Friday, March 18, 2011

Defining Configurations*

Filed under: General,Geometry — m759 @ 7:00 PM

The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences has an article titled "Number of combinatorial configurations of type (n_3)," by N.J.A. Sloane and D. Glynn.

From that article:

  • DEFINITION: A combinatorial configuration of type (n_3) consists of an (abstract) set of n points together with a set of n triples of points, called lines, such that each point belongs to 3 lines and each line contains 3 points.
  • EXAMPLE: The unique (8_3) configuration consists of the triples 125, 148, 167, 236, 278, 347, 358, 456.

The following corrects the word "unique" in the example.


* This post corrects an earlier post, also numbered 14660 and dated 7 PM March 18, 2011, that was in error.
   The correction was made at about 11:50 AM on March 20, 2011.


Update of March 21

The problem here is of course with the definition. Sloane and Glynn failed to include in their definition a condition that is common in other definitions of configurations, even abstract or purely "combinatorial" configurations. See, for instance, Configurations of Points and Lines , by Branko Grunbaum (American Mathematical Society, 2009), p. 17—

In the most general sense we shall consider combinatorial (or abstract) configurations; we shall use the term set-configurations as well. In this setting "points" are interpreted as any symbols (usually letters or integers), and "lines" are families of such symbols; "incidence" means that a "point" is an element of a "line". It follows that combinatorial configurations are special kinds of general incidence structures. Occasionally, in order to simplify and clarify the language, for "points" we shall use the term marks, and for "lines" we shall use blocks. The main property of geometric configurations that is preserved in the generalization to set-configurations (and that characterizes such configurations) is that two marks are incident with at most one block, and two blocks with at most one mark.

Whether or not omitting this "at most one" condition from the definition is aesthetically the best choice, it dramatically changes the number  of configurations in the resulting theory, as the above (8_3) examples show.

Update of March 22 (itself updated on March 25)

For further background on configurations, see Dolgachev—


Note that the two examples Dolgachev mentions here, with 16 points and 9 points, are not unrelated to the geometry of 4×4 and 3×3 square arrays. For the Kummer and related 16-point configurations, see section 10.3, "The Three Biplanes of Order 4," in Burkard Polster's A Geometrical Picture Book  (Springer, 1998). See also the 4×4 array described by Gordon Royle in an undated web page and in 1980 by Assmus and Sardi. For the Hesse configuration, see (for instance) the passage from Coxeter quoted in Quaternions in an Affine Galois Plane.

Update of March 27

See the above link to the (16,6) 4×4 array and the (16,6) exercises using this array in R.D. Carmichael's classic Introduction to the Theory of Groups of Finite Order  (1937), pp. 42-43. For a connection of this sort of 4×4 geometry to the geometry of the diamond theorem, read "The 2-subsets of a 6-set are the points of a PG(3,2)" (a note from 1986) in light of R.W.H.T. Hudson's 1905 classic Kummer's Quartic Surface , pages 8-9, 16-17, 44-45, 76-77, 78-79, and 80.

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