square, and all of them give polyforms that can be used as a single subtile for the first Archimedean tiling:

Architile 01

Among these three polyforms I like the middle one best, maybe because it cannot be used to subtile the second Archimedean tiling. It is an amusing exercise to doodle around and find other tilings of the plane with this tile. Here, for instance, are two small turtles and a giant caterpillar, all part of a big creation.

TrisqueArt 01

I find it amusing how this simple polyform lends it self easily to organic shapes and abstract designs.

Order4 01

There are (I think) 10 ways to combine two of them into a single polyform, not counting mirror images. At least two look like cats.

Duos 01

Confusing as they look, almost all of them tile the plane. The two exceptions are shown below. It is not difficult to find an argument why these two do not tile.

Nottileduo 01

More interestingly the other eight tile, even though they look much more complicated. Typically one needs for each tile its mirror, suitably rotated. Here are two pretty examples. Homework is to find the others.

Duotileex 01

Arrows (From the Pillowbook IV)

So far, we have looked only at pillows with concave and convex edges. Today, we begin also to allow straight edges. To keep it simple, let’s look at the three different pillows that have two straight edges, one concave, and one convex edge. Here they are. I call them the arrow pillows.

Arrows 01

Because they have straight edges, we can finally tile rectangles that have straight edges, too, like so:

Sq4x4 01

There are a few immediate questions: Is this always possible? Can we say something about the number of arrows of each type we need? The key to the answers is indicated in the right image. The convex edge of one arrow pillow (the predecessor) fits snugly into the concave edge of a second arrow pillow (the successor), thus providing us with a recipe to move from one pillow to a neighbor. If we have a tiling of a rectangle just by arrow pillows, this sequence of consecutive successors must form a closed cycle. Therefore, the entire rectangle will be covered by possibly several such closed cycles, so we have what is called a Hamiltonian circuit. Readers of my blog have seen these before.

Vice versa, given any Hamiltonian circuit and a direction for each component, we can lay out the arrow pillows along each path to obtain a tiling. Below are two more examples with two components each that use only right and straight arrow pillows.

Sq4x4b 01

Can you tile a 5×5 square with arrow pillows? If you checkerboard color the rectangle black and white, any path alternates between black and white squares, so a closed path will cover the same number of white and black squares. Thus in particular Hamiltonian circuits must have an even length on rectangles.

Let’s look at a single closed cycle, and let’s assume we follow it clockwise. Then there must be four more right turns than left turns. We have seen examples with no left turn arrow pillow, and with two left turns. Below are examples with just one and just three left turns.

Arrow13 01

These little insights not only help to show that some tiling is impossible, they also give hints to design tilings. For instance, suppose you want to tile a square using the same number of straight, right, and left arrow pillows. Then the smallest square for which this could work is the 6×6 square. We also see that we need an even number of cycles in our Hamiltonian circuit in order to balance the left and right arrow pillows. The simple solution below uses two mirror symmetric tilings of 3×6 rectangles.

Sq6x6balance 01

Just Two (From the Pillowbook III)

A while ago we learned how to tile curvy 3×3 squares with pillows. Most of the possible tilings need at least three different kinds of pillows. The only way to tile a curvy 3×3 square was using the Blue and Yellow. This changes when we look at tilings of larger curvy rectangles. For instance, below is a tiling of a 5×7 rectangle with Red and Blue:

Rb 7x5 rag

I have overlaid the curvy rectangle with a 3×4 ragged rectangle, tiled by L-trominoes. Each L-tromino is replaced with a cluster of 3 Reds, and the T-junctions of the L-tromino tiling are filled with Blues. As we have seen that every ragged rectangle whose area is divisible by 3 can be tiled with L-trominos. This gives plenty of examples. In fact, every
tiling of a curvy rectangle with just Blue and Red comes from an L-tromino tiling of a ragged rectangle.

To see this, one can look at the possible ways a red pillow can be surrounded by blue and red pillows, and one almost finds that each red pillow belongs to a unique L-tromino. There is one exception that causes a little bit of headache that leads to circular clusters as in the example below (dark red and pink).

Rb 4x12 rag

But one can show anyway that such clusters can be tiled (in multiple ways) with L-trominoes.

Another challenge is to find a curvy square that can be tiled with just Blue and Red. That this is impossible follows from the deficit formula: We need to have the area r+b to be a square and r-2b =2 for r Reds and b Blues. But this implies that -1 is a square modulo 3, which is false.

Tiled squares are possible with other two color combinations. The example of a tiling of curvy 5×5 square tiled by Yellow and Green is deceivingly simple. The next case of the 7×7 square below is more complicated. Can you find a pattern?

Gyex 01

The only really simple case is tilings by Yellow and Blue. All curvy rectangles can be tiled, and in only just one way.

By 5x5

A mean little exercise is to ask somebody to tile any curvy rectangle with Green and Red. There is no solution, because the deficit formula tells us that r-g=2, but r+g needs to be odd, because curvy rectangles have odd area.

There are a few more color combinations to consider. For instance using either orange or purple pillows together with a second color is impossible. By the deficit formula, this would require to be either a single yellow pillow or precisely two red pillows. For purple this means that there would be a line of purple pillows through the rectangle. But such lines always end at one concave and one convex segment, which can’t be. For orange this would require al least two orange corner pillows, which also doesn’t work.