Fix an integer $n\geq 8$. For each integer $i\leq n/2$, denote by $X_i$ the set $$X_i = \left\{ \frac{n-i+1-k}{n-i+1}\binom nk\binom{k-1}{i-1} ~\middle|~~ i\leq k\leq n-i\right\}.$$

The question:

Are the sets $X_1$ and $X_2$ disjoint?

The reason:

The product $\frac{n-i+1-k}{n-i+1}\binom nk\binom{k-1}{i-1}$ is the degree in the symmetric group $S_n$ of the irreducible character which corresponds to the partition $(n-k,i,1^{k-i})$ (the latter entry meaning the cell $1$ repeated $k-i$ times), and a conjecture on which I am working will substantively advance if I get the full range of values coming from $X_1\cup X_2$ without having to worry about whether or not I have repetition by pulling something from $X_1$ then something from $X_2$.

The bonus question:

What I really want to be true is that $X_1$, $X_2$, and $X_3$ are pairwise disjoint, so a proof that covers all 3 pairs simultaneously would be the gold standard, but I would not at all be surprised if each $X_i,X_j$ pair had something peculiar to it that required individualized effort. For instance, one reason $n\geq 8$ is required is that the sets $X_2$ and $X_3$ have respectively corresponding partitions $(5,2)$ and $(4,3)$ of $n=7$ which both yield the integer $14$; they are not disjoint.

Potentially relevant information:

I readily note that, in this indexing, both $X_1$ and $X_2$ have internal redundancy, i.e., if viewed as multisets, there would be multiple appearances of some integers. I'm only asking about between sets, not within a given set.

My work:

Computer runs up into the $n=3200$ range say they are disjoint at least that far.

  • $\begingroup$ Have you checked whether the subsets interlace each other in some way? Or are the inequalities between a given element of $X_1$ and $X_2$ predictable in some other way? $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2019 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ They don't seem to interlace or predictable. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2019 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


This is to offer more evidence to the "computer run" by the OP.

Note that the members can be given by $$X_1(n,k)=\binom{n-1}k \qquad \text{and} \qquad X_2(n)=\frac{(n-1-k)(k-1)}{n-1}\binom{n}k.$$

It is not hard to show that if $p$ is a prime and $n=p^m$ then $$\{(X_1(n,k) \mod n) \mod p: 1\leq k\leq n-1\}\equiv \{\pm 1 \mod p\}$$ while $$\{(X_2(n,k) \mod n) \mod p: 2\leq k\leq n-2\}\equiv \{0 \mod p\}.$$

Hence for such numbers, $X_1$ and $X_2$ are disjoint.

  • $\begingroup$ Now that you have shown me my mistake and provided correct expressions for both sets, I observe symmetry in k, n-k for the second one. We can assume a common value has j greater than =k where the common value is n-1 choose j. Now show k=2 does not occur, and get that j and k must differ by less than something like (log n)^2 or smaller. Gerhard "Will Write Something Up Later" Paseman, 2019.08.25. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2019 at 15:56

Note that for a fixed n, one gets the same value in X_2 for both k and n-k, so most of these values occur twice (or more) in X_2. This also is observed in X_1. So if there is a common value between the two sets, we should find a $j$ with $2j \leq n-1$ and $k \lt j$ so that (n-1) choose j is a value for some $k$ in $X_2$. This leads to an interesting relation between $ n,k, $ and $j $ which shows very few large primes are involved.

(If a similar condition could be established for X_3, so that only $k \leq n/2$ need be considered, this would help with the analysis. )

Setting up the equation implied by a shared value, and using $k +1\lt j$ (which is justified by the above observations: the cases $k=j$ and $k+1 =j$ are easily handled separately), we can cross multiply and divide out by the common term $n-k-1$ to get the relation $$(k-1)n(k+1)\cdots(j) = (n-1)(n-k)(n-k-2)\cdots(n-j).$$

I will rewrite this using $n=m+k$ and $j=k+d$ where $d \geq 2.$ The LHS is $$m+k \cdot k-1 \cdot 1 \cdot k+1 \cdot k+2 \cdots k+d$$ And the RHS is $$ m+k-1 \cdot 1 \cdot m \cdot 1 \cdot m-2 \cdots m-d.$$ I have left off parentheses and put in 1 to draw a correspondence between the two sides.

Note that if $d=1$, an analogous form and divisibility constraints would have $m+k$ dividing $m$, and $d=0$ is resolved even more simply. Note also that we have an approximate relation : $m^d$ is close to $k^{d+1}$. A more precise and messier formulation is possible, but this one should suggest that a tight numerical relationship exists given one of $k,m,d$.

We have more. Let $q$ be a factor of $m+k-1$. Suppose further that $q$ is coprime to $k+d$. Then $q$ is coprime to $m+k$, divides some sub product of terms on the LHS, and also divides the corresponding product of terms on the RHS. So $q^2$ divides both sides when it is coprime to $k+d$. A similar statement holds for $q$ dividing $m+k$ and coprime to $m$ ( and thus $k$ ).

One also observes from this that there can be very few large primes involved in the product: either they are in $ n-1 $ (and therefore in $ k+d$), or they are in $n$ and therefore in $k$, or they are in neither and the same constellation of large primes occurs "inside or near the dots". Note that all primes involved in the product must be less than $ k+d+1$, and those primes greater than d dividing $n(n-1)$ and not dividing $(k+d)k$ must occur with multiplicity 2 or greater in one of the terms.

I suspect these observations and one other (not yet observed) will lead to an impossibility proof for $d=2$. In any case, one can strongly restrict the search for $n$ and $k$ given a fixed $d.$

Gerhard "Got It By The Tail?" Paseman, 2019.08.27.


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