Compass and straightedge constructions

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Compass-and-straightedge or ruler-and-compass construction is the construction of lengths, angles, and other geometric figures using only an idealized ruler and compass.

The ruler to be used is assumed to be infinite in length, has no markings on it and only one edge, and is known as a straightedge. The compass is assumed to collapse when lifted from the page, so may not be directly used to transfer distances. (This is an unimportant restriction, as this may be achieved via the compass equivalence theorem.)

Every point constructible using straightedge and compass may be constructed using compass alone. A number of ancient problems in plane geometry impose this restriction.

The most famous ruler-and-compass problems have been proven impossible in several cases by Pierre Wantzel, using the mathematical theory of fields. In spite of existing proofs of impossibility, some persist in trying to solve these problems.[1] Many of these problems are easily solvable provided that other geometric transformations are allowed: for example, doubling the cube is possible using geometric constructions, but not possible using ruler and compass alone.

Mathematician Underwood Dudley has made a sideline of collecting false ruler-and-compass proofs, as well as other work by mathematical cranks, and has collected them into several books.


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