Magic Square of Squares


It's an open question whether there exists a 3x3 magic square comprised entirely of square integers. Before considering the possibility of such a square, it's worthwhile to review some basic facts about arbitrary 3x3 magic squares, defined as an array of numbers



such that each row, column, and main diagonal has the same sum. Letting S denote the common sum, we have the eight defining conditions



Adding up the four conditions involving E, and re-arranging terms, gives



Since each quantity in parentheses equals S, this shows that 3E = S. Substituting for S into the four basic equations involving E, we have



If we subtract 2E from both sides of A+I = 2E (for example) we get (A−E) + (I−E) = 0, which shows that A−E = E−I, and likewise for the other cases, proving that each row, column, and diagonal containing E is an arithmetic progression. If we define n = A−E and m = C−E, the magic square contains the terms



From this the remaining terms follow, due to the requirement that each row and column sum to 3E, so the entire magic square can be expressed in terms of the three numbers E,m,n as shown below:



Now, suppose we imagine a magic square comprised entirely of square integers. This implies the existence of integers E,m,n such that the magic square given by (1) has the values



We will require these values to be distinct, and without loss of generality we can divide out any common factor, so hereafter we assume they have no common factor. Equating the nine terms of the square of squares to their equivalents in (1) gives the relations



Summing the pairs symmetrical about E, we have



From this we can infer that no two elements of any set of three numbers on a line through the center can share any common prime factor of the form 4k−1, because any such prime would have to divide all three numbers, and therefore all the numbers in the square. (This relies on the fact that x2 + y2 = 0 has no solutions modulo any prime p = 4k−1 other than x = y = 0.)


Furthermore, if we multiply the pairs symmetrical about E we find that e4 is expressible as a sum of two squares in the following four ways



These equations, along with (3), show that both e4 and 2e2 are expressible as sums of two squares in four different ways. In addition, if we square both sides of the previous relation a2 + i2 = 2e2 (for example) we get



so we can solve this for (ai)2 and substitute into the above expression for e4, and likewise for the other three expressions, to give



This is a very strong set of conditions. It requires a fourth power (e4) which, if increased by any one of four distinct squares, equals half a sum of two fourth powers. Furthermore, the roots of the four distinct squares must be of the form n, m, n+m, and n−m.


We can also infer more Pythagorean relations by multiplying together other pairs of relations from (2). For example, if we multiply b2 by f2 and re-arrange the terms, and likewise for the other pairs, we get



Squaring both sides of the relation b2 + f2 = 2(E−m) and solving for (bf)2, we can substitute into the first of these equations, and likewise for the other pairs, to give



Recall that we previously derived the conditions



so we have found that a necessary condition for a magic square of squares is that there must be four 4th powers b4, d4, f4, h4 whose sums in pairs each equal twice a sum of squares. This also leads to relations such as



However, all these relations just follow algebraically from the more basic conditions, so to prove that no magic square of squares is possible we should probably focus on the basic conditions. Recall that the relations (2) imply



The four equations on the left show that 2e2 must be a sum of two squares in four different ways, so e itself is a sum of squares in (at least) two different ways. The first non-trivial occurrence is e = 65 = (5)(13), because this is the smallest number that is the product of distinct primes congruent to 1 (mod 4). Each of the factors, in turn, is necessarily a sum of two squares, i.e.,



The two expressions for 65 arise from the two ways of multiplying these according to the ancient formula



Taking X=1, Y=2, A=2, B=3 we have



The four ways of expressing e2 as a sum of two squares arise from the four ways of multiplying these two forms using equation (5) (and applying the factor 2 = 12 + 12, which doesn't change the number of expressions). Thus we have



We can assemble these squares into a square of squares such as



which has the required equal sums on all four of the lines through the center square (the two main diagonals, the center row, and the center column). Notice, however, that the outer rows and columns do not give the required sum. In general, we can show that


PROPOSITION 1: Any square whose elements satisfy the central sums and whose central number is expressible as a sum of two squares in no more than four distinct ways will not give the required sums for the outer rows and columns.


