Let $G=(V,E)$ be graph. Recall that a cut of $G$ is (or can uniquely be identified with) a pair $(A,B)$ of nonempty subsets of $V$ which partition it. Given a cut $(A,B)$, let $E(A,B) := \{(a,b) \in E \mid a \in A, b \in B\} = E \cap (A \times B)$. Finally, let $E = E_1 \cup E_2$ be a given partitioning of the edges.

Question. What is an efficient way to generate a cut $(A,B)$ of $G$ such that $|E_1(A,B)| > |E_2(A,B)|$ ?

Note. I'm fine with randomized algorithms. Also, in case one has the choice, I'd prefer a cut with minimal $|E(A,B)|$.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This problem may be NP-hard. Suggest you edit your question to clarify how fast an algorithm you are looking for, and whether you would accept a proof of NP-hardness as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Neal Young
    Sep 9, 2020 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, i felt it would be NP-hard, but didn't push it any further. Yes, I'd be fine with a transparent proof of NP-hardness. $\endgroup$
    – dohmatob
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, would if one adds structural constraints like: $G$ is sparse or (in an appropriate sense) or with sufficiently uniform per-node degree, etc. Can anything be salvaged from the situation ? Thanks in advance! $\endgroup$
    – dohmatob
    Sep 9, 2020 at 14:06

1 Answer 1


Theorem 1. The given problem is NP-hard, by reduction from MAX-CUT.

Proof. Call the given problem Positive Discrepancy Cut (PDC). Define weighted PDC to be the generalization where the input is a graph $G=(V,E)$ with polynomially bounded (possibly negative) integer edge weights, and the goal is to determine whether there is a positive-weight cut. To prove the theorem we prove two lemmas:

Lemma 1. Weighted PDC reduces in polynomial time to (unweighted) PDC.

Lemma 2. MAX-CUT reduces in polynomial time to Weighted PDC.

Proof of Lemma 1. Given an $n$-vertex instance $G=(V,E)$ of weighted PDC with weights in $[-M, M]$, where $M$ is polynomial in $|G|$, the reduction outputs the graph $G'$ obtained from $G$ as follows. Replace each vertex $v$ in $G$ by a clique $C_v$ of $|E|+1$ vertices, with all edges white. For each edge $(u, v)$ of weight $w$ in $G$, add $|w|$ edges between $C_u$ and $C_v$, making them white if $w<0$ and red if $w>0$. Given any positive-weight cut $(A, B)$ in $G$, the corresponding cut in $G'$ is $(A', B')$ where $A'= \bigcup_{v\in A} C_v$ and $B'=\bigcup_{v\in B} C_v$. The number of red edges minus white edges crossing $(A', B')$ is the weight of the cut $(A, B)$. So, if $G$ has a positive-weight cut, then $G'$ has a cut with more red than white edges. Conversely, suppose $G'$ has a cut with more red than white edges. The total number of red edges in $G'$ is at most $|E|M$, so each clique $C_v$ must be entirely contained in one side of the cut or the other. So the cut corresponds to a cut in $G$ that has positive weight. This proves Lemma 1. $~~\Box$

Proof of Lemma 2. Given a MAX-CUT instance $(G=(V,E), k)$, the reduction outputs the instance $G'$ of Weighted PDC defined as follows. Obtain $G'$ from $G$ by giving every edge in $G$ weight 1, then adding two vertex $a$ and $b$, each with edges to all other vertices. Give each edge from $a$ or $b$ to a vertex in $G$ weight $-M$ where $M=|E|+1$. Give the edge $(a, b)$ weight $M|V|-k+1$. This completes the reduction.

Suppose there is a cut $(A, B)$ in $G$ with at least $k$ edges. Then the cut $(A', B')$ in $G'$ where $A'=A \cup \{a\}$ and $B'=B\cup\{b\}$ has weight at least $k-|V|M + M|V|-k+1 = 1$. Conversely, suppose there is a positive-weight cut $(A', B')$ in $G'$. Vertices $a$ and $b$ cannot be on the same side of the cut, because if they are, the edge $(a, b)$ is not cut, while at least one edge out of $a$ or $b$ is cut, contributing $-M=-|E|-1$ to the cut weight, and each of the remaining edges (in $E$) contributes at most 1. So $a$ and $b$ are on different sides of the cut $(A', B')$. WLOG assume $a\in A'$ and $b\in B'$. Then (accounting for the edges out of $a$ and $b$) the cut $(A, B)$ in $G$ where $A=A'\setminus \{a\}$ and $B=B'\setminus \{b\}$ must have at least $k$ edges. So the reduction is correct. $~~\Box$

This reduction is similar to one by Peter Shor in this answer to a question about approximating MAX-CUT with negative edge weights.

  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your question above, I doubt that the problem is in P if you restrict to, say, regular graphs with $O(1)$ degree. No doubt MAX-CUT remains hard for such graphs, and I'd guess you can suitably modify the reduction above so that if the given MAX-CUT instance is regular with $O(1)$ degree, the reduction gives an instance of PDC that is sparse and regular. $\endgroup$
    – Neal Young
    Sep 9, 2020 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – dohmatob
    Sep 9, 2020 at 17:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ BTW, one easy case: if the graph has more red edges than white edges, there will be a vertex with more red edges than white edges incident to it, so that vertex alone will form a suitable cut. $\endgroup$
    – Neal Young
    Sep 10, 2020 at 12:55

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