In geometry, a Petrie polygon for a regular polytope of n dimensions is a skew polygon in which every (n – 1) consecutive sides (but no n) belongs to one of the facets. The Petrie polygon of a regular polygon is the regular polygon itself; that of a regular polyhedron is a skew polygon such that every two consecutive side (but no three) belongs to one of the faces. Petrie polygons are named for mathematician John Flinders Petrie.
For every regular polytope there exists an orthogonal projection onto a plane such that one Petrie polygon becomes a regular polygon with the remainder of the projection interior to it. The plane in question is the Coxeter plane of the symmetry group of the polygon, and the number of sides, h, is Coxeter number of the Coxeter group. These polygons and projected graphs are useful in visualizing symmetric structure of the higher-dimensional regular polytopes.
John Flinders Petrie (1907–1972) was the only son of Egyptologist Flinders Petrie. He was born in 1907 and as a schoolboy showed remarkable promise of mathematical ability. In periods of intense concentration he could answer questions about complicated four-dimensional objects by visualizing them.
He first noted the importance of the regular skew polygons which appear on the surface of regular polyhedra and higher polytopes. Coxeter explained in 1937 how he and Petrie began to expand the classical subject of regular polyhedra:
In 1938 Petrie collaborated with Coxeter, Patrick du Val, and H.T. Flather to produce The Fifty-Nine Icosahedra for publication. Realizing the geometric facility of the skew polygons used by Petrie, Coxeter named them after his friend when he wrote Regular Polytopes.
The idea of Petrie polygons was later extended to semiregular polytopes.
Infinite regular skew polygons (apeirogon) can also be defined as being the Petrie polygons of the regular tilings, having angles of 90, 120, and 60 degrees of their square, hexagon and triangular faces respectively.
The Petrie polygon projections are useful for the visualization of polytopes of dimension four and higher.
This table represents Petrie polygon projections of 3 regular families (simplex, hypercube, orthoplex), and the exceptional Lie group En which generate semiregular and uniform polytopes for dimensions 4 to 8.