polygon, closed plane figure bounded by straight line segments as sides. A polygon is convex if any two points inside the polygon can be connected by a line segment that does not intersect any side. If a side is intersected, the polygon is called concave. In a regular polygon the sides are of equal length and meet at equal angles; all other polygons are not regular, although either their sides or their angles may be equal, as in the cases of the rhombus and the rectangle. The simplest regular polygons are the equilateral triangle, the square, the regular pentagon (of 5 sides), and the regular hexagon (of 6 sides). Although the Greeks had developed methods of constructing these four polygons using only a straightedge and compass, they were unable to do the same for the regular heptagon (of 7 sides). In the 19th cent. C. F. Gauss showed that a regular heptagon was impossible to construct in this way. He proved that a regular polygon is constructible with a straightedge and compass only when the number of sides p is a prime number (see number theory) of the form p = 22 n + 1 or a product of such primes. The first five regular polygons with a prime number of sides that can be constructed using a straightedge and compass have 3, 5, 17, 257, and 65,537 sides.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.