How many possible sudoku puzzles are there? In the lottery, what is the chance that two winning balls have consecutive numbers? Who invented Pascal's triangle? (it was not Pascal)
Combinatorics, the branch of mathematics concerned with selecting, arranging, and listing or counting collections of objects, works to answer all these questions. Dating back some 3000 years, and initially consisting mainly of the study of permutations and combinations, its scope has broadened to include topics such as graph theory, partitions of numbers, block designs, design of codes, and latin squares. In this Very Short Introduction Robin Wilson gives an overview of the field and
its applications in mathematics and computer theory, considering problems from the shortest routes covering certain stops to the minimum number of colours needed to colour a map with different colours for neighbouring countries.
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Professor Robin Wilson taught at the Open University for many years, and was in charge of the team writing course materials on Combinatorics. He has taught mathematics at several Oxford colleges and was Gresham Professor of Geometry, giving regular lectures to the general public. He is currently President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics. He is a well-established author and has written or edited over 40 books, including Combinatorics: Ancient and Modern (OUP, 2013), co-authored with John J. Watkins. His textbook, Introduction to Graph Theory (prentice Hall, 2010), is in its 5th edition.