Thursday, May 26, 2005

47, 37, and all the other numbers, too.

The season finale of Lost mentioned the number 47 again, this time as the number of people stranded on the island. The number 47 shows up on the shows Lost and Alias all the time, because it's a favorite number of writer/producer, J.J. Abrams. The number 47 is the 'secret' number of Pomona College alums, and if you see the number on a television show or movie, it might mean that an alum is a writer and is winking to his fellow graduates. (According to the wisdom of the internet, J.J. Abrams is not a Pomona alum; the guess that he just noticed 47 showing up a lot in Star Trek, and took it as his own. A lot of people just like the number 47, I guess.)

My own favorite number is 37, probably because of Tom Magliery's 37 Heaven web site, where he collects sightings and odd facts about the number 37, such as:
  • There are 37 holes in the mouthpiece of a telephone. (Back in the Ma Bell days)
  • In Cool Hand Luke, Lucas Jackson's (Paul Newman's) prison number is 37.
  • There are 37 genes in the mitochondrial genome.
  • And more than 37 other facts!
If you took a survey and asked for a "completely random number", I bet 37 and 47 would be the most common answers.

I don't want to leave all the other numbers out, so I'll mention that I just got the book The Universal History of Numbers : From Prehistory to the Invention of the Computer. I haven't had a chance to read it since I've only owned it for one hour now, but it looks jam-packed with juicy number goodness. (And it's not a general "history of mathematics" book. Just numbers!) One of the Amazon reviews criticizes the book as being "like an encyclopedia." To that, I say, "Hells yeah!"


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