This proposition doesn't completely rule out the existence of a magic square of squares, because it doesn't cover possible squares whose central numbers are expressible as a sum of two squares in more than four distinct ways. However, it does show that the root of the central number of any magic square of squares would have to be the product of more than two distinct primes of the form 4k+1.


To prove this proposition, note that the above conditions can be expressed parametrically in terms of X,Y,A,B (which had the values 1,2,2,3 in the above example). If we define



then we have squares such as



which automatically has equal sums on the diagonals and the central row and column. The common sum along each of these lines is



Any magic square of squares whose central element is a sum of two squares in no more than four ways must consist of some arrangement of the four pairs of opposite terms shown in the square above, but they need not be arranged as shown above. It's convenient to refer to each of the outer elements by the negative term it contains. For example, we will let US denote the quantity (ur+vs+vr−us)2, and we will let RR denote (2rs−r2+s2)2, and so on. Thus we have the four pairs of opposite squares (UU,VV), (RR,SS), (US,VR), and (UR,VS).


We note that the system is symmetrical under exchange of (u,v) with (r,s), and we consider first the possibility that UU is in the same row or column with two of the "crossed" elements. In order for the square to be magic the sum of these three quantities must equal the common sum S given above. However, if we examine all six of these case we find that



In order for the terms of the overall square to be distinct, the values of u,v,r,s must all be non-zero, and the quantities u2 − v2 and r2 − s2 must also be non-zero. Furthermore, each of the quantities A,B,X,Y must be non-zero, as must be the quantities A2 − B2 and X2 − Y2. These last two condition are due to the fact that if X = Y, for example, we have u = X(A−B), v = X(A+B), r = X(B−A), and s = X(A+B), which implies v = s and u = −r. Inserting these expressions for v and u into ur+vs+us−vr gives −r2 + s2 − 2rs, so we have VR=SS. It follows from all these conditions that none of the six quantities shown above can equal zero, so no arrangement with any of those combinations of terms in any row or column can be a magic square of squares. Of course, this also rules out any squares with rows or columns containing SS with any two of the cross terms, since those appear on the opposite side of the above squares.


It remains to consider the possibility of a magic square with each of the outer rows and columns containing two "pure" terms (i.e., UU, VV, RR, SS) and one cross term. This implies that the pure terms must be at the four corners. Therefore, one of the rows or columns will be [UU * RR] where "*" denotes one of the four cross terms. Two of these cases can be ruled out immediately, because we have



The first is impossible because a non-zero square cannot be 3 times a square, and the second is impossible because it implies A = 2B(2 √3).


The only two remaining cases are [UU VR RR] and [UU US RR], each of which corresponds to either of the two squares (because we can transpose the placement of the remaining pair of terms). To prove that these are impossible, we can make use of the right-hand relations in (4), which state that the double of each corner equals the sum of the middle terms of the two opposite sides. This leads us to examine the sums shown below for the indicated square



In order for this to be a magic square, both of the indicated sums must vanish, which (for distinct terms) requires the trailing factors to vanish. But these are of the form 3m + n = 0 and 3n − m = 0 and therefore m = n = 0, which is to say AB(Y2 − X2) = XY(B2 − A2) = 0. This is impossible for distinct terms.


The three remaining cases can be ruled out similarly, based on the sums shown below:






This completes the proof. So, what has been shown here is that if the central number 2e2 is expressible as a sum of two squares in just four distinct ways (which is the minimum number necessary to satisfy the diagonal and center row and column conditions), then it's impossible to satisfy the outer row and column conditions. Of course, every array will be based on just four partitions of 2e2 into two squares, but those partitions won't all necessarily come from the same factorization of e, so those cases aren't covered by the above argument.


For more on the search for a magic square of squares, see the notes


Orthomagic Square of Squares

Automedian Triangles and Magic Squares

Discordance Impedes Square Magic

No Progression of Four Rectangles On A Conic?


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