The traveling salesman problem consists of a collection of n cities, a symmetric distance function d(i,j) and a number k. The question is whether there is an ordering of the cities so that a tour through those cities and back to the start can be done in total distance at most k. If d takes on rational values, the problem is NP-complete in general and for many restrictions of the possible functions for d, such as requiring d to have the triangle inequality.

Consider the case where the cities are given as points (x,y) in the plane and the distance function is the regular Euclidean distance, i.e.,

^{2}+(s-v)

^{2})

^{1/2}.

In NP one can guess the ordering of the cities, the problem is in
checking whether the sum of distances is at most k. Since we can
approximate the square root to a polynomial number of digits the issue
is how many digits of accuracy we need. So it boils down to the
following purely mathematical question: Given an expression of length
m over integers with addition, subtraction, squares and square roots (but no
recursive squares or square roots) what is the smallest positive
number than can be expressed? If the answer is at least
2^{-mk} for some k then TSP on the plane is in NP
and NP-complete.

Let me also mention that one can well approximate traveling salesman on the plane.

Thanks, I have been teaching this stuff for years, but did not know this alternate formulation (about expression over integers with addition, subtraction, squares and square roots). Fascinating, loved it.

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