Much of a human molar's morphology is concentrated on its occlusal surface. In view of embryologists' recent attention on the determination of crown morphology by enamel knots that initiate cusp formation, we were interested in the arrangement of cusp apices in the definitive tooth. Computer-assisted image analysis was used to measure intercusp distances and angles on permanent maxillary M1 and M2 in a sample of 160 contemporary North American whites. The intent was to generate normative data and to compare the size and variability gradients from M1 to M2. There is little sexual dimorphism in intercusp distances or angles, even though the conventional mesiodistal (MD) and buccolingual (BL) crown size is 2.0% and 4.0% larger in males, respectively, in these same teeth. Dimensions decreased in size and increased in variability from M1 to M2, but differentially. Cusps of the trigon were more stable between teeth, especially the paracone-protocone relationship. Principal components analysis on the six M1 distances disclosed only one eigenvalue above 1.0, indicating that overall crown size itself is the paramount controlling factor in this tooth that almost invariably exhibits a hypocone. In contrast, four components were extracted from among the 12 angular cusp relationships in M1. These axes of variation may prove useful in studies of intergroup differences. A shape difference occurs in M2, depending on whether the hypocone is present; when absent, the metacone is moved lingually, creating more of an isosceles arrangement for the cusps of the trigon. Statistically, correlations are low between occlusal intercusp relationships and conventional crown diameters measured at the margins of the crowns that form later. Weak statistical dependence between cusp relationships and traditional MD and BL diameters suggest that separate stage- and location-specific molecular signals control these different parts (and different stages) of crown formation. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.