In Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS), Exercise 33-1-1, we are asked to prove that if $p_1 \times p_2$ is positive then $p_1$ is clockwise from $p_2$ and if it's negative, then $p_1$ is counter-clockwise from $p_2$.

This is a picture from CLRS enter image description here

I found the following proof: https://sites.math.rutgers.edu/~ajl213/CLRS/Ch33.pdf

The proof above says to consider the angles both vectors make with the x-axis. We know the angle is $\arctan y/x$. We also know the cross product $p_1 \times p_2 = x_1y_2 - y_1x_2$. If this product is greater than zero, then this means that $y_2/x_2 > y_1/x_1$. Since $\arctan$ is monotone then the angle $p_2$ makes with the x-axis is larger. which means you need to move clockwise direction to get from $p_2$ to $p_1$

BUT the question is asking to prove that $p_1$ is clockwise relative $p_2$. What am I missing? is the above proof wrong?

I drew the following based on the proof above: enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ You have been correct all the time. Except in the very last moment. Instead of "therefore, $p_2$ is clockwise relative to $p_1$", it should have been, "therefore, $p_2$ is counterclockwise relative to $p_1$." (I assume that $x_1>0$ and $x_2>0$ in the illustration.) $\endgroup$
    – John L.
    Apr 14, 2020 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


In two-dimensional space, $p_1 \times p_2$ is equal to $|p_1||p_2|\sin\theta$, where $\theta$ is the angle from $p_1$ to $p_2$. Depending which textbook you're using, this is probably the definition of the two-dimensional cross product—I'm not sure what definition Introduction to Algorithms uses.

$|p_1|$ and $|p_2|$ both have to be non-negative (by the definition of vector magnitude), so if neither of them is zero, the sign of the whole expression will be the sign of $\sin\theta$.

Now, how do we define "clockwise"? The easiest definition I know is is, $p_1$ is clockwise from $p_2$ if the angle(*) from $p_1$ to $p_2$ is less than 180 degrees. Try a few examples and you'll see how this definition works—remember that angles are traditionally measured with counter-clockwise being positive.

Now, we know that if $p_1 \times p_2$ is positive, then $\sin\theta$ must be positive. And if $\sin\theta$ is positive, then $\theta$ must be less than 180 degrees(*). So by the definition of clockwise, $p_1$ is clockwise from $p_2$.

(*) I'm assuming without loss of generality that all angles are positive and less than 360 degrees.


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