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Polya’s Theorem
Introduction
Before reading this section, make sure you are familiar with Burnside’s lemma.
We will now consider a class of problems that can not be solved with an immediate application of Burnside’s lemma.
Let us take a look at the following example.
Example 1

Each face of a cube is painted in one of the following five colors: red, green, blue, yellow, or white. Determine
the number of cubes that can be generated this way, if the color red has to be used exactly two times. Cubes are
considered distinct if they cannot be obtained from each other using rotations.
Pattern inventory
In order to solve Example 1, we need to take a step back, and gain a deeper insight into the mechanics of Burnside’s
lemma. We start by considering the following easy problem in which we are able to list all possible configurations.
Example 2

Find the number of distinct squares that can be obtained by painting each edge of a given square in either red or
green. Squares are considered distinct if they cannot be obtained from each other using rotations or reflections.
We will solve this problem by listing down all possible paintings:
Assume that and are variables instead of colors. From the listing above we can make the following polynomial:
We’ll do something that looks naive on the first sight - we will try to simplify the previous polynomial. We obtain:
The polynomial above is called the pattern inventory for the coloring of the square in 2 colors. The pattern inventory is
less informative than the listing in formula (1). Having a polynomial, however, provides us with certain benefits. For
example, P(1,1)=6. This means that a particular value of this polynomial tells us exactly the number of equivalence
classes.
Polya’s theorem provides an algebraic way to obtain the pattern inventory, and using it we can answer the question
posed in Example 1.
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We are ready for the formal definition:
Definition of the pattern Inventory

Let be a set of colorings, where is a set of colors. Let be the subset of
all colorings using the colors from the set . The pattern inventory of the set is defined as:
Notice that the expression on the right-hand side is a polynomial in , ..., because each of the variables , ...,
belongs to .
Cycle polynomial
Let us consider the set of permutations corresponding to rotations and reflections of the square:
where
All that we need to know about these permutations , , ..., is the following:
has 4 cycles of length 1;
has 1 cycle of length 4;
has 2 cycles of length 2;
has 1 cycle of length 4;
has 2 cycles of length 2;
has 2 cycles of length 2;
has 2 cycles of length 1, and 1 cycle of length 2;
has 2 cycles of length 1, and 1 cycle of length 2;
We will encode the previous sentences using monomials , , ..., in variables , , ..., . The definition will
follow shortly, but this new notation is easier to understand from an example:
;
;
;
;
;
;
;
;
Definition of the cycle monomial

Let G be a group of permutations on the set of elements. For each permutation consider the sequence
, , , ..., where is the number of cycles of length . We define the cycle monomial as
Definition of the cycle polynomial

Let be a group of permutations on the set of elements. We define the cycle polynomial of the group as
Polya’s theorem
Polya’s Theorem

Assume that is the set of colors and the set of alll colorings. Assume that is a
group whose elements are permutations of . Let be the equivalence relation generated by on
. Then the pattern inventory corresponding to the set of representatives of the equivalence classes of
satisfies:
Show proof.
Solution to Example 1.

Let us consider the group of rotations of the cube. The cycle notation for each of the
permutations is given below:
e=(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6), =(1234)(5)(6), =(13)(24)(5)(6), =(1432)(5)(6), =(1635)(2)(4), =(13)(2)(4)(56),
=(1536)(2)(4), =(1)(2645)(3), =(1)(24)(3)(56), =(1)(2546)(3), =(154)(236), =(145)(263),
=(125)(346), =(152)(364), =(164)(235), =(146)(253), =(126)(345), =(162)(354),
=(15)(24)(36), =(13)(25)(46), =(16)(24)(35), =(13)(26)(45), =(14)(23)(56), =(12)(34)(56).
From this list we will form the cycle polynomial. We will need only monomials , , , because the
longest cycles we have are of order 4. If we keep the terms , , ... they will all have zero exponents, so we’ll
regret for keeping them.
According to the Polya’s theorem the pattern inventory for the set of representatives from each equivalence
class is:
We are interested in the number of terms containing at least two letters . This is the same as the coefficient
of in the expansion of the polynomial . Notice that
The coefficient of in is equal to . Similarly, the coefficient of in is
, and so on. The coefficient of in is exactly