Spines of random constraint satisfaction problems: definition and connection with computational complexity

  • Gabriel IstrateEmail author
  • Stefan Boettcher
  • Allon G. Percus


We study the connection between the order of phase transitions in combinatorial problems and the complexity of decision algorithms for such problems. We rigorously show that, for a class of random constraint satisfaction problems, a limited connection between the two phenomena indeed exists. Specifically, we extend the definition of the spine order parameter of Bollobás et al. [10] to random constraint satisfaction problems, rigorously showing that for such problems a discontinuity of the spine is associated with a 2Ω(n) resolution complexity (and thus a 2Ω(n) complexity of DPLL algorithms) on random instances. The two phenomena have a common underlying cause: the emergence of “large” (linear size) minimally unsatisfiable subformulas of a random formula at the satisfiability phase transition.

We present several further results that add weight to the intuition that random constraint satisfaction problems with a sharp threshold and a continuous spine are “qualitatively similar to random 2-SAT”. Finally, we argue that it is the spine rather than the backbone parameter whose continuity has implications for the decision complexity of combinatorial problems, and we provide experimental evidence that the two parameters can behave in a different manner.


constraint satisfaction problems phase transitions spine resolution complexity 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriel Istrate
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefan Boettcher
    • 2
  • Allon G. Percus
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.CCS-5Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosUSA
  2. 2.Physics DepartmentEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.CCS-3Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosUSA
  4. 4.UCLA Institute for Pure and Applied MathematicsLos AngelesUSA

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