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Favourite Numbers 2006/12/11

Posted by Daddy Dave in Health, Movies, Musings.

What is it with numbers? (yes, we are trying to teach Olivia to count to 3). Why are so many people afraid of them? I actually know people who are scared of mathematics and arithmetic! I also know people who are superstitious about specific numbers. I was born on the 27th — a number supposedly considered to be ‘unlucky’ by the Chinese, much in the same way as 13 seems to be unlucky to Westerners.

There are people (apparently) who refuse to leave their homes on “Friday the 13th”. But I read recently that insurance companies have found that the unluckiest day is in fact any Monday the 27th. Hmmm. “Scary. Ooo.”

There’s an up-coming movie ‘The Number 23’ — a thriller about a man who becomes obsessed with 23 — starring Jim Carrey (who accepted the project because he too is obsessed with the number 23 and the 23rd Psalm).

  • Carrey’s production company is even called ‘JC23’ .

I am terrible at mental arithmetic, possibly due to my dreadful short-term memory, so I have elaborate ways to figure and guestimate — but I do not fear numbers; I like ’em too much!

I first got interested in them when I was told the following story:

If a 16 year old girl gives birth to a son, then at that point she is 100 percent older than her son, however, when the boy is 16, and she is 32, he is now 50 per cent or half his mum’s age! When he reaches 32, she is only 48 – and he is now 67 per cent of her age — it is clear that the son is catching his mother up!

I loved the fact that numbers could be made to so easily lead people to a crazy conclusion. Clearly numbers were to be respected; they are not trust-worthy.

I liked the pattern of the nine times table, 09, 18, 27, 36, 45… the way that the first digits ascend (0x,1x, 2x, 3x, 4x ) as the second digits descend in sequence (x9, x8, x7, x6, x5), and that there clearly has to be a crossing point, where the digits have to reverse — 54, 63, 72, 81, 90. And the wonder at discovering that no matter what you multiplied by 9, the answer always can be made to make 9 again — 1+8=9, 2+7=9, 3+6=9 and 4+5=9. Wonderful stuff.

This led to the eleven times table trick (ETTT) :-

It’s about seeing patterns. Can you see a pattern here: 11 x 14= 154, 11 x 51 = 561, 11 x 25 = 275.

It works like this: take the number that 11 is multiplying, split it apart and insert into the space the sum of the numbers.

So 11 x 14 means that the answer involves the 14. It will begin with a 1 and end with a 4 and in the middle will be 4+1 which is 5, so the answer is 154. See?

Of course, it gets harder when the two numbers are large and produce an answer in double figures, like 11 x 78, because when you add the 7 to the 8 you get 15, so you do this:

7 8 (split the 7 and 8,)
15 (drop in 7+8=15) add the columns
858 answer.

It’s still about seeing a pattern, and these wee tricks and patterns are what make numbers fun, but also what make them seem magical, mystical or manipulative.

In the media, numbers play important roles, — the mystical phi of the The ‘Da Vinci Code‘, the number of the beast, the number of the safety deposit box or safe combination. The phone number, the winning number. Success is measured in numbers — the most sales, the chart hit, the number of visitors. Downloads, dollars and PINS.

We are manipulated by numbers in the form of survey polls’ statistics, lives can be altered by being over the limit, figures are big business — numbers of people, hours and cash… that’s how work is done and deadlines met.

I am walking 3 miles to and from work — that’s 30 miles a week! It takes me an hour — that’s 3mph. I should be able to improve on that. I climb the seven flights of stairs to my office. I am doing this to improve my numbers — my heart rate, my blood pressure, my fitness, my weight, my waist. It’s all numbers.

Do people really have a ‘favourite number’? Can people really become obsessed with a number (like Jim Carrey)? Is this something unintentionally taught by parents or teachers, I mean: where do we get this weirdness from?

Anyway, I have trouble sleeping, but it’s the wee small hours, so I’d better make my way to bed… to count some sheep!


1. themiddlemanager - 2006/12/11

I am strangely attracted to the number 23 as well. It was my number in college (baseball), and the number of my favorite athlete (Michael Jordan).

Numbers are truely fascinating – and this was a fascinating post! Keep up the good writing!


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