Spidermath and Four Utilities Puzzle

Two videos since I last posted here!


so I noticed this way cool spider web in the corner of my couch and 

*its making me have math thoughts*

Lookit the shape, its roundy but also antiroundy and now I’m gonna be stuck staring at this spider while my brain goes all

*spider math*

It reminds me of a wormhole, like, if you get sucked into the web what is on the other side? Besides mandibly death?

It reminds me of a pseudosphere, or maybe a hyperboloid, lookit that negative curvature, right? It’s roundy one way around the funnel but unlike a sphere which would be roundy around the same way it’s roundy around the opposite way at the same time.

it reminds me of this sculpture by Anish Kapoor called Vortex which I guess doesn’t photograph very well but trust me in real life it just sucks your mind into this incalculable void and you’re left standing there staring helplessly with your brain all fuzzy. 

It makes me imagine the entire room could get sucked into the roundy vortex of spiderness, or at least the bugs in it, like flies are points in a vector field and the vector field is like choochoochoochoo into the funnel, or maybe it’s a spirally kind of vector field where everything spirals in…

I looked it up it’s a funnel web spider, not to be confused with the australian funnel web spider, and its funnel is more a cozy retreat for the spider to hang out in than a place where bugs get stuck, it’s not even sticky, the bugs can fall on any part of it or even just be near the web and the spider comes out and does noms. So its kinda like the web extends smoothly to become the couch and the rest of the universe…

It makes me think we are all already inside the web we just don’t know it yet because the spider hasn’t come to claim us,

it reminds me of a 4d torus stereographically projected into 3d space, there’s this cool way to divide space into like two infinite donuts, whatdya call it, ooh that’s what I’m talking about, thank you Jason, so you think you’ve got a regular donut but it starts growing cuz spiders and soon it’s infinitely big inside and everything is spider territory and there’s this funnel web spider hole but actually surprise, the rest of space that isn’t the donut is actually also a donut that belongs to reverse-spiders or antispiders or something.

I know that’s probably not what the spider had in mind when it made this web in the corner of my couch buuuuut I can’t help wonder when presented with such a shapey shape.

*it’s making me have math thoughts*

Ok postscript, no joke, I went to see if that Anish Kapoor sculpture was still on display at sfmoma and

the 5th floor sculpture gallery is now entirely full of spiders. By Louise Bourgeois because she knows what’s up. So here’s some free promotion for sfmoma, go do art to your brain its good for you bye.

This video is funded by my patrons on patreon, so thank you all of you, and if you want a tau is greater than pi shirt you’ve got one more day before we put in the order.






So some months back Grant Sanderson of the channel 3blue1brown invited me to take part in a collaboration where various science and math youtubers attempt a twist on a classic puzzle where the original goes like this: There’s three houses and three utility stations: gas, water and power. Connect every house to every utility, simple enough, except oh no if you cross two utilities they explode so do it with no crossings. People usually manage pretty well up to line 7 or 8 but number 9 seems impossible.

The timing didn’t work out for me to take part in the original collab, where the same puzzle is printed on a mug, but I finally saw the video, and I was surprised to find that my answer was different from anyone else’s. You see, I wanted to leave room for future infrastructure, so, sure we need to untangle everyone’s gas water and power but we also want internet that connect every house to every other house, and a separate secure network that connects every utility station to every other utility station.

So if you don’t know the original puzzle try that first, and if you do know it then you might want to check out the mug variation first, and if you’ve already figured that one out then you might want to pause and see if you can figure out the Vi Hart Infrastructure Special and make everything connect to everything, that’s 15 lines, three each for gas, water, power, social network, and secure network, without any of them crossing. But on a mug.

And one more thing before we start. The official version of this mug is sold on mathsgear and comes with a dry erase marker so you can make mistakes, but I’m a sharpie person and a lover of beautiful solutions so we need something that makes enough sense that I can draw in all 15 lines using permanent marker without worrying about making a mistake.

Ok so here’s the thought process.

First I look at the puzzle and see what associations come up. If you’re a science or math person you might think, oh, this has to do with graph theory, there’s lines connecting vertices and that’s like the definition of a graph.

For the mug variation, you might think, oh, maybe it has to do with topology, because there’s that joke about how a topologist thinks a mug is the same as a donut because topologically you can transform one into the other, as seen in this piece by Henry Segerman and Keenan Crane.

