CNF Satisfiability in a Subspace and Related Problems

Authors Vikraman Arvind, Venkatesan Guruswami

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Vikraman Arvind
  • The Institute of Mathematical Sciences (HBNI), Chennai, India
Venkatesan Guruswami
  • Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


We thank anonymous reviewers for useful comments and pointers to the literature.

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Vikraman Arvind and Venkatesan Guruswami. CNF Satisfiability in a Subspace and Related Problems. In 16th International Symposium on Parameterized and Exact Computation (IPEC 2021). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 214, pp. 5:1-5:15, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2021)


We introduce the problem of finding a satisfying assignment to a CNF formula that must further belong to a prescribed input subspace. Equivalent formulations of the problem include finding a point outside a union of subspaces (the Union-of-Subspace Avoidance (USA) problem), and finding a common zero of a system of polynomials over 𝔽₂ each of which is a product of affine forms. We focus on the case of k-CNF formulas (the k-Sub-Sat problem). Clearly, k-Sub-Sat is no easier than k-SAT, and might be harder. Indeed, via simple reductions we show that 2-Sub-Sat is NP-hard, and W[1]-hard when parameterized by the co-dimension of the subspace. We also prove that the optimization version Max-2-Sub-Sat is NP-hard to approximate better than the trivial 3/4 ratio even on satisfiable instances. On the algorithmic front, we investigate fast exponential algorithms which give non-trivial savings over brute-force algorithms. We give a simple branching algorithm with running time (1.5)^r for 2-Sub-Sat, where r is the subspace dimension, as well as an O^*(1.4312)ⁿ time algorithm where n is the number of variables. Turning to k-Sub-Sat for k ⩾ 3, while known algorithms for solving a system of degree k polynomial equations already imply a solution with running time ≈ 2^{r(1-1/2k)}, we explore a more combinatorial approach. Based on an analysis of critical variables (a key notion underlying the randomized k-SAT algorithm of Paturi, Pudlak, and Zane), we give an algorithm with running time ≈ {n choose {⩽t}} 2^{n-n/k} where n is the number of variables and t is the co-dimension of the subspace. This improves upon the running time of the polynomial equations approach for small co-dimension. Our combinatorial approach also achieves polynomial space in contrast to the algebraic approach that uses exponential space. We also give a PPZ-style algorithm for k-Sub-Sat with running time ≈ 2^{n-n/2k}. This algorithm is in fact oblivious to the structure of the subspace, and extends when the subspace-membership constraint is replaced by any constraint for which partial satisfying assignments can be efficiently completed to a full satisfying assignment. Finally, for systems of O(n) polynomial equations in n variables over 𝔽₂, we give a fast exponential algorithm when each polynomial has bounded degree irreducible factors (but can otherwise have large degree) using a degree reduction trick.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Parameterized complexity and exact algorithms
  • CNF Satisfiability
  • Exact exponential algorithms
  • Hardness results


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