The persistent near-orthogonal pattern formed by oceanic ridges and transform faults defies explanation in terms of rigid plates because it probably depends on the energy associated with deformation. For passive spreading, it is likely that the ridges and transforms adjust to a configuration offering minimum resistance to plate separation. This leads to a simple geometric model which yields conditions for the occurrence of transform faults and an aid to interpretation of structural patterns in the sea floor. Under reasonable assumptions, it is much more difficult for diverging plates to spread a kilometer of ridge than to slip a kilometer of transform fault, and the patterns observed at spreading centers might extend to lithospheric depths. Under these conditions, the resisting force at spreading centers could play a significant role in the dynamics of plate-tectonic systems. ?? 1972.