Squaring the square

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The first perfect squared square discovered, a compound one of side 4205 and order 55.[1] Each number denotes the side length of its square.

Squaring the square is the problem of tiling an integral square using only other integral squares. (An integral square is a square whose sides have integer length.) The name was coined in a humorous analogy with squaring the circle. Squaring the square is an easy task unless additional conditions are set. The most studied restriction is that the squaring be perfect, meaning that the sizes of the smaller squares are all different. A related problem is squaring the plane, which can be done even with the restriction that each natural number occurs exactly once as a size of a square in the tiling. The order of a squared square is its number of constituent squares.

Perfect squared squares[edit]

Smith diagram of a rectangle

A "perfect" squared square is a square such that each of the smaller squares has a different size.

It is first recorded as being studied by R. L. Brooks, C. A. B. Smith, A. H. Stone and W. T. Tutte at Cambridge University. They transformed the square tiling into an equivalent electrical circuit — they called it "Smith diagram" — by considering the squares as resistors that connected to their neighbors at their top and bottom edges, and then applied Kirchhoff's circuit laws and circuit decomposition techniques to that circuit.

The first perfect squared square, a compound one of side 4205 and order 55, was found by Roland Sprague in 1939.[2]

Martin Gardner published an extensive article written by W. T. Tutte about the early history of squaring the square in his mathematical games column in November 1958.[3]

Lowest-order perfect squared square

Simple squared squares[edit]

A "simple" squared square is one where no subset of the squares forms a rectangle or square, otherwise it is "compound".

In 1978, A. J. W. Duijvestijn discovered a simple perfect squared square of side 112 with the smallest number of squares using a computer search. His tiling uses 21 squares, and has been proved to be minimal.[4] This squared square forms the logo of the Trinity Mathematical Society.

Duijvestijn also found 2 simple perfect squared squares of sides 110 but each comprising 22 squares. T.H. Willcocks found another. In 1999, I. Gambini proved that these 3 are the smallest perfect squared squares in terms of side length.[5]

The perfect compound squared square with the fewest squares was discovered by T.H. Willcocks in 1946 and has 24 squares; however, it was not until 1982 that Duijvestijn, Pasquale Joseph Federico and P. Leeuw mathematically proved it to be the lowest-order example.[6]

Mrs. Perkins's quilt[edit]

When the constraint of all the squares being different sizes is relaxed, a squared square such that the side lengths of the smaller squares do not have a common divisor larger than 1 is called a "Mrs. Perkins's quilt". In other words, the greatest common divisor of all the smaller side lengths should be 1.

The Mrs. Perkins's quilt problem is to find a Mrs. Perkins's quilt with the fewest pieces for a given n × n square.

No more than two different sizes[edit]

A square cut into 10 pieces (an HTML table)

A cute number means a positive integer n such that some square admits a dissection into n squares of no more than two different sizes, without other restrictions. It can be shown that aside from 2,3, and 5, every positive integer is cute.[7]

Squaring the plane[edit]

Tiling the plane with different integral squares using the Fibonacci series
1. Tiling with squares with Fibonacci-number sides is almost perfect except for 2 squares of side 1.
2. Duijvestijn found a 110-square tiled with 22 different integer squares.
3. Scaling the Fibonacci tiling by 110 times and replacing one of the 110-squares with Duijvestijn's perfects the tiling.

In 1975, Solomon Golomb raised the question whether the whole plane can be tiled by squares, one of each integer edge-length, which he called the heterogeneous tiling conjecture. This problem was later publicized by Martin Gardner in his Scientific American column and appeared in several books, but it defied solution for over 30 years.

In Tilings and Patterns, published in 1987, Branko Grünbaum and G. C. Shephard stated that in all perfect integral tilings of the plane known at that time, the sizes of the squares grew exponentially. For example, the plane can be tiled with different integral squares, but not for every integer, by recursively taking any perfect squared square and enlarging it so that the formerly smallest tile now has the size of the original squared square, then replacing this tile with a copy of the original squared square.

Recently, James Henle and Frederick Henle proved that this, in fact, can be done. Their proof is constructive and proceeds by "puffing up" an L-shaped region formed by two side-by-side and horizontally flush squares of different sizes to a perfect tiling of a larger rectangular region, then adjoining the square of the smallest size not yet used to get another, larger L-shaped region. The squares added during the puffing up procedure have sizes that have not yet appeared in the construction and the procedure is set up so that the resulting rectangular regions are expanding in all four directions, which leads to a tiling of the whole plane.

Cubing the cube[edit]

Cubing the cube is the analogue in three dimensions of squaring the square: that is, given a cube C, the problem of dividing it into finitely many smaller cubes, no two congruent.

Unlike the case of squaring the square, a hard but solvable problem, there is no perfect cubed cube and, more generally, no dissection of a rectangular cuboid C into a finite number of unequal cubes.

Suppose that there is such a dissection. Make a face of C its horizontal base. The base is divided into a perfect squared rectangle R by the cubes which rest on it. Each corner square of R has a smaller adjacent edge square, and R's smallest edge square is adjacent to smaller squares not on the edge. Therefore, the smallest square s1 in R is surrounded by larger, and therefore higher, cubes on all four sides. Hence the upper face of the cube on s1 is divided into a perfect squared square by the cubes which rest on it. Let s2 be the smallest square in this dissection. The sequence of squares s1, s2, ... is infinite and the corresponding cubes are infinite in number. This contradicts our original supposition.[8]

If a 4-dimensional hypercube could be perfectly hypercubed then its 'faces' would be perfect cubed cubes; this is impossible. Similarly, there is no solution for all cubes of higher dimensions.


  1. ^ "o55-4205-sprague.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "R. P. Sprague" from squaring.net
  3. ^ Squaring the Square by W. T. Tutte, squaring.net
  4. ^ http://mathworld.wolfram.com/PerfectSquareDissection.html
  5. ^ "Squared Squares; Perfect Simples, Perfect Compounds and Imperfect Simples". Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "Compound Perfect Squares", By A. J. W. Duijvestijn, P. J. Federico, and P. Leeuw, Published in American Mathematical Monthly Volume 89 (1982) pp 15-32
  7. ^ Henry, JB; Taylor, PJ. Challenge! 1999 - 2006 Book 2. Australian Mathematics Trust. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-876420-23-9. 
  8. ^ Brooks, R. L.; Smith, C. A. B.; Stone, A. H.; Tutte, W. T. (1940). "The dissection of rectangles into squares". Duke Math. J. 7 (1): 312–340. doi:10.1215/S0012-7094-40-00718-9. MR 0003040. 

Further reading[edit]

  • C. J. Bouwkamp and A. J. W. Duijvestijn, Catalogue of Simple Perfect Squared Squares of Orders 21 Through 25, Eindhoven Univ. Technology, Dept. of Math., Report 92-WSK-03, Nov. 1992.
  • Bouwkamp, C. J.; Duijvestijn, A. J. W. (Dec 1994). "Album of Simple Perfect Squared Squares of order 26" (PDF). EUT Report 94-WSK-02. , Eindhoven University of Technology, Faculty of Mathematics and Computing Science
  • Martin Gardner, "Squaring the square," in The 2nd Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions.
  • Henle, Frederick V.; Henle, James M. (2008). "Squaring the plane" (PDF). American Mathematical Monthly 115: 3–12. JSTOR 27642387. 
  • Wynn, Ed (2013). "Exhaustive generation of Mrs Perkins's quilt square dissections for low orders". arXiv:1308.5420. 

External links[edit]