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The Pigeonhole Principle

(A priceless tool)

The book Mathematical Circles: Russian Experience describes the definition of pigeonhole principle the best .

Definition of Pigeonhole Principle by the Mathematical Circles book : Students who have never heard of Pigeonhole principle may think it is a joke ;

If we must put more pigeons.

pigeons in

holes then some pigeon hole must contain two or

Notice how vague this sounds, Nevertheless it is one of the most important tools in the realm of Olympiad Geometry. Also its applications are immense in many fields of Math.

Of course some of the trivial applications of pigeonhole principle are like the following problem:

Q 0.) A bag contains beads of two colors , black and white. What is the smallest number of beads which may be drawn from the bag, without looking, so that among these beads there are two of the same color ?

So friends, lets wage a war against the problems and blast them away by the method of pigeonhole principle (This word is getting big, let’s call it PHP!!!).

Q 1.) If a plane is colored with two colors, there are two points of the same color exactly one mile apart.

This is an elementary problem with an elementary but intuitive solution.

Consider an equilateral triangle with side of distance 1 mile. There are three sides of a triangle, but the plane is colored in only two colors. So by PHP there are two vertices of the equilateral triangle with same color.

This problem comes under the topic of the Chromatic Number of the Plane and the pigeonhole principle plays a very important part in this topic.

Next, we come across a problem which looks like a Number Theory problem, but is disguised and the application of PHP.

Q .2) Suppose 51 numbers are chosen from 1,2,3 … 100. Show that there are two numbers which do not have a common prime divisor.

The solution is an elegant one …

, (99,100). Since 51 numbers are chosen, the pigeonhole principle tells us that there will be a pair among them. Now if a prime number p divides k+1 and k, then p will divide , which is a contradiction. So, k and k+1 have no common prime divisor.

Do observe that the pigeon hole principle can be further generalized as

Let us consider the 50 pairs of consecutive numbers (1,2), (3,4),

follows:-

If you have p pigeons and h holes. then at least one of the holes contains

at least ⌈ ⌉ pigeons.

Lets see some more problems where PHP wrecks a combinatorial geometry question.

Q 3.) (A. Soifer ) Prove that among any nine points inside or on the boundary of a triangle of area 1, there are three points that form a triangle of area not exceeding

1/4.

For this solution, we partition our given triangle into four congruent triangles as follows.

And now we use a trivial result:- The midlines partition the given triangle into four congruent triangles of

area .

These congruent triangles are our pigeonholes, and the given points are our pigeons. Now nine pigeons are sitting in four pigeonholes.

Since

containing atleast three pigeons.

, by generalized PHP there is at least one pigeonhole

Now I introduce you to the infinite PHP .

(Infinite pigeonhole principle) :- Given an infinite set of objects, if they are arranged in a finite number of places, there is at least one place with an infinite number of objects.

This also may seem trivial to you but this too has some mind blowing applications.

Q 4.) A 100×100 board is divided into unit squares. In every square there is an

100×100 board is divided into unit squares. In every square there is an arrow that points up, down, left

A

or right. The board square is surrounded by a wall, except for the right side of the top right corner

arrow that points up, down, left or right. The board square is surrounded by a

square. An insect is placed in one of the squares. Each second, the insect moves one unit in the direction

wall, except for the right side of the top right corner square. An insect is placed in

of

the arrow in its square. When the insect moves, the arrow of the square it was in moves 90 degrees

clockwise. If the indicated movement cannot be done, the insect does not move that second, but the

one of the squares. Each second, the insect moves one unit in the direction of the

arrow in its squares does move. Is it possible that the insect never leaves the board?

arrow in its square. When the insect moves, the arrow of the square it was in moves 90 degrees clockwise. If the indicated movement cannot be done, the insect does not move that second, but the arrow in its squares does move. Is it possible that the insect never leaves the board?

The proof of this seemingly hard problem becomes easy by the application of infinite PHP.

We are going to prove that regardless of how the arrows are or where the insect is placed, it always leaves the board. Suppose this is not true, i.e., the insect is trapped. In this case, the insect makes an infinite number of

steps in the board. Since there are only

squares, by the infinite

pigeonhole principle, there is a square that is visited an infinite number of times. Each time the insect goes through this square, the arrow in there moves. Thus, the insect was also an infinite number of times in each of the neighboring squares. By repeating this argument, the insect also visited an infinite number of times each of the neighbors of those squares. In this way we conclude that the insect visited an infinite number of times each square in the board, in particular the top right corner. This is impossible,

because when that arrow points to the right the insect leaves the board.

So here are some problems to satisfy your dose of PHP .

WARNING! The problems are not in increasing order of difficulty.

Q 2.) (IrMO 1997) Let

than

distinct elements

be a subset of

contains a power of is a power of

containing more or there exist two

elements. Prove that either

such that

Q 3.)

chessboard. Prove that you can choose five of them that do not attack each other. (We say that one rook attacks another if they are in the same row or column of the

chessboard.)

(A. Soifer and S. Slobodnik ) Forty-one rooks are placed on a 10

10

Q 4.) (Tournament of towns 1985) A class of 32 students is organized in 33 teams.

Every team consists of three students and there are no identical teams. Show that there are two teams with exactly one common student.

Q 5.) (IMO 1972) Prove that from a set of ten distinct two-digit numbers (in the

decimal system), it is possible to select two disjoint subsets whose members have the

same sum.

Q 6.) Color the plane in three colors. Prove that there are two points of the same

color one unit apart.

Q 7.) (Russia 1972) Show that if we are given 50 segments in a line, then there are 8

of them which are pairwise disjoint or 8 of them with a common point.