I've been thinking about sorting $6$ elements with the minimal possible number of comparisons. I can do it in $10$ comparisons but I've no idea if this is optimal. Or is there a better algorithm ?

1. Sort $a_1, a_2, a_3$ and $a_4, a_5, a_6$.
Number of comparisons: $3+3=6$.
2. Merge two subarrays.
Number of comparisons: $3 + 3 - 2 = 4$.
Total number of comparisons: $6 + 4 = 10$.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Closely related question. In my answer there, I give a reference to the relevant section in TAoCP. What research have you done? $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 3, 2015 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ How does step 2 take only 4 comparisons? ​ ​ $\endgroup$
    – user12859
    Oct 3, 2015 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ You are right, I am wrong.... How to fix it ? $\endgroup$
    – user40545
    Oct 3, 2015 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ See, for example, Daniel Fischer's answer in Exactly how many comparisons does merge sort make?. $\endgroup$
    – greybeard
    Oct 4, 2015 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I know that I was wrong. I think about fixing my algorithm. $\endgroup$
    – user40545
    Oct 4, 2015 at 8:24

2 Answers 2


According to A036604, 10 comparisons are indeed optimal. The link probably contains a citation to a paper proving this.

  • $\begingroup$ @user40545 I don't know, but I believe you can verify that yourself. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2015 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, hovewer it is sufficient to analyze decison tree to prove optimality ? ($log(6!)\ge 10$) $\endgroup$
    – user40545
    Oct 3, 2015 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ @user40545 You can do this calculation and see for yourself. Try to be more independent. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2015 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ I thnik you are right, I am too dependent. $\endgroup$
    – user40545
    Oct 3, 2015 at 8:30

TL-DR; $10$

Yes, you need to have possibility to ask up to $10$ questions to (comparison) sort an array of $6$ elements.

However, it is possible to create an optimal algorithm that will require no more than 10 questions in worst case, but in average only $9.57777$ questions (in $416$ cases $10$ comparisons, in $304$ cases only $9$).

Here is a decision tree for sorting 6 element arrays [a,b,c,d,e,f]. To make it more compressed. I assumed that already $a<b$ , $c<d$ and $e<f$ has been asked (3 comparisons) and in case of false proper pair has been swapped: Compressed DT for sorting 6 elements As you can see, in addition to these 3 comparisons, we need up to 7 more, but often only 6 that gives us the $9.57777$ in average.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you perhaps describe how that algorithm works? It would be great to see some elaboration/justification on the number you are listing. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    May 3, 2023 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. it is based on my own research. Not yet published, but you can ping me on priv: [email protected] for more details. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2023 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. I've added example decision tree for you. Cheers! $\endgroup$ May 5, 2023 at 18:14

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