Tag Archives: 129

Different representations of a number as sum of squares


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on Ramanujam’s 129th birthday. In that post I couldn’t verify the fact that:

129 is the smallest number that can be written as the sum of 3 squares in 4 ways.

So I contacted Sannidhya, the only good programmer I know . He wrote a program in Python which finds all numbers less than 1000 that can be written as sum of three squares. Here is the program :  https://repl.it/EzIc

Now, we can conclude that 129 is the smallest such number and the next is 134.

Let’s try to understand, how this program works. Firstly, the sumOfSquares(n) procedure finds all a, b such that n = a^2 + b^2. Then the sumOfSquares3(n) procedure finds all a,b,c such that n = a^2 + b^2 + c^2. It works by repeatedly invoking sumOfSquares on (n-i^2) where i is incremented after each iteration from 1 to square root of n/3. Finally, we run a loop up to 1000 and find those number for which sumOfSquares3 returns 4 triplets (a,b,c). Similarly, one can also find numbers which can be expressed as sum of 3 squares in 5 different ways. The smallest one is 194, with the 5 triplets being (1, 7, 12), (3, 4, 13), (3, 8, 11), (5, 5, 12) and (7, 8, 9).
But how does the functions sumOfSquares(n) and sumOfSquares3(n) work? This is how Sannidhya explains:

 The SumOfSquares(n) finds all the unordered pairs (a, b), such that a^2 + b^2 = n. It works by subtracting a perfect square (i^2) from n, and checking if the remaining part is a perfect square as well. If so, then (i, sqrt(n-i^2)) will form a required unordered pair. Here, i loops from 1 to square root of n/2. Note: One can also loop from 1 to square root of n but after square root of n/2, further iterations will generate redundant pairs which are just permutations of the pairs already obtained. For example, consider 25, the expected output should be (3,4) only, but if the loop runs from 1 to square root of n, then the output will be (3, 4), (4, 3). As you can see we are getting redundant pairs. So, we run the loop from 1 to square root of n/2.

The SumOfSquares3 function calls SumOfSquares repeatedly with the argument n – i^2, where i is incremented from 1 to square root of n/3. Note that each element of SumOfSquares(n – i^2) is a pair. For each of these elements, the loop forms a triplet consisting of i and the pair. This triplet is then appended to the list, which is finally returned.

The repetitions of triplets can easily be controlled by using sorted function from Python in sumOfSquares3(n).

Indeed, these type of question are a bit hard computationally. For example, see:

Related discussions on MathOverflow:

– Is there a simple way to compute the number of ways to write a positive integer as the sum of three squares? : Note that this is not answer of my question since r_k(n) counts the number of representations of n by k squares, allowing zeros and distinguishing signs and order.

– Efficient computation of integer representation as sum of three squares

Related discussions on ComputerScience.SE

– Listing integers as the sum of three squares m=x^2+y^2+z^2 : Sannidhya did a clever improvement to this algorithm, but still as pointed here, Sannidhya’s algorithm is of O(n).

Related discussions on Mathematics.SE

– When is a rational number a sum of three squares?

– Why can’t this number be written as a sum of three squares of rationals?

– Sum of one, two, and three squares


Happy Birthday Ramanujam


Today is 129th birthday of Srinivasa Ramanujam Iyengar. Let’s see some properties of the number 129:

♦  It is sum of first ten prime numbers. [Tanya Khovanova’s “Number Gossip”]

\displaystyle{2+3+5+7+11+13+17+19+23+29 = 129}.

♦  It is the smallest number that can be written as the sum of 3 squares in 4 ways. [Erich Friedman’s “What’s Special About This Number?”]

\displaystyle{11^2+2^2+2^2 = 10^2+5^2+2^2 = 8^2+8^2+1^2 = 8^2+7^2+4^2 = 129}.

Though the first property appears like a coincidence (to me!), but the second fact is connected to a well-known theorem in number theory.

Legendre’s three-square theorem: A non-negative integer n can be represented as sum of three squares of integers if and only if n is NOT of the form 4^a (8b+7) for some integers a and b.

Therefore, to make sure that a number can be written as sum of three squares or not, we just need to check its divisibility with 4 and 8. Since 129 is a small number (and a multiple of 3) we can easily factorize it as 129 = 3 \times 43.  Now, since 4 is not a factor, we get a=0 and just need to check 8b+7= 129 = 8\times 16 + 1, but no integer b can satisfy this condition. Completing the verification of our example.

It’s not difficult to prove that no integer n=4^a(8b+7) can be sum of three squares. But, it’s difficult to prove the converse of this statement. Till now I didn’t know the complete proof of this theorem. Interestingly, the two available proofs use some deep results like:

◊  quadratic reciprocity law + Dirichlet’s theorem on arithmetic progressions + equivalence class of the trivial ternary quadratic form.

◊  quadratic reciprocity law + Minkowski’s theorem on lattice points contained within convex symmetric bodies + Fermat’s theorem on sums of two squares

I would prefer proving this result using second approach, since proving Dirichlet’s theorem is very difficult (as compared to the main theorem we wish to prove). The proof using second approach was given by Nesmith . C. Ankeny, in  “Sums of Three Squares,” Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society, vol. 8, no. 2, p. 316, Apr. 1957. Also, note that Ankeny prove the three-square theorem only when n is square-free because it’s easy to prove that

Lemma: If an integer is a sum of squares of three positive integers, so is its square.

For proof see this article by Alexander Bogomolny, “Sum of Three Squares” from Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles

Now, what remains to determine is the number of ways we can write a non-negative integer which satisfies Legendre’s three-square theorem as sum of three squares. Interestingly, this is a research level problem if we are talking about a formula to calculate the number of presentations of a given number as sum of three squares. Indeed, there is a (very long) paper by Paul T. Bateman titled “On the Representations of a Number as the Sum of Three Squares”, Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jul., 1951), pp. 70-101. Though I didn’t have patience to read this paper, this MathOverflow discussion gives an overview of the Sum of Squares Function. The output of this function is available as A005875: Number of ways of writing a nonnegative integer n as a sum of 3 squares (zero being allowed) but it is useless since it counts the “tuples”. For example, 129 can be represented by 144 =  (3+6+6+3)8 tuples because we are allowed to replace positive by negative integers before squaring them (hence multiplied by 8).

So, we will have to “manually” check the number of ways we can write the non-negative integers less than 129 as sum of three squares (A000408: Numbers that are the sum of three nonzero squares). As of now, I don’t know how to find the distinct representations. Will try to answer this question in future.