Venn Diagram Survey
Variants on Symmetry

[ non-prime | Gray codes ]

Symmetric Diagrams for Non-Prime n

Since symmetric n-Venn diagrams only exist for prime n, several authors have lamented the fact that while virtually everything is known for n=7, it is very difficult to find out anything about the next case, for n=11. Thus, an interesting line of research is to "bridge the gap" by looking at different notions of symmetry for non-prime numbers of curves.

Pseudo-symmetric Venn diagrams

Consider the 4-Venn diagram below. It is not symmetric, but it has a two-fold symmetry in that the top half, if rotated 180o and relabelled, maps onto the bottom half. Another way of viewing it is that the diagram is composed of 2 copies of the ''pie-slice'' forming the top 1/2 of the diagram, with the curves labelled in the second copy by a permutation by a permutation of the colours in the first pie-slice.

In general, an n-Venn diagram has p-fold pseudo-symmetry if there is a pie-slice making up 1/pth of it so that the rest of the diagram can be generated by repeatedly rotating the pie-slice and recolouring the curves according to a fixed permutation. We then say the diagram is (n,p)-pseudo-symmetric.

The diagram shown is (4,2)-pseudo-symmetric, and the curves are labelled so that the permutation to be applied is (1234). This idea forms a natural extension of traditionally symmetric Venn diagrams, which can be thought of as being composed of a single pie-slice forming 1/nth of the diagram rotated n times. Thus, we can generalise this idea to a Venn diagram with two parameters, namely n and p, and a similar process of generating the rest of the diagram from the pie-slice forming 1/pth of the diagram; namely copying the pie-slice and rotating the curve labels.
Via a combinatorial argument similar to the proof that n must be prime for symmetric diagrams to exist, it is easy to show that for (n,p)-pseudo symmetric diagrams to exist, p must be prime and n must be some power of p larger than 1. In [RW], the authors introduced pseudo-symmetry and proved some interesting properties of pseudo-symmetric diagrams. The most distinctive is that all of the curves must be distinct in a pseudo-symmetric diagram, whereas in a symmetric diagram recall that all curves must be congruent. For example, in the figure above the four distinct curves are:

Ruskey and Weston, in [RW], also constructed, by hand, examples of pseudo-symmetric diagrams for the small cases n = 22 = 4, n = 23 = 8, and n = 32 = 9. The next open case is n = 24 = 16, which is far too large to construct by hand! Details of the method of construction can be found in [Wes]; the authors used a modification of the construction for symmetric n-Venn diagrams in [GKS].

Symmetric non-Venn diagrams

A second nice way to generalise the notion of symmetry to diagrams of n curves with n not being prime is to relax the condition that the diagram must be a Venn diagram, either by adding or subtracting regions to allow symmetry. This notion was introduced by Grünbaum in [Gr99]; since the resulting diagrams are not strictly Venn diagrams we discuss it more on the page Variations and Extensions.

Venn Diagrams and Gray Codes

There are many relations between Venn diagrams and (combinatorial) Gray codes. Some of these relations have not much to do with symmetry but some do.

A Phase Shifted Version of Edwards' Construction and Counting in Binary

Suppose that we rotate the jth curve in Edwards' general construction by π/j radians. The result is still a Venn diagram, but it is no longer simple. The vertical line disappears into the horizontal line but the other curves remain distinct. Aside from being attractive, the rotated version illustrates an interesting connection between the binary reflected Gray code and counting in binary. The binary reflected Gray code arises an a Hamilton path following two circles (see this picture) in the Venn graph of Edwards original construction. In the rotated version, with a minor modification, these same two circles may be traversed to count in binary (see this picture).

Edwards [Ed92] produced templates for making a rotatable Venn diagram; templates which we have scanned: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4.

Symmetric Venn diagrams and the Middle Two Levels problem

For odd n = 2k+1 the middle two levels problem is to find a Hamilton path in the subgraph of the n-cube induced by those vertices corresponding to k-sets and (k+1)-sets. This is a well-known problem about which several papers have been written ([Jo]). Some symmetric Venn diagrams have embedded in them a solution to the middle two levels problem. For n=7 consider the diagrams Adelaide and Hamilton with the symmetric coloring. The middle two levels correspond to the middle two necklaces, the ones colored yellow (they also have diagonal line shading for those with black-and-white browsers). Note the zig-zag pattern that they follow, alternating between k-sets and (k+1)-sets. This is exactly a solution to the middle two levels problem.

Symmetric Gray Codes?

Venn diagrams can lead to a highly symmetric Gray codes, if we exclude the bitstrings 0n and 1n. The idea is to find a Hamilton cycle that also exhibits a n-fold rotational symmetry, like that shown in the figure below.

Starting at the set {1}, and writing the bitstring representation of each subset we are lead to the table shown below (read down). Note that: (a) each of the 5 blocks is a right shift of the preceding block, (b) the columns are cyclicly equivalent (under a right shift of 6 bits), and (c) each block contains a representative of each non-trivial necklace of black and white beads. Such Gray codes are obviously balanced in the sense of Bhat and Savage [BS]; that is, each column has the same number of bit changes. It is easy to find symmetric Gray codes for n=7 using any of the Venn diagrams discussed earlier on this page. Gray codes with property (b) are said to be single-track. For more on single-track Gray codes see Hiltgen and Paterson, and Brandestini [HPB].

10000 01000 00100 00010 00001
10100 01010 00101 10010 01001
11100 01110 00111 10011 11001
11110 01111 10111 11011 11101
11010 01101 10110 01011 10101
11000 01100 00110 00011 10001
Block 1 Block 2 Block 3 Block 4 Block 5