Four-Color Theorem

The four-color theorem states that any map in a plane can be colored using four-colors in such a way that regions sharing a common boundary (other than a single point) do not share the same color. This problem is sometimes also called Guthrie's problem after F. Guthrie, who first conjectured the theorem in 1852. The conjecture was then communicated to de Morgan and thence into the general community. In 1878, Cayley wrote the first paper on the conjecture.

Fallacious proofs were given independently by Kempe (1879) and Tait (1880). Kempe's proof was accepted for a decade until Heawood showed an error using a map with 18 faces (although a map with nine faces suffices to show the fallacy). The Heawood conjecture provided a very general assertion for map coloring, showing that in a genus 0 space (including the sphere or plane), four colors suffice. Ringel and Youngs (1968) proved that for genus g>0, the upper bound provided by the Heawood conjecture also give the necessary number of colors, with the exception of the Klein bottle (for which the Heawood formula gives seven, but the correct bound is six).

Six colors can be proven to suffice for the g=0 case, and this number can easily be reduced to five, but reducing the number of colors all the way to four proved very difficult. This result was finally obtained by Appel and Haken (1977), who constructed a computer-assisted proof that four colors were sufficient. However, because part of the proof consisted of an exhaustive analysis of many discrete cases by a computer, some mathematicians do not accept it. However, no flaws have yet been found, so the proof appears valid. A shorter, independent proof was constructed by Robertson et al. (1996; Thomas 1998).

In December 2004, G. Gonthier of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England (working with B. Werner of INRIA in France) announced that they had verified the Robertson et al. proof by formulating the problem in the equational logic program Coq and confirming the validity of each of its steps (Devlin 2005, Knight 2005).

J. Ferro (pers. comm., Nov. 8, 2005) has debunked a number of purported "short" proofs of the four-color theorem.

Martin Gardner (1975) played an April Fool's joke by asserting that the McGregor map consisting of 110 regions required five colors and constitutes a counterexample to the four-color theorem.

See also

Chromatic Number, Errera Graph, Fritsch Graph, Graph Coloring, Hadwiger Conjecture, Hadwiger-Nelson Problem, Heawood Conjecture, Kempe Chain, Kittell Graph, Map Coloring, McGregor Map, Six-Color Theorem, Soifer Graph, Torus Coloring

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Weisstein, Eric W. "Four-Color Theorem." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.

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