Complexity of Tessel

One of my hobbies (I developed during my PhD) is designing boardgames. I designed three boardgames so far, one of which is Tessel, a word-building game based on graph theory. I am glad that Tessel is getting good feedback especially from schools and families. One of the most time-consuming part of Tessel’s design is deciding what values to assign to the letters and deciding which pairs of letters to use in the tiles. The pairs of letters are carefully chosen based on computer simulations of frequency of letters in english words and their “relative” importance. The pairs are chosen so as to give fair share to both vocabulary skills and optimization skills.

Today’s post is about a nice theoretical problem arising from this game.

Before you read further, please read the rules of Tessel. Henceforth I will assume that you understood the rules and goal of this game.

I guess you observed that the tiles are being placed on the edges of a planar graph. Tessel uses a special planar graph that has cycles of length 3,4,5 and 6. In general, this game can be played on any planar graph. I am planning to design another board using Cairo tessellation. Anyways, here is a theoretical problem :

Let S be a set of finite alphabets. You are given two different words (using alphabets from S) of length l1 and l2. Construct a planar graph G and label each edge with two alphabets, such that there are two walks in G that correspond to the given two words. (Read the rules of tessel  and look at these examples to understand this correspondence). Your goal is to construct G with minimum number of vertices (or minimum number of edges).

In general you can ask the above question given k different words. What is the complexity of this problem ? I don’t know. I haven’t given it a deep thought. These days whatever I do for fun (to take my mind off open problems), ends up in another open problem :(

Graph Isomorphism, Tree Width, Path Width and LogSpace

Every once in a while, I can’t help thinking about “the complexity of graph isomorphism for bounded treewidth graphs“. Today has been one of those days again. See my earlier post to get the context.

Theorem ([Das, Toran and Wagner’10]) : Graph isomorphism of bounded treewidth graphs is in LogCFL.

The proof of the above theorem is as follows

  1. Graph isomorphism of bounded tree-distance width graphs is in L.
  2. Given two graphs and their tree decompositions, computing the isomorphism respecting these tree decompositions is reducible to (1).
  3. Given tree decomposition of only one graph, we can guess the tree decomposition of the other and guess the isomorphism (respecting the tree bags) and verify them using a non-deterministic auxiliary pushdown automata (a.k.a LogCFL).
  4. Since tree decomposition of a graph can be computed in LogCFL, the above theorem follows.
One of the bottlenecks, finding a tree decomposition of bounded treewidth graphs in logspace, is resolved by [Elberfeld, Jakoby and Tantau’10]. The following seems to be another major bottleneck.
Given a graph G and a decomposition D, how fast can we verify that D is a valid tree decomposition of G ? The upper bound of LogDCFL (the deterministic version of LogCFL) is clear from the above mentioned results. Can this verification be done in logspace ?
The answer is frustratingly unknown. An even more frustrating realization I had today is that “it is not clear how to beat the LogDCFL upper bound for the more restricted path decomposition“. Even though the underlying tree in a path decomposition is just a path, verifying the connectivity conditions of a path decomposition does seem to require recursion. It is not clear how to avoid recursion.
I thought that logspace upper bound is possible. Now I am much less confident about logspace upper bound. I cannot waste more time on this.
The truth is “this is a cute problem“. I need to do something to take my mind off this problem and move on. Easy enough, except I need an idea.
Update (Oct 12 2011) : Noticed that verification of path decompositions is easy.