It has long been known that for any two polygons of equal area (or
groups of polygons adding to the same area) there is a collection of
smaller polygonal pieces that can be arranged to form either of the two
polygons; this partition into smaller pieces is known as a
*dissection*. For instance, a square may be partitioned into four
polygonal pieces, which can be rearranged to form an equilateral
triangle of the same area. This idea was used by Hilbert to develop an
axiomatic theory of plane area. Dissection has some potential
application to random generation of points; it is easy to generate
uniformly distributed points in a square, so by dissecting the square to
another shape one can generate points in that shape. Dissection is also
closely related to the Banach-Tarski paradox (which concerns itself with
similar set-theoretic partitions). But problems of dissection also have
more recreational aspects, concerned with minimizing the number of
pieces in dissections of specific shapes.

I am interested here in a different but closely related problem:
partitioning a polygon or group of polygons into a dissection such that
the pieces can be rearranged to tile the plane. Each piece must be used
with a density proportional to its area (otherwise one could just take a
square out of the middle of one polygon and not use the other pieces).
Any polygon can be dissected and rearranged to form a unit-width
rectangle, so any group of polygons has a *dissection tiling*.
Tilings have been used directly for constructing dissections (by
overlaying two tilings with the same fundamental domain), but they also
are useful for understanding n-to-one dissections in the limit as n
grows large -- the number of pieces can be approximated by kn+O(sqrt n)
where k is the average pieces/polygon in a dissection tiling. This sort
of averaging allows different copies of a polygon to be cut differently;
for instance we can cut two pentagons into a dissection tiling averaging
1.5 pieces/polygon whereas the best one could do with a single polygon
would be 2. I depict below the best dissection tilings I know of (in
terms of this average) for various regular polygons, star polygons, and
groups of polygons. Since this emphasis is somewhat different from
previous work on the subject, many of the dissections here are new.

Topics: triangles -- squares -- pentagons -- hexagons -- heptagons -- octagons -- nonagons -- six-point stars -- eight-point stars -- nine-point stars -- pentagons and decagons -- pentagons and stars -- octagons and stars -- three dimensions -- bibliography.

Two pentagons may be partitioned into three pieces that tile, giving an average of 1.5 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995].

Note that the average pieces/polygon of any pentagon dissection tiling must be bounded away from one. To see this, let d be the maximum density of a packing of pentagons on the plane; then d<1. Define a piecewise constant integer function f(x,y) by finding the piece covering (x,y) and counting how many pieces the corresponding pentagon was cut into; then the average pieces/polygon is just the limit of (integral_A f(x,y) / area(A)) over larger and larger areas. Since f(x,y) >= 1 everywhere, and f(x,y) >= 2 on a (1-d) fraction of A, the average pieces/polygon is at least 2-d > 1. A similar argument applies to any input that does not itself tile the plane.

This dissection tiling of the nonagon [original, Dec 1995], involving three different strips with straight boundaries, must be aperiodic: the strips have incommensurate periods, and one must alternate the strips in an aperiodic way to achieve the correct density of each type of piece. One can use this idea to get tilings with pieces/polygon arbitrarily close to 2.5. The same ratios are achievable by periodic tilings, by chopping the narrower strips into long pieces of commensurate lengths, and performing slide dissection on the remaining rectangular "scraps" to make them also commensurate.

One might think that an aperiodic tiling such as this one would be of no use in constructing dissections, but in fact a nine-piece dissection of the nonagon to a triangle (credited by Lindgren to Irving Freese) is related to a similar aperiodic dissection tiling in which four trapezoids are cut from the nonagon to leave an equilateral triangle. Robert Reid and Gavin Theobald further improved this dissection to eight pieces using similar methods.

The same method can also be used to find dissection tilings of the heptagon with pieces/polygon arbitrarily close to 2 [original, Dec 1995].

Three six-point stars can be dissected into five pieces for an average of 1.666 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995]. The same pieces can be arranged in other ways (and other dissections are possible) but this version has a pleasing amount of symmetry.

This four-piece dissection tiling of the 8/2 star [original, Dec 1995] is easily generalized to tilings with average pieces/polygon arbitrarily close to 3. With a little rearrangement it can be used to find a 7-piece dissection of 8/2 to a square, different from the one by Frederickson in his book with Lindgren.

One 8/3 star can be dissected into two pieces that together tile [credited by Grünbaum and Shephard to D. P. Chavey but not depicted there].

One 9/3 star can be dissected into five pieces that tile [original, Feb 1987, based on a six-piece dissection in Grünbaum and Shephard]. Note the interesting three-way symmetry in the tiling.

Four pentagons and one decagon can be dissected into six pieces for an average of 1.2 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995].

Fifty pentagons and eleven decagons can be dissected into seventy pieces for an average of 1.148 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995].

Five pentagons and one decagon can be dissected into eight pieces for an average of 1.333 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995]. However it seems likely that an even better average can be obtained by somehow mixing the 50:11 dissection above with the 2-pentagon dissection. This should give an average of 155/132, which is just barely worse than 7/6, so perhaps there is a seven-piece dissection of the same six polygons.

Four pentagons and one five-point star can be dissected into six pieces for an average of 1.2 pieces/polygon [original, Nov 1995]. The star can also be divided into two congruent pieces, or a pentagon can be cut and the star left intact.

Even better, ten pentagons and three stars can be dissected into 15 pieces, for an average of 1.154 pieces/polygon [original, Dec 1995].

There are many ways of combining octagons with 8/2 stars to form reasonably good tilings. The best one I found (in terms of the average pieces/polygon 28/23 ~ 1.2174) is formed by dissecting 17 octagons and 6 stars into 28 pieces. One of the octagons is partitioned into squares and rhombs, and the other polygons are all left intact [original, Nov 1995].

But this is not best! 14 octagons and 5 stars can be dissected into only 23 pieces, giving a ratio of 1.2105. [Robert Reid, July 1998].

It is known that any two *zonohedra* of equal volumes can be
dissected into each other. Since some zonohedra tile (e.g. the
parallelohedra and the rhombic dodecahedron), all zonohedra have
dissection tilings. However to my knowledge none have been explicitly
constructed.

- The definitive reference for dissections is Greg Frederickson's new book on dissections, Dissections: Plane & Fancy. This book discusses dissection tilings as well, but only for their use in constructing dissections.
- An older reference covering much of the same material as Greg's new book is "Recreational problems in geometric dissections & how to solve them", Harry Lindgren & Greg Frederickson, Dover 1972.
- A fairly comprehensive list of dissection tilings can be found in Grünbaum and Shephard's "Tilings and Patterns", W.H. Freeman, 1987, section 2.6.
- Alfred Varsady has published two articles on dissections of 5-fold figures (pentagons, decagons, and stars): "The Dissection of Sets of Polygons", J. Rec. Math. 18 (1985/6), and "Some New Dissections", J. Rec. Math. 21 (1989) 203-209.
- David Hilbert, Foundations of Geometry, Open Court, 1971 (the English translation of his book Grundlagen der Geometrie) includes in chapter IV "Theory of Plane Area" the application of dissection to geometric axiomatics. He attributes to Euclid a dissection of parallelograms with equal bases and heights, and includes many other references including M. Dehn's proof of the impossibility of dissecting certain pairs of tetrahedra.
- For other web dissection pages, see the dissection section of The Geometry Junkyard.

David Eppstein, Inf. & Comp. Sci., UC Irvine.

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