October 19, 2008

Borromean Rings

Borromean rings are a structure in which no two rings are interlocked, yet the three are inseparable. I’ve been puzzling over the meaning of this lately. They’ve been used to represent the Holy Trinity (natch), but could they also represent some other natural or philosophical truth? Red herrings abound: the Borromean PB&J sandwich, for example, is negated by the undeniable goodness of toast with jelly. I’m flummoxed. Can you think of any other Borromean Thing?


  1. Jordan Running on October 19th, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Your PB&J comment reminded me of a topic I heard or read maybe a year ago about food. It went something like, can you name three foods for which any two taste good together but all three together are gross? Sort of an inverted Borromean food-ring. I wish I could find the link, but alas.

  2. Deron Bauman on October 19th, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    yeah. that’s freaking me out.

  3. Joel Yeaton on October 19th, 2008 at 7:18 pm
  4. Joel Yeaton on October 19th, 2008 at 7:27 pm
  5. Mostly Random – Archives – Borromean Rings on October 19th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    [...] interesting gedankenexperiment over at Clusterflock: Borromean rings are a structure in which no two rings are interlocked, yet the three are [...]

  6. Daryl Scroggins on October 19th, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    That’s interesting, Jordan, because when I saw this I immediately bagan to wonder if one could contruct a verbal version of this structure out of intersecting palindromes set in circles with shared letters. But then it occurred to me that instead of sharing letters it would have to mask letters while also continuing to suggest the continuity of each palindrome. This seems to be related to the way “prophesy” works: the ambiguous edges of recognizable patterns overlap in a way that makes those edges take on the authority of a recognizable pattern. There is no chaos when a pattern must be found.

  7. Doc on October 19th, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    renaissance pretzels

  8. Mike Dresser on October 19th, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Now that I think of it, they are a bit reminiscent of the checks-and-balances in our government; though each branch exercises no direct control over the actions of another, the the arrangement of all three blocks the free movement of any one. That is until the branches get together with a hacksaw to create a Unitary Executive Ring.

  9. Rick Neece on October 19th, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    One ring to rule them all.

    I’m just sayin’

  10. Daniel Black on October 21st, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Your mom.

    That should be read: “I got nothin’.”

    In the U.S., we might think of the three branches of government, taken as a whole, no two of which (hypothetically) overlap but which must exist together to exist at all.

    Alternately, take a Jane Austen love triangle.



  11. Allegra Sloman on January 4th, 2009 at 7:40 am

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGLPbSMxSUM – there’s a cool video which shows some of the topological properties of Borromean rings.