Transmuting PentominoesEven the 12 pentominoes themselves can be quite fascinating, ignoring how they might be assembled into a shape. The fact that there are 12 different pentomino shapes no doubt has helped them gain popularity among puzzlers. A dozen pieces is enough to earn a complexity that tantalizes someone, but not so great that the number of combinations becomes daunting.
Each being composed of 5 squares thus affords a total of 60 cells when building shapes. 60 is quite a friendly number in the sense that it has many divisors and forms many possible rectangles: 6x10, 5x12, 4x15, and 3x20 -- all of which can, in fact, be formed with the pieces.
I'll define "transmuting a pentomino" as taking said shape, removing a single square from it, and then replacing that square so as to form another pentomino (if placed in the original position, the original pentomino is reformed, of course).
For example, the long, straight I-pentomino can be transmuted by taking one of its squares off its end and reattaching the square elsewhere. There are three (non-trivially) distinct possibilities:
Note that the L- and Y-pentominoes are the only ones that can be transmuted from the I-pentomino in one step (other than reverting back to the I- itself). I will say that those two pieces are "1 degree (of transmutation)" away from the I-pentomino (the I-piece is 0 degrees away from itself).
This terminology allows us to then show how closely all of the pieces are "related" to one another in terms of degrees of transmutation. Here is a table:
The sum column to the right gives an indication of the overall "friendliness" of a piece to its peers. The F-, P-, and Y- shapes are most easily transmuted to all of the other shapes, while the I- is certainly the most difficult. The I- and W- pentominoes are the most distantly related: the only combination requiring 3 steps of transmutation.
Again, I'm not sure where all of this information leads, but it does keep my mind occupied at times.
- Eric Harshbarger, 12 January 2005