A d-dimensional extension of Christoffel words

Sébastien Labbé, Christophe Reutenauer

In this article, we extend the definition of Christoffel words to directed subgraphs of the hypercubic lattice in arbitrary dimension that we call Christoffel graphs. Christoffel graphs when $d=2$ correspond to well-known Christoffel words. Due to periodicity, the $d$-dimensional Christoffel graph can be embedded in a $(d-1)$-torus (a parallelogram when $d=3$). We show that Christoffel graphs have similar properties to those of Christoffel words: symmetry of their central part and conjugation with their reversal. Our main result extends Pirillo's theorem (characterization of Christoffel words which asserts that a word $amb$ is a Christoffel word if and only if it is conjugate to $bma$) in arbitrary dimension. In the generalization, the map $amb\mapsto bma$ is seen as a flip operation on graphs embedded in $\mathbb{Z}^d$ and the conjugation is a translation. We show that a fully periodic subgraph of the hypercubic lattice is a translate of its flip if and only if it is a Christoffel graph.

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