Tic Tac Toe (Solution)

Let’s just discuss $$3^n$$ hypercube, since 3x3x3 cube follows from that.

Recurrence

Let’s try to define f(n) as a function of f(n-1).

Imagine starting with a $$3^1$$ “hypercube” (line) and trying to describe all the solutions in a $$3^2$$ “hypercube” (square). You can think of the $$3^2$$ as three separate layers of $$3^1$$ lines standing veritically, side by side, with each layer having all the normal $$3^1$$ solutions. From this, we get $$3 f(n-1)$$. This takes care of all solutions that look like a point when projected on to the new dimension. Another way of saying this is that all additional solutions will not be contained within a single $$3^{n-1}$$ “layer”. In the $$3^2$$ example, this gives us our (3) vertical line solutions.

Consider all the ways that you can take a $$3^1$$ solution and stretch it across the new dimension. Well, it turns out that there are only two ways. You can take one end of the line, and pull it across the new dimension (which makes one diagonal solution in a $$3^2$$ square). Or you can do the same thing to the other end of the line. So, for each solution in $$3^{n-1},$$ there are two ways we can stretch it across the new dimension to make a new $$3^n$$ solution. From this, we get $$2 f(n-1)$$. In the $$3^2$$ example, this gives us our (2) diagonal line solutions.

There is one more case to consider. Lines (solutions) that utilize the new dimension (i.e. do not look like a point when projected on to the new dimension) but do not look like a solution when projected back on to the $$3^{n-1}$$ space. Importantly, the solutions we just talked about (2 * f(n-1)) all look like $$3^{n-1}$$ solutions when projected back on to the $$3^{n-1}$$ space. When an n-dimensional line is projected on to an (n-1)-dimensional space, there are only two possibilities - it can look like a line, or a point. So, these solutions must look like a point on our $$3^{n-1}$$ space. If you take every point in the $$3^{n-1}$$ space you can stretch it straight across the new dimension. From this, we add $$3^{n-1}$$ new solutions. In the $$3^2$$ example, this gives us our (3) horizontal line solutions.

Adding this all together, we get

$f(n) = 3 f(n-1) + 2 f(n-1) + 3^{n-1} \\ f(n) = 5 f(n-1) + 3^{n-1}$

The hardest thing about this, in my opinion, is convincing yourself that we’ve covered all the cases. To show this more directly, I’m going to heavily utilize this fact:

When an n-dimensional line is projected on to a lower dimensional space, there are only two possibilities - it can look like a line, or a point.

So, we can divide all $$3^n$$ lines into cases:

• Lines that look like a point when projected on to dimension $$n$$
• Of these, lines that look like a point when projected on to $$3^n$$ space – impossible, no solutions
• Of these, lines that look like a line when projected on to $$3^n$$ space – $$3f(n-1)$$
• Lines that look like a line when projected on to dimension $$n$$
• Of these, lines that look like a point when projected on to $$3^n$$ space – $$3^{n-1}$$
• Of these, lines that look like a line when projected on to $$3^n$$ space – $$2f(n-1)$$

I realize that was, by no means, a proof. But it helped convince me that we haven’t missed anything. It’s fairly compelling that all $$3^n$$ solutions must fall into one of those four cases.

Awesome bijective solution

Bear with me here because I can’t prove this, but it’s still a really cool way to think about it.

For a given $$3^n$$ space, picture the enveloping $$5^n$$ space. Extend every solution in $$3^n$$ such that it continues into the $$5^n$$ space. It turns out, each point ($$1^n$$ hypercube is probably a better word than point, but you get what I mean…) in the $$5^n$$ space that is not contained in the $$3^n$$ space will be hit exactly once.

This is a bit abstract, so let’s just think about the 2d example. The $$5^n$$ “space” is just the 5x5 square which contains the 3x3 tic-tac-toe board. Let’s call the 1x1 squares that are in the 5x5 but not the 3x3 the “border”. If you extend each normal 3x3 tic-tac-toe solution into the border, you will hit each 1x1 square in the border exactly once!

With this knowledge, you could come up with the number of 3x3 solutions by knowing that there are 16 1x1 squares in the “border” ($$5^2 - 3^2$$), and each 3x3 solution, when extended, hits two 1x1 squares in the border. So 16/2 = 8 solutions.

I leave it as a trivial exercise to the reader to prove that this holds for all n…

So we have another solution:

$f(n) = \frac{5^n - 3^n}{2}$

They’re the same???? Well, yep:

$f(n) = 5 f(n-1) + 3^{n-1} \\ \frac{5^n - 3^n}{2} = 5 \frac{5^{n-1} - 3^{n-1}}{2} + 3^{n-1} \\ 5^n - 3^n = 5(5^{n-1} - 3^{n-1}) + 2 \cdot 3^{n-1} \\ 5^n - 3^n = 5 \cdot 5^{n-1} - 3 \cdot 3^{n-1} \\ 5^n - 3^n = 5^n - 3^n$