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This thesis is devoted to the study of computational complexity theory, a branch of theoretical computer science. Computational complexity theory investigates the inherent difficulty in designing efficient algorithms for computational problems. By doing so, it analyses the scalability of computational problems and algorithms and places practical limits on what computers can actually accomplish. Computational problems are categorised into complexity classes. Among the most important complexity classes are the class NP and the subclass of NP-complete problems, which comprises many important optimisation problems in the field of operations research. Moreover, with the P-NP-problem, the class NP represents the most important unsolved question in computer science. The first part of this thesis is devoted to the study of NP-complete-, and more generally, NP-hard problems. It aims at improving our understanding of this important complexity class by systematically studying how altering NP-hard sets affects their NP-hardness. This research is related to longstanding open questions concerning the complexity of unions of disjoint NP-complete sets, and the existence of sparse NP-hard sets. The second part of the thesis is also dedicated to complexity classes but takes a different perspective: In a sense, after investigating the interior of complexity classes in the first part, the focus shifts to the description of complexity classes and thereby to the exterior in the second part. It deals with the description of complexity classes through leaf languages, a uniform framework which allows us to characterise a great variety of important complexity classes. The known concepts are complemented by a new leaf-language model. To a certain extent, this new approach combines the advantages of the known models. The presented results give evidence that the connection between the theory of formal languages and computational complexity theory might be closer than formerly known.

Given points in the plane, connect them using minimum ink. Though the task seems simple, it turns out to be very time consuming. In fact, scientists believe that computers cannot efficiently solve it. So, do we have to resign? This book examines such NP-hard network-design problems, from connectivity problems in graphs to polygonal drawing problems on the plane. First, we observe why it is so hard to optimally solve these problems. Then, we go over to attack them anyway. We develop fast algorithms that find approximate solutions that are very close to the optimal ones. Hence, connecting points with slightly more ink is not hard.