The Complexity of Change

Jan van den Heuvel

Many combinatorial problems can be formulated as "Can I transform configuration 1 into configuration 2, if certain transformations only are allowed?". An example of such a question is: given two k-colourings of a graph, can I transform the first k-colouring into the second one, by recolouring one vertex at a time, and always maintaining a proper k-colouring? Another example is: given two solutions of a SAT-instance, can I transform the first solution into the second one, by changing the truth value one variable at a time, and always maintaining a solution of the SAT-instance? Other examples can be found in many classical puzzles, such as the 15-Puzzle and Rubik's Cube. In this survey we shall give an overview of some older and more recent work on this type of problem. The emphasis will be on the computational complexity of the problems: how hard is it to decide if a certain transformation is possible or not?

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