Given a set of $n$ distinct (real) numbers and an integer $k$, what is the maximum number of subsets of size $k$ such that they all have the same sum?

Note that we are not specifying the sum.

For example, if we have $\{1,2,...,2n+1\}$, and $k=2$, we can do $1+(2n+1)=2+2n=...$. And the maximum is $n$ since we can pair up those who sum to a specific number and get at most $(2n+1-1)/2$ pairs.

What happens when $k>2$? Can we get a bound? I saw similar questions asked but they are about getting an algorithm to find such subsets, and not the maximum.

  • $\begingroup$ disjoint subsets ? The answer will depend on this. $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Apr 10 '19 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. If they are required to be disjoint wouldn't the bound just be $\lceil{n/k}\rceil$? $\endgroup$ – Clostridium Tetani Apr 10 '19 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ That's a hard upper bound if not disjoint. Possibly even a least upper bound. It would be floor of the fraction not ceil though. $\endgroup$ – Roddy MacPhee Apr 10 '19 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Yes it should be floor. In the case that the subsets are disjoint, since the set of number is arbitrary I think we could just choose them so that each k-tuple sum to the same. For example, $n=6,k=3$ we can have $1+2+3=0+7+(-1)$. $\endgroup$ – Clostridium Tetani Apr 10 '19 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Just to be clear: you're asking for an upperbound, in the case subsets need not be disjoint? $\endgroup$ – antkam Apr 11 '19 at 4:32

I interpret the question to mean: allowing overlapping subsets, and given free choice of the $n$ distinct numbers, what is the maximum number of $k$-subsets that have the same sum?

The following construction achieves asymptotically ${n/2 \choose k/2}$ such subsets. It is probably not the maximum, and is still quite far from ${n \choose k}$, but it is a lot of subsets for large $n,k$.

Construction: Use $\{1, 2, ..., n\}$ and pair up the numbers so each pair sums to the same value $1+n$. There are $m = \lfloor n/2 \rfloor$ such pairs, plus an extra number (the middle one) if $n$ is odd. A $k$-subset will be made of $p=\lfloor k/2 \rfloor$ such pairs, plus an extra (fixed) number if $k$ is odd. All such subsets obviously have the same sum. The number of such $k$-subsets is:

  • ${m-1 \choose p}$ if $n$ is even and $k$ is odd (because in this case we need to "break" one of the $m$ pairs to provide the extra number for $k$)

  • ${m \choose p}$ otherwise

BTW, for small numbers we can do better. E.g. for $n=9, k=3$, the above construction would give ${4 \choose 1} = 4$ subsets, but a magic square can give $8$ subsets, since every row sum $=$ every column sum $=$ each of the two diagonal sums $=15$.

$$\begin{align} 8 && 1 && 6\\ 3 && 5 && 7\\ 4 && 9 && 2 \end{align} $$


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