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In the k cut problem, we want to find the lowestweight set of edges whose deletion breaks a given (multi)graph into k connected components. Algorithms of Karger and Stein can solve this in roughly O ( n 2k ) time. However, lower bounds from conjectures about the k clique problem imply that Ω ( n (1 o (1)) k ) time is likely needed. Recent results of Gupta, Lee, and Li have given new algorithms for general k cut in n 1.98k + O(1) time, as well as specialized algorithms with better performance for certain classes of graphs (e.g., for small integer edge weights). In this work, we resolve the problem for general graphs. We show that the Contraction Algorithm of Karger outputs any fixed k cut of weight α λ k with probability Ω k ( n  α k ), where λ k denotes the minimum k cut weight. This also gives an extremal bound of O k ( n k ) on the number of minimum k cuts and an algorithm to compute λ k with roughly n k polylog( n ) runtime. Both are tight up to lowerorder factors, with the algorithmic lower bound assuming hardness of maxweight k clique. The first main ingredient in our result is an extremal bound on the number of cuts of weight less than 2 λ k / k , using the Sunflower lemma. The second ingredient is a finegrained analysis of how the graph shrinks—and how the average degree evolves—in the Karger process.more » « less

null (Ed.)We investigate the approximability of the following optimization problem. The input is an n× n matrix A=(Aij) with real entries and an originsymmetric convex body K⊂ ℝn that is given by a membership oracle. The task is to compute (or approximate) the maximum of the quadratic form ∑i=1n∑j=1n Aij xixj=⟨ x,Ax⟩ as x ranges over K. This is a rich and expressive family of optimization problems; for different choices of matrices A and convex bodies K it includes a diverse range of optimization problems like maxcut, Grothendieck/noncommutative Grothendieck inequalities, small set expansion and more. While the literature studied these special cases using casespecific reasoning, here we develop a general methodology for treatment of the approximability and inapproximability aspects of these questions. The underlying geometry of K plays a critical role; we show under commonly used complexity assumptions that polytime constantapproximability necessitates that K has type2 constant that grows slowly with n. However, we show that even when the type2 constant is bounded, this problem sometimes exhibits strong hardness of approximation. Thus, even within the realm of type2 bodies, the approximability landscape is nuanced and subtle. However, the link that we establish between optimization and geometry of Banach spaces allows us to devise a generic algorithmic approach to the above problem. We associate to each convex body a new (higher dimensional) auxiliary set that is not convex, but is approximately convex when K has a bounded type2 constant. If our auxiliary set has an approximate separation oracle, then we design an approximation algorithm for the original quadratic optimization problem, using an approximate version of the ellipsoid method. Even though our hardness result implies that such an oracle does not exist in general, this new question can be solved in specific cases of interest by implementing a range of classical tools from functional analysis, most notably the deep factorization theory of linear operators. Beyond encompassing the scenarios in the literature for which constantfactor approximation algorithms were found, our generic framework implies that that for convex sets with bounded type2 constant, constant factor approximability is preserved under the following basic operations: (a) Subspaces, (b) Quotients, (c) Minkowski Sums, (d) Complex Interpolation. This yields a rich family of new examples where constant factor approximations are possible, which were beyond the reach of previous methods. We also show (under commonly used complexity assumptions) that for symmetric norms and unitarily invariant matrix norms the type2 constant nearly characterizes the approximability of quadratic maximization.more » « less