## Extremal Combinatorics and Universal Algorithms

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## Abstract

In this dissertation we solve several combinatorial problems in different areas of mathematics: automata theory, combinatorics of partially ordered sets and extremal combinatorics. Firstly, we focus on some new automata that do not seem to have occurred much in the literature, that of solvability of mazes. For our model, a maze is a countable strongly connected digraph together with a proper colouring of its edges (without two edges leaving a vertex getting the same colour) and two special vertices: the origin and the destination. A pointer or robot starts in the origin of a maze and moves naturally between its vertices, according to a sequence of specific instructions from the set of all colours; if the robot is at a vertex for which there is no out-edge of the colour indicated by the instruction, it remains at that vertex and proceeds to execute the next instruction in the sequence. We call such a finite or infinite sequence of instructions an algorithm. In particular, one of the most interesting and very natural sets of mazes occurs when our maze is the square lattice Z2 as a graph with some of its edges removed. Obviously, we need to require that the origin and the destination vertices are in the same connected component and it is very natural to take the four instructions to be the cardinal directions. In this set-up, we make progress towards a beautiful problem posed by Leader and Spink in 2011 which asks whether there is an algorithm which solves the set of all such mazes. Next, we address a problem regarding symmetric chain decompositions of posets. We ask if there exists a symmetric chain decomposition of a 2 × 2 × ... × 2 × n cuboid (k 2’s) such that no chain has a subchain of the form (a1,...,ak,0) ≺ ... ≺ (a1,...,ak,n−1)? We show this is true precisely when k≥5 and n≥3. Thisquestion arises naturally when considering products of symmetric chain decompositions which induce orthogonal chain decompositions — the existence of the decompositions provided in this chapter unexpectedly resolves the most difficult case of previous work by Spink on almost orthogonal symmetric chain decompositions (2017) which makes progress on a conjecture of Shearer and Kleitman. Moreover, we generalize our methods to other finite graded posets. Finally, we address two different problems in extremal combinatorics related to mathematical physics. Firstly, we study metastable states in the Ising model. We propose a general model for 1-flip spin systems, and initiate the study of extremal properties of their stable states. By translating local stability conditions into Sperner- type conditions, we provide non-trivial upper bounds which are often tight for large classes of such systems. The last topic we consider is a deterministic bootstrap percolation type problem. More specifically, we prove several extremal results about fast 2-neighbour percolation on the two dimensional grid.