Rational Associahedra and Noncrossing Partitions

  • Drew Armstrong
  • Brendon Rhoades
  • Nathan Williams
Keywords: Catalan number, lattice path, associahedron, noncrossing partition


Each positive rational number $x>0$ can be written uniquely as $x=a/(b-a)$ for coprime positive integers $0<a<b$. We will identify $x$ with the pair $(a,b)$. In this paper we define for each positive rational $x>0$ a simplicial complex $\mathsf{Ass}(x)=\mathsf{Ass}(a,b)$ called the rational associahedron.  It is a pure simplicial complex of dimension $a-2$, and its maximal faces are counted by the rational Catalan number $$\mathsf{Cat}(x)=\mathsf{Cat}(a,b):=\frac{(a+b-1)!}{a!\,b!}.$$The cases $(a,b)=(n,n+1)$ and $(a,b)=(n,kn+1)$ recover the classical associahedron and its "Fuss-Catalan" generalization studied by Athanasiadis-Tzanaki and Fomin-Reading.  We prove that $\mathsf{Ass}(a,b)$ is shellable and give nice product formulas for its $h$-vector (the rational Narayana numbers) and $f$-vector (the rational Kirkman numbers).  We define $\mathsf{Ass}(a,b)$ via rational Dyck paths: lattice paths from $(0,0)$ to $(b,a)$ staying above the line $y = \frac{a}{b}x$.  We also use rational Dyck paths to define a rational generalization of noncrossing perfect matchings of $[2n]$.  In the case $(a,b) = (n, mn+1)$, our construction produces the noncrossing partitions of $[(m+1)n]$ in which each block has size $m+1$.

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