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Translationally Invariant Constraint Optimization Problems

Authors Dorit Aharonov, Sandy Irani

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Dorit Aharonov
  • Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Sandy Irani
  • Department of Computer Science, University of California Irvine, CA, USA
  • The Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, University of California Berkeley, CA, USA


We are grateful to the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, at whose program on the "The Quantum Wave in Computing" this collaboration began.

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Dorit Aharonov and Sandy Irani. Translationally Invariant Constraint Optimization Problems. In 38th Computational Complexity Conference (CCC 2023). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 264, pp. 23:1-23:15, Schloss Dagstuhl - Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023)


We study the complexity of classical constraint satisfaction problems on a 2D grid. Specifically, we consider the computational complexity of function versions of such problems, with the additional restriction that the constraints are translationally invariant, namely, the variables are located at the vertices of a 2D grid and the constraint between every pair of adjacent variables is the same in each dimension. The only input to the problem is thus the size of the grid. This problem is equivalent to one of the most interesting problems in classical physics, namely, computing the lowest energy of a classical system of particles on the grid. We provide a tight characterization of the complexity of this problem, and show that it is complete for the class FP^NEXP. Gottesman and Irani (FOCS 2009) also studied classical constraint satisfaction problems using this strong notion of translational-invariance; they show that the problem of deciding whether the cost of the optimal assignment is below a given threshold is NEXP-complete. Our result is thus a strengthening of their result from the decision version to the function version of the problem. Our result can also be viewed as a generalization to the translationally invariant setting, of Krentel’s famous result from 1988, showing that the function version of SAT is complete for the class FP^NP. An essential ingredient in the proof is a study of the computational complexity of a gapped variant of the problem. We show that it is NEXP-hard to approximate the cost of the optimal assignment to within an additive error of Ω(N^(1/4)), where the grid size is N × N. To the best of our knowledge, no gapped result is known for CSPs on the grid, even in the non-translationally invariant case. This might be of independent interest. As a byproduct of our results, we also show that a decision version of the optimization problem which asks whether the cost of the optimal assignment is odd or even is also complete for P^NEXP.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Problems, reductions and completeness
  • Constraint satisfaction
  • Tiling
  • Translational-invariance


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