Like the moon, mathematics is a harsh mistress. In mathematics, as on the moon, the slightest misstep can lead to disaster — as I’ve discovered again and again. My latest discovery came when I was looking at a shape called the L-tromino, created from three squares set in an L-shape. It’s a rep-tile, because it can be tiled with four smaller copies of itself, like this:

Rep-4 L-tromino

And if it can be tiled with four copies of itself, it can also be tiled with sixteen copies of itself, like this:

Rep-16 L-tromino

My misstep came when I was trying to do to a rep-16 L-tromino what I’d already done to a rep-4 L-tromino. And what had I already done? I’d created a beautiful shape called the hourglass fractal by dividing-and-discarding sub-copies of a rep-4 L-tromino. That is, I divided the L-tromino into four sub-copies, discarded one of the sub-copies, then repeated the process with the sub-sub-copies of the sub-copies, then the sub-sub-sub-copies of the sub-sub-copies, and so on:

Creating an hourglass fractal #1

Creating an hourglass fractal #2

Creating an hourglass fractal #3

Creating an hourglass fractal #4

Creating an hourglass fractal #5

Creating an hourglass fractal #6

Creating an hourglass fractal #7

Creating an hourglass fractal #8

Creating an hourglass fractal #9

Creating an hourglass fractal #10

Creating an hourglass fractal (animated)

Next I wanted to create an hourglass fractal from a rep-16 L-tromino, so I reasoned like this:

• If one sub-copy of four is discarded from a rep-4 L-tromino to create the hourglass fractal, that means you need 3/4 of the rep-4 L-tromino. Therefore you’ll need 3/4 * 16 = 12/16 of a rep-16 L-tromino to create an hourglass fractal.

So I set up the rep-16 L-tromino with twelve sub-copies in the right pattern and began dividing-and-discarding:

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal #1

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal #2

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal #3

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal #4

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal #5

A failed attempt at an hourglass fractal (animated)

Whoops! What I’d failed to take into account is that the rep-16 L-tromino is actually the second stage of the rep-4 triomino, i.e. that 4 * 4 = 16. It follows, therefore, that 3/4 of the rep-4 L-tromino will actually be 9/16 = 3/4 * 3/4 of the rep-16 L-tromino. So I tried again, setting up a rep-16 L-tromino with nine sub-copies, then dividing-and-discarding:

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #1

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #2

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #3

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #4

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #5

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal #6

A third attempt at an hourglass fractal (animated)

Previously (and *passionately**)* pre-posted: