Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Why all the excitement about Truchet? And what (or who?) is Truchet, anyway? Great questions, both. I only recently learned about the fascinating world of Truchet and his tiles. I first got hooked on the beautiful patterns you can make with Truchet tiles. So, read on– and maybe you’ll get hooked, too.

This beautiful pattern is made out of Truchet tiles, deceptively simple square pieces that can fit together to make patterns with enormous complexity. There’s really just one Truchet tile– the square with a triangular half of it colored it– but it can be oriented in four ways.

There are ten different ways to put two next to each other– or, at least, that’s what Sebastien Truchet discovered when he started working with these tiles way back in the late 1600s. Truchet was a scientist and inventor, but he also dabbled in math. He became interested in the ways of combining these simple tiles while looking at decorations made from ceramic tiles. He started trying to figure out all the different patterns he could make– first with two tiles, then with sequences of them– and soon realized that he was the first person to study this! So, he wrote a little book about his discoveries, which he called “Memoir sur les Combinasions.”

Translations of this book are hard to come by (unless you read French), but I found a great site that shows all the images Truchet included in the book. One of my favorites is this chart, in which Truchet shows all the possible ways of combining two tiles. Maybe you’ve noticed that there are way more than ten different combinations on this chart. That’s because this chart is just Truchet brainstorming– drawing everything he can think of. In a later chart, Truchet groups pairs of tiles that he thinks are the same in some really basic way.

Can you see how Truchet grouped the tiles in this chart? Each row corresponds to one of his ten different tiles. Do his categories make sense?

Want to try making a beautiful Truchet tiling of your own? You could just start drawing (maybe graph paper would be useful). Or you could try this great Scratch program! You can have it make a random Truchet tiling. Or, you can use a four-digit code, using only the digits 1 through 4, to tell it what pattern to make. Each digit corresponds to a tile with a dark triangle in a different corner. I had fun thinking of a code and then trying to guess what pattern the program would make. Or, you could try to figure out the code for one of your favorite of Truchet’s patterns!

In recent years, mathematicians have starting experimenting with Truchet tiles in new ways. The mathematician and scientist Cyril Stanley Smith was one of the first to do this. He began to introduce curved lines into the tiles and to place them randomly, instead of according to a pattern. These changes make some really interesting results– like this maze made from Truchet-like tiles.

Want to make your own maze from tiles inspired by Truchet? Check out this site with instructions for how to make Truchet mazes! You can use a computer or a more low-tech tool to create an intricate, unique maze.

Bon appetit!