aequationes mathematicae

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 111–135

A survey of Sylvester's problem and its generalizations


  • P. Borwein
    • Department of MathematicsMcGill University
  • W. O. J. Moser
    • Department of MathematicsMcGill University
Survey Paper

DOI: 10.1007/BF02112289

Cite this article as:
Borwein, P. & Moser, W.O.J. Aeq. Math. (1990) 40: 111. doi:10.1007/BF02112289


LetP be a finite set of three or more noncollinear points in the plane. A line which contains two or more points ofP is called aconnecting line (determined byP), and we call a connecting lineordinary if it contains precisely two points ofP. Almost a century ago, Sylvester posed the disarmingly simple question:Must every set P determine at least one ordinary line? No solution was offered at that time and the problem seemed to have been forgotten. Forty years later it was independently rediscovered by Erdös, and solved by Gallai. In 1943 Erdös proposed the problem in the American Mathematical Monthly, still unaware that it had been asked fifty years earlier, and the following year Gallai's solution appeared in print. Since then there has appeared a substantial literature on the problem and its generalizations.

In this survey we review, in the first two sections, Sylvester's problem and its generalization to higher dimension. Then we gather results about the connecting lines, that is, the lines containing two or more of the points. Following this we look at the generalization to finite collections of sets of points. Finally, the points will be colored and the search will be for monochromatic connecting lines.

AMS (1980) subject classification

Primary 51A20Secondary 52A37

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1990