So the main associations come up, and depending on how much you know about them these secondary associations might come up, or maybe you just start trying things out, or maybe your biggest association is “hey, that’s the classic impossible utilities puzzle,” which might stop you from looking further than that.

The classic puzzle is supposed to frustrate you with your inability to get that last line in there until you either mathematically prove it’s impossible or come up with some other creative answer like that the last line goes through a house, or over a bridge, or through a hole in the notebook paper and around the back, which is kind of what the torus will allow us to do. I mean, mug handle.

So I know I can solve the original three utilities problem if I can solve the four utilities problem. And I’d know it’s possible to connect all six into what we call a “complete” graph if it’s possible to connect seven into a complete graph on the torus. And maybe this bridge of reasoning can land somewhere near the four-color map theorem which is connected to the seven color map theorem for toruses,

And I just happen to have a seven color torus right here to demonstrate. Every color section of this torus touches all six other colors, this is by Susan Goldstine and I’ll link a tutorial in case you’re into mathematical beadwork.

Ok so now we just need to connect the bridge. Each color area here touches every other area, see, it’s like… well we’d better bagel it,

So take the orange area, it touches yellow on one side, red on the other, then next to yellow is green which touches the orange part over here, and then purple, well let’s do pink, yeah so all the colors have two neighbors on their sides and they touch two other colors on one end and two other others on the other end so they all touch all six other colors.

Maybe next time we’ll use colored frosting and do a bundt cake.

Anyway then I just take the dual, which means I make every area a vertex and then I can connect them all to each other, so it’s really handy that I know a lot about dual graphs. And there we go, I can connect 7 dots to each other without crossing, which means I could ignore one vertex to get 6, and then delete the extra lines until we’ve solved the original mug puzzle.

So this went through my head within seconds of seeing the mug because all this math stuff is close to the surface of my brain, I have experience using these facts and making them accessible, but it’s not yet a solution, it’s a sketch of a proof and a method of finding a solution, but we don’t want just any solution but a pretty one that’s simple to draw. And that means I want to take advantage of symmetry.

So when I wanna put six points with symmetry on a torus I’ve got some options, we want something reminiscent of the original puzzle even though on the mug they’re all squashed together. But I’ll keep the idea of having three on top and three on bottom, and with something like this I can see the symmetry and triangulation, we connect these to each other and then we connect the top ones to the bottom, so that’d be like everything is squares if we unwrapped it, and then just do triangles to it, all symmetric like so it’s easy to visualize, every square is the same, I mean it gets squished when you do topology to it but I can visualize it as a pattern that’s all the same, and now we have more than enough lines to connect the utilities to all the houses.

If the mug had the little icons printed around the handle maybe it’d be more obvious how to start mapping it back on, or maybe if the icons were spaced around the mug and if the inside of the mug actually had a hole in the bottom so you could loop through that way, and then we wouldn’t even need the handle. But from here we can scoot over to the handle and see just one more interesting thing that the more common solutions don’t take advantage of and that we’ll need more colors to make clear, so let’s go ahead and do this.

Ok, we’ll start with internet because that’s important and it’s just two straight lines that circle around the mug. Then we’ll triangle up our other utilities between them, and now it’s just three lines left and we’ll just pretend they’re looping through the cup so they’re nice and organized, and then scoot them over to the handle, And now here’s the funnest part.

If just one line is going over the handle it might as well be a flat bridge. But we’ve got three lines, and notice that they don’t match up. On a flat bridge you’d have to worry they’d block each other from connecting, But our solution uses all of the 3d roundiness of the handle by rotating around it so the lines come out apparently in a different order on the other side.

So there’s my answer to the three utilities mug puzzle, and also the four utilities puzzle, see if you can rediscover it yourself without looking, and if you need another mug challenge try adding a fourth house.


“Topology Joke”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NlqYr6-TpA

Susan Goldstine’s bead crochet demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DR7rNty1eQ

Susan has also collected a page of other artistic renditions of the 7-color torus and links to instructions for beadwork, fiber arts, and other further reading: http://faculty.smcm.edu/sgoldstine/torus7.html

This video not sponsored by or affiliated with mathsgear, but here’s where they sell the official version of the mug: https://mathsgear.co.uk/products/utilities-puzzle-mug